The nuclear summit in Seoul last month gave world leaders a chance to discuss key nuclear security issues and to draw up a strategy for reducing nuclear threats to the global community. Yet whenever there’s talk of global nuclear security, Pakistan is inevitably a focus of discussion.
The fear within much of the international community, of course, is that the country’s nuclear assets will fall into the wrong hands. But this fear is actually largely misplaced, and the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is generally underestimated. Instead, international attention should be focused on a quite different problem, one that could indeed make Pakistan a threat – it’s possible economic demise.
Pakistan’s nuclear policy is geared towards combating the perceived threat posed by India. Indeed, this was the rationale for launching Pakistan’s nuclear program in the 1970s – Pakistan’s military and general public collectively remember losing East Pakistan, while Kashmir continues to be a major point of discontent. Having been engaged in four wars with India, Pakistan is wary about abandoning its nuclear options, meaning that it will require New Delhi, not just Islamabad, to move on this issue if South Asia is to have any hope of seeing reduced nuclear arsenals. This in turn will require both nations to resolve the differences that underpin tensions, including Kashmir – an issue that has no hope of being resolved without international assistance.
Despite periodic fears being expressed that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons will fall into the hands of terrorists, the country’s nuclear arsenal is actually protected in line with international standards. The real threat would come should Pakistan’s economy collapse, a threat exacerbated by the country’s current energy crisis. Not a single Pakistani is unaffected by power shortages – factories across the country have been shut down because of shortages of natural gas and electricity, while the average domestic customer is reportedly experiencing a power shutdown for as much as 16 hours per day in some places. The crisis is expected to worsen in the summer months.
Unfortunately, a lack of political leadership has compounded Pakistan’s inability to increase its power supply, with projects that would generate substantial electricity, including the building of major dams, being shelved due to political disagreements and conflicting personal interests. Meanwhile, rising gasoline prices have led to a steep rise in the cost of electricity, which is in turn hurting economic growth.
Boosting the use of nuclear technology for civilian purposes is one way Pakistan could counter the crisis. Yet despite the United States in recent years entering into a civil nuclear deal with India, no such agreement looks like being reached with Pakistan. Such a snub is all the more depressing considering the fact that Pakistan’s civilian leadership has extended considerable assistance to the United States in its ongoing war in the region.
In a country where more than 40 percent of the population lives below poverty line, and where there’s no electricity or gas for much of the day, it’s only natural that there will be growing discontent. The greatest threat to Pakistan’s stability, therefore, is actually from the masses who are suffering every single day due to the ongoing economic crisis.
Pakistan has the capability to utilize nuclear technology to ease this crisis, and the international community should therefore seriously consider assisting it. This is the only long-term solution to the problem. With this in mind, the United States must work with Pakistan to agree terms similar to those initially offered to India. Ultimately, stopping a country from fulfilling its energy needs through nuclear technology, especially when it has the indigenous capacity to generate power, is not only unjust, but also compromises the nuclear security of the region and beyond.
Zeeshan Adhi is a Karachi-based lecturer and writer. The views expressed are his own. [email protected]