Let’s buy Pakistan’s nukes

Let’s buy Pakistan’s nukes
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First Published: Tue, Dec 16 2008. 09 18 PM IST
Updated: Tue, Dec 16 2008. 09 18 PM IST
Every visitor to Pakistan has seen them: 20-foot-tall roadside replicas of a remote mountain where, a decade ago, Pakistan conducted its first overt nuclear tests. This is what the country’s leaders—military, secular, Islamist—consider their greatest achievement.
So here’s a modest proposal: Let’s buy their arsenal.
A.Q. Khan, father of Pakistan’s nuclear programme (and midwife to a few others), likes to point out what a feat it was that a country “where we can’t even make a bicycle chain” could succeed at such an immense technological task. Still, give Khan this: Thanks partly to his efforts, a country that has impoverished the great mass of its own people, corruptly enriched a tiny handful of elites, served as a base of terrorism against its neighbours, lost control of its intelligence services, radicalized untold numbers of Muslims in its madrasas, handed the presidency to a man known as Mr 10%, and proliferated nuclear technology to Libya and Iran (among others) has, nevertheless, made itself a power to be reckoned with. Congratulations.
But if Pakistanis thought a bomb would be a net national asset, they miscalculated. Yes, Islamabad gained parity with its adversaries in New Delhi, gained prestige in the Muslim world and gained a day of national pride, celebrated every 28 May.
What Pakistan didn’t gain was greater security. “The most significant reality was that the bomb promoted a culture of violence which...acquired the form of a monster with innumerable heads of terror,” wrote Pakistani scientist Pervez Hoodbhoy earlier this year. “Because of this bomb, we can definitely destroy India and be destroyed in its response. But its function is limited to this.”
In 2007, some 1,500 Pakistani civilians were killed in terrorist attacks. None of those attacks were perpetrated by India or any other country against which Pakistan’s warheads could be targeted. But Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal has made it an inviting target for the jihadists who blew up Islamabad’s Marriott hotel in September and would gladly blow up the rest of the capital as a prelude to taking it over.
The day that happens may not be so very far off. President Asif Ali Zardari was recently in the US asking for $100 billion to stave off economic collapse. So far, the international community has ponied up about $15 billion. That puts Zardari $85 billion shy of his fund-raising target.
Preventing Pakistan’s disintegration, perhaps in the wake of a war with India (how much restraint will New Delhi show after the next Mumbai-style atrocity?), will be President-elect Obama’s most urgent foreign policy challenge. Since he has already committed a trillion or so in new domestic spending, what’s $100 billion in the cause of saving the world?
This is the deal I have in mind. The government of Pakistan would verifiably eliminate its entire nuclear stockpile and the industrial base that sustains it. In exchange, the US and other Western donors would agree to a $100 billion economic package, administered by an independent authority and disbursed over 10 years, on condition that Pakistan remain a democratic and secular state. It would supplement that package with military aid similar to what the US provides Israel: F-35 fighters, M-1 tanks, Apache helicopters. The US would also extend its nuclear umbrella to Pakistan, just as Hillary Clinton now proposes to do for Israel.
A pipe dream? Not necessarily. People forget that the world has subtracted more nuclear powers over the past two decades than it has added: Kazakhstan, Belarus, Ukraine and South Africa all relinquished their stockpiles in the 1990s. Libya did away with its programme in 2003 when Moammar Gadhafi concluded that a bomb would be a net liability.
The Wall Street Journal
Edited excerpts. Bret Stephens is a Wall Street Journal columnist. Your comments are welcome at otherviews@livemint.com
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First Published: Tue, Dec 16 2008. 09 18 PM IST