THE numbers are staggering. According to a new report by two international think tanks, Pakistan is estimated to possess 120 nuclear warheads. Within the next decade, the report claims, it could have up to 350 nuclear weapons, making Pakistan’s the third-largest nuclear stockpile in the world. Not bad for a country that has a 4000 MW energy shortfall.
During a trip to Joint Staff Headquarters last week, a Senate defence committee heard why arms stockpiling continues at this pace. India is Pakistan’s only external threat, the committee was told, and it continues to amass Pakistan-specific weapons worth billions. This apparently meant that Pakistan had few options but to stock up too.
But there are other ways to view this conundrum. Writing in this paper last week, Toby Dalton and Michael Krepon, the authors of the above-mentioned report A Normal Nuclear Pakistan, argued that Pakistan currently has sufficient nuclear stockpiles to deter India from engaging with it in a conventional war or deploying nuclear weapons. They called for Pakistan’s military leadership to acknowledge its success in achieving ‘strategic’ deterrence — enough to prevent war, nuclear or otherwise — rather than pursue ‘full spectrum’ deterrence, which would entail the endless acquisition of more nuclear weapons.
Such arguments did not appear to be raised by the Senate defence committee. However, the committee did call for the government to promulgate a national security policy, drafted last year, and establish national security institutions to promote coordinated policymaking by the military and government.
Given that Pakistan has achieved ‘strategic’ deterrence vis-à-vis India, it is time to question whether the country can take advantage of its nuclear position to develop a more complex and holistic security perspective, looking ahead to future challenges from unexpected sources. And this is best done with the military and civilian government working together.
Twenty-first century security challenges are likely to be different to those of the past. For example, water security is likely to be among Pakistan’s greatest challenges. Water security is often narrowly conceived as the vulnerability of Pakistan’s access to water in relation to India; however, the security implications of water scarcity extend further, involving China, Afghanistan and the Central Asian states. Former army chief Ashfaq Kayani had cited Pakistan’s water shortages as the driver for the country’s India-centric security policies, but broader security challenges linked to water scarcity require broader thinking, which government officials are well positioned to do.
Similarly, energy security is a key issue in a world where economies are driven by access to cheap and reliable energy sources. It is a particular point of vulnerability for Pakistan, both in terms of existing weaknesses in its energy infrastructure and threats to that infrastructure. Militaries alone cannot develop plans to make countries energy secure, another reason why the civilian government must engage in national security debate from fresh perspectives.
Other than the fight against domestic militant groups, the military’s greatest challenge in recent years has been to provide rescue and relief support following major natural disasters. Its role in the 2005 earthquake was key, ranging from rescue missions at high altitudes to transporting relief goods to remote northern regions. The army played a similar role in coordinating and providing rescue and relief during successive summers of flooding in 2010 and 2011, and in the years since. Pakistan is often cited as a classic case study in arguments about the significant threats to national security from climate change, but this is a debate we have yet to have internally, and which must involve both the military and government to provide resilient and holistic solutions.
Cyber warfare is also likely to emerge as a major security challenge in coming years. Pakistan has invested heavily in internet blocking and filtering technologies, but the state still sees its own citizens as the primary threat in terms of cyberspace, and is more focused on surveillance than on safeguarding the country’s cyber infrastructure. Cyberspace in particular is a realm where the military and government must work together to ensure that Pakistan’s cyber infrastructure is adequately safeguarded, but in a transparent way to ensure that Pakistani citizens are not the first victims of a heavy-handed cyber strategy.
A host of other issues ranging from urbanisation to population growth and migration have serious implications for national security. Pakistan needs to engage in thoughtful debate about how to tackle these challenges without narrow-mindedly falling back on the India bogey alone.
Militaries and governments are meant to think differently. Like two sides of a brain, they will only be at their most creative when they work together.
The writer is a freelance journalist.
Published in Dawn, August 31st, 2015