VIEW : The price of deterrence — Mohammad Nafees
A country that has over 70 million people living on Rs 100 or less per day, its main priority remains the production of weapons of mass destruction
Pakistan has reportedly become one of the top five countries in the world with the highest number of nuclear weapons in its possession, has already left behind its archrival India, and is now poised to beat a country like the UK that once ruled this part of the world. How an achievement of this significance went unsung by the country that very solemnly celebrates Youm-e-Takbeer every year in memory of the first nuclear explosion it carried out in response to a similar act by its foe, India, in 1998! What restrained Pakistan not to glorify a success of such significance is unknown as it never acknowledged or denied these reports. It might be an attempt to maintain a low profile lest the foreign media add a few more scary words to its title of Pakistan as the “most dangerous country of the world”. Whatever be the reason, maintaining secrecy on such an achievement deprived people of thumping their chests with a feeling of pride that comes from the level of deterrence our nuclear strength can convey to our rivals.
According to reports, Pakistan currently has 90-100 nuclear weapons while its rival, India, despite being six times larger in population and eight times higher in GDP, has a stockpile of 80-100 nuclear weapons. This equation is expected to be changed drastically by 2021 when Pakistan will have 200 nuclear weapons and India, with 150 weapons, will be struggling hard to catch up. This shows the fulfillment of the commitment our visionary premier, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, made with the nation in 1974 when India carried out its first nuclear test. With firmness in his voice he said, “If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass and leaves for a thousand years, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own.” Unfortunately, his successor did not let him live long enough to see his dream turn into reality. However, the vision he inculcated in the establishment remained alive with his successors even though they despised him heartily. They even became over-obsessed with it. He wanted to have one bomb of our own, they went ahead and built 100 or maybe more.
Pakistan carried out its first nuclear test in May 1998 and within 13 years after the first experiment, it has now amassed a large quantity of nuclear weapons. How long did Pakistan take to produce that many nuclear weapons? There are conflicting reports but most of them agree on the figure of 100 as the current nuclear stock of Pakistan.
All around the world, nuclear programmes are surrounded with mystery and speculations; Pakistan is not an exception. However, the contradictory reports on Pakistan’s nuclear assets turn these mysteries into a puzzle. Pakistan is considered to have the fastest growing nuclear programme in the world with a production rate of 8-20 nuclear weapons in a year. With this speed, Pakistan must have produced more than 100 weapons during the last 13 years.
One hundred nuclear weapons is a big figure for a country like Pakistan when we look at the cost of an atom bomb. According to the available information, the USA spent nearly $ two billion per atom bomb in 1945 and its current cost estimate goes up to $ 22-25 billion.
During a meeting with Ayub Khan, the nuclear scientist, Munir Ahmed Khan, quoted him a cost estimate of $ 150 million for the nuclear programme. It is not known whether the cost was for the facility or it included the cost of the nuclear arsenal as well. In an article published in Newsweek (May 16, 2011), Dr Abdul Qadir Khan said, “There is a total misconception about the money spent on our nuclear programme. When we started, our budget was just $ 10 million per year, increasing to $ 20 million per year when at full capacity including all salaries, transport, medical care, housing, utilities, and purchases of technical equipment and materials.” What was estimated to cost $ 150 million back in the 1960s came down to $ 20 million in the 1990s. Only a miraculous negative escalation of exchange rate can make such a thing happen. If we take Dr Khan’s words as true, he deserves credit for it. However, it is not clear whether or not this budget was inclusive of the production cost of nuclear warheads. Let us assume Pakistan produced 10 weapons per year. Even if 50 percent of the nuclear programme budget was spent for the production of nuclear weapons, it means we spent $ 10 million per year for production of 10 warheads. Therefore, the 100 nuclear warheads we produced so far cost us only $ 100 million, nearly five percent of what the USA spent in 1945 to produce one atom bomb. If proved right, it would be an unmatchable achievement of this century in the field of nuclear technology. A big round of applause goes in honour of the team of our nuclear scientists who performed this miracle. Unfortunately, there seems to be a flaw in these figures.
Newsweek (May 15, 2011) has quoted the former president of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf as saying that Pakistan keeps two divisions of the army — about 18,000 troops — to guard the nuclear assets. Make a calculation at an average of Rs 20,000 per month for salary, uniform, food, and accommodation for each soldier and officer of these troops and you get a $ 50 million stub in your hand. Cut these expenses in half and yet the figure remains higher than the annual budget of $ 20 million and that too for the security forces only and not for the cost of the facility and its products.
Like the nuclear programme, the cost of nuclear warhead is also kept secret. It leaves us with no option other than to use the cost incurred by the US in 1945 as a baseline for our calculation. In other words, it must be at least $ 2.0 billion per nuclear warhead if not more. Building one hundred warheads at this cost means Pakistan must have spent at least $ 200 billion so far. For a country that faced several internal disasters during the last decade like the war on terror, an earthquake, IDPs and floods, an expense of $ 200 billion on a destructive device make one wonders as to what we consider as our basic priority. A country that has over 70 million people living on Rs100 or less per day, whose population of extreme poverty has gone up from 47 million to 72 million within the last four years, and whose people, civilians and security officials both, are dying every day with the growing acts of terrorism and target killings, its main priority remains the production of weapons of mass destruction. Unbelievable!
In a Newsweek article, Dr Khan said, “If we had had nuclear capability before 1971, we would not have lost half of our country.” This is partially true. We have created an effective deterrence to external threats but left the internal threats unattended because we still consider the events of 1971 as an external conspiracy. If China, with a GDP of about $ 5.6 trillion, can consider 40 nuclear weapons enough for its deterrence policy, why can 100 of them not make us feel the same way? Are we into the same mad arms race that led the USSR to collapse despite having a huge quantity of nuclear weapons? Internal threats are equally dangerous to the integrity of a country as external threats, especially when we hear reports that insiders from the armed forces are conspiring against the country and its military installations. Is it not time to think internally instead of externally?
The writer is a freelance journalist and researcher. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org