HARDtalk: Global nuclear arms control is dead...Bush shot and killed it...
Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, professor of nuclear physics, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad
Kargil was the first war caused by nuclear weapons; arms races are obscenely expensive; nuclear weapons have destabilized South Asia; India has a stronger anti-nuclear lobby
Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, a nuclear physicist, teaches at the Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, and is the recipient of several professional awards for scientific research. He has written and spoken extensively on topics ranging from science in Islam to education issues in Pakistan and nuclear disarmament. He produced a 13-part documentary series in Urdu for Pakistan Television on critical issues in education, and two other major television series aimed at popularizing science. In this exclusive interview with Mohammad Shehzad for the Daily Times, Dr Hoodbhoy speaks on the dark side of the nuclear weapons in the backdrop of current Pak-India tension.
Daily Times: Have nuclear weapons brought security to the region?
Pervez Hoodbhoy: There was a time when generals in Pakistan said two bombs are enough to deter the Indians Ė one for Delhi and the other for Bombay. The Indians made the same argument. Dr A Q Khan is on record as saying that Pakistan has enough bombs to take out all of Indiaís cities, not once, but twice. There is an inevitable logic to this escalation. More bombs, more missiles, measures, counter-measures, ballistic missiles to hit ballistic missiles, to counter them, radars, and so on and so forth. There is no limit to this. India and Pakistan are straining to build up their arsenals. This mad arms race has seriously jeopardized the security in the region. The evidence is subtle as an elephant. Since May 1998 we have seen the Kargil crisis and now the present standoff, which is more dangerous, with India breathing fire and preparing for what it calls Ďlimited warí.
DT: But Islamabad says nuclear weapons have prevented war between India and Pakistan.
PH: Kargil has disproved this naÔve notion. The Kargil war was the first in history that was actually caused by nuclear weapons. Let me explain this: when Pakistan tested nuclear weapons in May 1998, it felt so secure that it thought it could pursue foreign policy objectives with regard to India without an Indian retaliation. Subsequently, it sent forces, disguised, across the border. It knew India would want to respond but thought the nuclear shield would prevent India from doing so. Therefore, what we have seen is the initiation of a war because Pakistan felt the nuclear shield would deter the Indians from attacking Pakistan across the line of control or across the international border, out of fear of nuclear weapons.
DT: To what extent the nuclear weapons of India and Pakistan are safe? Are they under any safe command and control system?
PH: There is no such thing as a safe command and control system. Suppose that Pakistan decides to keep all its missiles and bombs in one place. Obviously, it will not do that, because one Indian bomb could knock all of them out. Therefore, it must disperse the missiles. It must also disperse the authority, delegate authority to the people in charge of those missiles. So should a nuclear war occur, it may be that the order is not given by the Chief Executive or the Prime Minister of India or whoever; that decision may be taken by a brigadier who will decide whether you and I are to live or die.
DT: There is a fear in the minds of many people here that the anti-nuclear lobby in Pakistan wants unilateral renunciation of the nuclear option. Do you support the idea of unilateral disarmament?
PH: I am definitely anti-nuclear, but I donít believe unilateral nuclear disarmament by Pakistan at this stage is either possible or even desirable. Instead, we need a set of graduated steps by which both India and Pakistan first make their arsenals safer and less useable, and then rapidly move towards their reduction and elimination. The current trend of building more bombs and missiles must be reversed.
DT: What are the chances of global nuclear disarmament?
PH: Miserable at the moment. The US unilateralism is set to destroy any and all arms control treaties, except those that clearly favor the US. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Biological Weapons Convention, the Land Mines Treaty.... all have been torpedoed by President Bush. Worse, in January this year, the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) was leaked to the public. This document is obscene and utterly immoral! It calls for development of operational strategies that would allow use of nuclear weapons by the US even against those states which do not possess nuclear, chemical, biological or other weapons of mass destruction. Special-purpose nuclear weapons such as bunker busters and deep penetration weapons are now being developed. Global nuclear arms control is dead - George W. Bush shot and killed it.
DT: How expensive is the arms race?
PH: Soon after Kargil, India shot down an unarmed Pakistan reconnaissance plane that was flying close to the border. 16 valuable lives were lost. It is very hard to say what the facts of the case are. But what is absolutely certain is that Pakistan sued India in the International Court of Justice for an amount of $60 million. Now Pakistanís universities annually need $30 million, all of them, for their budgets, which means that this one single aircraft was equivalent to two years of Pakistanís total expenditure for all its universities. This shows how criminally expensive the arms race is and how much India and Pakistan are spending on weapons of destruction. Furthermore, it also tells us that incidents of this type are going to occur again and again. The dangers are very great.
DT: Is the anti-nuclear lobby stronger in India or Pakistan?
PH: In India. The Indian civil society is more vibrant and stronger. After the Indian tests, there were protests in all major cities of the country Ė Delhi, Calcutta, Bombay Ė which were attended by thousands of people.
DT: Is there any book on the history of nuclear development in Pakistan and India?
PH: There are histories of the Indian and Pakistani nuclear programs that give a good account of how the two countries started their nuclear programs. Some very good books have been written on the Indian program, particularly by George Perkovich. There are also a few strong anti-Indian nuclear program books written by authors such as Praful Bidwai and Achin Vanaik.
DT: Why are you so controversial?
PH: I didnít know I was controversial! Tell me!
DT: The Urdu press has portrayed you so. It reported that you had torched the effigy of Dr A Q Khan, the father of Pakistan nuclear program. Is this true?
PH: Thatís complete and total nonsense. It is a very undignified thing to burn human beings, even if symbolically. The press concocted the story to inflame passions. After the allegation, I wrote to Dr Khan saying that I would like him to know that this was mere fabrication. He responded saying that he respected me as a scientist, and that the press was out for cheap sensationalism. Iíve subsequently met him at various meetings and we have chatted pleasantly. So there is no personal animus between us although I totally oppose nuclear weapons. Moreover, the Urdu press likes to have some people to bash. So thatís all right!