Journey of The Islamic Bomb: Pakistan to Saudi Arabia
Mankind has at its disposal a host of security mechanisms available to it. But the more we try to make the world safer to live in , the more it seems to be slipping into a dark abyss of insecurity. At this point of time we need to be reminded that man-made conflicts have killed more people than natural disasters in the history of mankind.. In any case we have now brought a kind of convergence as far as these two types of disasters against humanity are concerned, very clearly evident in our divergent views on climate control; an understanding that might or might not take off in 2020, notwithstanding the much hyped document finalised and signed as a result of COP21.
Yes, indeed we have been counting on science to deliver path breaking technologies to serve the future of mankind. It is also true that while developments in the scientific world never let us down, the devils’ mind has always applied itself in equal measure for alternative use of these developments to move in the opposite direction. That may be a natural cycle that keeps pushing the developmental graph in an upwardly direction, as the two ends of application of science keep pacing in a vain effort to outdo each other.
Pakistan’s Nuclear Ambitions
The most startling of these scientific developments have been in the field of ‘atomic power’ wherein possession of an atomic bomb has been considered very exclusive in the security calculus of nations world over. One is instantly reminded of Pakistan’s President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who made that compelling statement in January 1972 that Pakistan must develop an Atom Bomb even if it amounted to ‘eating grass’ by the nation. In 1979, he wrote from his death cell in Rawalpindi jail, “We know that Israel and South Africa have full nuclear capability. The Christian, Jews and Hindu civilisations have this capability; the communist powers also possess it. Only Islamic civilisation was without it but that position was about to change”[i]. He even called it an ‘Islamic Bomb’. And so it may be, now that time seems to have caught up with the destiny of the world.
West Asia has been in turmoil ever since the end of the Second World War that ended in creation of designer states and Israel, the bone of contention[ii]. It is only now, after nearly seven decades, that there appears to be a policy shift in the security matrix of this region. But by now the nations here have already been through a kind of churning process that has caused a large number of divisive forces to play very destructive and regressive roles in the area. The Islamic world is more divided than united as a result of these conflicts. In fact it may not be out of place to mention that the Islamic civilisation is at a cross–road, with the ever widening gap between 85-90 % Sunni population, spread from South East Asia, China, South Asia and Africa, and 10-15 % Shias, in Iran, Iraq and Azerbaijan[iii], which if not controlled now, is headed for doomsday.
Present US Policy in West-Asia and Regional Developments
Today the balance of power in this region leans towards Iran at one end and Saudi Arabia at the other, a result of the new US policy of power balancing wherein it would now like to outsource a greater role to the regional players. So the emerging equations could be more to do with regional security in West Asia being taken care of between Iran (Shia) and Saudi (Sunni) with Kurds looking for some ‘bread crumbs’ in the process. We are already in the process facing security challenges of monumental proportions due to large number of splinter groups in this region with their own following and power equations with apparently no long term perspectives.
Let us understand that Iran is already well ahead into its nuclear development programme. Iran has also been in the camp of Syria with Russian intervention and Hamas. So with a Shia majority Iraq , has Iran not de facto already assumed the leadership of the Shia world? Obviously Saudis should be delighted at the prospects of leading the Sunni world and they have already displayed these leanings by assuming a lead role in fighting the Houthi rebels (Iran supported) in Yemen by putting together a 34-nation coalition forces under one ‘flag’[iv].
The only weakness that the Saudis face is the non–existence of a nuclear arsenal to balance out Iran or rest of the world. This is where the argument develops it moves on- that Saudi’s Pakistan connection and their deeper friendship is likely to play a very vital role. In November 2013 Mark Urban of BBC had claimed that Saudi Arabia had financed Pakistan’s nuclear weapon programme and it was confident of acquiring atomic bombs at will from Pakistan[v]. Add to that Pakistan nuclear scientist A Q Khans’ highly questionable record of his involvement in nuclear technology transfer to North Korea, Iran and some other countries even supposedly for monetary benefits.
This picture may look closer to getting completed when we combine it with Pakistan developing closer strategic partnership with China, particularly when we look at the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and development of Gwadar ports taken on lease for 40 years by China with reports already emerging of PLA Navy being tasked to guard it.
If that does not sound convincing enough then, one only need look at the dubious record of Pakistan, China and North Korea as regards their nuclear and missile proliferation profile is concerned. Such ‘skills’ would have only sharpened over the years. Finally we hear that, as yet from unconfirmed reports, that the recently retired General Raheel Sharif has expressed willingness to take over the command of a 39-nation Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT) set up under Saudi Arabia’s auspices on 15 December 2015 with its headquarters at Riyadh[vi]. Ironically, are these not the very nations that some believe and not without reason, to be responsible for spread of terrorism particularly against the rest of the world. It is a different matter that for the sake of narratives these nations hold the western world to be the root cause of this problem.
All these loose ends put together do point out to the shape of things to come and much more as time unfolds. A lot also depends on how Russia and China unfold their policy for this region. Russia has been by far most aggressive with clear leaning towards the Shia camp. Does that mean that Pakistan and China combined are on the other side as a balance. Surely some of these developments will then propel the region towards a more stable power balancing equation but not without the consideration of a nuclear umbrella availability within or outside the region, that only time will tell.
[i] Pervez Hoodbhoy, “When?” Los Angeles Times, July 10, 2005; also see Pervez Hoodbhoy, Myth-Building: The “Islamic” Bomb, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, June 1993, p.43.
[ii] Avi Shlain, “The Middle East: The origin of Arab-Israel Wars”, in Ngaire Woods, Explaining International Relations since 1945 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996).
[iii] Mapping the Global Muslim Population, Pew Research Centre (Religion and public Life), October7, 2009.
[iv] Ahmed Fouad, “What’s Saudis new Islamic Coalition really up to?”, Al- Monitor, Dcember22,2015.
[v] Rizwan Asghar, “The myth of the Islamic Bomb”, Daily Times, February 3, 2014.
[vi] Malaysia Sun (IANS), “Pakistan ex-Army Chief to command Islamic anti-terror force”, Monday 5th December 2016.