The recent audacious Taliban attack on Pakistans heavily guarded Mehran Naval base has once again raised questions on the safety and security of Pakistani nuclear assets.
Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions continue unabated, and it is considered the fastest-growing nuclear power in the world, with over 110–120 nuclear warheads in its arsenal. It has adopted the policy of “first use” and the tactical use of low-yield nuclear weapons against onrushing conventional forces. For Pakistan, now unmistakably considered a nuclear proliferator (nuclear linkages with North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia and possibly Libya), the nukes present credible insurance against conventionally superior Indian armed forces while providing the ability for nuclear blackmailing of the West. However, worrisome to the entire world is the possibility of some nuclear material falling into jihadi hands, which will have catastrophic implications for the world at large. The recent audacious Taliban attack on Pakistan’s heavily guarded Mehran Naval base has once again raised questions on the safety and security of Pakistani nuclear assets.
Pakistan: Likely Future Trends
Whither Pakistan is a question often asked by many, both Pakistanis and non-Pakistanis. Noted South Asian affairs expert Stephen Cohen has observed that “Pakistan has adapted to changing strategic circumstances by ‘renting’ itself out to powerful states, notably the United States, but also Saudi Arabia and China.”13 For decades, Pakistan has survived on generous doles from the United States and to some extent, Saudi Arabia. Cohen, however, warns that the 11 September windfall and the al-Qaeda card will, beyond a certain point, cease to guarantee cash and other forms of support from the United States endlessly. Op Geronimo has further angered the United States and reinforced the perceptions of Pakistan’s duplicity towards the United States and thus, further aid will have stringent strings attached to it.
Overall, Pakistan has a very weak economy, minimal employment opportunities, an abysmal education system based primarily on madrassas churning out fiery fundamentalists, a miserable human rights record and rising radicalisation and maltreats its minorities. Thus, Pakistan displays all the ingredients of a failing state. An objective analysis of Pakistan’s future is warranted to enable immediate and, if required, drastic corrective action to redeem itself.
A summation of all the factors, discussed in the above paragraphs, suggests that firstly, Pakistan’s trajectory appears relentless and there are no institutional structures or capacities for leadership that suggest this can be reversed. Is it the beginning of the end for Pakistan? From all trends, it is likely that internal difficulties may only worsen in the foreseeable future. Secondly, Islamist extremism now dominates a vast space across institutions and society in Pakistan autonomous with its support base within the army. A number of increasingly powerful extremist groups have become independent of, and some hostile to, the army itself. Civil society has shown that it has no capability to confront the violence of these radicals. Thirdly, the future of Pakistan will depend overwhelmingly on U.S./Western will in Afghanistan. If the West withdraws prematurely, leaving behind an unstable Afghanistan, or one ruled by Pakistan’s Taliban proxies, Pakistan’s military-Islamist complex will gain tremendous power and impunity, resulting in a terrorist rampage across South Asia and well beyond.
In any case, the West will be chary of burning its fingers by any military intervention inside Pakistan, especially after its continuing bitter operational experiences in neighbouring Afghanistan, which remains a festering sore for the U.S./NATO. Fourthly, an unresolved Afghanistan situation will gradually result into centrifugal forces within Pakistan getting stronger and directly confronting the Pakistan army along the FATA/Waziristan belts along the Durand Line et al., reducing the Pak army’s internal cohesion and also multiplying the rogue elements within the Pakistan armed forces—a sure recipe for disaster of the Pakistani state. Fifthly, the popular nightmare scenario of an abrupt Taliban/radical takeover of Pakistan is unlikely. Rather than an incident, Pakistan’s transformation will remain what it has long been, namely, a process. As the process advances, other power centres will crystallise, some out of the purely defensive imperatives of survival. These broad dynamics thus proffer a number of alternatives regarding Pakistan’s likely future, which currently, is anybody’s guess!14