Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What Are Pakistan's Nuclear Weapons For? (Updated Below)

I can safely predict that there will be quite a bit of buzz generated by this story in today's NYT, where a bunch of military and ISI officials basically tell the Americans that the Afghanistan surge isn't a particularly sound idea. The message from the military establishment is: look, a surge there will lead to more trouble near the Balochistan border, and we're not going to send troops there to police the Taliban and their local affiliates because we're not moving a single soldier from the Indian border -- enough already.

Now, there are a number of points and questions that immediately come to mind here. Let me go through them one by one.

1. The Afghanistan surge could very well be a bad idea

Just because the ISI and Pakistan military say something, doesn't necessarily make it wrong. In this instance, it might be wise to consider the wider strategic implications of President Obama and his decision to basically bet his presidency on Afghanistan. As Stephen Walt said the other day, it is quite curious how drastically the American mission has changed from "targeting al-Qaeda and its leadership" to "nation-building in Afghanistan and defeating the Taliban". In any event, it's unclear to me what exactly the job additional troops are supposed to do. I have to tell you, I've been reading a lot on insurgencies and civil wars and guerrilla conflicts for my dissertation, and the more I read, the more I question what exactly the U.S. is trying to do in Afghanistan.

2. How deliberately managed does a leak have to be before the NYT tells its readers so?

The most shocking thing about the article for me was not the actual revelations contained therein, but the process by which those revelations were made. This is how the article itself describes it:

Pakistan’s critical assessment was provided as the Obama administration’s special envoy for the region, Richard C. Holbrooke, arrived in Pakistan on Tuesday night.

The country’s perspective was given in a nearly two-hour briefing on Friday for The New York Times by senior analysts and officials of Pakistan’s main spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence. They spoke on the condition of anonymity in keeping with the agency’s policy. The main themes of the briefing were echoed in conversations with several military officers over the past few days.

One of the first briefing slides read, in part: “The surge in Afghanistan will further reinforce the perception of a foreign occupation of Afghanistan. It will result in more civilian casualties; further alienate local population. Thus more local resistance to foreign troops.”

Note three points: one, this is right before Richard Holbrooke's visit to Pakistan and follows closely Hillary Clinton's visit to India. Two, the ISI organized a bloody briefing for the NYT. Three, they used Power Point ("one of the first briefing slides") -- this instantly makes me respect them more. I really didn't think they had it in them. Well done, guys. Well done.

Anyway, this is so clearly a deliberate and manipulated leak that I don't even know what to say. And the NYT has done the ISI a nice little favor by dutifully publishing it on the front page of the most famous newspaper in the world.

3. What are Pakistan's nuclear weapons for?

Everything I have ever read within the fields of international relations and security studies suggests that the possession of nuclear weapons guarantees a state's core interests. There is a quite a bit of disagreement on what else nuclear weapons guarantee, but this much is pretty much a consensus: a rival state will not launch an invasion of your homeland as long as you have nuclear weapons. The reason is simple: doing so risks nuclear annihilation for the potential invader.

With that in mind, I have to ask: what are Pakistan's nuclear weapons for? It is clear that even in times of relative calm (such as the present, as opposed to the period immediately following the Mumbai 26/11 attacks or the parliament attack in December 2001), Pakistan's military establishment is wary of thinning the military presence on the Indian border even slightly. Again, I am not asking why Pakistan doesn't completely demilitarize its border -- that's obviously out of the question.

But what exactly was the point of the costs of international sanctions, pariah status, and everything else attendant with testing nuclear weapons, when Pakistan refuses to trust the very core purpose they are supposed to fulfill? If Pakistan treats its eastern border as so at risk that it deems it completely out of the question to scale back its presence, then it is basically acting as if it doesn't possess nuclear weapons, correct? Or am I missing something?

I'm not trying to be snarky here. I'm genuinely curious: what are Pakistan's nuclear weapons for?

UPDATE: Before the jokers amongst you start giving me your one-liners, please note responses such as "to guarantee A.Q. Khan and his family an untold fortune" and "to scare the shit out of the rest of the world" won't be appreciated.


Asfandyar said...

It might be a "i have a big dick" thing for us. I say that solely on the basis of my observation of Pakistanis; particularly those with some level of power.

Either that, or we're still banging on about our eastern border not because we're genuinely worried about cutting numbers short there, but because we're trying to get the US to be as friendly with us as they are with the Indians? A more political nuance rather than a military one.

FZ said...

They are there to help prevent an attack, it doesn't make them the only thing that the Indians would look at in their calculations. Secondly moving armies requires quite a bit of money - plus relative calm lasts only so long, if another unfortunate incident happens in India, are you going to pay to move these guys back?

By your rationale we might as well abolish the army once we have the bomb...stick to the dissertations..

karachi khatmal said...

ahsan you know my thoughts on this, which asfandyar has eloquently put in here as well...

as for FZ - priceless. yeah ahsan you army abolishing pinko. go write your thesis papers.

as an aside though, the army only knows how to do one thing - worry about india. it can not force itself to consider any other imagined threat on the planet. this seems to be the only reason really. i think they got tired of protecting the nation's best interests a long while ago. now they're kind of like james blake - they only know how to sing one kind of song, and have no idea how, or why to break out of it since it's worked out pretty well so far.

(You're Beautiful is an even bigger disaster than Kargil.)

FZ said...


yeah I really called him a pinko liberal. I'm sorry but it is kind of a juvenile argument that is being made - and I was only pointing this out with my abolish the army comment.

I fully agree the army has been /is too lax on bunch of these threats. However, you guys seem to think that just because one threat exists the other one no longer does - why are they mutually exclusive? And what are the consequences of underestimating each?

Pagal_Aadmi_for_debauchery said...

FZ: Its not a question of two threats existing at the same time. I think Ahsan was implying that the Pakistani Military establishment acts as if Pakistan never went Nuclear. As the Nuclear weapons are indeed a deterrant to India, the Pakistan military establishment should then show some change in behavior because of the newly acquired nukes. If the possession of nukes changes nothing, then what good are the nukes for?
Actually, IMO, at some level the nukes have made the Military establishment more belligerent as they dont fear an Indian conventional attack like they used to, for example, the Kargil misadventure.

bubs said...

Nuclear weapons deter India.
The army presence on the border deters military budget cuts.

FZ said...


fair point - though I think the issue is moving forces under pressure as opposed to of one's own will- it sets a bad example, and you only provide a perverse incentive to the other side to help nurture situations that require further repositioning.

I think if you have prolonged peace (unfortunately very unlikely) then you may actually see a change in behavior. However, I really doubt you will see a change in behavior in the current situation and I think that is a rational and predictable outcome given the circumstances.

Also it kills me that 1. nobody mentions we have several large cities so close to the border and 2. there is no natural barrier associated with the border. Obviously this is part of strategic calculus as well. 3. we came very close to a war in 2001 - too close to rely on nukes as a complete deterrent in my opinion.

Ahsan said...


Yeah, it might be all of those things.


I never said "abolish the army". Please read the post clearly before launching criticisms. I specifically said demilitarizing the border with India is out of the question. I am merely wondering why Pakistan's military refuses to trust nuclear deterrence even slightly, given that's the stated reason we acquired the damn thing.


Haha. The Pakistan army as James Blake. Someone should write that book.


Yeah, I agree completely.

dudelove said...

umm... because the manuals for them nukes are in chinese?

Ahsan said...


Haha. Touche.

qasimrasheed said...

The reasoning in your post are deeply flawed. I am not sure how come you are allowed to write on a blog - I have started questioning myself if I should subscribe to this blog any more. Ask yourself the question - why do India need nuke, why do U.S need nukes?

F-Machine said...


eloquent writing, and pertinent points indeed. well done sir.

nsahmed said...

james blunt, not blake, by the way.still in wimbledon mode? :P

bubs makes a lot of sense - at least part of the reason for maintaining a military presence on the western border is keeping the defense budget high. and nuclear weapons are deterrents.

and ahsan, on what basis do you claim that the acquisition of nukes hasn't changed our strategy and modified the distribution of resources away from the India border? I think that's out of the question - obviously they MUST have made SOME changes after 1998. you'd have to do some research there.

oh,and as for why we're playing hard ball with USA on this one - maybe it's just to prove that Pakistan won't blindly follow their orders and may have different priorities. you know. just to say that okay, back off, we'll do what we think is best.

karachi khatmal said...

indian nukes = created as a deterrent against china

us nukes = created partially as a deterrent against russia, partially because they got there first and used it in WWII to establish their hegemony.

HOW-FUCKING-EVER, each of these countries have economies, nobel winners and political stability that far, far out-weigh ours. MORE IMPORTANTLY, none of these countries has ever been run by the army.

now, if the army decides to do its job, then it would not be running the country every 10 years, it would not be creating 'non-state actors' that turn on the state itself, and they would not be unable to control the thousands of deaths at the hands of militants in pakistan.

UN-FUCKING-FORTUNATELY the army has not been able to deliver on any of these fucking fronts. more importantly, it has achieved the aim of deterrence. therefore, instead of sitting around expecting india to attack, it should fucking put out the rampant insurgency that is ripping the country in half.

moreover, you can always nuke india if it attacks lahore. who the fuck are you gonna nuke when baitullah murders shitloads of people in every city of pakistan?

fuck's sake.

Ahsan said...

Qasim Rasheed:

Um, alright then.


Yeah, I think that's the best criticism of my post -- that this is just a smokescreen for the U.S. (which I sort of implied with my point on it being a leak but I should have spelled it out more). But I still think the military has been very disinclined to take the Indian threat less seriously after 1998. But you're right, I should do some proper research before making blanket statements.


Come on, tell us how you really feel.

FZ said...


wrong on India, or atleast highly debatable. That was more chest-thumping by the BJP - it was meant to show India had arrived - it came out of the blue if you recall. They could have done it years earlier.

US - wrong. It was developed to win world war II and it was a race against the Germans, Russian detente came years later. Where the fuck were you educated?

I don't disagree that army needs to take on the insurgency but you guys just assume they aren't because we have all these troops tied up. That may be true, but I'd like to see some analysis that shows this as opposed to simple assertions (similarly as someone says the original post assumes no changes at all since 1998).

Look, I really like this blog and love reading it but when somebody talks out of his/her ass I have to call them on it. You can drop all the f-bombs you want.

ps. Ahsan I never said you wanted to abolish the army, I was saying your "logic" could be used to support such a position. you need to re-read my post.

karachi khatmal said...

FZ i apologize for the claim that american nukes were for russian detente. thank you for the personal attack which set me right.

however,when was the last time again the indians attacked what is modern day pakistan? apparently, 1948, 1965, 1998 and 2001 all involved bum-fuckery on the part of the pakistani army involving the usage of non=state actors.

i am at a loss as to why you, or a lot of other people, believe the pakistani army is sitting around faithfully doing its job of protecting us from the evil indians.

if they were, how do they get the time to run the state, take over national institutions, and direct proxy wars?

more importantly, here is the scorecard.

direct attacks by india on pakistani territory in past seven years = 0

direct attacks by militants on pakistani territory in past seven years = fuckloads.

FZ said...

convenient to leave out '71 don't you think (not that I accept your claim that the Pakistan army alone was responsible for all the other wars).

You still don't provide any reason to believe that were it not for the Pakistan army stationed at the border we wouldn't have the problem with militacy/terrorists that we do. That is the missing logic in all you arguments. Please prove the counterfactual.

Look I was in Lahore at the end of 2001 and we were pretty close to a war then, and in the end the Indian blinked (though it took several months). Now whether it was the mobilization on our side, the nukes or their internal issues I don't care. I was GLAD we had our army and our bomb - and I was GLAD we were focussed on them. Now I agree with everyone that the threat is much lower now but everyone knows that it would take one damn incident to take us right back to brink. And in that case it won't be the bloggers I'm grateful for.

karachi khatmal said...

1) I would like to hear who else was responsible for the wars that broke out in '48, '65, '98?

2) I neglected to mention '71 because at that point our army was carrying out mass genocide against its own people. the indian angle, to me, is quite insignificant in that regard.

3) If the army had not created and fostered various militant groups, we would not have had the current insurgency. clearly, the army is not solely focusing its energies on guarding the border. therefore, if the army can create them, it is expected to eliminate them as well. the army went on the record stating repeatedly that it could not fight in swat because of the tensions with india following mumbai. which again was instigated by the army's home trained militants. it is now belatedly taking the battle to south waziristan. because of the delays, it would require a lot of manpower to upend the entrenched forces there. for that manpower, we would need to remove soldiers from the indian front. you are arguing that they should be left there to counter a potential threat from india, versus an actual, visible, extremely costly threat caused by terrorism now.

4) If you were in Lahore in 2001, you would remember that the issue began when militants from our side attacked their parliament. those militants had been trained by our army. again, if the army focused on defensive measures, rather than offensive ones, we would not be in this mess. also i wonder if you are in lahore right now, how are you less afraid of the threat of terrorism? seriously, the attack on the sri lankan cricket team, the bombings on mall, the fia building etc these don't scare you? you were afraid of an indian invasion, but are not concerned about someone blowing themselves up somewhere near you? and if you are, who do you think needs to battle this real, tangible, actual threat which has killed more people than any potential indian invasion...

perhaps you are looking to defend the army, and are sick of people bitching and moaning about the army. fair enough. but when i see the mindless violence of suicide bombing, the fear of parents dropping off kids to school where they are checked for bombs, the threat of a gang of wild-eyed machine gun toting men overtaking any public area, it sickens me that these people are our own country men, and were created, funded, trained and possibly still backed by our very own state. in such a situation, india is far removed from the immediacy of threats.

your move.

Rabia said...

Karachi Khatmal for PM

FZ said...

I was going to leave this as I honestly don't know why I'm wasting my time but

1. '48 - the civilian leadership was involved, if anything the army - still headed by a Brit, refused to follow orders and deploy to Kashmir (following an Indian deployment) - unfortunately setting up a terrible precedent! This is documented fact - I can provide you with references (please don't make me waste my time - ask some of your friends that have studied Pakistan history).

'65 you are right it was all army, though it was a very different geopolitical environment - ie it was much less irresponsible then than it would be now - doesn't excuse it but it does need context.

'98 - obviously very controversial about whether the civillian govt was involved but I agree this was a retarded move.

2. In terms of future threat perception I just have to disagree that the Indian involvement is not relevant (the atrocities committed by the army notwithstanding), unless you believe the Indian involvement was purely altruistic and can't be used as a data point for future threat perception.

3. again you ignore the role of the civilians, right down to Bibi and the creation of the taliban etc. I agree we as a state screwed around with all these guys, but you seem to imply it is all the army's fault.

4. Do you think this was done with the approval/planning of the army?- I don't , and if that is the case it is kind of irrelevant as to how involved the army/state was with these guys in the past when it comes to a prediction of what may happen in the future. I think all these groups are out of control of anyone and if anything have become very anti-army and anti-state. You could have something similar happen in the future unfortunately. That could escalate in to a war - and unfortunately in the present that just cannot be discounted.

There are two flaws in your argument (I'm gong to ignore the various factual errors) - 1. you still haven't shown that the army is not fighting terrorists because it is focussed on India 2. that because we have a massive threat from the Taliban (and I agree we do, and I also agree that is the immediate threat), that we no longer have a threat from India.

Lastly its amusing that everything that has gone wrong you tend to blame on the army yet all the solutions you look for are totally dependent on ... the army.

karachi khatmal said...

jeezus this is a tedious argument now...

well, the ISI recently provided a powerpoint presentation to the NYT, where they said that moving troops away from india to guard our western borders "was out of the question."

now, no amount of ISI hissy-fits will prevent Obama's surge in Afghanistan. therefore, when it happens, those groups will seek refuge in pakistan, as they have been doing for the past eight years. these groups will then fuck shit up in pakistan, either themselves, or by aiding other anti-state elements. as they have done before. thus, i believe that by obsessing with india, the army is reneging on its duty to protect our own soil. again, i say this because this is what the army told the americans. perhaps it is a ploy to tell the amreekans to fuck off. great. but the americans are still going to go on with their surge. so the army's posturing could go to shit.

secondly, proving that no threat from india exists is rather impossible. because obviously there is a threat. the question here is how dangerous is that threat. how real is it. the point of this post was to argue that a nuclear deterrent should downgrade that threat, but it hasn't seemed to do so. i don't believe india is a benign neighbour. but considering that economically and politically we have no leverage other than support for the war on terror, our approach of taking india on is a suicidal one. they are already vastly more important on the world stage than us. orchestrating mumbai type attacks will only lead to further isolation. so we can't take them on, and with the nukes, we can assume that chances of them attacking us would be pretty rare.

finally, i am not looking for any solutions from the army. i am only asking them to do their JOB, which is to protect our soil. they need to fucking eliminate any threat, and i would be grateful for that. but if that threat is one they created themselves, i would fucking expect them to take care of it. any other solutions, such as the articulation of a coherent national identity, is not the purview of the army, and i don't expect them to provide any solution on that front.

but you know what, if you with all your intelligence still have such faith in the army, i think i need to reconsider my own views.

adeel said...

Dr Farukh Saleem ( and presents some interesting statistics. I'm sure most of you have already read these two pieces. But still they're here as reference to what follows...

I suppose the point (in the articles) is that the huge military presence on our eastern border is for a reason - there're way too many Indains on the other side.

And while our western front could certainly use more boots, loosening the grip on the eastern edge could lead to added complexities (not that it already isn't complex enough) - such as indians mounting a direct insurgency via wahga?!. They maitain a huge presence on our border, reason stands they could be tempted to exploit the 'holes' if we let loose.

The nukes stand useless in such a situation... much as they are in face of the Taliban.

Now I'm not big on historical facts and all, but you don't win wars by fighting and killing. We need some clever dick political shit to sort this out - e.g., Dr Saleem suggests engaging India in trade. That sounds viable enough, though am not sure how practical. If there's a people to people connection, it might calm the nerves of the military-types.

The same is true for our western border (admidtedly, things are already rabid there). The Taliban are a phenomenon, they're here to stay. The army might be able to kill the gun totting buggers but the ideas have infilterated east past the Indus already.

BTW, great discussion KK and FZ. You teach us mortals a lot.

Anonymous said...

Aside from the political hardball, its also imperative for the govt to not come across as overt supporters of american operation for fear of instability internally from sympathetic ears to taliban. That was on ample display during swat operations when there was atleast 1 suicide bombing per day.

So what is essentially needed is to get the americans bring some of their own troops to guard the Af-Pak border (ofcourse on afghan side of it) along with some that can be spared from western border(that too covertly)... after all that IS the most logical route to "safety" and you would do well to sandwich your opponent.

I think a direct offensive from Indians can be ruled out as they would not want to be on the wrong side of US during the afghan operation. they wld have been well briefed as to how all cooperation in future from pak will be lost if that happens. The only bit to safeguard against is an attack following an unfortunate incident in India.

But I wonder how these leaks would be perceived by the very people to be targetted in Afghanistan. Surely u cant expect them to be cooling their heels waiting for the operation to begin to make their run!

Raza said...

It's amazing how obsessed with India we still are. Maybe it's because Pakistan still defines itself as a reaction to an external Hindu threat (that whole identity crisis thing we'r going though).

But As far as I can tell, India has better things to do than invade Pakistan. The country's priorities seem to have moved on to, oh, I don't know, a healthy economy, social stability, infrustructure development.

Of course, the army's raison d'etre is India--it's the reason for their disproportionate share of the country's money. Maybe if we as a country stop convincing ourselves that India's such a treat, we can finally put pressure on the army to relinquish some its budget, and start focusing on things like oh, I don't know, a healthy economy, social stability, infrastructure development.

JJY said...

For those who still consider India an active threat, i.e. FZ, i have a quick question born of genuine curiosity - what exactly does India have to gain, at this juncture, by launching a direct attack on Pakistan?

anoop said...


Good point. India is status-quo country. When the war in 1971 was over India did not occupy any part and withdrew.. same with pakistan.. who on earth would think of occupying pakistan,even if pak didnt have nukes..??? pak is a disaster..if,lets say we do occupy pak, it'll be a burden on India and drain our resources..also the buffer against the muslim nutcases from afghanistan or waziristan will be no more.. so India will never attack pak or any other surrounding country.. even if india craved for territory then it wouldn attack a nuclear armed country.. so all the ppl who are scared get ur head from ur ass..

Lets say another mumbai happens India will not gain anything from attackin might put soldiers on the border to frustrate pak(as pak doesnt nearly have the kind of resources india has.. so monetarily it'll cost them more than it costs us..) But the better option is provide money to ppl who WANT TO attack pakistan and its citizens..

I believe right now India is not supporting any non-state actors..we know better and we have the example of pakistan to learn from..non-state actors finally come and bite you in the ass.. but if another mumbai like thing happens then we should start supporting these anti-pakistan elements(only giving them money.. nothing else)..anyway pakistan believes all the suicide bombings is done by India.. we'll just make that the truth.. Days of conventional war is over between india and pakistan.. If pak wants to support militants who wreck havoc in my country then we'll do the same.. mind you what pakistanis can do we can do better.. there are just too many fanatics who hate pakistan..

Finally, I am writing this in anger. i still haven't forgotten the mumbai attacks.. I hope terror from pak stops and then we'll mind our business.. Hope we can talk it through..