Is Pakistan Losing the Arms Race?

nuclear weapons

Pakistan is believed to have passed India in the arms race with a nuclear stockpile of over 100 deployed weapons according to a report in The Washington Post today. No doubt this recognition of our nuclear might will result in the predictable chest puffing pride among our more martially-minded bretheren. But do we really benefit from this development, or does India?

We now have over 100 nuclear weapons deployed. But to what end? Such an overwhelming force will serve as a deterrent to nuclear India, but at this point we have reached the level of ‘overkill’. In a worst-case-scenario, we can still only kill everyone once. Is such a massive stockpile really necessary? And the nuclear weapons are known to be a detterent, not a strategic or tactical weapon because the use of one against another nuclear power would result in retribution. During the US-Soviet Cold War this was termed ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ or MAD because it was considered that only an insane person would ever start such a war.

But there was another part of the cold war arms race that is less discussed, probably because its less convenient for those who pray at a radioactive altar. That is how a nuclear arms race destroys the countries who participate not with atomic force but the force of economics. During the 1970s and 1980s the Soviet Union aggressively pursued an accelerated nuclear weapons program, much like we are doing today. They wanted to go beyond mere parity with the US and become the undisputed global nuclear power. The Soviet Union achieved this goal, and then disintegrated under economic collapse.

US and USSR nuclear stockpiles

US and USSR nuclear stockpiles

Conservative estimates put the cost of developing our own nuclear weapons program in the 1980s at around $12 Billion. Many will argue that this was a cost that could not be avoided once India tested their own bomb. But that does not answer whether we then became addicted to nuclear weapons and, like the Soviet Union, began down a self-destructive path.

The cost to modernize and expand the program over the past 20 years is unknown, but it is reasonable to estimate that it will be far more than the $12 Billions spent in the 1980s when adjusted for inflation, the cost of advanced technology, and the additional costs of enhanced production capacity.

Our nuclear stockpile is now far beyond what is necessary to provide a MAD deterrent against India, yet we continue to build more and more nuclear weapons. This results in a severe strain on a national budget that is already at the breaking point. The price of essentials continues to rise, jobs continue to be a scarce commodity, and we can’t keep the lights on all because we’re putting every last paisha towards our nuclear show pieces.

And this doesn’t even begin to address the fact that the actual hostile attacks against our citizens and our security services are by jihadi militias like TTP and SSP that nuclear weapons are useless against. TTP suicide bombers attacked police caravan in Peshawar. Should we nuke Peshawar as retaliation? Obviously this would be stupid.

But even putting aside the clear uselessness of nuclear weapons as a deterrent against jihadi militias, the question must be asked whether it is reasonable to bankrupt the country as a deterrent to India. Like an alcoholic whose children starve so that he can buy one more bottle, our addiction to nuclear weapons is taking a high cost on the national welfare. Our martial uncles may be cheering the news of accelerated production of nuclear weapons and our place as an undisputed nuclear power. Ironically, India probably is, too.

Crime and Punishment

The Raymond Davis case continues to dominate headlines and news discussions. What began as a terrible tragedy has turned into a ball of confusion thanks to a media that values headlines more than justice. But media conspiracy theories aside, the greater question that should be asked is what the term ‘justice’ actually means in our country today.

Let us not forget that another Pakistani man was gunned down in the street in broad daylight just a few weeks ago. And this time the murderer’s victim was unarmed and shot not twice but 26 times in the back. In this case, the murderer has been showered with rose petals and termed Ghazi by lawyers and journalists. We are indignant about the US government asking for the release of Raymond Davis, but we are also demanding the release of Mumtaz Qadri.

Qadri supporters demand his release.

Another killer was recently released quietly from custody also. This man is responsible for the deaths of untold innocent Pakistani citizens and was held in custody until only a few weeks ago when he was allowed to walk scot free. Actually, this is not the first time that he has murdered innocents in Pakistan only to be caught and released back into the streets to continue his killing spree. This killer’s repeated arrest and his release does not make front page headlines or dominate talk shows, though. His name? Qari Saifullah Akhtar.

Qari Saifullah Akhtar

Raymond Davis has claimed that he acted in self defense while being robbed at gunpoint. While all the facts are not clear, there is some evidence to support his claim in the guns found on the deceased men and the stolen property that was in their possession. But what claim does Qari Saifullah Akhtar make in his defense? He has left a pile of bodies in his trail, and still he enjoys his freedom. Raymond Davis should be punished if he is guilty, not because he is an American. Mumtaz Qadri and Qari Saifullah Akhtar should not walk free only because they have Islamic names.

We must be careful that we are not playing a double game with law and order in the country and using the Raymond Davis case as a way to take out our frustrations with the Americans while we let terrorists stalk the streets. In the Raymond Davis case we should hold judgment until the facts have been made clear and allow the law to run its course. But the law should also be allowed to run its course for the murderers Mumtaz Qadri and Qari Saifullah Akhtar who continues to stalk the streets.

Punjab government spokesman Pervez Rashid told The News that the authorities would “ensure that the killers of Pakistanis are dealt in accordance with the law of the land.” When terrorists seem to have more rights than honest citizens, we might be forgiven for not understanding exactly what that means.

Let The Law Run Its Course

Raymond DavisAmerican Raymond Davis in chains being led by police.

The case of the American Raymond Allen Davis who is accused of shooting two men in Lahore should not be used to advance a political agenda and should not be exploited by the media hoping to boost ratings by enflaming the nationalist sentiments of the people. We are a nation of laws and the law should be allowed to run its course.

Presently there is much chatter about this case because the gunman is an American who was working for the US consulate. Unfortunately, too much of the chatter is taking a vigilante tone that will undermine our credibility as a democratic nation that respects law and order.

Was the American being robbed?

According to a report in Express Tribune, police have recovered evidence of robberies from the bodies of the deceased.

The complainants, Doctor Farzand and Sheharyar Malik, in a written application, state that the two had robbed them of their mobiles and cash just before the incident and were fleeing.

As evidence, the two have referred to phone logs of calls made to Rescue 1-5 about the incident right after it happened. The police say that two mobile phones were recovered from the deceased which matched the description of those the applicants had complained to 1-5 had been stolen.

However, the police had also shown the recovery of foreign currency from the deceased, which they say had also been looted. On the other hand, there is yet to be a complaint regarding the theft of foreign currency on the day of the incident.

Arshad Dogar reports for The News that police recovered pistols from the youths also and the families have not provided any weapons licenses despite claims in some sections of the media. According to The News, one of the youths was wearing a visible pistol holster on his belt.

Amateur footage taken at the scene shows a pistol lying beneath a motorbike, and a holster is clearly visible on the belt of one of the dead men as he is wheeled into hospital.

Is the US trying to protect Davis?

Yes, of course. The job of any Embassy is to protect the interests of their nationals. When Aafia Siddiqui was being tried in American courts, the Embassy in Washington hired top lawyers and Ambassador Husain Haqqani had regular high-level contacts with American officials calling for Siddiqui’s immediate repatriation. Today, US Ambassador Cameron Munter is doing the same for his own countryman as is his job.

Is the US respecting Pakistani laws and courts?

So far the answer is yes. According to the report from the front page of The News, the US has announced that they will ‘cooperate fully’ with Pakistani authorities.

Meanwhile, the US said it would cooperate fully with Pakistani investigation into an incident in Lahore, after an American consulate worker shot dead two men. “Well, this happened within Pakistan. There’s a Pakistani investigation. We will cooperate fully,” Philip J Crowley, State Department spokesman, said confirming the American worker’s involvement in the incident.

Actually Davis has not been secreted out of the country like some conspiracy theorists suggest but is sitting and cooling himself in a Lahore jail.

What should result?

The law should be allowed to take its course. At this time Davis is sitting in jail under interrogation while the facts are being gathered to determine the case. Judgments should be reserved until the facts are clear.

Cyril Almeida: Culture Warriors

Cyril AlmeidaTHE culture warriors, of the kinder variety, have struck back. Anchors sacked, mullahs barracked by entertainers, the fight is on, at least on television.

Enjoy it while it lasts. It won’t last very long.

That’s because the cast of characters involved is a bunch of jokers, puppets on strings, twirling and twisting in fervent obeisance before the only god that matters in such affairs: ratings.

Look carefully, though, and you’ll see the real heavyweights — the ideologues, the big-picture-small-mind guys, the sophisticated manipulators — are quiet.

They’ve figured out that further sparring isn’t such a good idea right now. Which is why they are off talking about PPP-PML-N confabs and musing about corruption and governance and other ‘safe’ stuff.

The funny thing about ugliness is that it doesn’t like to look ugly.

Since Taseer’s assassination, Pakistan has looked pretty ugly. And it’s looked ugly in full view of a horrified global audience.

That’s the kind of backlash that will scythe through the naïve.

But keep your head down, hold your tongue, avoid talking about what you really feel, no sudden or silly moves that give the other side an opening, and you’ll live to fight another day.

Which is what the real big boys are doing at the moment.

The reticence is rooted in certain realities of the media here.

In the quest to shape public opinion, there are two basic lines of attack. One is the day-to-day fare. Pandering to populist lines and downplaying certain perspectives, by unobtrusively tweaking the balance of the images, sounds and words the audience is presented with, a particular kind of worldview is projected.

It’s done in the name of the target audience, the ‘awam’, but it’s really about shaping the public rather than informing it.

The other line of attack is the black-swan event. Musharraf’s sacking of the chief justice, Lal Masjid, BB’s assassination and now Taseer’s killing — these are your unexpected, high-impact, high-possibility events. These can be tricky if not handled properly.

Lal Masjid was the ultimate godsend for the right wing in the media.

A ‘liberal’ dictator in bed with the Americans had ordered an assault on a place of worship full of people trying to rid Pakistan of bad moral and social influences.

And the bungled military operation and scores of civilians killed made it utterly indefensible, even at the level of idea.

The right-wing media went to town over Lal Masjid because they thoroughly understood its potential for sowing certain perceptions. And they could do it with impunity because of the military’s epic cock-up. Dead bodies are hard to argue against.

Taseer’s killing, though, was different. The ‘awam’, led by the mullahs, immediately showed what it thought of the murder and the wider issue.

No indoctrination necessary here, because the message had already been absorbed.As the saying goes, Pakistan ka matlab kya?

Since the days of Zia, everyone knows the answer to that.

In fact, the Taseer slaying opened a door for the other side. The crime and the aftermath had rightly stirred up passions, and anyone in the media naïve enough to flirt with or engage the hate on the right would become vulnerable to a ritual sacrifice.

Here’s another little-known truth about the media: it isn’t entirely as crazy or right-wing as the loudest voices and most obnoxious opinions in prime-time slots and op-ed pages suggest.

There’s actually some introspection, common sense and commitment to certain ideas, however vague. Of course much of that tends to be ex post — after the event — and therefore is reactionary in nature.

X writes Y during a black-swan event or P says Q, something particularly egregious, during regular fare, which then creates an opening to push back, reprimand, censure or even fire for a catalogue of previous outrageous sins that have been mentally bookmarked and indexed for future action.

Timing is everything.

And much of it tends to come from powerful figures inside the media establishment. People the viewer or the reader has probably never heard of. Channel bosses, news directors, editors, bureau chiefs, people who understand the nature of the beast they are straddling and seek to restrain its worst impulses.

Of course, the majority of the time the advantage lies with the right. Which is why silence is useful sometimes.

Wait out the awkward moments and resume your ideological war when the threat has abated. The paroxysms of the ‘liberals’ are only rarely threatening and subside quickly enough.

What comes next isn’t hard to fathom. Soon enough, it will be business as usual.

A combination of a population raised on a diet of hate, mistrust and distorted beliefs; a state system that is invested in perpetuating certain kinds of mindsets; a political class that is too self-absorbed to think about overhauling state and society; and the imperatives of ratings, subscriptions and ad revenue — all these
factors combine to ensure a certain kind of media output, the dominance of a particular kind of worldview.

Therein lies the problem: part cheerleader, part follower of societal trends, the media is both hostage to, and trying to shape, society here.

Extracting the poison from one without extracting it from the other is a non-starter.

But there are no real culture warriors on the other, good, side ready to take up that fight.

The ones who do speak up are irrelevant; the ones who could be relevant are quiet.

The heavy hitters on the right in the media know this. Which is why they are quiet right now. The future is theirs.

Cyril Almeida is a staff writer for Dawn. This column was published on January 28, 2011.

The Truth About Reko Diq

Farooq TirmiziHow valuable is one’s wealth if it is buried underground and one has no way of getting it out? And what would one say to somebody who came along and volunteered to extract this wealth, providing all of the technical expertise and putting up the entire investment costs, and letting you keep half of the profits? Would it be fair to say that this person was indulging in exploitative behaviour? Or would we say that a fair deal was on offer?

The above scenario is not hypothetical. It is exactly what is currently going on in the case of the Reko Diq mining project in Balochistan. The Tethyan Copper Company, a joint venture between Canada’s Barrick Gold and Chile’s Antofagasta, has spent $220 million to explore the Reko Diq area and, having discovered a feasible reserve of minerals, is now willing to spend the further $3.3 billion it would take to extract the minerals. And yet it is being treated like a neo-imperialist villain out to pillage Pakistan’s national treasures.

Here are the facts: The Balochistan government gets a 25 per cent stake in the profits of the company for doing absolutely nothing besides being lucky enough to have jurisdiction over Reko Diq. It also gets a royalty fee on every penny of revenue earned by the Tethyan Copper Company. In addition, the company will pay the full 35 per cent of its income in corporate income taxes to the federal government. When all is said and done, the provincial and federal governments walk away with 52 per cent of the net cash flows of the project, while putting up none of the investment. By what standard is that a bad deal?

Yet if one were to pay attention to all of the populist screeching emanating from every corner of the print and electronic media, and now from 19-odd senators who have filed a petition in the Supreme Court on the matter, and also from people who have absolutely no expertise in resource economics, one could be forgiven for thinking that a great crime is about to occur. The truth, however, is that the crime is being committed right now, with the people of Pakistan being used as accessories to one of the biggest highway robberies in history.

The populist frenzy currently being whipped up on television and in newspapers is no accident. You see, a field is worth almost nothing when it has no proven reserves. Yet it can suddenly become worth billions the minute it is announced that there are significant quantities of minerals buried underneath. And that is when the vultures start to circle, smelling a fortune to be made by crooked means.

Here is how it will happen: The government officials who gave away the licences to the Tethyan Copper Company before it discovered anything at Reko Diq were unable to extort any bribes when the field was worth nothing. Now that it is worth billions, however, they can either extort bribes from Tethyan or from another mining company (and at least two Chinese companies have shown interest). Yet in order to get those bribes from Tethyan, the threat of losing the contract needs to be real enough. Hence the creation of a popular hysteria to give these officials the political cover they need for their banditry.

The other option is to actually kick out Tethyan (for which the popular hysteria is still useful) and then quietly give away the contract to the company willing to offer the highest kickbacks. Either way, the national interest, in the truest sense of the word, will have been cast aside since no company in its right mind will want to do business in a country that kicks an investor out the minute the latter finds something worth mining. The legendary wealth of Balochistan will remain buried beneath the sands of misery that currently haunt the Baloch people.

But, of course, the chest-thumping politicians will have made their cut and the journalists who helped them drum up the smokescreen of patriotic fervour will have unwittingly destroyed the nation’s interests. I do not know about you, but I do not like being used in this manner.

Farooq Tirmizi is a consultant who has worked previously on the business desk of The Express Tribune. He is a graduate of Georgetown University. This column was published in The Express Tribune on 26 January 2011.