The Might (and Plight) of Pakistani Media (Part 3 of 3)

(Part 3 – Current Biases, Future Fears)

Though contemporaneous to those militants being labeled as “terrorists” who are being confronted ‘inland’ (in the urban centers and Swat) by the Pak Army, the insurgents who are attacking the U.S. (and Pakistani forces too, for that matter) from the border areas have been downgraded to “tribals”, “Pashtun nationalists” and “extremist militias” in the ever-evolving newspeak of the Pakistani media.

Moreover, the collateral damage and civilian casualties caused by U.S. drone strikes is also being widely reported and debated, while there is barely any mention of the same type of losses incurred by assaults from Pakistani gunships and artillery barrages on entire villages.

Is this editorial shift developing due to U.S. involvement in the affected area – a media-generated thumbs-down for disappointing America’s noblesse oblige?  Is the mere engagement of the U.S. in the Af-Pak border region enough for the media to create one ‘good’ (inland) and one ‘bad’ (frontier and tribal areas) perception of the different theaters of conflict within this unified, overarching and regional war?

There are several ‘projectionist’ issues that also need to be raised to identify the increasingly complex correlation between the press and politics in Pakistan.

How is the media’s regional bias (considering all media houses are headquartered in the more developed southern and eastern provinces of Sindh and Punjab) affecting the coverage of the war? Pakistan is fighting insurgencies in the lesser-developed western and northern provinces. Infrastructure is scarce and access and outreach difficult in that remote warzone. How is this logistical gap affecting the frequency, veracity and depth of stories coming from a very critical part of the country?

What about ethno-centricity within the media? Most mainstream journalists are not from the war-affected areas (they hail primarily from the more educated south and east). Most of them do not speak the languages and dialects of the volatile west and north, nor do they have family/clan contacts and sources within the tribal communities there that are key for tracking developments and inspire proactive reporting in a region where personal relationships guide political realities.

Considering that most reporting in these areas has always been community-based, centered on the word-of-mouth communication culture of ‘stringers’, is this ethnic fissure between mainstream journalists and their assigned beat creating a skewed and essentially biased perspective of the war? And more importantly, what more beyond mere self-awareness by the actors involved must occur in order for the media to truly reflect the region that it proposes to cover?

What about coercion? Though immensely powerful, the Pakistani media is vulnerable to violence now more than ever before. Considering that the Taliban recently passed a fatwa against the media (and have been executing it unofficially as well, increasing attacks on reporters in 2009 compared to 2008), will the media be coerced by them? If so, can we expect mainstream journalism to become increasingly less secular as it strives to prove its religious credentials to everyone, including the legitimate or banned political and militant groups that threaten them?

What of the media’s manipulation by Pakistan’s all-powerful military-intelligence apparatus? Some local think tanks, allegedly financed by different spy-agencies (often with diverging agendas) have been on the offensive for the last few years, propagating their views through the anarchic and rapidly proliferating world of Pakistani cyberspace. Their perspective is gaining popularity in the mainstream media as reporters increasingly cite online publications and articles that have a dubious heritage.

Is this correlation between ‘quack and hack’ online ‘experts’ and bloggers and mainstream reporting incidental or engineered? Is it motivated by a convergence of ideology and editorial leaning or other, less ‘principle’ factors like financial incentives (the Pakistani media has a notoriously corrupt reputation)? The relevancy of this question is compounded by the widely held belief that several Pakistani news portals and websites are allegedly funded by front organizations for militant and terrorist groups, even Al-Qaeda.

And finally, where does the money trail lead? Will this country’s dragging economy continue to force the media to intensify its ‘tabloid’ style of coverage as the fight for advertising revenue and ratings battles become the final arbiter of survival? Will the Pakistani media cut its family-run roots and transition to the advanced stage of corporate ownership, shedding one set of deficiencies for another, possibly more problematic one? And will this changeover make for a more secular, nationalist or liberal media? Finally, how will that evolution affect the political economy as well as the public relations of the Pakistani state, especially during a time of war?

The nexus of press and politics in Pakistan has been left undiscovered for too long. Watch this space to track that evolution.

Also published in its abridged version in The Express Tribune on April 29th as “The Manipulation of Our Media”

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The Might (and Plight) of Pakistani Media (Part 2 of 3)

(Part 2 – Journalists and Generals)

Last week, I tried to connect the dots that line the burgeoning and anarchic landscape of Pakistani journalism.

Tracing the media’s inherent biases that are related to its structural efficiencies and/or deficiencies, I questioned the media’s use of language (English versus Urdu) in targeting, developing and exploiting preordained opinions among sectors of the polity and also presented evidence of how its family-owned nature allows for ‘personal’ agendas to be inducted into the national information mainstream.

For example, around the time I ‘got the call’ earlier this year from the Express Tribune to write a column, the death anniversary of the founder of Pakistan’s largest media group was running as headline news.

In every bulletin that ran that day on the country’s most popular television network, millions were reminded and updated about the religious ceremonies commemorating the founder’s demise. Thus, on a random day in January, a cult of personality for one of Pakistan’s most powerful media moguls was being propelled along with breaking news about Osama bin Laden’s latest audio recording and the national cricket team’s dismal performance against the Australians.

This ‘internal focus’ of the Pakistani media is another rare yet critical occurrence that needs to be studied. Often, this self-obsession also manifests itself through the clear political alignments and re-alignments of media houses with the different special interest groups and institutions that govern Pakistan: the establishment.

A case in point is the media’s complicated relationship with the cornerstone of the Pakistani establishment: the military, which is Pakistan’s feared ‘state within the state’ and most powerful and organized institution.

That’s right. Journalists and Generals. Working together. Advertently and/or inadvertently. Consider.

During the last days of the Musharraf dictatorship, the media took on the Army by leading the charge against the former general’s quasi-parliamentary government. Though he had effectively been its midwife, the media played a heroic Brutus to Musharraf’s praetorian Ceasar. While thousands scoffed at the bias, millions lauded this pro-democracy power play.

After Musharraf, however, the media warmed up to the military but through a different, more commercial dynamic. It readily absorbed a surge in the military’s public relations expenditure as billions of rupees worth of airtime was purchased by the Armed Forces on all mainstream channels during last summer’s Swat Offensive (when there were alarming reports that the Taliban were a 100 kilometers from the capital, Islamabad). This investment, along with carefully placed news stories about Taliban atrocities that were a product of trips ‘arranged’ by the Army for journalists to the warzone, compounded by an actual increase in terrorist activities across the country as the militants ‘overextended’ operations into Pakistan’s urban centers, managed to turn the tide in the media in favor of the military.

Suddenly, mainstream news channels that had been ambivalent at best about the war effort were airing patriotic songs and stories about the gallant soldiers of the Pakistan Army. Military funerals – never aired on national television before, even though the Army has been taking casualties for several years – were now being timed for live broadcast coverage.

Language changed too, of course; “militants” and “extremists” were now, unequivocally, “terrorists”. Not since the blitz of mainstream American media after 9/11 (which played a critical role in empowering the Bush White House to invade Afghanistan and Iraq) have I witnessed such a ‘pro-establishment’ editorial shift in media.

Although engaged in the conflict since 2001, Pakistan, it seemed, had finally gone to war.

Serving with one of the of the country’s premier media groups, witnessing this sudden u-turn was significantly more dramatic, even bizarre.  Stories from freshly hired ‘defense connection’ correspondents were now leads. Our broadcast ‘run-down’ was dominated by ISPR generated briefs which we were made to assume had the highest editorial sanctions. And it wasn’t just us. The same pattern was being repeated everywhere else. From inside the media foxhole, it was quite a turnaround.

However, as Pakistan’s War on Terror evolves, the local media continues to change its focus as well, presenting its views through another lens. While cross-border drone strikes by the U.S. into Pakistani tribal areas bordering Afghanistan increase in frequency, the media’s support for the war effort in that theater of conflict is shifting, powered by what seems to be a wave of anti-American bias.

Is this editorial shift developing due to U.S. involvement in the affected area – a media-generated thumbs-down for disappointing America’s noblesse oblige? Watch this space for furthering that debate.

Also published with edited changes in The Express Tribune on April 22 as “The Evolution of Our Media – Part II” on

“What?! Pak’s Lost a Nuke?!” – America’s Potential Plans of Action

Originally Produced for the Public Policy Department at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Assessing the Dangers to Pakistan’s Nuclear Arsenal: Can there be a Broken Arrow Scenario?  1

Executive Summary

As the United States proceeds with its war on terrorism, one of the darkest clouds hanging over the campaign is the question of whether the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 horrors could strike again, this time with nuclear weapons. From the US perspective, the military engagement with the Taliban has ’broken their military grip’[1], but conflict in Afghanistan might have volatile domestic ramifications in neighboring Pakistan, a declared nuclear state.

In effect to such concerns, questions about the safety of Islamabad’s nuclear explosives, fissile material stocks, and nuclear facilities have come to the fore. Pakistan’s military regime led by General Pervez Musharraf is on the horns of a political dilemma. On the one hand, the regime faces strong domestic opposition from militant Islamic groups who are opposed to any Pakistani participation in attacks on Afghanistan. On the other, U.S. pressure has placed Pakistan in the path of a direct confrontation with the Taliban, who to an extent are a creation of Pakistani military and intelligence agencies.

The Taliban have threatened Pakistan with a “massive attack” for rendering any assistance to the United States in attacking Afghanistan. Taliban leader Mullah Omar has publicly warned, “It’s possible that we will invade any country that provides access to the US.”[2] Threats from the Taliban have caused some concern in the United States that Pakistan’s key nuclear facilities could become the targets of future terrorist attacks. Observers have also expressed alarm that if the secrecy of the storage locations of fissile material stocks and nuclear explosives become compromised by Taliban-sympathizers within the Pakistani military, Islamabad could lose control over its nuclear assets. This is an attempt to consider the potential ‘broken arrow’ or ‘loose nuke’ scenario emerging during the conflict, as well as an attempt to devise a policy that would deal with such a scenario.

I. Background

As of the end of 1999, Pakistan possessed 585 – 800 kilograms of weapon-grade highly enriched uranium (HEU) and 1.7 – 13 kilograms of separated plutonium; these quantities are sufficient for 30-50 nuclear bombs or warheads. According to a variety of media reports, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are stored with their fissile cores separated from the non-nuclear components.[3]

A troubling question in the current situation is that a nuclear weapon or fissile material could fall into the wrong hands. Available information suggests that, despite official statements to the contrary, the Pakistani government may not have full confidence in the security of its nuclear arsenal. According to the Energy Department official, Pakistan had requested some kind of assistance to improve its physical security capabilities even before the crisis.[4]

The security threats to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal include the following:[5]

Outsider Threat — The possibility that armed individuals or groups from outside a facility gain access and steal weapons, weapons components or fissile material. The outsiders’ objective is to gain control of these items for their own use or to transfer them to another state or to other non-state actors.

Insider Threat The possibility that individuals who work at a facility will remove weapons or weapons components without proper authorization. The insiders’ objectives may be to control these items for their own use, transfer control of the items to a previously identified outsider, or to sell these items to a previously unidentified outsider. In the case of transfer, the insider may be motivated either by profit or ideological affinity with an outside group.

Insider/Outsider Threat The possibility that insiders and outsiders conspire together to obtain weapons or weapon components. Again, the motivation for the theft may be either profit or ideology.

Leakage of Sensitive Information Insiders provide key information about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons to outsiders. The information could include classified nuclear weapons data, exact storage locations, security and access control arrangements, or operational details about the weapons.

Loss of Central Control of Storage Facilities In the event of a civil war in Pakistan, clear lines of communication and control over weapons, weapons components, and information may be broken or lost entirely.

During times of relative political and social normalcy, the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is probably manageable. However, these are not normal times. Pakistan’s decision to cooperate with the United States in responding to the September 11th terrorist attacks threatens to throw Pakistan into turmoil. The threat to Pakistan’s stability is difficult to judge, and the U.S. actions appear currently to be reducing such a possibility. Nevertheless, the war on terrorism is expected to be long and drawn out, potentially subjecting Pakistan to further instability. In addition, the Pakistani military and intelligence services may still have strong ties to the Taliban in Afghanistan. Like the Pakistani population, many among the rank-and-file and perhaps the officer corps of the Pakistani military could be sympathetic to fundamentalist causes and hostile to the United States. Such insider threats could pose one of the most vexing problems in the current crisis.

In any case, insider and outsider threats are endemic to nuclear weapons programs world-wide. The United States struggled for many years to develop a security system to adequately protect its nuclear weapons and weapons components, and is now engaged with Russia to improve the security of Russian nuclear materials. Moreover, security technologies and procedures need to be constantly improved in order to stay one step ahead of would-be thieves.

II. Options for Action

With such a panoply of possible threats, there are a number of actions that could be taken in the near term to shore up nuclear security. Firstly, the Pakistani situation deserves careful monitoring — using surveillance and intelligence assets in the region. The U.S. government could urge Pakistani authorities to further consolidate and/or disable their nuclear devices, and beef up security around storage sites — and even offer security equipment and guards. In fact, the U.S. government should be prepared to provide arsenal security even without Islamabad’s permission if emergency circumstances dictate.

Option #1) Emphasis on Physical Protection (short-term)

Given the threats arrayed against Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, it is incumbent upon the government of Pakistan to assess the security of its nuclear arsenal and make improvements where necessary. Statements by the Pakistani Foreign Ministry that “our [nuclear] assets are 100 percent secure, under multiple custody” are untested and lack credibility.[6]

The United States can offer valuable assistance to Pakistan to make its nuclear weapons more secure. Reportedly, such assistance has already been discussed by U.S. and Pakistani officials.[7]

In offering assistance, the United States should focus on procedures and technologies that enhance the physical protection of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. In particular, the United States should emphasize that nuclear weapons be disassembled with their components stored in separate vaults or locations. Procedures for accessing these components should emphasize the need for several individuals from different parts of the government to access the different components and assemble the weapon. A fundamental principle should be that no one person can gain access to an assembled nuclear weapon, or all of the components for a complete nuclear weapon.

Option #2) Tactical Security (short-term)

The U.S. government also could begin drawing up contingency plans to ‘rescue’ the arsenal if the need arises. U.S. Special Operations forces should be kept on high alert in US Navy carriers stationed in the region for quick, covert insertion to the sites to disable or even re-locate weapons to prevent their capture by unauthorized persons. Therefore, it would be highly desirable for nuclear experts from the Department of Energy to accompany any military troops in such a scenario. DoE nuclear response teams, known as Nuclear Emergency Search Teams (NEST), are formed in a crisis from nearly 1,000 highly trained and knowledgeable individuals, and could be dispatched to the region to assist in locating and disarming any weapons. (The teams and their equipment, some on alert staging out of Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, know the design of Pakistani weapons based on defector reports), and could x-ray the weapons and devise a disabling procedure on the spot. Compared to the military’s commandos, these experienced civilian teams would stand a better chance of blowing up the triggering mechanisms on Pakistani weapons without causing the bomb to go off[8]. Another option for response in a crisis would be for such a joint military-civilian insertion mission to link up with a Pakistani counterpart to conduct search and disable missions together in the region.

Option #3) Macro-development (long-term)

At the same time, the United States could work to restore close working relations with Pakistan. This should include ending economic sanctions, extending credits for trade and investment; signing debt relief packages and larger export quotas; and providing aid to support social welfare, economic modernization, privatization, and the reform of tax, electoral and development mechanisms — all of which will promote Pakistan’s political and economic stability.

Option #4) Military ties (long-term)

The United States could also maintain its channels of communication to the Pakistani military, both assisting it with training and encouraging it to support the development of a more firmly rooted democratic political system. International military education and training would help keep Pakistan’s armed forces professional and linked to the West. The United States should also resume limited conventional arms sales to Pakistan that do not contribute to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programs or alter the fundamental military balance in the region.

III. Analysis

How credible is the threat?

What evidence exists to suggest that the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear installations or the command and control of its strategic forces are in jeopardy? The following section assesses some of the safety concerns surrounding Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. It imagines four scenarios to analyze conditions under which the Pakistani government could conceivably lose control over its cache of fissile material and nuclear warheads.

The first scenario addresses concerns about the potential impact of political instability in Pakistan. The latter three scenarios assess: (1) the likelihood of nuclear terrorism, (2) the possibility of rogue military commanders or units gaining access to nuclear warheads or fissile material, and (3) the consequences of any temporary loss of centralized control over nuclear storage sites.

Opposition from Militant Islamic Groups and Political Instability:

Observers fear that U.S. intervention against the Taliban with the Pakistani government’s support could trigger political instability in Pakistan. The instability could result from opposition by Islamic groups sympathetic to the Taliban and Usama bin Laden. There is also concern that in the long term, the Islamic political groups could form alliances with radicals in the Pakistani army, who then might try and dislodge General Pervez Musharraf from power. Factional infighting within the Pakistani Army could put a dangerous question mark over the command and control of Islamabad’s nuclear forces. Similarly, a wider civil war in Pakistan could jeopardize the safety and security of its fissile material stocks and nuclear installations.

Although the above scenario cannot be ruled out in theory, a closer analysis of the prevailing political conditions in Pakistan reveals that such concerns are unduly alarmist. The Islamic parties and groups such as Jamaat-i-Islami, Jamaat-i-Ulema, and Jameat-i-Ulema-i-Islam, which oppose the Pakistani government’s support for U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, represent a minority. All mainstream political parties in Pakistan such as the Pakistan Peoples Party, the Muslim League (the Nawaz Sharif faction being the exception), and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement have expressed support for General Musharraf’s policies.

The Islamic political parties are vocal, well organized, and very often successful in mobilizing people on the street. However, their political base is mainly confined to Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, Baluchistan, and some urban centers in the Punjab (Lahore), and Sindh (Karachi). Furthermore, the Islamic parties are disunited. Due to Pakistan’s Westminster style first-past-the-post electoral system (as against proportional representation), they have never succeeded in winning more than a handful of seats in the national assembly. Similarly, the performance of the Islamic parties in the recent local elections organized by the military regime was dismal. Hence, the ability of the radical Islamic groups to generate heat and dust in Pakistan’s civil society should not be confused with actual political influence. In this regard, it should also be noted that the recent strike organized by these parties to express opposition to the Pakistani government’s support for U.S. intervention in Afghanistan met with limited success.

Similarly, concerns about a potential coup by a radical Islamized faction within the Pakistani army are overstated. Observers who make these predictions premise their concerns on three trends. The pessimists argue that the Islamization of the Pakistani society as a whole has created an army rank and file and officer corps more sensitive to the forces of radical Islam. Second, the social base of the officer corps has changed in the last three decades. For example, during the 1950s and 1960s, the majority of military officers came from gentrified, landed, and westernized classes. In comparison, the bulk of the officers now come from the middle and lower-middle classes. The current generation of officer corps is less westernized and more socially conservative. Third, the process of Islamization within the Pakistani military, a trend that started under the late-President Zia in the early 1980s, created a “Zia generation” of officers who believe in the greater Islamization of the Pakistani society and army. Some of these trends came to light during the aborted coup led by Major-General Zahir ul Islam Abbasi in 1995 during Benazir Bhutto’s second tenure as prime minister.

Despite the growing fears of Islamization, the Pakistani Army remains a professional force and is in no immediate danger of falling prey to the forces of radical Islam. There is certainly a greater sensitivity within its rank and file and officer corps towards Pakistan’s identity as an Islamic nation. However, the emphasis within the military on Islam is more ideological and inspirational, and not necessarily political. The majority of the Pakistani Army’s officers continue to see themselves as good Muslims and competent professionals. Regardless of their social and religious beliefs, these officers are also extremely sensitive to the corporate interests of the military. In the present context, the Pakistani military sees its corporate interests served by enduring political, economic, technical, and military links with the United States. Indeed, Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf reflected this consensus among his corps commanders when he explained why he had decided to side with the United States in its conflict with the Taliban. In his address to the Pakistani people, Musharraf made it plain that Pakistan’s interests “come first.”

In the near term, Pakistan has gained considerably from the current crisis in Afghanistan. The Bush administration has rewarded Pakistan for its support by waiving all nuclear-related sanctions and a billion-dollar aid package to bail out the ailing Pakistani economy. Pakistan will also most certainly try and use its new found bargaining leverage to gain political support for Kashmir and try and prevent the United States from framing its support for the Kashmiri insurgency as support for terrorism.

Furthermore, the military regime has performed a careful balancing act. In apparent deference to the misgivings of the Islamic political groups, Islamabad has insisted upon UN authorization for any U.S. military actions in Afghanistan. In a similar vein, Pakistan has agreed to grant the United States access to its bases, airspace, and intelligence files; but it has firmly ruled out direct participation of its armed forces in military operations in Afghanistan.

The Rogue Military Commander Theory

Could a rogue military commander or military unit with sympathies to the Taliban or opposed to the Pakistani government’s cooperation with the United States, seize a cache of nuclear warheads? Although a successful seizure is possible in theory, it would be extremely difficult to achieve in practice.

The first difficulty has to do with the nature and configuration of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Although Pakistan conducted nuclear tests in May 1998 and declared itself a nuclear weapon state, it is highly unlikely that Islamabad maintains a nuclear force that is operational or on a hair-trigger alert. Statements made by senior Pakistani civilian and military officials suggest that Islamabad’s nuclear force probably remains unconstituted. The term unconstituted essentially means that in times of peace the fissionable cores of the nuclear warheads are maintained separately from their non-nuclear assemblies. As a corollary to the above, nuclear warheads are not mated with their delivery systems.

Pakistan probably maintains its arsenal in an unconstituted state for doctrinal and safety reasons. At a doctrinal level, the military has internalized the fundamental lesson of the nuclear revolution that nuclear weapons best serve a political purpose. Nuclear weapons are more useful for their symbolic value in deterring enemies than for achieving any militarily useful objective on the battlefield. Hence Pakistan’s nuclear force is designed to deter the threat of a high-intensity conventional war against India. Although no Pakistani government has publicly articulated its nuclear use doctrine, some retired senior Pakistani officials have suggested that nuclear escalation by Islamabad would be most likely in the event Pakistan’s national survival were threatened.

Since the probability of a high-intensity conventional war in South Asia remains low, both India and Pakistan maintain their nuclear arsenals in what analysts commonly characterize as a “recessed” state. The unconstituted nature of the arsenal not only minimizes the risks of nuclear weapons use through inadvertence, accident, or a command and control failure, but it also forecloses the possibility of the seizure of an assembled weapon or cache of weapons by a rogue military commander or unit. Even if a military commander or his unit were to successfully seize all the components of a nuclear warhead, they would require considerable technical assistance from other units within the military and the civilian nuclear establishment to reconstitute them. This would also be the case if an attempt were made to deploy the fissile cores or fissile material from nuclear facilities in the form of radiological weapons.

It would be reasonable to expect that highly trained and trusted military commando units guard caches of warheads or parts of disassembled warheads. Although there is an information vacuum about the organizations that safeguard Pakistan’s cache of nuclear warheads, it should not be assumed that those guarding specific components of disassembled warheads (fissile cores and non-fissile assemblies) would necessarily also have access to information about the location of all the constituent parts of the warhead. Such information would probably only be available to very senior military commanders. Hence the reconstitution of a warhead or a cache of warheads would require extensive intra-service and inter-service cooperation, particularly from the air force. Such cooperation would be unlikely in the absence of serious factional infighting within the army or the military as a whole. So far, no information has surfaced in the public domain to warrant concerns about serious policy differences or infighting within the Pakistani military.

However, it would be theoretically possible for a rogue military unit or commander to seize highly enriched uranium (HEU) from the two facilities at Kahuta and Golra Sharif, or weapons-grade plutonium from the Khushab research reactor. The alleviating factor in this regard is that all three facilities are located in the Punjab, the political, economic, and military heartland of Pakistan. In addition, all three facilities are located deep inside Pakistan, away from the turbulent Afghan border. Further, the three facilities are located close to the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, which also makes it easier for the military to deploy reinforcements, isolate rogue units, and disrupt their logistics to prevent the seizure, theft, or loss of fissile material.

Possibility of Terrorist Attacks

Could the Taliban mount well-planned and organized assaults on Pakistani nuclear facilities? The short answer to this question is no. The Taliban are a lightly armed militia. They are incapable of deploying artillery, rockets, armor, or combat aircraft against the better organized and trained Pakistani military far away from the Afghan heartland. The Taliban’s problems are further compounded by the closure of the Afghan-Pakistan border. Although the Afghan-Pakistan border is highly porous, the mountainous nature of the terrain and closure of key border crossings effectively rules out the use of heavy military equipment by the Taliban for any operations inside Pakistan.

In theory, the Taliban could infiltrate Pakistan and launch attacks on nuclear facilities using light weapons and guerilla tactics. However, the small number of these facilities and their location deep inside Pakistan make the task of the attacker more difficult. In this regard, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar has indicated that his government takes the Taliban’s threats “very seriously.” Other media reports also suggest that the Pakistani government has enhanced the security of its nuclear installations by deploying elite commando units to guard them.

The possibility that the Taliban or Taliban-backed militias within Pakistan could seize nuclear weapons is also remote. This is largely because Pakistan has a small nuclear arsenal. According to publicly available sources, Islamabad has an inventory of 585-800kg of HEU, enough to probably build 30-52 fission bombs. In addition, the Khushab research reactor, which became operational in March/April 1998, is capable of producing 10-15kg of weapons-grade plutonium annually. The small number of nuclear warheads and still smaller number of facilities actually used to manufacture fissile material make it simpler for national command authorities to exercise tight centralized control.

The small size of the arsenal also puts a premium on survivability. In the absence of a secure second-strike capability, the Pakistani military relies on dense opacity to mask its nuclear arsenal and enhance its survivability. Hence, the locations of the various components of Pakistan’s nuclear force are a closely guarded national secret. It is therefore highly unlikely that a terrorist group or network of groups could identify the different locations with confidence, let alone reconstitute the stolen parts into complete weapon systems.

Loss of Local Control

Local rioting or political disturbances could also cause the federal government to lose control over parts of Pakistan temporarily. Local riots could be triggered by domestic opposition to the military regime’s policies in Afghanistan or may be the consequence of political opposition from Taliban-sympathizers or those who favor Usama bin Laden within Pakistan.

However, the potential loss of control over local areas might not be as alarming as it appears at first for several reasons. As mentioned earlier, the storage sites for fissile material, machined HEU cores, and their non-fissile assemblies, are a highly classified national secret. The nuclear weapon parts are probably distributed in a number of tightly secured facilities at different locations throughout Pakistan. Military organizations also tend to be very conservative. It can therefore be presumed that planners selected sites on the basis of their secrecy, security, political stability, access to secure communications nodes, and relative invulnerability to a pre-emptive military strike. Military planners would be reluctant to store the constituent parts of nuclear weapons in local districts known for the their political volatility. Furthermore, even in the unlikely eventuality that the federal government were to lose control over a local district or region, the new controlling authorities might not have access to the necessary intelligence to exploit their strategic advantage.

In Pakistan, military facilities are often located away from civilian population centers. This is a legacy of the British colonial administration, which adopted a conscious policy of separating the military units from their civilian social base. Thus, military units are usually stationed in self-contained communities called cantonments. This factor also mitigates the impact of any temporary loss of local control. Conceivably, military cantonments or bases under threat from political protesters would be able to conduct holding operations and defend storage sites until the arrival of additional reinforcements. It would also not be unreasonable to assume that the military probably has some contingency plans to airlift the cores and non-fissile assemblies to pre-planned alternative sites in the event the security of a single or multiple sites is threatened.

IV. Criteria for providing assistance

Before making policy recommendations, this sub-section considers criteria to evaluate the types of assistance that the United States should offer to Pakistan to make its nuclear arsenal more secure. Preventing terrorist groups from gaining access to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal should be among the top priorities of the Bush administration during this phase of the war on terrorism. The criteria that the United States should consider include, but are not limited to, the following:

Is the assistance consistent with U.S. obligations under the NPT?[9]

Under Article I of the NPT, each nuclear weapon state “undertakes…not in any way to assist, encourage, or induce any non-nuclear weapon state to manufacture, or acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, or control over such weapons or explosive devices.” The administration needs to judge, both as a matter of policy and on a case-by-case basis, whether providing particular types of assistance to Pakistan constitutes a violation of this obligation or otherwise undermines the NPT. For example, assisting Pakistan to improve the security of its nuclear weapons storage facilities may be permissible. However, assistance that improves the safety and security of a nuclear warhead itself may also significantly improve Pakistan’s ability to deploy a warhead on a ballistic missile, and may be banned under the NPT.

Will the assistance encourage nuclear testing by Pakistan? [10]

The type of assistance given to Pakistan should not motivate Pakistan to test a nuclear device to further improve its design or operational capabilities.

Does the assistance increase the chances for nuclear war in South Asia?[11]

The United States needs to take care that its assistance does not contribute to advances in Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. U.S. assistance should not permit the more rapid deployment of nuclear weapons, or make the weapons more reliable. The United States should also ensure that safety assistance does not allow Pakistan to store its warheads intact. The nuclear balance between India and Pakistan is not stable, and well-intentioned but short-sighted efforts to improve the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal could end up increasing the risk of nuclear war between India and Pakistan.

V. Policy Recommendations

In the light of the above analysis, it should be considerably clear that the Pakistani nuclear arsenal is in safe hands. Of course, security considerations should not be taken lightly, but modes of assistance could be realistically adjusted to the current scope of the current state of security. Such assistance appears justified.

For the short term, option #2 should be employed. In the light of low risk to the safeguard and command and control mechanism[12] to the Pakistani arsenal, it is not worth it to breach the NPT by helping Pakistan with nuclear weapons safeguards (option #1) that may violate U.S. commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), inadvertently encourage nuclear testing or otherwise contribute to advances in Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, or increase the threat of a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan. Therefore, option #2, which calls for the deployment of standby Special Operations and NEST (Nuclear Emergency Search Team) contingents to be ready off-shore in case of a ‘broken arrow’ scenario, is the more viable short-term option. As stated before, these teams can be easily grouped to work independently or with Pakistani forces (depending on cooperation from the government). This option does not compromise the larger security and regime commitments (see above) the US has in the area.

For the longer term, options #3 and #4 are both viable, but will have some complicated policy implications.

If the US employs option #3 by helping the macro-development (social, economic, political) of Pakistan to accelerate (by ending economic sanctions, extending credits for trade and investment; signing debt relief packages and larger export quotas, providing aid to support social welfare, economic modernization, privatization, and the reform of tax, electoral and development mechanisms), the immediate stability and welfare of Pakistan will definitely increase. However, in light of the current security role the US is playing in the region, the longer term may have a complicated corollary. If the US retains an extensive military presence in Afghanistan (as it has recently stated that it will do so with the stationing of ‘peacekeeping’ troops till an elected Afghan government is formed), then domestic pressures within Pakistan, especially by conservative and religious groups, and most probably the military) may increase tensions militarily and diplomatically between the two countries, and if the government is deemed weak, might lead to a change in power, which decreases the stability in question. Therefore, aiding Pakistan’s development should also include mutual security ties and arrangements.

This takes us to option #4, also viable for the longer run. Further strengthening military ties with Pakistan, especially in light of the current security scenario in the region, will gain trust of the military and also keep it more professional and secular. It should be taken into account that the Pak and US militaries have a long history of cooperation, especially in terms of intelligence sharing and special operations exercises.[13] Reestablishing the trust which was lost in the 1990’s will be essential for improved positive engagement. It may also be that option #3 may work best under the auspices of option #4, for improved security ties would enhance the Pakistanis’ tolerance for a US military presence in the area as the US engages more positively with them in a developmental setting as well.

VI. Conclusion

It should be noted that none of the recommendations allow for the sharing of command and control methods which might land the US into ‘accepting’ Pakistan as a declared nuclear state and/or breach the NPT rules. That is perhaps the strongest point of these policy recommendations, for the greatest dilemma for US officials right now is dealing with how to work around Pakistan’s near-pariah status as well as its refusal to sign the NPT. Some of the recommended measures should go forward unconditionally (like the deployment of standby special operations units off-shore ready to ‘rescue’ a ‘broken arrow’). In certain areas, however, the desire and ability of the United States to expand relations will depend on both Indian and Pakistani behavior, for the Indian factor cannot be ruled out in any discussion of Pakistani security. India’s 1997 decision to impede progress on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Pakistan’s continuing work (with Chinese help) on manufacturing ballistic missiles, the proxi-war in Kargil between Indian troops and Pakistani irregulars in 1999, Pakistan’s sordid love-affair (previous diplomatic support) with the Taliban, are as demonstrably unhelpful as the nuclear tests conducted by both countries in 1998. Moreover, destabilizing moves by either country against each other in light of the increased surge in allegedly Pakistani-backed terrorism in India by Kashmiri militants (e.g., the December 13 attacks on the Indian Parliament) would almost certainly restrict the possibilities for cooperation and might even result in the reintroduction of selective, preferably multinational, sanctions. Any such decision, however, should be made by the executive branch, after consultation with Congress and other governments and only if sanctions make sense in light of the full range of U.S. national security interests.

As for direct Indo-Pakistani relations, it is no exaggeration to describe them as less developed than were U.S.-Soviet relations at the height of the Cold War. To promote stability in the region, the United States should help defuse tensions by encouraging regular contact between the two countries in a wide variety of areas. With regard to Kashmir, one of the region’s most bitter and intractable problems, there is no “right” or realistic solution to the conflict in sight. The U.S. government does not have a great deal of leverage on this issue, and the time is not ripe for Washington to launch a major initiative. U.S. interests in both countries are best served at this point by working with other governments on a step-by-step approach towards a series of interim, rather than “final status,” objectives.

In the near term, there is little danger to either the security of Pakistan’s fissile material installations or the safety of its nuclear command and control. Fears of domestic instability and factional infighting within the military are exaggerated. Although a rogue military commander or unit could in theory gain control over a cache of fission bombs, their unconstituted nature, the enormous inter-organizational effort required to reconstitute them, and the dense opacity surrounding the location of their constituent parts, make that possibility remote. The small number of nuclear warheads in Pakistan’s inventory and still smaller number of facilities used to produce fissile material also give national command authorities considerable advantages in protecting them against potential attacks by terrorists. To be sure, local riots and political instability could result in a temporary loss of control over some storage sites. However, the secrecy of the nuclear storage bunkers, the separation of military cantonments from civilian population centers, and the presumed military contingency planning, mitigate the dangers of that likelihood.

U.S. interests in Pakistan, although not vital immediately since the Cold War, are now important and increasing. The fight against global terrorism should permit a substantial improvement in relations between Washington and Islamabad, particularly in regard to the important role the Pakistanis can play as the regional power in a volatile area. But seizing this opportunity will require more creative thinking than has been the norm — and an administration willing to engage Pakistan as a foreign policy priority.

Appendix

Pakistan’s Nuclear Command and Control System:

In February 2000, Pakistan’s military government led by General Pervez Musharraf announced the establishment of a National Command Authority (NCA) to manage Pakistan’s nuclear forces. According to Pakistani government sources, the NCA is responsible for policy formulation and will “exercise employment and development control over all strategic forces and strategic organizations.”

The NCA comprises an Employment Control Committee (ECC), a Development Control Committee (DCC), and a Strategic Plans Division (SPD).

The head of the Pakistani government chairs the ECC. Other members include the ministers of foreign affairs, defense, interior; the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee; the three service chiefs; the director-general of the SPD, and technical advisors as required.

The DCC controls the “development of strategic assets.” The head of the Pakistani government also chairs the DCC. Other members include the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee; the three service chiefs; the director-general of the SPD; and representatives of strategic organizations and the scientific community.

The SPD acts as the secretariat for the NCA and is responsible for establishing a reliable command, control, communications, computer, and intelligence network. The SPD is located in the joint services headquarters and is led by a senior army officer.

Sources:

– “National Command Authority Established,” Associated Press of Pakistan, 3 February 2000

– Gaurav Kampani, Center for Non-proliferation Studies, Safety Concerns About the Command & Control of Pakistan’s Strategic Forces, Fissile Material, and Nuclear Installations, 2001, Monterey


References

Albright, David Kevin O’Neill and Corey Hinderstein ISIS Issue Brief Securing Pakistan’s Nuclear Arsenal: Principles for Assistance David Albright, Kevin O’Neill and Corey Hinderstein October 4, 2001. http://www.isis-online.org

Center for Defense Information Database: http://www.cdi.org/issues/nukef&f/database

Cloughley, Brian A History of the Pakistan Army – Wars and Insurrections, 1999, Oxford University Press

Kampani, Gaurav Center for Non-proliferation Studies, Safety Concerns About the Command & Control of Pakistan’s Strategic Forces, Fissile Material, and Nuclear Installations, 2001, Monterey, California

Pakistan’s Nuclear Dilemma, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Non-Proliferation Project Roundtable, October 2, 2001, (transcript).


[1] (Colin Powell, State Department Conference Nov. 20th transcript)

[2] Dawn, October 5th, 2001

[3] ISIS Issue Brief David Albright, Kevin O’Neill and Corey Hinderstein October 4, 2001

[4] “Pakistan’s Nuclear Dilemma,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Non-Proliferation Project Roundtable, October 2, 2001, (transcript).

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Pakistani Nuclear Assets are Safe: Spokesman Says,” Kyodo News Service, October 2, 2001.

[7] Douglas Frantz, “U.S. and Pakistan Discuss Nuclear Security,” New York Times, October 1, 2001

[8] Center for Defense Information Database: http://www.cdi.org/issues/nukef&f/database

[9] ISIS Issue Brief David Albright, Kevin O’Neill and Corey Hinderstein October 4, 2001

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] SEE Appendix for a more detailed layout of the Pakistani Command and Control mechanism.

[13] Brian Cloughley A History of the Pakistan Army – Wars and Insurrections, 1999, Oxford University Press

RSS: Really Sinful Stuff

They say that technology has revolutionized the way we get the news. But has it also changed the way we ‘perceive’ the news? Has the ‘overflow’ of information made us all news buffs, while desensitizing the ‘human’ observer inside? RSS (most commonly expanded as “Really Simple Syndication”) is a Web feed formatted for publishing frequently updated works. People like me are hooked on RSS, at the great expense of letting the ‘onslaught’ of data ‘affect’ our ‘perception’ of the ‘world’. This is what my RSS feed was doling out the other night…

Yesterday, 11:28 PM

NWFP officially renamed Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

Eighty senators voted in favour of the new name, while 12 opposed. As everything else in that part of the country has already hit the fan, this uber-manly act of nationalism has finally managed what our ‘enemies’ have failed to achieve in three wars: virtually split the entire country up into provincial fiefdoms and breakaway movements. Thanks guys. Enjoy the new name.

Yesterday, 6:27 PM

Senate approves 18th Amendment

Prime Minister BiIlani has called the bill a landmark achievement. He also said that all those who have been either killed, injured or disenfranchised in Mansehra/Hazara need to wait for a “Three Phase Solution” which he described as waiting for 1) a major coup, followed by 2) a major activist movement, followed by 3) a major assassination, and THEN hope to get their own little province through the 19th Amendment, as that’s the way constitutional changes are made in Pakistan.

Yesterday, 5:57 PM

No Cric Tours to Pak any time soon: ICC

ICC’s Haroon Lorgat has advised Pakistan to strengthen its domestic structure like South Africa did when it was isolated. Thus, Pakistanis will have to experiment with famous South African socio-political models like apartheid, massacres, incarcerating leaders (e.g. the PCB chief serving a Mandela-type ‘sabbatical’ somewhere deep inside Quetta’s Ayub Stadium) and even self-admonishing their nuclear capability. Thanks for the novel idea, Haroon! This is brand new stuff you’re pitching!

Yesterday, 5:57 PM

US, France “not reluctant” to provide nuke tech: FO

The Foreign Office stated that both the countries were “not reluctant” to provide civil nuclear technology to Pakistan. When asked what ‘not reluctant’ signified, the FO spokesperson Abdul Buzzhit said “They haven’t said no”. When further prodded on what ‘no’ meant, Mr. Basit responded that “Well, they haven’t said ‘Pakistan: we would rather hand over our nuclear launch codes to the Russians, our missile silo locations to the Chinese, and even give Air Force One to Bin Laden so he can ram it into the Eiffel Tower before we give you a goddamned glove to hold a contaminated screw with’.” Note: Mr. Buzzhit has now been transferred to the Africa Desk at the Foreign Office.

Yesterday, 4:27 PM

Iceland volcano stops flights in Britain

Hundreds of flights out of UK airports were cancelled, including flights to Pakistan. That’s ok. Most of us don’t get visas to the UK, and many of those who do manage to secure one get deported, and those who actually make it there don’t ever come back (because when they do their kids get kidnapped) so like we said, that’s ok. We don’t care. We’re just amused as we wonder about how Virgin Atlantic will remain chaste in the company of so many Easy Jets as they all chill on the tarmac.

Yesterday, 1:57 PM

Quarter-final win for Aisam Qureshi

Qureshi and Bracciali scored a 6-4,4-6,10-6 win over Alvarez and Di Mauro in Rome’s Rai Open.  That’s awesome. We love Aisam. He’s actually the most decent sportsman we’ve had since our cricketers went on a beard-growing/ball-chewing/drug-carrying/match-fixing/STD-acquiring /actress-swindling/wife-divorcing/shotgun-wedding spree. Plus, Aisam looks great in shorts, which could help calm tensions in Pakhtoonkhwa areas if we make him a goodwill ambassador.

Yesterday, 12:53 PM

NATO leaves remote eastern Afghan valley

US commanders had been debating for weeks to increase US forces in the valley. Instead, they decided to simply shut down operations and head over to Karachi for a little R&R as Fashion Week 2’s after-parties continue to provide ample opportunities for the tired Marines to regroup.

Yesterday, 12:23 PM

Lashkar-e-Islam ready for talks

The banned militant group appealed the government to stop the on-going military operation in the Bara region.

Awww…Chickens!

There’s a Reason Why They Call It ‘The Islamic Bomb’

Three Decades of Nukespeak? An Introduction.

Note: ‘Desi’ is slang often used in both Indian and Pakistani parlance to define the ‘subcontinental self’, or the true native of the subcontinent, coming from the Urdu word Des or Hindi word Desh, meaning country.
Pakistan’s May 28, 1998 decision to explode five nuclear devices two weeks after India conducted its own tests has fundamentally altered the security landscape of South Asia and the world.  The nuclear club has two more members from its old six (the five declared nuclear weapons states plus Israel).  Horizontal proliferation and its dangers have thus increased with the overt nuclear race in South Asia.  The nuclear posture of Pakistan (in close reaction to India’s) has gone from calculated ambiguity to overt weaponization since the idea of a Pakistani nuclear device entered political discourse in the later 1960s.  There is already a commitment to deploy weapons on aircraft, missiles, and submarines, and a ballistic missile competition is well underway.  The term “nuclear holocaust” has become synonymous with the discussion of the rigid security ties between India and Pakistan.  Obviously, the strained diplomatic and military relations between the two estranged siblings fathered by the British Raj are not easing the nuclear tension as intense rhetoric is exchanged almost every day between Islamabad and New Delhi. But discourse and rhetoric are not just responsible for straining the already tense situation in the subcontinent. They are also responsible, in one way among many, for the actual conception of the nuclear programs in question as well.

The Pakistani nuclear program, the main focus of this paper, has been long subjected to such rhetoric and discourse, especially by elites (analysts, journalists, soldiers, policy-makers) both Pakistani and foreign. A recurring theme here has been that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is the fabled Islamic Bomb, a religious nuclear device of sorts. But just like the religion it perpetuates, the divine nuclear myth has many heterogeneous implications. An Islamic Bomb, huh? For whom? For what? And more than anything, why?

Obviously, that depends on who you talk to. Pick a Pakistani of the street, and he would probably say that the Islamic Bomb is an appropriate translation for the Pakistani weapons program because the country is Islamic, a proud homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent. Pick an Indian of the street, and he would probably say the same thing, but with a totally different undertone. For the Pakistani, the Islamic bomb might represent a fusion of divinity and patriotism; for the Indian, fundamentalism and encroachment. Where do the roots of such generalized differences lie?

This paper helps to explain how the divine myth of Pakistan’s nuclear program, the Islamic Bomb, was devised and imagined by the political discourse of the fore-mentioned ‘strategic elites’ of the subcontinent. There are five sections to this paper. The first section looks at the actual conception of the nuclear idea for Pakistani security during the Zulfi Bhutto era (President of Pakistan 1972-77), and how discourse regarding the bomb gained an Islamic flavor. The second section is chronological follow-up to the first, and includes a similar study of the growth of nuclear discourse during the Zia-ul-Haq military regime (1977-88). The third section is dedicated to the study of that same discourse in the then democratic Pakistan (1988-99). The fourth section describes the Indian connection to the Islamic Bomb debate, and how the myth has evolved among that country’s political elite. The fifth section is dedicated to the ever important dissenting opinion which refuses the myth in all its forms, positive and negative, and works towards the non-proliferation of the Pakistani nuclear program: a dream for many, but not most.

Birth of the Bomb, Rise of an Identity

The Christian, Jewish and Hindu civilizations have nuclear capability, along with Communist powers. Only the Islamic civilization was without it, but the situation was about to change. What difference does my life make now when I can imagine eighty million of my countrymen standing under the nuclear cloud of a defenseless sky? Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, former President of Pakistan[1]

One of the first and most systematic discussions of the deployment of a nuclear program for Pakistani security appeared in Z.A Bhutto’s 1969 book The Myth of Independence[2], written ten years before he wrote the above lines from his death-cell. In a state where only a quarter of his eighty million countrymen could read what he had to say, and that too not in English, his language of preference, Bhutto’s form of communication (book) and his language of composition (English) are indicative of the elitist roots of the Pakistani nuclear program, an issue which has been of fundamental importance in South Asian security discourse for the last thirty years.[3] The stage Bhutto set for his arguments was based primarily on a Pakistani rendition of the clash of civilizations, the “Two Nation Theory” of Mohammad Ali Jinnah[4] which had defined the Partition of India in 1947 on the argument that the Hindu and Muslim people of India were two separate, distinct, and even hostile entities, who would forever have different aims and purposes to seek through their nationhood. In Jinnah’s post-independence India, Muslim’s would be slaughtered by the majority Hindus once the British left and forever denied their rights of citizenry. There was thus a need for separate a separate state and nation, which was realized in the form of Pakistan.

Now, three decades after Jinnah had carved out a whole country on the distinct two-nation theory, Zulfi Bhutto was trying to further empower the state with nuclear weapons along the same lines: “the legacy of history, superstition, and prejudice” regarding the relations in the subcontinent was India’s, and “it is India not Pakistan that harbors ill will because of 700 years of Muslim rule.”[5] Pakistan needed to watch out for the “Indian mentality [which] is troubled with historical complexes and the obsession of defeat” by Muslims.[6] For Bhutto, those 700 years of Muslim glory were manifested in Pakistan, and “historical complexes” of the “Indian mentality” were also interchanged with those of the “Hindu mentality”. The convenient overlapping by Bhutto was not because of his lack of understanding the heterogeneity of the Indian social, cultural and political reality, but had more to do with a ‘logocentric logic’ whose objective was to create two easily distinguishable monolithic identities for the subcontinent, a Pakistani-Muslim Us and a Hindu-Indian Them, to consolidate a new and fragile Pakistani identity at the cost of the complex heterogeneities of the subcontinent.[7] For Bhutto, it was easier to pit Muslims against Hindus, even though as an ethnic Sindhi, he had more in common in terms of culture with the Rajputs[8] across the border than the Punjabi generals who would eventually oust him from power and execute him.

Keeping the centuries of Muslim rule over Hindu India in a fervent context, Bhutto had already in his earlier days as the foreign minister under Ayub Khan’s military government lambasted India, saying that Pakistan was “facing a great monster, a great aggressor always given to aggression”, whose ultimate objective was to “annihilate Pakistan.”[9] For Bhutto, Pakistan was “not a man-made country…it is a blessing of Allah…a God-made country.”[10] Now, his earlier introduction of the divine-element into state management was even more conducive to the national sentiment. Pakistan had fended off an Indian invasion in a stalemate war in 1965 over Kashmir, and though the two opposing armies had given up due to their main backers (the US for Pakistan, the USSR for India) stopping all shipment of spare-parts and supplies, the purpose of India was clear cut: it wanted to “bring Pakistan back to mother India.”[11]

In effect, Bhutto – the founder of the Pakistani nuclear program – set out to define Pakistan’s relation to India in terms beyond mere realpolitik, beyond the vital issue of Kashmir, which had been a point of contention between the two states since they gained independence from the British in 1947.[12] He even blamed the Indians for it, citing Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first and most powerful prime-minister, to have “believed that the resolution of the Kashmir problem will not put an end to Pakistan-India hostility because it was just a symptom of the bigoted attitudes of theocratic and reactionary Pakistan to secular, progressive India!”[13] Bhutto thus set out to define Pakistan’s new security discourse, asserting that “security and territorial integrity are more important than economic development.” As the main security problem was India, with its Hindu bitterness and hegemonic plans, Pakistan had to “find an effective deterrent.” It was here that Bhutto mentioned the nuclear option for the country’s security, saying that “our plans should include the nuclear deterrent.” Security discourse in Pakistan was now nuclearizised, at least among elites, and appropriate enough for many to Pakistanis follow the Bhutto-backed goal of maintaining their Islamic identity against a Hindu India. After loosing part of Kashmir in the war of 1947, and just saving face in the 1965 campaign, the Pakistanis, and specially Bhutto (as he had served as foreign minister during the 1965 war) knew that the Indian conventional advantage was a reality. The rallying point of being a Muslim Pakistani was an appropriate juncture to start the nuclear trip.

But Pakistan had bigger problems internally, where its Us-Them/Muslim-Hindu identity muscle would play no part. The West Pakistanis (primarily Punjabis and Pushtuns) had dominated the federal and provincial governments, the armed forces, even the civil bureaucracies of both West and East Pakistan since 1947. At a particular disadvantage here were the Bengalis, primarily based in East Pakistan, and the single largest ethnic group in the country, but probably one of the least empowered ones as well. Civil unrest in Bengal (East Pakistan) started in early 1971 under the auspices of the Awami League, Mujib-ur-Rehman’s Bengali nationalist party that would eventually form the new government of a new country, Bangladesh, after the effects of the Pakistani civil war and armed Indian intervention would slice up Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s and Bhutto’s Islamic-dream state into two. The political and military events of the Pakistani civil war and the Indian-Pakistani war of 1971 will not be detailed here, but it is important to note that the dismemberment of Pakistan proved a deep scar on the country’s already checkered history. Pakistan never became a more ‘cohesive’ state, even though the Indians thought they had done a fabulous job of “cutting Pakistan to size.”[14] The identity question still persisted, and no lessons were learned from the failure of prevalent centralizing, homogenizing national-identity discourse to include the Bengali Muslims in the now truncated Pakistan.[15] Pakistan, like the rest of subcontinent, is a very heterogeneous society. Even though 96 percent Muslim, most of its people don’t carve their identities on an Islamic base.[16] Ethnicity, language, even locality matter at the grass-roots level. Critics of Jinnah and the ideology of Pakistan had always used this ‘ethnicity card’ to flay the two-nation theory. The subcontinent’s Muslims had as many differences amongst themselves as they had with the Hindus, the argument went. The events of 1971 and the birth of Bangladesh, which Salman Rushdie joked was a seceding state from a seceded state,[17] proved this.

Still, estrangement with India obviously continued, but so did defining national security discourse in the Muslim-Hindu paradigm. The testing of the “Smiling Buddha,”[18] India’s nuclear device on May 18, 1974 reinforced the Pakistani security perspective towards that country in terms of religion. Two weeks before the Indian explosion, Bhutto, now the head-of-state, in an interview with the New York Times,[19] kept on the same lines:

We have been the oldest adversaries in the world, much older than anyone else. There have been [a] thousand years of antagonism between the Hindus and the Muslims. From the vantage point of history, therefore, this is too old a situation for it to settle down quickly.

In power, the populist Bhutto set out to take the political initiative of furthering Pakistan’s nuclear program with such a mindset, once again playing on the same Us/Them themes he had previously purported. His purposes, however, were very political. Terming the Indian explosion as a “nuclear blackmail” for Kashmir, Bhutto tried to keep what cynics call Pakistan’s ‘mountain-resort infatuation’ on the board with an India which was gloating after victory in 1971 and the Simla Accord. Bhutto had been criticized by his opponents for selling out Pakistan’s interests in the agreement which he had forged with Indira Gandhi, the tough Indian prime-minister, in ‘72 for the release of 110,000 Pakistani prisoners of war with the stipulation that Pakistan would start considering the Kashmiri Line of Control (or L.O.C., the ceasefire line drawn by the U.N. in 1948 after the first Indo-Pak war) as a defacto border. Bhutto had acquiesced, but changed tactics.

Since giving up Kashmir would renege the Islamic fundamentals of the ideals of Pakistan’s nationhood, but was a sore-spot in the recent light of the Simla Accord, Bhutto found a new political front from where to take India on. The Indian nuclear device tested in 1974 was clearly claimed by the Indian government as a peaceful one, and Bhutto’s response was in kind. He vowed to keep the nuclear equation equal, even if Pakistanis had to “eat grass to ensure nuclear parity with India.” Meanwhile, using the Indian test as a rallying point for showing his patriotism in regards to Kashmir, he promised to wage “a war for a thousand years” but not give up the Vale.[20]

Domestic politics were a distinct factor of the nuclear issue now, for there was a clear connection between patriotism and support for the program, and those who were opposed to it would risk their patriotic credentials. The Us-Them dichotomy now applied to both the external and internal spheres of Pakistani political life.[21] Bhutto asserted that “if we were to become fearful over India’s test it would indicate that we have already succumbed to the threat. This would be disastrous for our national determination.”

In figuring out what the national determination was, Bhutto tried to categorize[22] his political opponents (those opposed to the nuclear program) as elements serving against the nation, and further detailed the connection between a national identity challenged by an Indian (read Hindu) enemy and a nuclear program that would preserve it. When his central government faced a crisis of legitimacy because of the breakout of Baluch and Pashtun nationalist unrest in the Baluchistan and North West Frontier provinces in 1973, Bhutto suspended the provincial legislatures, arrested the leaders, and dubbed these proponents of subnational identities as Indian agents,[23] their actions considered as a breach of Pakistan’s sovereignty and the monolithic Pak-Islamic identity.[24]

Strangely enough, it was not India which forced the nuclear issue into the center of Pakistani public domain. In 1977, Pakistan had been negotiating a nuclear power plant deal with the French but those efforts had been overtly criticized by the United States. Kissinger had visited Pakistan and offered A-4 fighter-bombers to Bhutto during the Nixon administration earlier in the decade[25], and had threatened to make a “horrible example”[26] out of Pakistan if Bhutto persisted with the program. Now, Bhutto reported to the National Assembly that he had been told by the U.S. Ambassador that the “party was over” if the reactor deal with France went on as planned.[27] Accompanied by such pressures on Bhutto was the allegation of fixing the 1977 general elections in Pakistan, which had fermented a hefty opposition force, called the Pakistan National Alliance against him. Bhutto termed his internal and external opponents as “bloodhounds” trying to destabilize Pakistan, categorizing his domestic opposition and American critics into the same group, and said that they wanted him out of power because he was trying to make Pakistan a nuclear presence on the global stage. Thanks to its loudest voice, nuclear discourse was about to take a decisively anti-western (read U.S.) stance besides the old India/Hindu-centric enmity.

The defining moment for nuclear politics in the Pakistani public domain was on April 29, 1977, when Bhutto told a huge a public audience in Rawalpindi about the on-going nuclear program and the designs of the Americans and their PNA supporters in Pakistan. Waving a letter from the U.S. secretary of state which had prompted a quite dialogue on the issue, Bhutto told his audience that he would never compromise.[28] Now, the Pakistani nuclear program had an even more impressive folio of enemies in the public eye. A devious Hindu-India had never been a surprise to the Pakistani nuclear protagonists. Now Pakistan was being pitted against the United States and being depicted as a fiercely independent Islamic state standing against the hegemonic designs of a bigger, more foreign power. With the official media covering him religiously, Bhutto continued to craft the debate on patriotism on a nuclear holy-land. The identity of a Pakistani would now be determined whether she was for or against the nuclear issue.[29] Bhutto’s fiery nuclear rhetoric continued till he was ousted from office by General Zia-ul-Haq, then chief of the Pakistan Army, who declared martial law on July 5, 1977. For a man who hated Bhutto, Zia showed considerable loyalty in keeping Bhutto’s nuclear dream alive. He would further construct the patriotism debate, as well as keep Bhutto’s nuclear program and his popular ‘nukespeak’.[30]

Zia’s Bomb, Islam’s Pakistan

Ahough Zia jailed Bhutto for two years after the coup and eventually executed him after an engineered trial, his new military regime retained the nationalist nuclear issue as the pillar of government’s political alignment. The nuclear program, along with Kashmir remained the fundamentals of Pakistani policy objectives.[31] But Zia’s Pakistan, still the monolithic Islamic Horatio Alger of the proliferating world was now facing new dangers again, this time on the western front. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in the winter of 1979 and the Pakistani security discourse, previously wary of India and the U.S., now found a third adversary in Soviet Union. The news was that Pakistan was now sandwiched between a hegemonic and Hindu India and an expansionist communist Russia, while it was still being frowned upon by the United States. But who were the newscasters?

With Bhutto hung and buried, the mantle of nuclear discourse now went to an array of military and technocratic higher-ups as well as the press, who had till now played second fiddle to Bhutto’s fiery nuclear swearing for proliferation. A new nuclear-elite was on the rise in Pakistan, and would henceforth define the country’s security perspectives with regard to nuclear power, collectively. While the Foreign Office continued to make assurances under the auspices of foreign-secretary Agha Shahi,[32] the American media’s negative portrayal of Pakistan’s nuclear program became a rallying point for the Dawn, Pakistan’s leading daily, which called a CBS news-report on the issue a “smear campaign” that had “degenerated into a vilification campaign.”[33] Bhutto’s rhetoric had worked. Pakistan was starting to talk tough in a nuclear-nationalism dialect, and while diplomats like Shahi were being ambiguous, an aggressive press had nothing to apologize about.

By now, Zia was well aware of the legitimizing potential of the nuclear issue. He ordered the foreign office machinery to “refute propaganda against Pakistan’s nuclear program.”[34] And those efforts appeared as headlines in the ‘national press’ to forge a closer link between external and domestic dimensions of the program. Any zesty news items in the Western media, like contemplations of a commando action against Pakistan’s nuclear installations, would easily find its way into Pakistani headlines with a hard-lined response from analysts.[35] When such a report appeared in the New York Times in Mid-August of 1979, Qutbuddin Aziz, a Pakistani analyst, blamed it all on a “Zionist conspiracy.”[36] The United State’s fervent stance against the Pakistani nuclear program was interpreted as the handiwork of the Israeli lobby there. Aziz said that an “international Zionist hostility” was being implemented against Pakistan by the “pro-Jewish New York Times” and the “Zionist influenced CBS.”[37] This was a definitive, anti-Zionist twist for the security and nuclear discourse of the nation. Most Pakistanis had never even met a Jew. Now, Zionism had become a prevalent threat to the security of the country, at least in elitist eyes.

Gradually, Pakistan political elite in almost its entirety – analysts, retired generals, former ambassadors, senior diplomats, religious figureheads – converted the Pakistani program as to face four different forms of dangers, each with its own distinct threats: There was the newly discovered Zionist conspiracy that was bent on curtailing Islamic Pakistan’s quest for nuclear parity. There was Hindu India, now a millennium-long enemy, which had dismembered Pakistan by creating Bangladesh and had plans for Kashmir and beyond. There was the godless Soviet Union which was knocking on the western front, dreaming of annexing Pakistan for its warm-water ports. Finally, there was the bully America, which had its own agenda for global hegemony at the expense of a proliferating Third World state, and also had its own Jewish influences. Each category offered a distinct reason for an ‘Islamic’ nuclear program to exist, for Pakistan to proliferate, to defy all these enemies with an imperative nuclear deterrent. Not oblivious to the mood of the times, Zia-ul-Haq, in a speech on national television which could have been delivered by his now dead nemesis Bhutto, called the “acquisition of nuclear energy…a matter of life and death for the country.”[38]

This was a double-edged warning, one aspect of which was addressed to a domestic audience and the other to foreign enemies. With the General in full military attire and a picture of Mohammad Ali Jinnah behind him, Pakistanis were solemnly told that “unholy plans are being promoted to destroy our research program.” By placing the nuclear program in a sacred versus profane context, its survival was equated with a jihad (Islamic holy war), no more just a question of strategic interest. The theme was meant to stir Pakistanis into uniting for the cause of the Bomb, and thus the government, lending support for this “holy endeavor.”  The foreign enemies were cautioned that by brewing such “unholy” plans, they were underestimating the “true mettle of the Pakistani nation and its spirit of self-respect.” Zia closed the speech with the firm resolve that “the Pakistani nation is convinced that the acquisition of atomic technology…is its basic right, which can not be denied by any foreign power nor can any government in Pakistan surrender it.”

As the war in Afghanistan waged on and the U.S. and Pakistani intelligence services orchestrated a proxy war in that country against the Soviets by backing Islamic guerillas called the Mujahideen, Pakistan warmed up nicely to the U.S. on the diplomatic front, priding itself as a ‘front-line’ state to curb what Reagan was calling the ‘Evil Empire.’ With a 3.9 billion dollar aid program and three squadrons of F-16 fighter-bombers,[39] the Pakistanis also received what has been called a “benign eye”[40] from the Americans in regard to their accelerating nuclear program. At home, Pakistan’s geostrategic importance as well as vulnerability became the topic for the epistemic community to discuss, and the number of prevalent threats (now short-listed to the Indians, the Communists, and the Zionists, for the Americans now had Pakistan on their most-favored-nations list) were cited as an apt reason for a massive conventional weapons buildup and of course, for the country’s nuclear power to be realized. Such commentary was prevalent in conferences and seminars organized by government sponsored think-tanks[41] and the newly commissioned Inter-Services Public Relations wing of the Pakistan Army, which was the press-corps of the armed forces (whose role in the political affairs of the country was much more enhanced than in previous decades[42]).

The aim of nuclear weapons proliferation was now no longer hidden behind the ‘peaceful nuclear energy’ argument which had been pleaded by the Foreign Office. On the one hand, the military establishment with Zia as its biggest spokesman – the devout President/Commander-in-Chief himself – and the ISPR, purported the cause of nuclear weapons proliferation as the ‘right’ path for national defense against foreign hegemonic ambitions; on the other hand, the leading security experts of the epistemic community now evolved into nuclear hawks, suggesting nuclear weapons proliferation as a natural course to take for a country endangered by so many anti-Islamic enemies.

It is important to note that it was also during Zia’s time that the Pakistan Army, long regarded as the bastion of the country’s moral values,[43] was getting increasingly Islamicized due to integral changes in the organization and training methods, as was the country itself. On the one hand, Zia’s Pakistan was going through a firm transition in banking, commerce, and civil law, so as these categories all fell under the auspices of the Shariah (Islamic law); women were separated from men in universities; public floggings, an emulation of the Wahabist Saudi practices, were made common; indigenous dress was encouraged in both the public and private working sectors; bars and clubs from the Bhutto era were actually demolished; television programming had to follow strict guidelines as it aired the ‘azaan’ (call to prayer) five times a day, even interrupting cricket matches, the country’s favorite past time. On the other hand, Zia’s Army went through a similar change of the religious guard. The “Mullahs” (clerics) actually became a part of the regimental outfit with commission and rank. The sherwani became the required dress at formal mess hall dinners, replacing the traditional suit and tie. Regimental slogans were changed from British hand-me-downs to Quranic surahs. Islamic theology courses were combined with strategic studies at the Pakistan Military Academy and the Command and Staff College.[44] Pakistan’s strategic military doctrine also took on a more Islamic mood, as the theme of terror and nukes played side by side in publications by military officials: “Terror stuck into the hearts of the enemies is not only a means, it is the end itself. Once a condition of terror into the opponent’s heart is obtained, hardly anything is left to be achieved.”[45] This admitted induction of the Qur’anic Sarah Anfal, 12, (“I am with you. Give firmness to the Believers. I will instill terror into the hearts of the Unblelievers.”) by the author Brigadier Malik into a book which is a requisite of the curriculum at the P.M.A is indicative of the Islamization of Pakistani military doctrine. Malik goes on to talk about nuclear deterrence “in fashion today”, cannot work unless it is capable of “striking terror into hearts of the enemy.” But moderation is preserved. While they are regarded to have a clear-cut role in total war (which becomes a matter of jihad) nuclear weapons are clearly regarded as dangerous, and to be used with caution: “Islam provides the conditions and criteria which will make it impossible to launch nuclear weapons without a just cause. Nuclear weapons are modern terror weapons, and Islam enjoins us to strike terror into the hearts of the enemy, it provides us moral guidance, a set of principles for going to war – such a decision would not be irresponsible.” If the strong control of the military over Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is considered under such commentary, then clearly, the nuclear program, along with the military, is worthy of being called Islamic.

In effect, Pakistan under Zia had, by the latter years of his rule, become a fierce competitor and a hard talker when it came to nuclear weapons proliferation. There was a clear portrayal of strategic issues rather than an apologetic drawing up of the energy needs argument. It was also during Zia’s regime that the nuclear issue was thoroughly transformed as a vital national issue of the public domain. While Bhutto had been the ‘sole spokesman’ of the Pakistani nuclear program, the nuclear discourse now lay on the broader mantle of experts, analysts and the military.[46] Zia’s version of Pakistan was based on a militarily strong, politically and socially homogenized country where “Islamic ideology” would be the cornerstone of patriotism, and the nuclear option was the best available deterrent to ward off India (still the arch nemesis) and convince the nation of the military regime’s patriotic credentials.[47] A week before the mysterious plane explosion that killed him, Zia had asked the people of Pakistan in a television “not to grudge against defense allocations…as no price is too big to pay for national independence.”[48] He expressed pride in the Armed Forces, and spoke for them who “were defending the sacred soul of the country at great sacrifice.” Security, religion, and nukes were the ingredients for Zia’s patriotism omelet.

If Bhutto had introduced the nuclear discourse to Pakistan, it was Zia who consolidated it as a part of the Pakistani Islamic identity by invoking the Indian (others too, but not as primarily) threat.[49] The 1980s also saw the birth of an epistemic community which built upon the nuclear discourse by inducting more anti-Islamic adversaries like Israel on the proliferating Pakistanis’ death-list. The views continued to flourish under the post-Zia period, when Pakistan got another shot at democracy after eleven years of martial law. The nuclear issue would no longer be the turf of the power elites, but intellectuals at large as well. Still, the nuclear issue would be kept within an Islamic-identity paradigm by the following governments and the military establishment.

For Sale: Second-hand Democracy, Used Theocracy, and Brand-New Realism

The 1988 general-elections in Pakistan were very typical of the carnival theme such events tend to take in the subcontinent. Songs, marches, music videos, and of course, nuclear discourse marked the lively proceeding of a country where political parties had mostly been banned by an Islamic dictator. While Benazir Bhutto, the Radcliffe and Oxford alumnus daughter of Zulfikar and leader of the rejuvenated Pakistan People’s Party, played up the theme of democracy versus autocracy[50], riding on the nuclear coattails of her martyred father, the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (the Islamic Democratic Alliance which represented core Islamic values and was more conservative in its social programs) and its leader Nawaz Sharif took on the theme of criticizing Bhutto and how she misrepresented Islam and Pakistan’s nuclear plans because she was too secular. Bhutto won by a slim majority, but despite being a self-declared non-proliferationist was forced to vow continuing the nuclear program due to pressures. The zeal of security pundits, an omnipresent military[51], a new president[52] with hard-line Islamic and nuclear views, and Islamically-aligned political opponents forced Bhutto to continue the policy of nuclear ambiguity. Democracy did not lessen the anti-India rhetoric, and the old Muslim Us- Hindu Them theme stayed on in the security and nuclear discourse of the epistemic community. The new democratic Pakistan still had the same anti-Islamic enemies, and had to be prepared to safeguard its “national independence and territorial integrity” at any cost.[53] Now more than ever, there was no better way to insure these two essentials than through “a suitable deterrent…mix of the nuclear and conventional forces,” where nuclear forces “act as a bulwark against Indian designs.”[54]

Pakistan’s political mood in terms of regional events was getting more rife with anti-Americanism. The war in Afghanistan had ended, the Soviets had withdrawn, and so had the massive American aid which had sustained the country through most of the ‘80s. The new American attitude now was much along the lines of what it had been during Zulfi Bhutto’s era, that normalcy of relations depended on Pakistan shelving its nuclear program. After bearing the costs of war in Afghanistan through 3.1 million refugees, armed religious activists and a ‘Kalashikov Culture’,[55] Pakistanis felt deeply betrayed by the U.S. and how it placed the former ‘front-line state’ in the back benches of Bush’s new world order. With the onset of the Gulf War, outlook towards the U.S. did not get any warmer. General Mirza Aslam Beg, the Chief of Army Staff and a fervent nuclear hawk, was talking in terms of “pulling the nuclear fence down”[56] and warding off plans of American hegemony through “strategic defiance.” Analysts and strategists, government and opposition, all agreed. Although Pakistani troops were stationed in Saudi Arabia outside Mecca and Medina to deter any sort of danger to the holy cities of Islam, being a part of Desert Shield did not bring Pakistan closer to the U.S. In fact, the U.S. attacks on Iraq were seen as mere hypocrisy compared to the U.S. attitude of neutrality towards India in the context of Kashmir, which according to the Pakistani epistemic community was also a case of illegal occupation. Also gaining credibility was the revised myth of an Indo-Jewish-American troika conspiring against potentially nuclear Pakistan, just as it had destroyed an ‘Islamic’ and defiant Iraq.[57] Now Pakistan’s nuclear program was not only aimed at Hindu India, but was even symbolic of the iron will of the Muslim world to resist the U.S-Zionist drive to gain dominance in the region.

Pakistan struggled on through most of the 1990s, though not in isolation. It found new providers of debt in Japan and Sweden. Militarily, Pakistan reestablished closer links with China, and instances of the two cooperating were seen in the development of ordnance factories, fighter-aircraft, tanks, and ballistic missiles.[58] On the domestic political front, Pakistan experimented acrimoniously with democracy as the ever-powerful military and the strong Presidency replaced the Bhutto regime, installed the Sharif regime, and then removed it in favor of Bhutto again (the Bhutto and Sharif governments were charged with corruption every time, but prosecution proceedings were marred by various factors, court scandals and assassinations among them)[59]. Severe ethnic violence grew in the urban centers, especially in Karachi, and kidnappings, drive-by shootings and bombings scarred the financial center of Pakistan’s economy as foreign investment started dwindling.[60]

With such prevalent despondency on the home front, a figure of Dr. A.Q. Khan, the director of the country’s nuclear program, gained an almost divine reputation as a man of god and nuclear physics, and provided the domestic political discourse with a much needed figure of mythic heroism. Khan had worked in the 70’s in Holland in a nuclear reactor, and had allegedly stolen classified information from the Dutch government to return to Pakistan. Now, in the ‘90s, his actions were lauded frequently by the press and government officials; Khan used to show up at university forums (under the protection of the fabled Special Services Group of the Pakistan Army, an elite force of special operation commandos) and tell students to opt for nuclear physics as their concentration. He turned up at Friday sermons at mosques, once again unannounced, with words on the ‘duties’ of proliferation for Muslims.[61] A mysterious figure, he spoke out at times mostly through the more Islamic and hawkish Urdu press [62] and kept up the nuclear rhetoric to a feverish high, fusing Islam, the Bomb, patriotism and security all into one sense of being Pakistani.[63] Where the democratic governments were failing to inspire a depressed mandate (Bhutto and Sharif were famous for ‘buying’ constituencies through their vast financial resources, a result of their rapacious stints in power), A.Q. Khan inspired the masses with his Islamic rhetoric so that Kahuta, the location outside Islamabad where Pakistan’s nuclear reactor was operational, became the most well known village in the country – Pakistan’s own nuclear Mecca. Khan’s discourse could be deemed credible for stirring a new cult of personality in Pakistan’s nuclear regime, focused  on a more hard-lined Islamic Khan compared to Bhutto’s ‘aristocratic populism’[64] form of nuclear politics.

Ironic is the fact that Z.A Bhutto’s dream of the Muslim civilization having nuclear capability was vehemently pursued by some of his sworn enemies: the militant mullahs from Pakistan’s Islamic parties’ alliance, the Jamat-e-Islami, and former generals, who represented an emerging ideology of Islamic realism in the nuclear mosaic.[65] Nuclear discourse was now as much the helm of religious hard-liners as it had been of the military and political elite; the political status of these ‘Jamaatis’ in Pakistan had gained considerable status since the Zia years. A leading figure from the religious-political corps was Khurshid Ahmad, whose views “manifest tensions that can be expected in a narrative that invokes such diverse strands as pan-Islamism, territoriality, denial of domestic heterogeneity, and principles of modern realist theory of international relations to validate a particular version of discourse about Pakistan’s security needs.”[66] Ahmad’s views are indicative of the aged sense of the defining Pakistan’s security and nuclear need through its enemies, but include the new prescription of Islamic solutions to the nation’s security problems.  Ahmad fuses his realism with divinity to make room for the conduct of international affairs of an ideological entity.[67] For Ahmad’s “predatory world…Pakistani Muslims” should understand the nature of threats which come from “the Indian mentality and their frenetic arms build-up.” A second comes from “the Zionist entity”, Israel, which is no more than a “European colony” in the heart of the Islamic world.[68] Discourse like this is the prevalent stance of the right-wing Jamaati (congressional) Islamic parties of Pakistan. In the ‘90s, this group has been particularly vocal about the Islamic aspects and prospects of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal, and have added a complicating caveat to their preference of the kind of uses they have in mind for the Islamic bomb. Whereas previously (in the Bhutto and Zia era)  Pakistan’s nuclear program had been cited strictly for Pakistani use (albeit Pakistan was purported as a monolithic Muslim entity on guard against global and regional hegemons), Jamaati thinkers, now with loud (but small) urban mandates, thought the Pakistani bomb should be the defender of the Muslim world, especially in context to a ‘Zionist Israel’. Their preferred mode of communication was, once again, the Urdu press, and their ideas gained a sizeable audience, if not a massive following, during those heated years of a once again free press in Pakistan. Khalid Ahmed, one of the few dissenters of Pakistani nuclear program, sums up the emerging role of nuclear activism among the political clergy and the Urdu press well:

Since Pakistan’s nuclear strategy was predicated on a fundamentally irrational response (because any sort of nuclear exchange with India would destroy Pakistan from fallout if not the second strike), the popular feeling of ‘renewal’ became channeled into a ‘spiritual’ direction. The general feel-good environment created by the government was quickly converted to a state of religious uplift because it required no rationalization. The common man, increasingly under the influence of the clergy and its extremely visible leaders, saw the bomb as an instrument of the revival of Islam. In the post-cold war period, the world of Islam has been shown as being under attack from the West and its conspiracies. The ‘conspiracy’ factor helped in interpreting the generally internecine conflicts of Islamic societies as U.S. induced. The clergy quickly converted the bomb into an anti-U.S. device, an Islamic Bomb that will save the world of Islam from the U.S. led Western assault. The Urdu press hailed the Pakistani bomb as belonging to the entire ‘ummah’ [Islamic world]…The highest level of the acceptance of the bomb was among the clergy. While some non-clerical political parties expressed skepticism about it, the religious acceptance of the bomb by announcing that Israel could now be targeted by the Pakistani bomb by souping up the missile system. The government encouraged this trend by accusing Israel of mounting a covert operation against Pakistan’s nuclear installation in conjunction with India. Chaghai [the site of the nuclear tests in 1998] was later turned into a place of ‘pilgrimage’ by Urdu journalists, and was shown on TV as a ‘divine’ location, giving it an ‘Islamic’ gloss.[69]

Another realist to emerge was (but who was not from the political clergy nor the Urdu press) was General K.M. Arif, a Zia confidante, who became a prolific nuclear commentator in the ‘90s, warning the nation of unified moves by “the Indo-Jewish lobby” to destroy the country’s security options. Essentially using the same realpolitik principles as Khurshid Ahmed, where Pakistan was pitted against dangerous and conspiring externalities, Arif’s approach is less pan-Islamic, even though themes of an “enduring danger” from India are prevalent. This difference in prescriptions (Ahmad’s religious versus Arif’s secular) for the national security dilemma were indicative of the new split in Pakistan’s pro-nuclear elites. Arif belonged to a the post-Zia military elites who saw the same Hindu enemy in India as did Khurshid Ahmed’s Jamat-i-Islami, but there was no ambition from his side about any sort of pan-Islamic use of the Bomb against Israel. The military’s Bomb was Islamic, but more Indo-centric; the clergy’s Bomb had bigger aims.

Among these realists, the threats to Pakistan became a more complicated, multifaceted story. Another one of the most heard voices of the time, Ghani Eiradi, linked Pakistan’s bad blood with the U.S. to Kashmir. The demanded shelving of the nuclear program by the U.S. was meant to betray” the Kashmiris and revise our commitment to Islam.”[70] Retaining the nuclear option was now a clear nexus between Pakistan’s Church and State. Islam and Kashmir were purported to be the foundations on which the Pakistani ideology rested. It should be duly noted that by this time in the mid-‘90s, Pakistan was deeply involved in giving military training, financial backing, and as the Foreign Office still puts it, ‘moral support’ to the anti-Indian militants in Kashmir. Scenes of atrocities by the 600,000 Indian troops stationed in the Vale were aired every night on state-run television for twenty minute segments before the sports news, and Friday sermons at mosques prompted the government to continue with the Bomb and asked young Muslim men to volunteer for a jihad if necessary.  A.Q Khan continued to be the Islam’s greatest physicist. The general opinion about India remained, that it was a devious Hindu power. Anti-Zionist and anti-U.S. rhetoric, however, was the turf of the political clergy, the Mullahs, and their Urdu press. Pakistan had a bunch of Islamic bombs, not just one.

Still, it was a hard time for the doves.

In India’s Eyes: The political and security view from across the border

Who is in occupation of our territory in Kashmir? Who is fuelling terrorism in the Valley? Who has forced lakhs of Kashmiris to flee their homes? Who engineered the Bombay blasts? Who is responsible for communal violence in different parts of India? Pakistan! Uma Bharti of Bharati Janata Party government of India[71]

The military coup in Pakistan in 1977 and the subsequent Islamization program implemented by General Zia-ul-Haq was the defining factor for India in viewing Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal as the ‘Islamic Bomb’.  Though it was a term coined by the popular Z.A Bhutto, (President of Pakistan 1972-77), it became the new catchphrase of the Indian strategic community to highlight the radical dangerousness of an Islamic Pakistan particularly in Zia’s era, when the Pakistani nuclear program really took off.[72] The course of the Indian nuclear discourse since the 1980s followed two contextual strategies when it came to describing Pakistan. It either started with a general negative characterization of politicized Islam, placing Pakistan as a part of this larger problem, or it drew on the dangerous aspects of Pakistan and then relayed it as the arbiter of the broader threat posed by resurgent Islam to India in particular and the world in general. Research of accounts of the Indian epistemic community of the time indicates that India pitted itself as the innocent victim at the hands of a ‘jihadi’ Pakistan.[73]

However, the roots labeling Pakistan as a pertinent external danger went a little further. Echoing the dominant views in India on the formation of Pakistan as an historical aberration, Jawaharlal Nehru, prime-minister of India (1947-64) and probably the leading light for defining Indian political alignment and discourse since the nation gained independence depicted Pakistan as a “breakaway part of India” in 1948.[74] Castigating the All India Muslim League (AIML and later the PML – Pakistan Muslim League, M.A. Jinnah’s political party which led the Muslim coalition for Pakistan ) in a pre-Partition discussion, Nehru had once crudely joked that he wondered what sort of Muslims were represented by the League, when all the “real” ones were Nehru’s Indian National Congress.[75] This background put Pakistan in a special category early in the formal Indian security discourse, because “all people of India” were shocked over “the way Pakistan was formed and India was divided.” Characteristic here is the Indian government’s stance of marginalizing the ambitions of the hundred million Muslims of India who actually opted for the creation of Pakistan. This is also indicative of the Indian view of Pakistan as a geographical and social anomaly, a breach of the still famous ‘Akhand Bharat’ (One India) mentality[76] of Indian nationalists, who considered these upstart Pakistanis as a sub-nationalist religious-fundamentalists who destroyed the unitary solidity of India. The birth of such security discourse also had a lot to do with the recent violence of the Partition, when angry mobs, Hindu and Muslim, had massacred each other in Calcutta, Lahore and Delhi. The Partition was a terribly bloody ordeal in subcontinental history, and the ethnicity-based violence, accompanied by the early Indian and Pakistani show of hostilities through the Kashmir war of 1947 (which was once again an issue of a religious [Pakistani] versus secular [Indian] claim on the future of the state) compounded the security tensions between the two countries on an ethnic basis early in their history.

The position of the regional powers in South Asia is usually aligned with the long-borne belief that the Indian role in the South Asian security environment is an example of a state pursuing the goal of regional hegemony,[77] with Pakistan being the proverbial militant thorn in India’s side. Indian strategists have, however, categorically dubbed such claims as bad propaganda. K. Subrahmanyam, India’s top nuclear strategist says that “India does not have an imperialist or expansionist history”, yet at another instance, he asserts that “the subcontinent is a strategic unity and India as the biggest nation has a special responsibility in ensuring the integrity of all states within the subcontinent especially against the inroads of extra subcontinental powers.”[78] In effect, Pakistan is always seen as a power that inhibits India from exercising its rightful, read hegemonic, claims to being the regional super power: a ‘natural hegemon’ where its size and resources dictate its inevitable superiority to be realized over Pakistan.[79]

But besides using size as a factor to justify its claims, issues of civilizations and culture are used to demonstrate that South Asia is a single entity and that Pakistan in general and its nuclear weapons programs in particular are an anomaly, an obstruction, to this larger cause.  Almost any discussions of Pakistan by the Indian strategic community addresses the issue of Islam and its role in shaping Pakistani domestic and foreign policies in light of Pakistani defiance of the Indian model of the subcontinent being that ‘single entity.’  In spite of the complexities and heterogeneous nature of Islam in India, let alone Islam in general, Indian security analysts employ the same stereotypes that are applied in the West about Islam, foremost among them being the separation of the Church and state in Hinduism and Christianity, and the junction of the two in Islam.[80] This fusion, which is caused by “the traditional opinion former in the society – namely the clergy – claims jurisdiction to determine the nature of the state and polity and not merely social and religious behavior,”[81] exacerbates conflict between secularism and traditional values in Muslim countries, an obvious problem for secular India. Also, despite the stark differences that divide the so-called Islamic world, some Indian authors claim that the Muslim “sense of fellowship in the concept of the Millat” (community)[82] is trained to work against non-Muslims.

This is where the Indian strategic myth for Islam – as a religion where the temporal and spiritual realms are fused along with an alleged sense of alliance between the Muslims of the world against non-Muslims – plays out in castigating nuclear Pakistan. With Partition in 1947 portrayed as a national tragedy, Pakistan becomes an artificial product of Islamic zeal and colonialism’s ‘divide and rule’ ploy, a theocracy that is not meant to be in the ‘natural’ state of affairs, except for creating trouble for Mother India.

Starting with the 1980s and Pakistan’s deliberate path to nuclearization as well as Islamization, the Muslim state becomes an “unstable, unpredictable, and irrational country that intervenes in India’s affairs with impunity and poses a nuclear challenge.”[83] In discourse about India’s biggest two biggest ethnic crises, the Muslim militants in Kashmir and Sikh uprisings in Punjab, Pakistan is seen as the primary engineer, a plotter of jihad and anti-democratic, fundamental and zealous mayhem. General Krishnawami Sundarji, former chief of staff of the Indian Army, has no doubt that the uprising in Kashmir  was created by the infiltration of regular Pakistani soldiers as volunteers in the valley. Not content with the performance of its soldiers, Pakistan also sends Afghan Mujahideen (self declared holy warriors who came into existence during the war with the Soviets) to find a proxy war in India.[84] By establishing this link between the Afghan Mujahideen and the much fabled Pakistani I.S.I (the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate of the Pak military which is regarded as a praetorian, devious organization by Indian discourse) with the trouble in Kashmir, the purpose of portraying a grand alliance of Islamic fundamentalist forces working against a secular India is achieved. Even more interestingly, India tries to take on a very pro-West outlook here by claiming that the this terrorism is very dangerous to the ‘free-world’ as well as India, thus de-linking Pakistan from the secular West whilst it moves in closer to that model itself.[85] Subsequently, the Pakistani Bomb is seen in the same light the general security discourse sheds: ‘Pakistan’ thus comes to be regarded as analogous to social, political, and military buzz-words like ‘religious fundamentalism’, ‘breakaway country’, ‘unstable theocracy’, ‘terrorist state’ and the ‘Islamic Bomb.’ Even its chief nuclear scientist, A.Q. Khan is labeled as a ‘Muslim Oppenhiemer’,[86] and anecdotes of his alleged illegal activities in Holland are referred to in a mystery-novel setting.[87]

The overarching theme then in current Indian security discourse is Pakistan’s attempt to ‘Balkanize’ India,[88] and discussions of the Pakistani nuclear program are ‘preceded by such characterizations in the Indian strategic epistemic community where logocentric logic invokes the dangers of an artificial, theocratic, unstable Pakistan against a more natural, secular, and democratic India.’[89] Here, Pakistan’s bomb signifies more than a hostile nation in possession of a nuclear weapon. It is also seen as a weak, cowardly and fanatical method of keeping India from its rightful rule of supremacy in the subcontinent with Pakistan being stamped as an ‘agent state’ of, depending who you talk to, China, the US, and the Islamic world.[90] On the one hand, Pakistan “has been a partner in the neo-colonial design to keep the third world underdeveloped through her alliances with the West.”[91] On the other, the Pakistani Bomb is seen as the “defender of the [Persian] Gulf area” where “money will pour in from Muslim countries” to support the Pakistani nuclear program and the ideology of the aggressive and anti-non-Muslim ‘Millat.’

In effect, the Pakistani nuclear program is seen as something bigger than the tit-for-tat response to the Indian nuclear weapons program (as it is claimed by the Pakistani government). While the Indian bomb is a nationalist-bomb, a pride-bomb, representing the political will and the scientific zeal of the Indian establishment, Pakistan’s nuclear program is seen as a collusion of India’s adversaries, an undermining of the Third World’s sovereignty, and primarily the conspiracy of theMuslim world to acquire nuclear capability to make an Islamic bomb against non-Muslims. A recent study of Indian elite opinion[92] on the issue confirms the perception.  Pakistan is “a mere plaything in the hands of the Muslim fundamentalist states. These countries are using Pakistan against Hindu India,” says Uma Bharti, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s dominant spokeswoman.

Matters of Dissent: Not Hawks but still Pakistanis, thank you very much

As the dialect of dominant nuclear discourse is enveloped in the language of patriotism in Pakistan, any deviation from it invites allegations of treachery.[93] The anti-bomb intelligentsia of Pakistan is well aware of this fact. Since the dominant Us versus Them discourse is considered a manifestation of manufactured consent, the dissenters had to find different paradigms on which to base their arguments against a nuclear Pakistan. Liberal rationality bestowed by enlightenment has become the dissidents’ weapon to demystify the dominant “Pakistani means Muslim means pro-nuclear” myth, and so they create “rational” and “scientific” grounds to make their case.[94] While the pro-nuclear option people are dubbed as guardians of emotionalism, the dissidents claim to be custodians of a more “objective thinking.” [95]

Dissenters argue that going nuclear is counter-productive and provides a false sense of security. Opponents to the existing concept of nuclear politics draw their intellectual inspiration from different sources. Khalid Ahmed,[96] outspoken editor of The Friday Times, is very pro-West in his criticism of leaders of Pakistan having nuclear weapons due to their propensity to make policy due to whim rather than reason. There is also a C3 (command, communication and credibility) school of criticism of which Zia Mian and Pervez Hoodbhoy, the first a leading non-proliferation lobbyist, the second an M.I.T physicist and veteran pacifist, are members. Sporadic dissent emerges from independent think-tanks like the Institute of Strategic Studies (unlike the government sponsored think-tanks of the Zia regime), former generals,[97] even the Urdu press, for reasons that are usually based on economics and how Pakistan can ill-afford a nuclear program.[98]

Khalid Ahmed’s suspicion of the Pakistani leadership’s capability to handle nuclear weapons emanates from his belief in the embedded “irrationality”[99] of the non-Western world. The West is credited with developing reason as an “intellectual tool for survival” over the past years. The non-Western world, meanwhile, is considered a realm of “irrationals”, and “suicide bombers” in which nationalists and dictators act at some “animal” level. Third world leaders tend to think “if you have the bomb you are a ‘big power’ perched permanently in the U.N. Security Council vetoing what you do not like.” This vituperative rendering of the part of the world to which Ahmed himself belongs is not without its own myths about the relative superiority of the West and the absolute inferiority of the rest.[100]

Based on this vision of the world, Ahmed argues that the effects of nuclear weapons vary in two fundamentally different worlds. In the West, the Bomb had “sobering” impact; and the will of the non-West to acquire similar technology is “irrational” because it is not backed up by scientific and economic advances.[101] Third World countries’ reiteration of basic principles of modern deterrence thinking doesn’t convince Ahmed to consider them fit to handle nuclear weapons because the leadership here suffers from “personality disorders.” Fears of state level irrationality are not the only concerns that guide Ahmed. Islamic nuclear-alarmism leads him to argue that nuclear devices can land in the hands of splinter groups who would not hesitate to annihilate their enemies.  This mode of thinking is applied to analyze the dynamics of nuclear politics of South Asia.

Ahmed’s analysis of Pakistan’s foreign relations regarding Kashmir and the nuclear issue help to explain an important alternative vision of Pakistan’s identity and security concerns, as well as a different version of the Bomb.  As for now, Pakistan is noted as a “corrupt and politically divided state,” which has the “potential to become the cockpit of international terrorism.”  Hence, the nuclear program is seen as a “venture” that appeals to a disenchanted public and is perpetuated by corrupt generals, and their zealot mullahs and puppet politicians.

Another more “scientific” group of dissenters who claim a more enlightened social consciousness place their debate on more empirical grounds.  Zia Mian and Pervez Hoodbhoy give examples through details of destruction and concepts of nuclear holocaust along with safety concerns to deter a Pakistani nuclear program from accidentally “going off.”  Hoodbhoy in particular thinks that deterrence is not the paramount factor in determining Pakistan’s (as well as India’s) proliferation policies.[102] He thinks that the nuclear weapons are basically a political arsenal employed by the power hungry military and politicians to play on the “prestige card” while they eschew the civil liberties and limited funds of an already poor nation.[103]

This summary of dissenting views relays the “parallel myths” about developing countries’ inferiority and the horrors of nuclear accidents as well as structural handicaps within those countries that deny them apt handling of a nuclear arsenal.  This is the “other” Pakistan of the “modern” dissenters: A Pakistan where “true security” can only come with solving the bigger problems of a national infrastructure building exercise.  Sticking to a fund-depleting nuclear policy “impoverishes” the masses the Pakistan.[104]

The nexus of most dissent is then found in the poor state of the Pakistani economy. Non-proliferation in the reality of international sanctions and Pakistan’s dependence on foreign aid becomes the only way for economic self-sufficiency. Another aspect of dissent is the clear pro-Western, to be precise, pro-American attitude of re-establishing a positive relation with the U.S. to help achieve geo-strategic objectives like Kashmir rather than deciding them through a nuclear Us/Them face-off with India.  There is no “American Conspiracy,” no “Zionist plan”, no “Hindu aggressor,” that deter Pakistan from going nuclear; there is also no “pan-Islamist nuclear umbrella,” which is envisioned by dominant discourse, to serve the purpose of protecting the Muslim Ummah.  “Economic reality is the only reality on the basis of which to calculate one’s chances of survival,” says Ahmed.  But voices like his drown in the nuclear nationalism and religious revivalism (obviously in a nuclear context) that have gripped Pakistan since its May 1998 explosions.  In such light, the dissenters are resigned to the idea of nuclear Pakistan as a fait accompli.[105] Deterioration of the relationship with India (in regard to Kashmir and most recently the December 13th attacks by Pakistani backed terrorists on the Indian Parliament) has not cooled down the nuclear rhetoric.  Still, the economic reality of Pakistan’s acute dependence on international financing agencies whose help rests on whether Pakistan signs the CTBT or not is clearing the way for a less religious rhetoric-based and a more secular nuclear discourse.

Political discourse and rhetoric, especially when it comes to concepts of security, are thoroughly complicated. In the context of Pakistan’s so-called Islamic Bomb, we observe them to take many courses. We have seen an Islamic Bomb inspired by the famous (or infamous) two-nation theory, which aspired to separate the subcontinent’s Muslims from the Hindus on a cultural basis. We have considered the role of the Kashmir conflict, which has inspired many on either side of the Indo-Pak border to view each other with religious and political distaste which added to the myth in myriad ways. We have seen how an internal ethnic problem like the Pakistani Civil War of 1971 was actually converted into an external security (as well as ethnic) problem and fueled the nuclear rhetoric of the times. We have seen a populist Bhutto and a dictatorial Zia follow the same path of nuclear-nationalism for different political gains and through different mechanisms, faith-based rhetoric being one of their common tools. We have considered the role of how an increasingly Islamicized Pakistan military added to the rhetorical quagmire of the Islamic Bomb, as did liberal democrats and the right-wing clergy. We have seen the growing role of the ‘strategic elites’ in this regard, and how schisms developed among them and their version of the Bomb. The view from across the border has been developed in a similar manner, though in lesser detail. The words of the dissenters have been voiced as well.

But the question persists. An Islamic Bomb?

A generalization made in the beginning of this paper said that a Pakistani picked from the street would say that the yes, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is indeed an Islamic bomb. The generalization was nothing more than what it is claimed to be, and its implications find no credence in the face of the complicated nature of the question.

There is no one Islamic Bomb. Bhutto’s Populist Bomb, Zia’s Islamic-Army Bomb, Khurshid Ahmed’s Anti-Zionist Bomb, Mirza Aslam Beg’s Anti-American Bomb, all form a loose coalition of emotionalist security discourse which makes up their version of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. From the Indian side, whether it is Subrahmanyam’s Upstart Bomb or the BJP government’s Terrorist Bomb, Pakistan’s nuclear program can still act like the proverbial chameleon and fit into that side’s discourse conveniently. As for the dissenters, that lonely group alone has rejected this idea outright. Their Bomb is not Islamic, but is still clothed in the rhetoric of ‘Third World Insufficiency’ or ‘Military Adventurism’, a Bomb a nation as poor as Pakistan can ill-afford.  A more detailed study of the question at hand would require more ambitious research of how the Islamic Bomb concept is framed by other elements, not just by the political rhetoric of its perpetrators or opponent’s within the subcontinent.

[1] Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (1927-79) led Pakistan after the 1971 defeat (by India) until he was removed in a military coup d’etat in 1977. He also served as a foreign minister during the 1960s under Ayub Khan. Bhutto played a key role in bringing the nuclear issue into the political arena of Pakistan through his word, works and patronage of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission.

[2] The Myth of Independence, (London, Lahore, Karachi), Oxford University Press, 1969

[3] Haider K. Nizamani, The Roots of Rhetoric, (Westport, CT, London), Praeger 2000

[4] Mohammad Ali Jinnah or the Quaid-e-Azam (Great Father) of Pakistan, was the leading figure of the Pakistan movement, an off-shoot of the Indian movement for independence against the British in the first half of the 20th century, which aimed for providing a separate nation-state of the Muslims of the subcontinent. He served as the first governor-general of Pakistan (1947-48).

[5] Z.A Bhutto, The Myth of Independence, (London, Lahore, Karachi), Oxford University Press, 1969. p.163

[6] Ibid.

[7] Haider K. Nizamani, The Roots of Rhetoric, (Westport, CT, London), Praeger 2000. p 77

[8] After Partition in 1947, Pakistan and India had to face the artificial effects of splits among ethnic groups due to religious differences. The ethnic group in question with Bhutto’s Muslim Sindhis are the Hindu Rajputs. Both groups share much of a common culture, traditions, even the same geographical roots of origin. Compared to their compatriot Pakistani Punjabis, Pakistani Sindhis thus find themselves sharing the same country with an ethnic group with which they don’t have much in common, while a group of the Indian ‘enemy’ across the border has more ties with them. This is just one example of the irony of Partition, and is also indicative of the thoroughly complicated issues of ethnicity which define a heterogeneous reality between India and Pakistan in a homogenous way, one of the themes of this paper.

[9] Z.A Bhutto, The Myth of Independence, (London, Lahore, Karachi), Oxford University Press, 1969. p.287

[10] Ibid. 113

[11] Ibid

[12] Kashmir was a Muslim Princely State ruled semi-autonomously in British India by a Hindu prince. During the course of Partition, the British had ‘advised’ the many princely states of India to accede either to India or Pakistan depending on their religious demographics or geographic proximity to either India or Pakistan. Kashmir opted for India, signing an Instrument of Accession to India in September 1947 and war between India and Pakistan ensued as Pakistan refused to  believe the authenticity of the Instrument, claiming that the document was signed under coercion of the Indian troops who had been airlifted into the Kashmiri capital. The result of the war was that India remained an occupant of most of Kashmir, while Pakistan managed to occupy around a third of the state. For more, read Alistair Lamb’s The Conflict in Kashmir, Oxford University Press, 1984)

[13] Z.A Bhutto, The Myth of Independence, (London, Lahore, Karachi), Oxford University Press, 1969. p.162

[14] K. Subrahmanyam, India and the Nuclear Challenge, 1982, New Delhi, Lancer International

[15] K. Nizamani, The Roots of Rhetoric, (Westport, CT, London), Praeger 2000. p 85

[16] I interviewed Javed Nazir, a Pakistani writer who is a Journalism Fellow in the Wallace Program here at the University of Michigan for his outlook on the contemporary concept of Islam among Pakistanis. Nazir spent much of his career being a non-proliferationist editor at The Nation and The Frontier Post, two leading dailies in Pakistan. He is currently in self-exile after attempts on his life in Lahore, his hometown, for publishing ‘blasphemous’ materiel.

[17] Salman Rushdie, Shame, 1983, London, Jonathan Cape Ltd.

[18] The code-phrase which Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India, received from the Indian military’s Central Command after the nuclear test of 1974 was the ironic “The Buddha is smiling.” Subsequently, the Indian nuclear program came to be called the Smiling Buddha because of India’s claim that it was a peaceful device. Source: William E. Burrows and Robert Windrem, Critical Mass, London, 1984, Simon and Schuster

[19] Transcript of the interview was published in Dawn, May 6, 1974. Dawn is the oldest and largest English Daily of Pakistan, founded by M.A. Jinnah, and a good indicator of the ‘real’ opinion of mainstream Pakistani life.

[20] H.K. Nizamani, The Roots of Rhetoric, (Westport, CT, London), Praeger 2000. p 86

[21] Ibid.

[22] Dawn, June 8, 1974

[23] H.K. Nizamani, The Roots of Rhetoric, (Westport, CT, London), Praeger 2000. p 88

[24] Ibid.

[25] William E. Burrows and Robert Windrem, Critical Mass, 1984, London, Simon and Schuster

[26] Benazir Bhutto, Daughter of the East, 1989, London, Mandarin Paperbacks.

[27] Dawn, June 15, 1975

[28] Dawn, June 15, 1975

[29] H.K. Nizamani, The Roots of Rhetoric, (Westport, CT, London), Praeger 2000. p 90

[30] Ibid. p.91

[31] Ibid. p.97

[32] Shahi has been called ‘the diplomat’s diplomat’ for his trend-setting ambiguous statements on the Pakistani nuclear program, which became the mainstay of the Foreign Office till the Pakistan went officially nuclear in May 1998

[33] Dawn, July 6, 1979

[34] Dawn, July 7, 1979

[35] H.K. Nizamani, The Roots of Rhetoric, (Westport, CT, London), Praeger 2000. p 101

[36] Ibid. p.101

[37] Dawn, August 18, 1979

[38] K. Nizamani, The Roots of Rhetoric, (Westport, CT, London), Praeger 2000. p 102. For the full text of the speech, see Dawn, August 31, 1979

[39] Robert G. Wirsing, Pakistan’s Security Under Zia (1977 – 1988,) 1991, New York, St. Martin’s Press

[40] Interview with Javed Nazir. See footnote # 17

[41] K. Nizamani, The Roots of Rhetoric, (Westport, CT, London), Praeger 2000. p 105.

[42] For more on the Pakistani military and its role in politics, see Stephen P. Cohen’s The Pakistan Army, 1984, Berkeley, University of California Press. For a more historical perspective on the military, see Brian Cloughley’s A History of the Pakistan Army – Wars and Insurrections, 1999, Oxford University Press

[43] Stephen P. Cohen, The Pakistan Army, 1984, Berkeley, University of California Press. P.97

[44] Ibid. 99

[45] Brigadier M. Malik, Quranic Concepts of War, 1981, Islamabad, PMA Press

[46] K. Nizamani, The Roots of Rhetoric, (Westport, CT, London), Praeger 2000. p 107.

[47] Ibid. 107

[48] Ibid.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Benazir Bhutto, Daughter of the East, 1989, London, Mandarin Paperbacks.

[51] H.K. Nizamani, The Roots of Rhetoric, (Westport, CT, London), Praeger 2000. p 111.

[52] The Pak military, headed by realist Army General and Joint Chief of Staff Mirza Aslam Beg, would eventually engineer the ouster of Bhutto in 1991.

[53] H.K. Nizamani, The Roots of Rhetoric, (Westport, CT, London), Praeger 2000. p 107

[54] Ibid.

[55] Based on the interview with Javed Nazir. ‘Kalashinkov culture’ is a cynical term used by commentators to describe Pakistan’s post-Afghan War consequences. Inspired by the AK-47 Kalashinkov assault rifle (the weapon of choice of sectarian terrorists operating in Pakistan), the term is indicative of the heavy rates of violence and weaponization of the region.

[56] General Mirza Aslam Beg, Taking the Nuclear Fence Down, National Development and Security, Vol. III, No.3, Feb. 1991

[57] Mohammad S. Chaudhry, Islami bum – haqaiq aur afsane (The Islamic Bomb – myths and facts), Lahore, Nishrat Printing, 1991. This is one Urdu political commentary among the many at the time that were gaining credibility, but usually in religious elite circles.

[58] Defence and Media 1995, Inter-Services Public Relations, Islamabad, General Head Quarters

[59] Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal, Modern South Asia, 1997, New Delhi, Oxford. p.236

[60] Ibid. 236

[61] Zahid Malik, Daktur Abdul Qadeer Khan aur Islami bum (Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan and the Islamic Bomb), 1989, Islamabad, Al-Omar printers

[62] Numerous examples of Khan consulting authors of books in Urdu for interviews can be found in a whole range of literature from the 90’s that revered him as an Islamic hero. See Aslam Nishtar’s Kahuta ka hero (The Hero of Kahuta), 1990, Lahore, Jahane-Science. Also see Younus Khalish’s Daktur Abdul Qadeer Khan aur Kahuta aitimi cuntur, (Dr. A.Q. Khan and Kahuta’s atomic center), 1990, Lahore, Masood Printers.

[63] Dr. A.Q. Khan on the Bomb/edited by Sreedhar, 1993, New Delhi, ABC Publishers

[64] Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal, Modern South Asia, 1997, New Delhi, Oxford. p.223

[65] H.K. Nizamani, The Roots of Rhetoric, (Westport, CT, London), Praeger 2000. p 108

[66] Ibid. p 109

[67] Ibid.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Pakistan-India Nuclear Peace Reader, 1999, Lahore, Mashal Publishing

[70] H.K. Nizamani, The Roots of Rhetoric, (Westport, CT, London), Praeger 2000. p 109

[71] The Bharti Janata Party is the hard-lined Hindu-nationalist party which came to power in 1998 and opted to go openly nuclear with the May 1998 tests.

[72] H.K. Nizamani, The Roots of Rhetoric, (Westport, CT, London), Praeger 2000. p 49

[73] Ibid.

[74] Stanley Wolpert, Nehru – A tryst with destiny, 1996, New York, Oxford University Press

[75] Ibid.

[76] The Akhand Bharat slogan is used by Hindu-nationalist organizations like the ruling BJP of India. It basically claims all the territories of the subcontinent, from Colombo to Khyber, from Dhaka to Lahore, and indicates that a ‘greater India’ includes all the territories of modern day Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

[77] H.K. Nizamani, The Roots of Rhetoric, (Westport, CT, London), Praeger 2000. p 49

[78] Ibid.

[79] Ibid.

[80] Ibid.

[81] Ibid.

[82] Ibid.

[83] Ibid.

[84] Ibid. For more on the conflict in Kashmir, a good online resource with comprehensive political and military analyses and news coverage is the BBC’s online section on Kashmir at bbc.co.uk

[85] Ibid. 90

[86] Dr. A.Q. Khan on the Bomb/edited by Sreedhar, 1993, New Delhi, ABC Publishersp.92

[87] H.K. Nizamani, The Roots of Rhetoric, (Westport, CT, London), Praeger 2000. p 54

[88] Air Commodore Jasjit Singh, Politics of Mistrust and Confidence Building, in Jasjit Singh, ed., India and Pakistan: Crisis of Relationship. 1990, New Delhi, Lancer Publishers

[89] H.K. Nizamani, The Roots of Rhetoric, (Westport, CT, London), Praeger 2000. p 54

[90] Ibid.

[91] Ibid.

[92] David Cortright and Amitabh Mattoo, India and the Bomb: Public opinion and nuclear options. 1996 Notre Dame, In. University of Notre Dame Press.

[93] H.K. Nizamani, The Roots of Rhetoric, (Westport, CT, London), Praeger 2000. p .126

[94] Ibid.

[95] Ibid.127

[96] Khaled Ahmed is a prolific commentator on the Pak nuke program. In the past, he has served as the editor of two English language dailies (The Nation and The Frontier Post). He is currently an editor of The Friday Times, a fiercely liberal weekly out of Lahore. Most of the commentary can be found on http://www.thefridaytimes.com

[97] Refer to the National Development and Security volume series, a quarterly journal which gives equal chance to views diverging from the establishment on the nuclear issue.

[98] Based on a recent poll study of ‘educated elites’ conducted by the Kroc Institute at Notre Dame. David Cortright and Samina Ahmed, India and the Bomb: Public opinion and nuclear options. 1998 Notre Dame, In. University of Notre Dame Press.

[99] H.K. Nizamani, The Roots of Rhetoric, (Westport, CT, London), Praeger 2000. p .128

[100] Ibid,

[101] Khaled Ahmed, After Hiroshima, why do we still love the Bomb?. The Friday Times, Lahore, August 17-23, 1995. This article defines the ‘parallel myth’ of the non-proliferationist lobby.

[102] Pakistan-India Nuclear Peace Reader, 1999, Lahore, Mashal Publishing

[103] Pervez Hoodbhoy teaches physics at the Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, and is a comments frequently on social and political issues.

[104] Pakistan-India Nuclear Peace Reader, 1999, Lahore, Mashal Publishing

[105] H.K. Nizamani, The Roots of Rhetoric, (Westport, CT, London), Praeger 2000. p .129

The Might (and Plight) of Pakistani Media (Part 1 of 3)

(Part 1 – The Paradox of ‘Urdu Medium’ and ‘Seth’ Culture)

Among the diverse issues that face a post-colonial and post-millennial Pakistan, the enormous disparity in education and wealth among its nearly 175 million citizens manifests itself in severe barriers to accessible and objectively presented journalism.

Most Pakistanis do not possess the basic literacy to read their news in any format. Meanwhile, those who are literate cannot afford to regularly access printed media. These facts make the television media the only truly affordable and accessible platform for information and discourse and, as a result, a serious player in the Pakistani polity.

Since it was de-regulated less than a decade ago under the regime of the former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, the media has gone on to play a critical role in many of Pakistan’s escalating and interconnected civil, military, social and political conflicts.

It was the media that covered the tragedy of Mukhtaran Mai, the victim of a brutal gang rape in rural Punjab, and propelled her to become the international voice of suppressed Pakistani women. It was the media that took on the Musharraf dictatorship by supporting the activist Lawyers Movement for the restoration of an un-constitutionally dissolved Supreme Court bench. It was the media that aired live images from across the “divide” during the Mumbai attacks, challenging the Pakistani ‘establishment’ to confront its ambiguous stance on supporting terrorism and – for the first time in the country’s history – inadvertently cooperating with arch-nemesis India in bringing the alleged ring-leaders of that terrible onslaught to justice.

But given the country’s reputed status of being the eye of the global security storm, what role is the Pakistani media playing in this region’s version of what was once called the War on Terror? Is it exercising its immense power responsibly? Does it quantify and qualify its news agenda to cover the critical wartime issues that actually matter, or is it politicized and serving special interests? Is the media ‘selling’ the war to Pakistanis, or is it aligning itself with the anti-war (and thus essentially anti-American) movement?

In question is the media’s use of language in targeting, developing and exploiting preordained opinions among sectors of the polity. Like most media, the Pakistani industry takes its lead on language and ‘copy’ from its print counterparts. In Pakistan, most Urdu news publications are relatively more conservative and less secular as compared to the English press. Considering that the English-Urdu divide in Pakistan is actually a manifestation of the haves versus the have-nots (a classic socio-economic problem that persists in most former colonies as the elite are in a position to commodify a Western education), the media in Pakistan effectively tends to merge linguistics and politics by serving Urdu news to the ‘teeming masses’ compared to the English carriers that cater to the ‘ruling elite’. Thus, different information goes to di, fferent people, channeled through the interface of the language divide in the media.

This is a critical trend. An entire generation of Pakistanis is receiving news and analysis that is not in sync with another generation that co-exists with them, greatly outnumbers them, and relies on them for their economic survival. What further complicates this argument is clear evidence that bi-lingual media groups shift their editorial stances from left to right based on the language of their products, thus providing a controlled experiment that premises language as the key driver of the growing schism in a disparately politicized Pakistani audience.

Then there are the built-in structural efficiencies and/or deficiencies of the Pakistani media, including an inherent arrangement that motivates self-interest over objectivity. All local media groups are family-owned (only one entertainment-centric group is publicly listed). That ends up giving substantial control to a very small group of individuals and with it, the ability to advance ‘personal’ agendas into the information mainstream.

This ‘genetically driven’ structure (also called seth culture) is the ‘elephant in the room’ (or the news studio) as far as Pakistan’s media powerhouses are concerned.

The first, automated affect of this arrangement is the breach of the ‘Church and State’ divide, which in journalism stands for the separation between ‘Management and Editorial’. Thus, inherent in the industrial configuration of the Pakistani media is a natural dilution of the most basic principle of unbiased journalism.

Watch this space to track the bizarre, modern evolution of Pakistan’s fourth estate, which many slam as its fifth column.

Originally published in the Express Tribune on April 15, 2010 as “The Evolution of Pakistani Media”

The Decline and Fall of the Pakistani News Anchor

Let’s be honest. People watch people. We love it. It’s a part of our natural need and systemic.  Some of us get bored and start watching birds or writing columns. The rest of us keep at it – people watching is the modern endemic of man. Its voyeurism’s coup de grace.

Thus the TV.

Television is the Henry Kissinger of media. It has survived half a century of questionable policy making with true grit. It’s been criticized and protested against. It has been used and abused by governments, and it has used and abused governments right back. It’s been malevolently targeted and violently attacked. It’s made some terrible errors and affected the lives of millions of people. It has survived slurs like ‘boob-tube’ and ‘idiot-box’ only to come back harder, like Tony Soprano after an anxiety attack, to stake its claim. Out of the Quartet of the Essentials of the Modern Living (the refrigerator, the microwave oven and the W/C being the other three), the TV is probably the most utilized in terms of hours of interaction with human-beings, unless you live in your kitchen or worse, your bathroom.

Now flatter, leaner and meaner, with more functions and less buttons, TV still dominates our lives and (depending on its placement and content), ends up being responsible for how much we love our families, our culture and our country. In effect, TV has become the chosen representative of the human race. If we were Greco-Romans, we would call it Telly: The God of Everyday Life.

And if Telly is our daily deity, then it’s high priest has to be The Anchor.

Ah, The Anchor! Bringer of all news, good and bad. Now in Technicolor with all sorts of variations: VJs for the young and restless. Cooking-Show hosts for the consumed homemakers. Red-Carpet Hosts for the desperate housewives. Car-show hosts for the testosterone-prone boys with toys. Televangelist aalims for the over-zealous seekers of truth. Cross-dressing divas for the moderately enlightened. Political talk-show hosts for the drawing room aristocrats. And News Anchors for the teeming millions.

This space is dedicated to the unsung hero of Pakistani TV: The Anonymous News Anchor. You’ve seen him or her before: Bad suits on regular days. Scary shaloos on Eid. The Pak flag on the lapel on 14th August. The dupattas in Ramadan. The atrocious make-up on and off Halloween. The Karachi-heavy accent. The really difficult Urdu words. The never breaking eye-contact. The exaggerated head movements. The dekhte raihiye rendition of ‘we’ll be right back’. And the complete lack of credibility.

I know I sound rather pessimistic. I am (more on that in just a bit). So why did I call News Anchors heroes, and that too of the unsung, pathos-attracting, nice-guys-finish-last kind?

Because News Anchors are nice guys who are finishing last in the brand race in Pakistan. No, I don’t mean that news bulletins are not getting sponsored (they are). I mean that news channels (and hybrid channels which feature bulletins) have failed to develop ‘personalities’ who bring us our news. In effect, we don’t have any Walter Cronkites and Peter Jenningss and Dan Rathers and Ted Koppels. We don’t even have any Ron Burgundys. We have the Anonymous News Anchor. And he/she is a brand waiting to be discovered.

Wait a minute, you say. We do have news heavy-weights. We have Hamid Mir, Kamran Khan, Shahid Masood, Talat Hussein. They are ‘known’ aren’t they? They are surely brands themselves?

Sure, brands they are, but News Anchors they are not. All of the above named are journalists or analysts turned talking heads. They are Talk-Show Hosts. They take a slice of what is called the ‘news day’ or the ‘news week’ and talk to other people about it (its like watching the highlights of a cricket match versus the real thing). They do not bring us our daily news at 9. They bring us politicized and debatable chunks of it. And they don’t come close to the ubiquity and air-time share of the News Anchor because they don’t do bulletins (which are the bread and butter of news channels).

Yet, news and hybrid channels fail to create Pakistani Edward R. Murrows– brands which stir aspiration – personalities which the nation wants to hear from on a daily basis.

I want to drive this home. Think about it. Most of us who are familiar with the medium can name at least one or two heavy-weights in most of the TV product-categories which demand anchors. We’ve got VJs (Anushey, Faizan Haque) who are brands. We’ve got political talk-show hosts (Hamid Mir, Shahid Masood) and social talk-show hosts (Mehtab Rashidi, Naeem Bukhari) who are brands. Even special events (Fakhr-e-Alam) and religious shows (Aamir Liaqat, Junaid Jamshed) have their stalwarts. So where are the star anchor men and women of news?

This is where the editorializing begins, so maybe this is the perfect opportunity to introduce my self. I’ve been a journalist since high-school. I’ve been a broadcast journalist for the last 3 years. I’ve managed news brand strategy and product development for the largest private news broadcaster in this country for the last two years. I’m currently handling the international desk for an upcoming English-language news channel. I’ve survived the jaws of the beast called Broadcast News, and I have the following theories about why news anchors are the most underdeveloped brand in TV today.

The ‘Strong Capital’ Theory (Or The Fact That News Anchors Are Not ‘Real’ Journalists Approach)

Everyone thinks and asks questions. Everyone who thinks and asks questions and then writes them down is a journalist. Everyone who thinks and asks questions on TV is a broadcast journalist. Think about that for a minute before you read further.

Imagine a system of government where the cities do all the work and the capital does all the playing. No, don’t think the Government of Pakistan (though you’re not far off the mark with that one). Now imagine that same situation being applied to a news channel: The News Director or Editor calls the shots editorially (as he or she should), but there the news anchor (who is essentially the news delivery vehicle for the channel) ends up just taking orders (which in this case is following the script on the teleprompter and asking the questions which are fed to him/her by the control room). The end-result of this system (which is real and dominates the way news is done on PTV, Geo News, ARY One World and Aaj, the four leading news sources) is that the News Anchor becomes a News Reader. Effectively, the News Anchor becomes a puppet. He/she lacks any sort of command and control over the content he/she is broadcasting. This leads to a lack of value addition to the news being broadcast (which, short of exclusives, is pretty much the same across all channels). That leads to a lack of personality, the most vital ingredient needed for becoming a brand. Because people watch people, a ‘connection’ with these weak personalities is not made, primarily because they are not journalists (they are not thinking and not asking their own questions). The news delivery vehicle has no teeth. It is amorphous and vague. The brand is left undeveloped. This is a structural problem inherited from PTV by the private networks.  It’s endemic across all news channels, and its critical.

Note: If you’re thinking ‘Shaista Zaid and Azhar Lodhi used to have personality’, then give yourself a pat on the back. Sure, those two stars of PTV News had personality, and tons of it. But those were the days of  PTV’s monopoly of the airwaves. There were two primary news bulletins in the country. Shaista had the 7 pm English News slot; Azhar had the 9 pm Khabarnama. News was an institution, not the free-wheeling competition of breaking news and fastest firsts which it became after the private players entered the market. And just so you know about a case in point, Azhar got fired for ‘editorializing’ (crying and chest-beating) during the live transmission of President Zia-ul-Haq’s funeral. Shaista still makes cameos for PTV, but do you notice?

The ‘Parrots Of The Subterranean’ Theory (Or The These Guys Don’t Know What They’re Talking About Approach)

We’ve discussed how there is a structural problem between the editorial high-command (the editors and directors who decide what’s going on air) and the news delivery vehicle (the news anchors themselves), and how broadcast output is weighed strictly in favor of the former. One ramification is the lack of personality, as mentioned above. The other one is even more critical: a lack of credibility.

Have you ever been to a fancy restaurant and asked the waiter how something is prepared. I always do. I went to a local French restaurant the other day and asked a waiter how the crème bru-lee was prepared. He knew how to pronounce it with the fancy French accent and everything, but he had no idea about how they glazed the top. Thus, I didn’t order it. I had my doubts about how good it would be. A restaurant where the waiters don’t know how to pitch menu items to a customer is not worth eating at.

I believe our news anchors are like that half-baked waiter. They know how to pronounce, not announce. As our news anchors become yes-men type, teleprompter-dependent news readers, they don’t develop any ‘tacit skills’ or areas of specialty that are critical for any one interested in journalism and/or branding. They do not work on their own material and thus do not have ownership of content. For them, there is no difference between Beirut or Baghdad, Bajaur or Bombay. There is no emphasis, no pressure, no interest which wheels the audience into the story. They are by-rote performers, ill-informed sources, suited-up parrots. But parrots, though entertaining, are not credible news sources.

The ‘Perceived Captive Audience’ Theory (Or The Everyone Will Pay Attention And Understand Approach)

Lets be honest. For most people, news is boring. There’s lots of numbers and names and places, and the creative work always looks like a map-test from O-level geography class. And considering that we live in a society where there are more bombs, guns, planes and tanks than ever before, where stock markets are always crashing, where some country or the other is in a recession, where some epidemic is always on the rise, news is usually, well, depressing. Still, we persevere and watch. We want to know. And we expect that the people bringing us the news will do it in a way which we can absorb and understand fully.

That’s a great expectation.

TV news production and copy is an inherently and fundamentally different type of ball-game than newspapers. In newspapers, you have time to produce your product. In TV, you don’t. In newspapers, a reporter has more room to work on his or her story, just as a reader could potentially have all the time he/she needs to read it. In TV, viewer attention for a story is clocked by the seconds. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, TV news copy is written for the ‘listening’ (versus for the ‘reading’ in papers, of course). To reiterate, writing for TV news is a different kind of ball-game.

Consider. Some time ago, a young reporter (trained in the traditions of a large, private and PTV-influenced news channel) approached me for help in a script for the Clifton oil-spill story. He kept on pushing the amount of the oil spill in x-thousand tons. I told him that people will not get the relevancy of the story if he keeps speaking in tons. No one gets tons. No one has any idea how much a ton of oil is, much less thousands of tons. So I told him to calculate x-thousand tons to y-thousand litres (people buy petrol by the litre). Then I told him to contextualize the amount further by saying something like ‘the oil spill was y-thousand litres, which is what Karachiites consume over z-weeks’. All of sudden, the story made sense. A regular Joe could get and relate to the story. A seemingly complicated number was ‘boiled down’ and made to ‘connect’ to the audience.

Unfortunately, producers of TV news in Pakistan do not understand these differences and subtleties. Scripting and copy for TV news is primarily done by copy editors with a newspaper background, and writing for print is an old habit which dies hard. The result: news anchors end up sounding like a newspaper. Their copy is inherently complicated and convoluted, without the necessary ‘toning down’, backgrounders and contextualization needed to engage an audience which can (and does) switch to another channel any time. In effect, the news become archaic, aged, high-browed, over-complicated and highly in-accessible.

And the guinea pig in this failed experiment? Once again the news anchor, who ends up sounding like he’s auditioning for a Aligarh mushaira competition rather than being the conversational, consultative and counseling voice of reason which a news anchor should sound like.

So what’s it going to be? Why should we be worried about brand creation within television news?

Lets look at how ‘news worthy’ the Pakistani market is: Journalism is proliferating. There are several newspapers in the country. News channels are starting up in force. The government’s politicking continues to keep us in the eye of the storm of global security concerns (the ‘best’ type of news from a purely ratings driven perspective). We are a ‘front-line state’ in the so-called War on Terror. We are at the doorstep of a national election, perhaps one of the most important ones in our history. We are at a crucial cross-roads of negotiating the Kashmir issue. We have at least two insurgencies in our western provinces. We are empowering our women. We are dressing up our middle class. We have the best batsman in the world. We test nuke-capable rockets once a month. It’s safe to say that Pakistan is highly, if not terribly, ‘news worthy’.

But these facts need to be closely re-examined in the light of how we will be disseminating such information. We are a young-nation (two-thirds of the nation is under 25 years of age), but our public education system’s plight means less people will be reading newspapers and more people will be watching television news in the future. So, can we create personalities on television we can connect with and accept as viable sources of information? Can we make the news on TV more user-friendly and accessible? Can we bring the burgeoning and ubiquitous younger audience into the currently abstract and unexciting loop of broadcast news?

The answer is not blowing in the wind – it’s on the air. Watch this space for further updates. And don’t touch that remote control.

Originally published in Aurora, Dawn’s Marketing Magazine, in 2006. I was launching Dawn News TV at the time, as Head of the International Desk.