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

[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

[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


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