Deception: Pakistan, the United States and the Global Nuclear Weapons Conspiracy

April 19, 2008

Nuclear weapons and weapons-systems are never politically-neutral. Nor have they ever been developed openly or debated in democratically-elected parliaments. The Los Alamos project in New Mexico was a top-secret operation. In Britain, the decision was kept secret even from the Labour Cabinet. Likewise the French. The Israelis were so angered by Mordechai Vanunu revealing some details of Dimona and confirming the existence of Israeli nuclear weapons to the Sunday Times that Mossad kidnapped him in public view from a street in  Rome and locked him in solitary confinement. To this day, he is under house arrest.

Levy and Scott-Clark’s book is a well-researched and comprehensive account of how Pakistan acquired nuclear weapons. It will, despite a sensationalist conclusion, become an unavoidable work of reference for anyone studying the subject. After India got the bomb, it was inevitable that the Pakistani military would try and obtain one as well. The late Pakistani Prime Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, said so in public and the Libyans agreed to fund the project. The details of how this was done can be found in this book. Bhutto lost his life for daring to defy the United States. His executioner, General Zia ul Haq, built the bomb while the US, obsessed with defeating the Russians in Afghanistan, turned a blind eye. The same General institutionalised Islamist ideology in the country and the army.

I have always been opposed to nuclear weapons for moral, political and biological reasons. What I dislike, however, is the notion that some can have them and others can’t. When Protestant fundamentalist settlers from England armed with muskets encountered native North American tribes with bows and arrows, the outcome was clear. Had the settlers only had bows and arrows, the peace-pipe and negotiations might have led to a different world. Today any large country and a few smaller ones feel that bows and arrows are not enough. Hence, we observe the drive for nuclear weapons as both a deterrent and a mechanism for self-defence. Indians and Pakistanis argue that if France and Britain have them, why not us?

It was the idea of a nuclear monopoly that was one of the causes of the Sino-Soviet split in the early Sixties. Moscow refused to share nuclear secrets with Peking and subsequently there was much talk in the Soviet press of the ‘yellow peril’. Since 9/11 and the NATO occupation of Afghanistan, there has been much scaremongering in the Western press of the danger of a jihadi finger on the Pakistani nuclear trigger. Levy and Scott-Clark give too much weight to al-Qaeda fantasies, presumably in order to enhance the importance of their book. According to most Western intelligence agencies, the al-Qaeda nucleus in South Asia is comprised of fewer than a thousand people. The Pakistan Army is half-a-million strong with a command structure that has never been broken. What could break it is a direct US entry into the North-West Frontier of the country and any foolish attempt to capture the nuclear facility. Were that to happen, all bets would be on.

Reviewer: Tariq Ali is the author of The Clash of Fundamentalisms and Bush in Babylon, both from Verso Books.