By Hasan Suroor
Pakistani nuclear scientist Pervez Hoodbhoy has spoken of growing fears in Pakistan that its nuclear arsenal could be “hijacked” by extremists as a result of “increasing radicalisation” of the Army.
He said such fears were initially expressed mostly in the west but were now widely shared within Pakistan after “repeated” extremist attacks on Army installations, including the ISI headquarters in Lahore. These could not have taken place without “some sort of inside information”.
“There’s a fair degree of concern that because of increasing radicalisation of Pakistani Army, the country’s nuclear weapons could be hijacked by extremists,” he said speaking to a group of Indian journalists at the launch of his book, Confronting the Bomb: Pakistani & Indian Scientists Speak Out, a collection of essays by Indian and Pakistani scientists who believe that the acquisition of nuclear weapons by the two countries was “undesirable” and had put the entire subcontinent in danger.
Mr. Hoodbhoy, who has often been a target of the Pakistani establishment, said Pakistan’s nuclear capability had given a new dimension to its campaign against India. Islamabad saw it as a “counter-force” to overcome India’s military superiority and was providing a “nuclear umbrella” to jihadis engaged in anti-India activities.
Pervez Hoodbhoy interview: The Mumbai massacres and Pakistan’s new nightmares
“If Pakistan did not have nuclear weapons, Kargil would not have happened. My contention is that it was the first instance that nuclear weapons actually caused a war, ‘’ he said.
Warning of continued jihadi threat to India, he said: “Today India is faced with a very difficult situation because jihadis are still operating in Pakistan with the sanction of the state and they are provided cover by the fact that Pakistan has nuclear weapons.”
Mr. Hoodbhoy said Pakistan started developing its nuclear weapons only because India embarked on it, and though it was still seen as “the primary enemy” by Islamabad’s military establishment there appeared to be signs of a shift amid concerns about threats from within the country.
“But to some extent that perception is changing, with General Kayani (Chief of Pakistani Army Staff) recently saying that Pakistan’s major challenge is the enemy within. It is seen to represent a doctrinal shift. It could be, but we are waiting for evidence,” he said adding that the general himself was “under attack within the forces”.
He warned that given the history of nuclear tension between the two countries , there was no room for complacency.
“India and Pakistan have come close to nuclear war at least five times — in 1987, 1990, during Kargil (1999), after the attack on the Indian Parliament (2001) and the Mumbai attacks in 2008… we can’t afford to be passive on this issue. The fallout, from the blast itself to the radioactive effects, will be felt not just in the sub-continent but around the world,” he said.