Pakistan’s ugly secret – Pervez Hoodbhoy

There is a complete blackout on the effects of uranium mining in Dera Ismail Khan in south Punjab. Researchers too were defeated by the powerful nuclear establishment that keeps even health information as a national secret.

Sadly, absolutely nothing is known about disposal of nuclear waste in Pakistan. Are the authorities dumping low-level wastes in the sea or river? Where and how do they plan to bury the high-level wastes that will be lethal for thousands of years to come? Also, there is a complete blackout on the effects of uranium mining in Dera Ismail Khan in south Punjab. About 10 years ago, mine workers and other affected villagers had banded together after large numbers fell sick from lung disease and cancer. To the dismay of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, they managed to produce a petition for the Lahore High Court. But,as invariably happens, the powers that be forced them to withdraw their case and some token compensation was given. Researchers too were defeated by the powerful nuclear establishment that keeps even health information as a national secret.

There are, however, other aspects of Pakistan’s nuclear programme that I have focused upon earlier and bring up yet again:

Pakistan got nothing from The Bomb

About twelve years ago a million Pakistanis danced in the streets after six nuclear weapons had been successfully tested. They had been told that making nuclear bombs was the biggest thing a country could do. Burma is said to be trying to make a bomb and may succeed too, but surely the North Korean nuclear test gave rock-solid proof that we Pakistanis have been fed a diet of lies.

North Korea is a country that no one admires. It is unknown for scientific achievement, has little electricity or fuel, food and medicine are scarce, corruption is ubiquitous, and its people live in terribly humiliating conditions under a vicious, dynastic dictatorship. In a famine some years ago, North Korea lost nearly 800,000 people. And it has an enormous prison population of 200,000 that is subjected to systematic torture and abuse.

Why does a miserable, starving country continue spending its last penny on the Bomb? On developing and testing a fleet of missiles whose range increases from time to time? The answer is clear: North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles are instruments of blackmail rather than means of defence. Brandished threateningly, and manipulated from time to time, these bombs are designed to keep the flow of international aid going.

Surely the people of North Korea gained nothing from their country’s nuclearisation. But they cannot challenge their oppressors. But, Pakistanis — who are far freer — must ask: what have we gained from the bomb? …

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