Guns and butter dilemma


Its time Sharif smelled the coffee



Nawaz Sharif has perhaps belatedly realised that being an atomic power and becoming an economic power are mutually exclusive goals for the country. Speaking the other day at a Yom-e-Takbeer meeting to mark the day Pakistan became a nuclear power 16 years ago, Sharif lamented that an atomic power should have its economy in shambles.

Success has many fathers and failure is an orphan. Undoubtedly the credit goes to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for initiating Pakistan’s clandestine nuclear programme in 1974 and to Nawaz Sharif for resisting US pressure and going ahead with exploding a nuclear device in the aftermath of India becoming a nuclear power. Now there are many other aspirants to the crown spuriously claiming that sans their intervention Nawaz would not have gone ahead with the momentous decision.

It is true that since we became a nuclear power the candle is burning on both ends. Given our poor economic base we for a long time have not been in a position to maintain strategic parity with India in conventional hardware.

However the fear of mutually assured destruction (MAD) in the nuclear arena provides Islamabad the security against any adventurism from our adversarial neighbour. Despite this, toys for the boys cost the hapless Pakistani nation literally an arm and a leg.

Our consistently underperforming economy simply does not provide the base to sustain bigger defence outlays. Nonetheless, we are slightly ahead of India in the nuclear missile race. Thanks, however, to being a lynchpin of America’s policies in the region, we are able to whet our appetite for conventional weapons to some extent. The latest acquisition of F16 fighter jets from Jordan could not have been possible without a nod from Washington.

Sharif is in no position to publicly say it but he knows in the heart of his hearts that the key to prosperity lies in lasting peace in the region. Merely being a military power armed to the teeth with nukes cannot buy stability.

The late US president Ronald Reagan used to refer to the former Soviet Union as the Evil Empire. It finally crumbled under its own weight in late 1991, trying to compete with the US in conventional as well as strategic weapons and by maintaining one of the largest military machines in the world.

Sharif is in no position to publicly say it but he knows in the heart of his hearts that the key to prosperity lies in lasting peace in the region

The inefficient, antiquated and corrupt communist system simply could not be sustained. This is not the occasion to analyse in detail the breakup of the Soviet Union. But simply put, the US bled the Soviet system to its demise by engaging it in an exorbitant race for global suzerainty.

Pakistan perhaps does not have lofty global goals like the former Soviet Union. Nonetheless being a nuclear power and forced to compete with India in the conventional race as well, it faces the quintessential guns or butter conundrum.

Despite now being a democracy of sorts the country is facing multifarious existential challenges. Sharif wants to make Pakistan an economic giant during the next decade. That means he is eyeing another five-year term.

But the knives are out for him within the first year of his third stint as prime minister. It seems that the PTI chairman Imran Khan in unholy haste is planning to oust him through street power in the name of flawed elections.

History is repeating itself. Sharif is facing problems cohabiting with the military leadership. The unquenched thirst to try former dictator Musharraf for high treason has created unnecessary friction with the army leadership. The military and the government are also not on the same page on talks with the TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan). Nor on the powerful ISI’s (inter services intelligence) spat with a private TV channel.

Most of these are ego driven battles being fought unnecessarily. Only with a few exceptions like his brother Shahbaz Sharif, majority of Sharif’s political team seem to be prisoners of their own contradictions.

The interior minister Ch Nisar Ali’s quixotic pursuit to talk to the Pakistani Taliban at all costs does not sit well with the army. The military has finally launched an operation of sorts in North Waziristan but the government is simply not willing to lend it ownership.

History is repeating itself. Sharif is facing problems cohabiting with the military leadership. The unquenched thirst to try former dictator Musharraf for high treason has created unnecessary friction with the army leadership

Its time Sharif smelled the coffee. True democracy is the modern mantra. But it has neither taken roots in Pakistan nor has the world outgrown the scourge of coup de tats.

The examples of Egypt and Thailand should not be lost on the Sharifs. In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood under Mohammad Morsi were unceremoniously ousted by the military and are now running for their lives.

Similarly in Thailand the generals have taken over once again after throwing out an elected government about to hold fresh elections with the blessings of the Thai king.

In Egypt after imposing a new constitution through sheer fiat field marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has been ‘elected’ by 92 per cent votes. The Thai generals are in the process of imposing a new constitution. In both the cases elected governments failed to rule through consensus and as a result opened the door for a Bonapartist army to takeover.

It is too early to predict that the Khan and his cohorts are playing the same game of exhorting the military to intervene. The PTI denies any such designs, but then what is the method in its present madness?

Sharif has been considerably weakened thanks to his ham handedness in dealing with his handpicked military chief. He needs to reset course, mend his fences with the political opposition as well as the military.

He wants to have a closer and mutually beneficial trade and economic co-operation with Modi’s India. It’s not going to be easy to deal with a BJP government with many a hawk amongst its folds.

But without taking the military on board it will be virtually impossible to tweak the India centric security paradigm. It might be doable but certainly not with the present maladroit lot hovering around Sharif.

The prime minister has launched a very ambitions coal based power programme with the cooperation of China. By virtue of this power production in the country will be more than doubled within a decade.

Even before his first term ends there will be enough electricity to introduce a load shedding regime. It’s a lofty but an achievable goal, provided there is stability and cohesion in the country, hitherto lacking.

In any case under our present dispensation becoming an economic power despite being a nuclear power will remain an elusive goal.


  1. My simple say is that if economic power is everything, how come all the five permanent members of the Security Council are all nuclear powers? Would the West have bothered about an economically prostrate Russia if it were not for its geo-political clout? And finally, to the notion that we are too poor to afford the luxury of nuclear security, we would ask — what was China's per capita income when it decided to go nuclear?

  2. Dear columnist it would be better to think of how nuclear power would be beneficial in making Pakistan a prosperous country, to make it economically advantageous and stable. Nuclear power is not just about making it usable for technical purposes rather can be and is being used for civilian purposes in Pakistan. The latest construction of nuclear power plants in Karachi would make it possible for the people of Karachi and all around the country from the employment perspective and to curb the giant of load shedding by which many of the economic activities are not running smoothly.

  3. Good article. I understand the authors intent on portraying the need for more economic growth rather than just defence and nuclear ambitions. But as the only muslim nation in the world with nuclear capability – I think this holds us in strong favor of our rich Arab brothers in terms of many economic Investments in return for military support.

Comments are closed.