by Zafar Bangash (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 27, No. 8, Safar, 1419)
Muslim masses around the world greeted Pakistan’s nuclear tests with joy while the enemies of Islam were gripped by grief. Soon after Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif announced that five successful tests had been conducted on May 28 (one more followed on May 30), there were scenes of jubilation not only in Pakistan but also in cities throughout the Muslim world.
The Friday khutbah in Masjid al-Aqsa by Imam Hayyan Idrisi on May 29 was typical of the sentiment expressed in much of the Muslim world. Pakistan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons was seen as a boost to Muslim power and morale. Imam Idrisi said to loud proclaimings of Allahu Akbar, ‘the Pakistani nuclear bomb is the beginning of the resurgence of Islamic power.’
The sentiment expressed by Muslim masses around the world - from Morocco to Indonesia - was similar. This was most accurately captured by the global Islamic Movement. The Islamic Action Front in Jordan, for instance, welcomed the Pakistani tests. Shaikh Ahmed Yasin, leader of Hamas, the Islamic group in Palestine, was quoted by the Sudanese paper, Al-Rai al-Aam as saying, that the Pakistani nuclear success was ‘an asset to Arab and Muslim nations.’ Leaders of Islamic Movements in other parts also welcomed Pakistan’s achievement.
The few dissenting voices in Pakistan - for instance, Eqbal Ahmed, a pro-west writer - were viewed as cries in the wilderness. Such people, who claim to speak on behalf of the Pakistani masses, were exposed as totally out of touch with reality. Benazir Bhutto, the opposition leader, as usual spoke from both sides of her mouth. Before Pakistan’s tests, she publicly taunted Sharif for not being man enough to match India’s explosions. After the tests, she told the CNN she would not have conducted the tests if she were prime minister.
There was also ambivalence among some Muslim regimes but two - Iran and Saudi Arabia - showed complete understanding. Iran’s foreign minister Kamal Kharazi, in Islamabad on June 1 and 2, said Pakistan’s nuclear prowess had boosted the morale of Muslims, breaking the zionist State’s monopoly in the region. A number of economic agreements were also signed by the two neighbours during Kharazi’s visit.
The Hindu fascists had breathed fire and thumped their chests for two weeks following India’s nuclear explosions. The old men in Delhi who should be in the geriatric ward in preparation for their final rites, threatened to turn the subcontinent into a huge funeral pyre. But the wind was knocked right out of the dhoti brigade when Pakistan responded with tests of its own.
Before Pakistan’s tests, there was immense public pressure on prime minister Nawaz Sharif to match India blow for blow. Internationally, he was threatened with sanctions if he took the nuclear route. Had Sharif buckled under foreign pressure, he would almost certainly have lost his job to the rising tide of public anger at home.
The most visible manifestation of the west’s animosity came from the zionist State whose prime minister reiterated, parrot-fashion, the ‘threat’ from Iran. Benjamin Netanyahu said on May 29 that Iran was on its way to becoming a nuclear State, without mentioning either India, Pakistan or indeed his own nuclear weapons. There is active collaboration between Israel and India in the nuclear and military fields. It is revealing that the zionists are cooperating with those Hindu fascist elements who have publicly praised Hitler’s treatment of the Jews!
Immediately following their tests, Delhi demanded that Islamabad must not only accept the ‘changed geo-strategic reality in the region’ but also warned that Indian troops would henceforth pursue the Kashmiri mujahideen into Pakistan. And to underscore their belligerent intent, they intensified firing along the Line of Control in Kashmir. Civilian casualties in Kashmir escalated dramatically.
In the two-week period between India’s explosions and the Pakistani response, two troubling thoughts had surfaced in Pakistan. Islamabad either did not have the bomb; or, if it did its rulers had come under US pressure and would once again sell the country short. It was the second possibility that bothered most people. In return for dubious promises of aid, Pakistan was asked to forego its option of nuclear deterrent.
Foreign aid has brought Pakistan to the brink of bankruptcy. Additional aid would also have been pocketed by the corrupt ruling elite without benefitting the country or the common man. In the end, the decision was forced upon the government by the demands of a restive populace in Pakistan and the belligerent behaviour of Indian rulers.
A nuclear-armed, Hindu dominated India, which already enjoys massive superiority in conventional arms, is Pakistan’s worst nightmare. It has thrice suffered Indian aggression, the last one resulting in its dismemberment in 1971.
The Pakistani elite have always shown deference to US demands. In the fities, it entered into defence treaties with the US and its western allies to stem the tide of communism, risking the ire of the former Soviet Union. In the eighties, Pakistan became a conduit for US arms to the Afghan mujahideen. This policy put it on a direct collision course with the Soviet Union whose forces were busy destroying villages and town in Afghanistan. However, once the US exacted revenge from the Soviets for the Vietnam debacle, it turned its back on Pakistan.
After such bitter experiences, Pakistan was again being asked to place its trust in Washington. Bill Clinton had phoned Sharif five times in the last two weeks. If the Americans do not trust Slick Willie, the people of Pakistan can hardly be blamed for not taking any chances with their very survival.
Nuclear weapons, however, cannot be taken lightly. But there appears to be a silver-lining around the mushroom cloud on the subcontinent. First, within Pakistan people are determined to stand on their own feet. Sharif promised to cut wasteful government expenditure and to go after the loan defaulters and tax dodgers. He also said numerous government buildings would be turned into hospitals, colleges and universities. If he lives up to these promises, he will find the people making even greater sacrifices.
With the subcontinent the focus of international attention, the spotlight has also shifted to Kashmir, the root cause of the arms race. If the Kashmir dispute lingers on, it may lead to a nuclear war. Solving it would help ease tensions and eliminate the need for deployment of weapons of mass destruction.
Muslimedia: June 16-30, 1998