Being much smaller than India, Pakistan knows that it can never reach parity with India in conventional weapons without bankrupting itself. So it developed nuclear weapons. Its nuclear arsenal is now estimated to be on par with India’s. That should have freed up resources from the conventional arms race to be spent on economic, social and cultural development, yielding the so-called nuclear dividend. Unfortunately, the opposite happened. Spending on conventional weapons was not lowered. It was raised. And the strength of the armed forces was not reduced. It was held steady. In a recent paper for the Stimson Center, Maimuna Ashraf catalogues the wide range of conventional weapons that are being inducted into the armed forces of Pakistan supposedly to prevent a nuclear war: advanced fighter aircraft, main battle tanks, submarines, multirole frigates, cruise missiles, attack helicopters, and air defense systems. Ashraf says that conventional weapons are intended to “provide a range of response options and increase the nuclear threshold, since Pakistan will not be forced to retaliate with nuclear weapons as an initial response to a limited conventional incursion.” The irony is that nuclear weapons were introduced to prevent a conventional war from taking place. But, of course, they brought with them the risk of a nuclear war. Thus conventional weapons have to be upgraded to prevent a nuclear war from breaking out. Such is the diabolical logic of the dual weapons arms race. Pakistan’s military justifies the arms race in conventional and nuclear weapons on the presumption that India is Pakistan’s life-long enemy. It believes that ever since India tasted blood in 1971 by splitting the two wings of Pakistan, it has been hell-bent on breaking up what remains of the country. The more we spend on defense, the more India spends on defense, forcing Pakistan to spend yet more on defense. So the vicious, enervating cycle continues That claim does not stand up to history. The split of the two wings began when General Yahya Khan denied East Pakistanis a chance to run the country, overturning the results of the general elections which were widely regarded as the fairest in the country’s history. The split became inevitable when the army, comprised largely of troops from the west, launched Operation Searchlight against the civilians in the east on the March 25.The army went on a shooting rampage, triggering a civil war. As the months progressed, millions of refugees fled to India to escape the violence, inflicting a heavy burden on India. Even then, war with India could have been avoided by withdrawing the army from the east. Instead, General Yayha directed the Pakistani Air Force to bomb Indian airfields in the west on December 3, saying the defence of the east lay in the west. It was then that India attacked East Pakistan with full force, causing it to surrender on the December 16. The other example cited by the military of India’s hegemonic ambition is its “unprovoked aggression” against Pakistan on September 6. What’s forgotten, a little too conveniently, is that Operation Gibraltar on August 5, followed by Operation Grand Slam on September 1, in Kashmir were launched by Pakistan in an attempt to wrest Kashmir from India. Feeling the pressure, India attacked Lahore to stop Pakistan from cutting off India’s supply line to Srinagar. Thus, neither of the two major Indo-Pakistan wars were started by India. Nor was the earlier war of 1947-48, which began when Pakistan sent “raiders” into Kashmir to wrest it from India, triggering the inevitable Indian counter-response. These are incontrovertible facts. Nevertheless, the military has convinced millions of Pakistan that India is a monster waiting to devour Pakistan. Thus, most Pakistanis continue to live in fear of an Indian invasion. So the country continues to spend more and more on defense. Of course, the more it spends on defense, the more India spends on defense, forcing Pakistan to spend yet more on defense. So the vicious, enervating cycle continues. Unchecked defense spending has taken a bigger toll on Pakistan’s economy than on India’s economy. In its January 12 issue, The Economist magazine showed that between the year 2000 and 2018, India’s GDP grew by a factor of 3.5 while Pakistan’s only grew by a factor of 2.5. When the conventional arms race was spinning out of control, nuclear weapons were introduced to reduce the risk of a conventional war from breaking out. But that proposition was turned on its head in 1999. The Pakistani army under General Musharraf launched an attack on Indian positions at Kargil in Kashmir. Initially, it disowned the attack, saying it was launched by “freedom fighters.” But with time the cover was blown and Pakistan stood exposed as the aggressor. Not an inch of Kashmiri territory was gained by Pakistan. But many lives and much treasure were lost. To recap, the nuclear weapons that were developed to prevent a conventional war from breaking out have unsurprisingly put the two nations on the brink of nuclear war. No sane person one would like a nuclear war to break out since there would be no way to stopping it once it broke out. The devastation would be incalculable. So conventional weapons are being upgraded to prevent a nuclear war. Maimuna Ashraf does not quantify the costs of these weapon purchases or the associated costs of inducting them into the armed services, which is an unfortunate omission. Millions of Pakistanis are starving, living in poverty, illiterate and suffering from disease. Water and power shortages loom on the horizon. Infrastructure needs to be built, including dams, power plants and electric grids. Where is that money going to come from in a country where only one percent of the population pays income taxes? In the past, it has come from the twin evils of deficit financing and foreign aid. That has yielded chronic balance of payments and fiscal deficits. The Prime Minister has pledged to the people that the future will be different. There will be no deficits anywhere. There will be surpluses everywhere one looks. Time has shown that the dual arms race with conventional and nuclear weapons is expensive and dangerous. Even if it deters war, it takes its toll on the economy. And it cannot guarantee that a war will not take place. Being in such a race is akin to driving a car with two throttles and no brakes. And unlike automotive racing where the cars run side by side, in this race the cars are running toward each other. There is only one sane option on the table: throttle back on the dual arms race. The writer can be reached at [email protected] Published in Daily Times, February 8th 2019.