New Delhi: The view that nuclear weapons are unusable because of their mass destructive capacity does not ipso facto make them redundant. Within limits, nuclear weapons have deterrent qualities. The danger lies in not knowing or recognizing those limits, and making nuclear weapons a cure-all, which they aren’t.

For example, Indira Gandhi was the first to realize the potential of nuclear weapons to deter regime change. When a United States carrier taskforce in the Bay of Bengal threatened India’s security and inhibited its just prosecution of the 1971 Bangladesh War, Mrs Gandhi moved at the earliest opportunity of stability and preparation to order the first nuclear test in Pokharan in 1974.

The 1974 explosion sent shockwaves through the Western world but its lessons were learnt well in Asian regions prone to regime change by Western powers. The clampdown on nuclear technology transfers and the heightened alert of proliferation that followed the 1974 test retarded weaponization of vulnerable Afro-Asian states like Iran, Iraq, Libya, etc. But the logic of nuclear weapons deterring regime change gained conviction. When Saddam Hussein was ousted by the Americans, conviction became unassailable truth, which is not to say that Saddam was removed in the middle of secret weaponization.

And yet, nuclear weapons have severely limited usefulness. They cannot be employed like conventional weapons. They cannot quell unrest. They certainly cannot deter separatism. When L. K. Advani claimed with the 1998 second nuclear test that India had finally found a foil against Pakistani terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, he couldn’t have been wronger. This writer pointed out so then. Quite apart from Pakistan’s rival nuclear test at two weeks’ separation from India’s, the J and K crisis has not melted away with India’s self-declaration as a nuclear power state. In some ways, it has gotten harder to manage.

The rules of the game are no different for Pakistan, except that it has not even come to realize that it has a problem. Militarism has had such an all-pervasive effect on Pakistan that it has lost the ability and elan to think and act politically and in terms of achieving socio-economic peace. Pakistan believes, a whole lot like Advani of the old days, that the possession of nuclear weapons makes it invulnerable and indomitable. Which is why it has concentrated all its conventional military and terroristic fire against India under a nuclear overhang, while being confident that the unrest spreading in places like Baluchistan and Occupied Kashmir are easily manageable. They are not. Unless Pakistan puts its house in order, all the deterrent weapons of the world cannot prevent its collapse. The Soviet Union was a nuclear superpower. What happened?

Nuclear weapons can be a curse sometimes, and they have become so for Pakistan. Normal nationhood that you experience in the everyday life of a nation is missing in Pakistan. A Pakistani is a Punjabi, Sindhi, Baluch or Frontier Pathan prior to being Pakistani, and sectarian identities often confound these sub-national narratives as well. Political mediation is critical to nation-building, and long years of military rule and a state of permanent militarism have destroyed Pakistan’s political instincts. Nuclear weaponization has worsened it all, and Pakistan harbours the illusion that nuclear parity with India eternally secures it. It does not.

Nations are not mechanistic or static entities. Nations are living forces and must constantly renew themselves to remain strong, relevant and purposive. Justice is the most significant constituent of nationhood. A nation that is not manifestly and constitutionally just toward all its citizens eventually loses its legitimacy to remain united. Pakistan faces a legitimacy crisis. The domination of Punjab and Punjabis to the exclusion of other provinces and nationalities skews Pakistan’s nationhood. The military bombardment of Baluchistan and state terror following rigged elections in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir are early signs of an unravelling Pakistani state. Much as Pakistan might like to persuade itself otherwise, India is not involved in the unrest in these places. On the other hand, Pakistan has got its comeuppance for prosecuting a low-intensity war in Jammu and Kashmir.

It is still not late for Pakistan to make peace with India and turn its attention to nation-building. The military must retire to passivity and the political establishment must commence an intensive and earnest re-engagement of Pakistani society. Unchecked, the situation would worsen to a likeness that compelled the creation of Bangladesh. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons will be essentially useless in preventing the denouement.

There is still time for Pakistan to step back and join the ranks of civilized nations. Militarism and nuclear vanity will lead it nowhere.

Editor’s Note: NewsInsight extends warm greetings to its readers on India’s Independence Day.