Dr. Hoodbhoy confronts the BOMB

By: Arsalan Altaf

Do you think nuclear bombs ensure a better and protected Pakistan? Well, eminent nuclear scientist Parvez Hoodbhoy challenges that notion, through the book Confronting the Bomb: Pakistani and Indian Scientists Speak Out.

Edited by Dr. Hoodbhoy and published by the Oxford University Press Pakistan, the book was launched at Kuch Khaas Monday afternoon, in collaboration with Heinrich Boll Stiftung Pakistan. The book is a compilation of essays on the issue of nuclear race in South Asia by eminent Pakistani and Indian scientists.

With a brief introduction of her institution, Managing Director OUP Ameena Syed announced and invited the audience to the Karachi Literature Festival on Feb. 15-17, 2013.

Heinrich Boll Stiftung’s Country Director in Pakistan Britta Peterson talked of how the idea of the book was born one chilly morning in 2010 at Hoodbhoy’s place at QAU, Islamabad, when she consulted him for a translation of a few essays on nuclear issue into Urdu. “I asked Hoodbhoy which of the articles would be relevant to Pakistan; he said none. Well, I asked, why don’t you do a relevant book then,” remembered Ms Peterson.

After a few introductory words, Dr Parvez Hoodbhoy was in conversation with Raza Rumi. Dr. Hoodbhoy said though nuclear issue is not on our mind these days – It was back in 1998 when India and Pakistan both test-fired nuclear-capable missiles – it poses an existential threat to both India and Pakistan.

Rumi talked of the perennial issue of insecurity in this country and how our nuclear programme is based on that sense of insecurity. Dr. Hoodbhoy, however, emphatically said that the bomb doesn’t and can’t secure us. “The country is faced with multiple threats; groups within the country are out of control. Acquisition of nukes created a false sense of security. I don’t think they can secure us; we have more fear now than ever before,” said Dr. Hoodbhoy.

Rumi mentioned how efficient, reportedly, our command and control system is. Dr Hoodbhoy said nuclear programme’s command and control system is a secret everywhere in the world and thus the notion that our nukes are in safe hands is an assumption.

He said contrary to other countries, there has been no anti-nuclear movement but individual efforts in Pakistan. Dr. Hoodbhoy said anti-nuclear voice in India was a bit stronger than that in Pakistan.

Talking of using nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, Dr. Hoodbhoy said nuclear electricity is not a viable option for either India or Pakistan. “Nuclear power plants are much more expensive than other sources of energy. Even in the US, nuclear electricity is more expensive than power generated through other sources. Nuclear electricity would cost us even more as we import both our reactors and fuel to run them,” elaborated the physicist.

He said nuclear-produced power amounts to two percent of the total power production in Pakistan. Dr. Hoodbhoy said the nuclear technology used for power production or other peaceful purposes is different than the technology that is used to make the bomb.

He said possible impact of a nuclear war in South Asia would be much higher than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945. A chapter in the book estimates that a single nuclear bomb can cause five hundred thousand casualties in South Asia, opposed to one hundred thousand in Hiroshima.

He said in case an atomic war breaks out in S Asia, or any other part of the world for that matter, it won’t be limited to a single atomic bomb. He said radioactivity caused by nukes changes the genetic structure. “Destruction is not only physical, it’s also emotional. Hiroshima’s affected children were never accepted in Japanese society,” remarked Hoodbhoy.

Dr. Hoodbhoy said though education system on either side of the Wahga doesn’t talk about these issues, the situation is not hopeless and the trend can be reversed. He said dialogue and an understanding of the issue can halt the nuclear arms race in South Asia as negotiations between the US and Russia did. He, however, said the onus lies on Pakistan and not on India right now.

Asked about US-India deal, Dr. Hoodbhoy said, “U.S.–India Civil Nuclear Agreement was wrong. The US, through this agreement with India, has deeply damaged the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.” Asked whether Pakistan’s concerns over US-India deal are legitimate, Dr. Hoodbhoy said danger to Pakistan exists, but this danger comes not from India’s nukes but from intolerance in society and a multitude of other internal issues.

“The world thinks that if a nuke leaks at some time from somewhere in the world it would come from Pakistan. I don’t say that our nuclear programme is insecure but a number of forces in this country want their hands on the bomb. World fears this due to the extreme tensions within the country and a couple of attacks on important nuclear installations,” added Hoodbhoy.

Dr. Hoodbhoy said India is enhancing its nuclear delivery capacity, but said there is no evidence that it is strengthening its nuclear arsenal. To a question, he said Pakistan better not compete with India in arms’ race because it can’t beat India “even if it puts every penny available for this purpose. We should put our own house in order.”

Asked why he used the term of a ‘sectarian bomb’ in a scenario of Iran and Saudi Arabia both seeking nuclear power, he said it was none other than Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who first used the term of an ‘Islamic bomb’.

“Age of nukes has passed. They belonged to middle of the 20th Century, not to 21st Century. Nukes don’t bring prestige to a country now,” concluded Dr. Hoodbhoy.

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