THE deed is done. The chest-thumping is over. The crowds have melted away. Many questions arise, the answers to some of which are available. But much depends on Nawaz Sharif's ability to rise and shine. After India's nuclear tests, Sharif told the world that Pakistan would not adopt a "tit-for-tat" policy. But two weeks later, he proudly declared that he had "settled the score" with India. Then, Abdul Qadeer Khan, who likes to be called the "father of the Pakistani bomb", told CNN that "Pakistan needed 17 days in which to test". This implied that the decision to test was taken immediately after the Indian tests rather than after "due consideration and proper restraint" as announced by Sharif earlier.
Foreign minister Gohar Ayub also got into the act. Ayub told CNN on May 30 that Pakistan had detonated "two more devices". No, blurted the foreign secretary Shamshad Ahmad, rather pointedly: "We have tested only one device today." Ahmad was clearly undertaking a damage-control exercise after Gohar signified an upping of the ante by Pakistan. No wonder the world doesn't know who or what to believe.
Meanwhile, Khan's attempt to hog the show has detonated rifts in Pakistan's nuclear establishment. Samar Mobarak Mand and his colleagues in the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) claim credit for researching the bomb and pressing the trigger. Khan cannot stomach this, so he has petulantly denounced his imagined former and current "detractors" in the PAEC. But Mobarak has also forgotten that discretion might have been the better part of valour. His plea "to immediately set up a command, control, communication and intelligence system" for prompt decision-making suggests that Pakistan lacks one at the moment. This should provide plenty of grist to the mills of Pakistan's detractors who have always maintained that the Pakistani nuclear establishment is "irresponsible and unpredictable".
The imposition of an Emergency by Sharif is also very worrying. It smacks of dangerous political opportunism. If the people of Pakistan are with Sharif on this issue, as he claims, why is he so fearful of them that he must disallow them their fundamental rights? Our fear is that Sharif may see this as a "window of opportunity" to fulfil his dream of becoming an all-powerful, civilian dictator.
Sharif's decision to block all forex accounts ($12 billion) is also highly questionable. Although Pakistanis knew that Islamabad would test the bomb, there was no public rush to withdraw deposits before the test. The freezing of forex accounts means that Sharif has closed all formal incoming routes for forex deposits while remaining unable to block all informal exits for forex transfers.
The unprecedented plunge of the Karachi Stock Exchange has overnight wiped out about $2 billion from market capitalisation. Additionally, sanctions will mean a minimum loss of at least $2 billion in financial assistance this year. This is no laughing matter. Pakistan has forex reserves of only $1.3 billion (six weeks import bill) and a current account gap of about $6 billion.
Now Sharif is exhorting Pakistanis to make "sacrifices" by donating generously to a national "self-reliance" fund. By way of "personal example", he has made a couple of gestures—like abandoning the plush new prime minister's secretariat and relinquishing his spanking grand Mercedes—which mock our intelligence. He is also threatening to unveil a stiff budget which will sorely test the limits of our "patriotism". The real question, however, remains unanswered: will the Sharif family return the billions of rupees in defaulted loans and taxes which they owe the exchequer before their scion asks Pakistanis to empty their pockets for a national cause?
All this doesn't bode well for the political and economic climate in Pakistan. Islamabad desperately requires an appropriate political, economic and diplomatic follow-up to the nuclear tests. An arms race with India, which Pakistan can ill-afford, is built into the post-test scenario—India, for example, has upped defence spending by 14 per cent. The "hawks" who pushed us into the tests will demand it as a natural extension of their concept of "national security". The foreign minister and nuclear scientists who want us to manufacture nuclear warheads and put them on serial missiles will revel in it. The prime minister who loves to play "tit-for-tat" will seek further glorification in it. Everyone will insist that we should not sign the CTBT until India does because this is what we have always said and because this is the unthinking, "obvious" route to take. But this could now become a route to xenophobic nationalism, international isolation, political instability and economic anarchy.
There is a better way out. Pakistan should unlock its reactive mindset by becoming positive and proactive. This we should do by telling the world that, having "safeguarded our nuclear deterrent", we are immediately ready to stop nuclear testing and sign the CTBT regardless of what India intends to do. The bottomline, "do-able" condition which we should effectively append to this offer is: removal of all economic and military sanctions imposed on Pakistan since 1990, including the recent ones, and renewed financial and technical assistance with a view to propping up our economy, modernising our conventional defence forces and enabling us to test our nuclear devices in the laboratory.
Along with this condition, we should tell the world firmly that while we are prepared to sign the CTBT we will not ratify it until we are satisfied that it meets with all our security concerns. Finally, we should tell the world that we will withdraw from the CTBT (allowed under the treaty if a country's "supreme national interest" so demands) if the condition of financial and military assistance is not applied in full or if India is allowed to sign the CTBT at a later stage on special terms not available to Pakistan at the moment. Will Nawaz Sharif adopt this agenda?
We doubt it. Sharif is desperately short on integrity and vision. Therefore, New Delhi will most probably continue to call the "strategic" shots in Pakistan. Worse, Sharif will try to become a dictator and pitch the country into political instability again. He will give succour to the arms race and bankrupt the exchequer. In times to come, the multitudes who spilled out into the streets to cheer him recently will spill out into the streets again and bay for his blood. Whatever India's fate, Pakistan's nuclear tests are going to exact a heavy toll.
(The writer is editor, 'The Friday Times', Lahore)