With Gen Pervez Musharraf assuming charge as Pakistan's chief executive after a military coup, the Indian security establishment's main worry hinges around one thing: whose finger is on the nuclear button in Pakistan? With similar concerns being expressed by the Americans, experts fear the worst, some linking Musharraf to the extremist Taliban and fearing the bomb could now be in the hands of Islamic fanatics.
But experts remain divided on an issue about which information is currently sketchy. Says security analyst Brahma Chellaney: "The nuclear apparatus in Pakistan has always been in the hands of the military. Now even that pretence has disappeared. It does not augur well for stability in the region because now the army has political power as well. As it is, some people there had declared during the Kargil war that they would not hesitate to use 'any force' to keep the Pakistani LoC intact. They could be tempted to do it again." In addition, analysts say that Pakistani activism on Kashmir is bound to increase, what with reports of large-scale infiltration of militants into the valley.
Other experts say that despite the new dispensation in Pakistan, nothing has changed drastically. Points out foreign policy purveyor Kanti Bajpai: "I don't think there's any real change. We would do well to remember that civilian authority has no real control over the nuclear apparatus in Pakistan. I doubt very much whether any Pakistani prime minister has even been allowed inside any of their nuclear installations. Historically, if we go back, Benazir Bhutto during her term as premier admitted that she knew nothing about the country's nuclear programme."Clearly, a lot depends on Musharraf. According to Bajpai, despite efforts to dub him a fundamentalist, he's also seen as a professional soldier. Says he, "I'm sure he is not going to push the nuclear button or attempt another Kargil-like operation soon, given the US reaction, the imf's tough stance and his country's diplomatic isolation post-Kargil." In addition, he says, even the generals have to take into account public opinion, which in Pakistan does not favour the replacement of one 'dictatorship' by another.But with the nuclear factor a relatively recent thing in South Asia, grey areas remain. Subhash Chandran of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies voices some: "Frankly, I think there's no one in India who knows the exact command structure of their N-bomb. I doubt very much if a command structure is even in place. Do they have a delivery system? What is the range of such a missile, if it exists? These questions have no easy answers."Chandran says that "due to too many experts on Pakistan", the real picture often gets blurred. According to him, there's nothing to suggest that the Pakistani army is fundamentalist in any way. "Their army is highly professional and they're not rampaging marauders. If that was not the case, the Pakistani army would have simply refused to withdraw from Kargil." Hopefully, Chandran's faith is not misplaced.