As the Taliban continues to fight within Pakistan, the country is continuing and perhaps even ramping up its nuclear program. Since the United States has provided and plans to provide billions in military aid, these two matters are of great concern.
Pakistan is, like the United States in the Cold War, devoted to preparing for a war it hopes to never fight. In this case, the foe is India. This sort of cool war enables the Pakistani military to enjoy a substantial budget without significant risk of large scale combat (although incidents have happened). Obviously enough, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are primarily intended for use against India. Since India is not considered hostile to the United States (after all, they provide most of our tech support), we do not have much interest in arming Pakistan against India. Rather, our main concern is with equipping them to fight the Taliban and other such insurgents.
One might wonder why Pakistan is still pouring vast resources into its nuclear program. After all, they have the problem with the Taliban. They have a serious refugee problem. They also have social problems, such as with literacy. With so many more pressing problems, it would seem to make little sense to devote so many resources to nuclear weapons.
As far as why, one reason might be the above mentioned focus on India. Nuclear weapons are actually a relatively cheap deterrent against attacks (from other nations, obviously not from insurgent groups). Hence, Pakistan might want to make sure that India won’t try to attack during this time of trouble. Of course, by worrying too much about India, they might end up falling t0 another foe. After all, if a person being chewed on by a crocodile worries more about the bear nearby, then the crocodile might well just eat him up.
Another reason is inertia. Military industrial complexes have a tendency to just roll along soaking up money because of vested interests, habit, and the power of corruption. So, the fact that the nuclear program is doing well is no shock.
Yet another reason is prestige. Nuclear weapons are today what big battleships were in the early 1900s: a mark of national pride and an instrument of influence. Interestingly, the battleships that nations poured fortunes into were quickly superseded by changes in technology and warfare. While nuclear weapons are still impressive killing machines, they are hardly an effective counterinsurgency weapon. Unless, of course, you simply want to kill everyone in a city.
One reason that might seem rather cynical and a bit scary is that Pakistan might be keeping up the nuclear development as a means of goading the United States into giving them even more money. After all, the bigger their nuclear program, the bigger the concern on the part of the United States. After all, it would be bad if the Taliban got its hands on the existing nuclear weapons. It would be even worse if the Taliban got its hands on even more and even better nuclear weapons. So, perhaps the folks in Pakistan are playing this sort of game: “We are going to keep dumping money into nukes, so you better give us even more aid. Otherwise Al Qaeda might be nuking one of your cities. Yes, we’ll take a check.”
So, what should we do? Can we count on the rational self-interest of the folks in Pakistan to get them to focus more on the threat of the Taliban? Should we keep giving them money without strings attached? Should we try to link the money to our own goals?
My view is that our aid should be linked to our goals. This can be done by providing the resources that are needed to specifically engage in counter-insurgency operations rather than providing money. Of course, given that the US is struggling financially, perhaps we should re-think aiding Pakistan. Then again, they sort of have us-if we don’t pay them off, they might get a better deal from the Taliban or some other group.