PM-in-waiting Imran Khan set to appoint Pakistan's own Dr Strangelove as his defence minister

Shirin Mazari, under consideration for appointment as Pakistan's next defence minister, publicly advocated nuclear strikes on Indian population centres in the event of war between the two countries

Praveen Swami August 07, 2018 14:28:53 IST
PM-in-waiting Imran Khan set to appoint Pakistan's own Dr Strangelove as his defence minister

New Delhi: Shirin Mazari, a prominent Islamabad-based scholar under consideration for appointment as Pakistan's next defence minister by soon-to-be prime minister Imran Khan, publicly advocated nuclear strikes on Indian population centres in the event of war between the two countries, a review of her work by Firstpost has revealed. "Targeting" of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, Mazari wrote in an October 1999 article published in The Defence Journal, "should be primarily counter-value focusing on Indian urban and industrial centres".

In nuclear warfare doctrine, counter-value targets refer to enemy assets which are of value, but not actually a military threat, such as cities and civilian populations. The term counter-force is used to refer to military targets.

In an earlier article in The Defence Journal, written in April 1999, Mazari had given more specifics on her counter-value targeting recommendations. "Included in this," she wrote, "would be New Delhi, Bombay and all the nuclear installations that come within this range."

"India's nuclear installations are close to population centres," Mazari continued, "so damage can be compounded by attacking these facilities."

PMinwaiting Imran Khan set to appoint Pakistans own Dr Strangelove as his defence minister

File image of Shirin Mazari. Twitter @ShireenMazari1

The two countries had, on 31 December, 1988, signed an agreement not to attack each other's nuclear facilities. From January 27, 1991, when the agreement went into force, Islamabad and New Delhi have exchanged lists of nuclear facilities each year. "Lots of capitals across the world are going to be very worried about Mazari's appointment," a senior Indian diplomat told Firstpost, "Leave aside her evident lack of commitment to binding national agreements, her casual language on nuclear war is of extreme concern."

There was concern in the United States, too, over reports — that first appeared on Pakistan's Geo and Dunya television stations — that Khan is considering appointing Mazari to his Cabinet, either as defence minister or foreign minister.

"Frankly," one official told Firstpost, "it’s bad enough that someone like this occupies a prominent role in public life; her appointment to a key strategic position would be very, very disturbing."

Interestingly, Mazari's choice of population targets also appears driven by religious considerations. "It would be politically rational to avoid targeting certain industrial and population centres — such as Amritsar and the Sikh population in the Punjab and South [sic] and West Bengal — even when Pakistan acquired the capability to do so," she wrote in April 1999.

"For one," Mazari wrote in defence of her proposition that West Bengal not be targeted, "Pakistan could then inform Bangladesh that it did not want to put its population at risk by nuclear attacks close to the Bangladesh borders — and so on."

Her reasons for not wishing to target Punjab’s Sikhs was not spelt out in the paper, but Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate has long had links to Khalistan terrorists in the region. Large parts of Mazari’s work centres around shaping a Pakistani nuclear doctrine that hinges around a "one-rung escalation ladder" — in plain language, to respond directly to a conventional-weapons attack by India with the massive use of nuclear weapons against civilian targets.

"Since Pakistan lacks spatial depth, it cannot afford to get bogged down in a conventional war for any length of time," Mazari argued, "So, Pakistan has to go for a one-rung escalation ladder strategy in terms of nuclear weapons. That is why a no-first-use notion is not viable for Pakistan within the context of the Indian threat."

For Indian strategists now dealing with the escalation of the conflict in Kashmir, nudged along by Pakistan’s intelligence services, Mazari’s rise is of particular concern. Her ideas, some Islamabad-based analysts believe, helped influence former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf to go to war in 1999, convinced — correctly — that Pakistan’s threatened large-scale use of nuclear weapons would deter India against retaliating by attacking in the plains of Rajasthan and Punjab.

In her April 1999 paper, Mazari noted that "unless Pakistan can frame some alternative operationalisations of its Kashmir policy, India may well convince the world that it is making shifts and showing flexibility on Kashmir while Pakistan is the one that remains intransigent."

However, Mazari went on to add, "it is already clear that India has not only lost Kashmir politically, it is losing it militarily also."

Furthermore, she argued, "events in Timor and the prospect of a UN-supervised referendum in Western Sahara in the near future make it ever more difficult for the UN to deny the Kashmiris their plebiscite."

Some in India’s intelligence community fear Mazari's rise to office could signal that Khan intends to up the stakes in Kashmir again.

Nuclear weapons experts in the United States and India have long cast Mazari as Pakistan's own Dr Strangelove — the unhinged nuclear scientist at the centre of Stanley Kubrick's 1964 masterpiece about a United States Air Force General who orders a nuclear first-strike on the Soviet Union. However, Mazari has until now been seen as a fringe figure, on the hawkish margins of Pakistan’s strategic community.

In Kubrick's film, Dr Strangelove proposes bizarre strategies to survive nuclear apocalypse, including moving several hundred thousand people to live in deep underground mines, and a breeding programme with a 10:1 female-to-male ratio to repopulate the earth. Dr Strangelove was an amalgamation of three real-life figures key to the nuclear arms race after World War II: Edward Teller, the famously hawkish physicist who supervised work on the hydrogen bomb, RAND Corporation strategic analyst Herman Kahn, and rocket scientist Wernher Von Braun, a Nazi granted immunity by the United States despite his use of slave labour.

Interestingly, Mazari’s work does not consider the potential consequences to Pakistan itself of the likely consequences of a first-strike — a massive Indian response.

Daniel Elsberg — a war-planner and later analyst who became famous for leaking thousands of classified documents on the Vietnam War — revealed in a recent book that President John F Kennedy asked military planners advocating nuclear war with the Soviet Union what casualties the United States would suffer.

The answer, Elsberg writes, came in the form of a short, simple graph, with lines and numbers: 275,000,000 and 325,000,000.

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