We are so used to hearing bad news about Pakistan that good news can go under the radar. Since May, there has been a changing of the guard at the positions of Prime Minister, the Chief of Army Staff, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the President, all without wrenching national debate or damaging machinations. To put it mildly, Pakistan continues to face daunting problems, especially when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif only places confidence in an inner circle with little circumference, and when he is taking so long to tackle alarming domestic trends. But when judged by previous bumpy or wrenching leadership transitions, Pakistan is making progress.
Another baton pass: Lt. Gen. (ret.) Khalid Kidwai has stepped down as Director-General of the Strategic Plans Division. He has been in charge on Pakistan’s nuclear program for fifteen years, beginning even before the SPD was stood up. His successor is Lt Gen Zubair Mahmood Hayat. Some US commentary has expressed concern about new sources of instability that might result from this baton pass. Transitions don’t always go well, but the absence of transition can stunt institutional growth and professional development. Mature, successful institutions have to pass this test. No one individual or institution is foolproof, but Gen. Kidwai has developed procedures and programs that will supersede him. I expect a successful hand-off at the SPD.
Rawalpindi has defined its nuclear weapon-related requirements expansively. When it comes to military and civil nuclear programs, Pakistan seems intent to compete with India. Gen. Zubair will probably preside over a period of consolidation, as Pakistan picks winners and losers among the many types of missiles it has flight tested. At the same time, production capacity for bomb-making material will grow, the sea-based leg of Pakistan’s deterrent will take shape, and warhead numbers will continue to rise. Major shifts in Pakistan’s nuclear plans and policies seem unlikely, but requirements could climb even higher, depending on developments in India and how Rawalpindi chooses to react to them.
Pakistan’s nuclear requirements could gain further elevation if China and India flight test MIRVs or deploy ballistic missile defenses, if nuclear enclaves in the region move toward counterforce targeting, and if requirements for tactical nuclear weapons are defined expansively. Any one of these developments, as well as another crisis or military clash with India, could induce still more growth in Pakistan’s production infrastructure – unless or until Rawalpindi’s impulse to measure itself against India on nuclear weapons subsides.