Who had taken nuclear tests’ decision and how?

Sheikh Rashid’s ill-timed claim raises new questions

By: Ashraf Mumtaz      Published: 03:55 PM, 31 May, 2020
Who had taken nuclear tests’ decision and how?

‘Rawalpindi’s’ Sheikh Rashid Ahmed is a minister who gets more media coverage compared to any other minister of Imran Khan’s cabinet. Being an experienced hand and having a good idea of what kind of statements will hit headlines, he comes up with well-worded, newsy claims every now and then. His statements, whether one agrees with them or not, remain subject of most of the public debates.

He has been part of many governments, even the ones with totally conflicting ideologies. And he can offer dozens of justifications for working with such setups.

How he manages to get a slot in all governments needs a separate piece. For the time being our focus is on his latest claim – which has raised many a question about the working of the system.

At his regular weekly news conference in Lahore on Saturday, he claimed that then prime minister Nawaz Sharif was opposed to the May 28, 1998 nuclear tests and that himself, Raja Zafarul Haq and Gohar Ayub Khan were the ones who had supported the idea.

“I want to tell the nation on oath that it was myself, Raja Zafarul Haq and Gohar Ayub who supported conducting nuclear tests. The entire cabinet, including Nawaz Sharif, was against it. But we delivered speeches and changed the mood of the cabinet.”

(Raja Zafarul Haq has vehemently rejected Sheikh Rashid’s assertion.)

After the claim made by Sheikh Rashid, a question arises as to who had taken this historic decision and how? Was that authority competent to take such an important decision, ignoring the opposition expressed by the then premier?

If some ministers had initially opposed the idea but subsequently changed their mind as a result of a debate on its merits and demerits, there is nothing wrong with it. This is how it should be.

Cabinets are supposed to examine every aspect of important issues, more so in such sensitive matters. And when a decision is taken after a debate, it is supposed to be a collective decision of the cabinet.

Apparently, Sheikh Rashid’s claim holds no water. And his attempt to start a new controversy 22 years after the tests will not be appreciated by most of people.

His claim would have caused a political tremor if it is established that the tests decision was taken by some other entity.

Everyone knows that Pakistan has a parliamentary form of government, of which the prime minister is the chief executive. Under the Constitution it is the prime minister and his/her cabinet that take all decisions. All decisions, including the ones related to the armed forces, are taken by the prime minister and the cabinet.

Under no circumstances can the premier be bypassed. And under the Constitution there is no authority that can take any decision, bypassing the prime minister. In such a situation Rawalpindi leader’s claim sounds totally ridiculous.

The writer is of the considered opinion that Mushahid Hussain Sayed is a person who knows best how the decision to carry out nuclear tests was taken, or who was opposed to or was in favour of the decision. He was among the ministers closest to the then prime minister. Not everyone knows that Mr Sharif missed Mushahid a lot when he quit the PML-N and joined the PML-Q, a structure raised by Gen Musharraf to run his post-coup setup.

Mushahid Hussain Sayed is among the most informed politicians and has strong links with the powers that be.

Political differences apart, it is unfair to deny Mr Sharif the credit for nuclear tests. It was an important decision taken in a very challenging situation. Even if he was a rubberstamp prime minister, the credit for this decision would go to him. He had rejected then US president Bill Clinton’s offer for billions of dollars to Pakistan for not carrying out tests.

Those who know businessmen’s love for wealth can better appreciate how difficult it was to reject billions of dollars and go ahead with decision of making Pakistan a nuclear power.

Ashraf Mumtaz

The writer is the Deputy Editor of 24 Digital.