Home Lightbox The New York Times and the BBC Vs. Facts

The New York Times and the BBC Vs. Facts

by Ejaz Haider
Aamir Qureshi—AFP

Aamir Qureshi—AFP

Recent articles published by the leading news organizations reflect a blatant bias that is dangerous in its dishonesty.

It would be laughable if the intent weren’t so obviously slanted and, therefore, perfidious.

Let’s begin with an April 6 editorial in The New York Times, titled “Nuclear Fears in South Asia.”

The term “South Asia” in the piece is misleading. The “agonized” piece is all about Pakistan. I did an exercise, a simple one. It’s called Ctrl-F! India comes up 13 times, Pakistan 17 times. Seems okay so far given the South Asia in the caption. Except, statistics, like appearances, can be deceptive. A closer reading throws up these lines where “India” appears in the editorial:

  • capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to any part of India.
  • whose only purpose is use on the battlefield in a war against India.
  • continuing obsession with India as the enemy.
  • especially since India’s nuclear arsenal, estimated at about 110 weapons, is growing more slowly.
  • Narendra Modi of India has made it clear that Pakistan can expect retaliation if Islamic militants carry out a terrorist attack in India, as happened with the 2008 bombing in Mumbai. But the latest major conflict was in 1999, and since then India, a vibrant democracy, has focused on becoming a regional economic and political power.
  • cannot match the size and sophistication of India’s conventional forces.
  • China, which considers Pakistan a close ally and India a potential threat…

This sample of 13 mentions of India in an editorial that deals with nuclear fears in “South Asia” should give readers a sense of the content and thrust of this piece. But wait. Let me give some examples by completing some of the sentences above!

  • Last month, Pakistan test-fired a ballistic missile that appears capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to any part of India.
  • And a senior adviser, Khalid Ahmed Kidwai, reaffirmed Pakistan’s determination to continue developing short-range tactical nuclear weapons whose only purpose is use on the battlefield in a war against India.
  • These investments reflect the Pakistani Army’s continuing obsession with India as the enemy…
  • Pakistan now has an arsenal of as many as 120 nuclear weapons and is expected to triple that in a decade. An increase of that size makes no sense, especially since India’s nuclear arsenal, estimated at about 110 weapons, is growing more slowly.
  • Even more troubling, the Pakistani Army has become increasingly dependent on the nuclear arsenal because Pakistan cannot match the size and sophistication of India’s conventional forces.

To put things in perspective, the editorial opens thus: “The world’s attention has rightly been riveted on negotiations aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program. If and when that deal is made final, America and the other major powers that worked on it—China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany—should turn their attention to South Asia, a troubled region with growing nuclear risks of its own.

“Pakistan, with the world’s fastest-growing nuclear arsenal, is unquestionably the biggest concern, one reinforced by several recent developments…”

As if on cue, the BBC’s Jawad Iqbal, identified as “Analysis and insight editor” published a piece on April 14, titled “Nuclear tensions rising in South Asia.” While those of us who deal with these matters haven’t seen any indication of said rising tensions—quite the contrary, in fact—the BBC insight editor’s insights cannot be faulted by people in a former colony.

For some “inexplicable” reason, Iqbal also begins with the lamentation that “The time, attention and effort devoted to reaching a deal with Iran over its nuclear ambitions has unwittingly tended to obscure the growing dangers of nuclear proliferation elsewhere in the world.”

In other words, Iqbal believes—at least that’s what the above-quoted sentence conveys—that the world should pay equal attention to “proliferation elsewhere in the world,” i.e., South Asia, i.e., Pakistan. Perish the thought, however, that South Asia is in a completely different category. Facts, as the cliché goes, must never stand in the way of “analysis and insight.”

Iqbal’s piece also takes Pakistan first, mentions its internal troubles and instability, its growing nuclear arsenal, its deal with China for eight submarines, its first-use doctrine, its strategic partnership with China. All of this is pro forma. Check any writing and you will find analysts after analysts picking up these phrases, as if from a shelf in journalism’s Walmart in the section labeled ‘South Asia.’ India is mentioned, of course, but in the context of security threats to her from Pakistan, China and, worse, the Sino-Pakistan strategic partnership. Oh, and yes, India’s arsenal is growing at a slower pace and India has a no-first-use policy.

Corollary: Something needs to be done to tackle South Asia, code for Pakistan, so India’s security concerns are addressed and the country, the only power that has defied history and its lessons in realpolitik, can be allowed to grow peacefully and acquire its rightful place as a regional power, thank you.

It takes a genius, clearly, to realize that threat—perceptive or real—does not flow in and from one direction. It is always bi- or multi-directional. Salvador de Madariaga, once chairman of the League of Nations Disarmament Commission, put it most poignantly:

“The trouble with disarmament was (and still is) that the problem of war is tackled upside down and at the wrong end… Nations don’t distrust each other because they are armed; they are armed because they distrust each other. And therefore to want disarmament before a minimum of common agreement on fundamentals is as absurd as to want people to go undressed in winter. Let the weather be warm, and they will undress readily enough without committees to tell them so.”

But let’s get down to the nuclear issue, starting with first-use and the mythical no-first-use (NFU). NFU declarations mean nothing in operational terms. There are two important factors here. One, NFU is insubstantial in military terms unless it can be verified; two, since Indian and Pakistani capabilities, despite the tests, remain opaque it is impossible to verify that the forces on one or both sides are configured for an NFU policy.

Simply declaring NFU intent is merely a political statement. How, if at all, can it be verified that such a policy declaration has any military meaning? Are there any parameters through which this can be achieved?

Li Bin, a Chinese nuclear strategist, presented five important parameters through which a state can project its NFU intent (and the rival states can verify that intent): the size of the nuclear force; the composition of that force; the number of warheads on each missile; the accuracy of nuclear weapons (whether counter-value or counter-force targeting); and, the strength of the conventional forces.

Let’s consider them in order.

Force size: Is the force configured for a first or a retaliatory strike? This, says Li Bin, can be worked out by comparing ‘the number of retaliating warheads with the minimum number of warheads required for producing intolerable damages.’ In other words, if the number of retaliating warheads is much bigger than the minimum number required for causing intolerable damage to the adversary, then the force is not configured for NFU. If, on the other hand, the number of retaliating warheads is much smaller than the minimum number required for a counter-strike, then it not only reflects an NFU commitment but a no-use commitment. Clearly, then, the NFU commitment lies between these two extremes. Even so the problem with this approach is how to determine the minimum number that lies between first- and no-use commitments. While Li Bin estimates the number at several warheads (itself rather vague), others have estimated it at several hundred warheads.

The other problems with this parameter relate to whether that minimum number should be deployed; if not, what should be the distance between the delivery vehicles and the warheads and so on. Overall, however, this is an approach that seems to eschew LOW [launch on warning] or even LUA [launch under attack]. It must verifiably be wedded to LAA [launch after attack].

Force composition: Does the force have TNWs [tactical nuclear weapons] designed for battlefield or theater use? Are they deployed in operational mode, which might suggest the country intends to use them first? On the other hand, as Li Bin notices, a country may interpret its NFU commitment to mean ‘not to use its nuclear weapons first outside its territory.’ It could then use a TNW on its own soil against advancing enemy troops without breaking its NFU commitment. Again, determining this intent is extremely difficult.

Accuracy of weapons: If the CEP [circular error probable] of the missiles is much less than the lethal radius of the target, then the weapon is very accurate and would be configured for attacking point targets. And counterforce targeting would usually point to first use, indeed pre-emption with the intention of taking out the enemy’s arsenal. This is not the case with counter-value targeting where accuracy does not count. Still, it would be very difficult to determine the accuracy of the adversary’s missiles unless one is sure of what technologies are being used for missile development.

Conventional force: A country can give an NFU commitment only when it is confident that its conventional capability renders the use of nuclear weapons unnecessary. If that is not the case, then it would escalate to the nuclear level quickly. This is why the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was (and remains) wedded to first-use. But the interesting point here is that post-cold-war documents from East Germany have revealed that the Soviet commitment to NFU was eyewash. In case of a conflict in central Europe, the Warsaw Pact forces were configured for first-use.

In simple English, NFU is for birds, thank you. [NB: Iqbal of the BBC, incidentally, needs to check if the United Kingdom, probably still threatened by the Russian Federation and possibly France and Germany, has a first-use policy. His next insight should then be on that topic.]

As for India and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons capability, to equate the ‘problem’ with Iran’s ambitions and to refer to their arsenals as “proliferation” in the legal-coercive sense of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty is to betray a clear lack of understanding of the issue. Incidentally, one of the baskets in the India-Pakistan dialogue framework relates specifically to nuclear risk reduction measures. The sherpas on both sides have done a lot of work and instituted some safeguards. A lot more work needs to be done, for sure, but none of that is the business of journalists belonging to either the redoubtable New York Times or the equally impressive BBC.

Finally, the issue of growing arsenals and Pakistan’s acquisition of submarines. The first is based on guesstimates, the second is crucial for stabilizing deterrence.

Haider is editor of national-security affairs at Capital TV. He was a Ford Scholar at the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C. He tweets @ejazhaider

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daasi April 16, 2015 - 10:39 pm

..it was an editorial. An opinion piece

Sachin April 16, 2015 - 11:45 pm

Reality is not hard to digest my pakistani friend !

NYT & BBC Articles are a mere reflection of the rot in the image of pakistan in the eyes of the world. Your country is counted among ‘one of the most dangerous countries in the world’.
Thanks to your support to persons like Let, Haqqani Network , Hafiz Saeed, Lakhvi ….

67 years of obsession with Kashmir has lead to your own downfall and has not won you even an inch of the territory post-1947

Saeed April 18, 2015 - 6:30 am

Shining Hindustan does not have rape problem, mass murderer as PM, lack of toilets, Hindustani army’s state terrorism against tribals & Kashmiris, more hungry people than Sub-Saharan Africa and booming business of importing trash from the west. Enjoy you golden age Hindustan! Mubaraka!

Anis Siddiqi April 19, 2015 - 7:57 pm

Dear Sachin
I thought you played cricket.
But a short reply to your utterances: This is neither the and of the world nor the end of history. Certainly nations’ history is much much beyond 76 years.

Alina May 17, 2015 - 3:59 pm

@Sachin: “has not won you even an inch of the territory post-1947” — We have no interest in grabbing territory, you do.
If you will support RSS, Sarabhjit Singh, Tamil Tigers, Mukti Bahini, Fazlullah, BLA, etc. You bet we will back the people you mentioned.
You have no evidence against Hafiz Saeet, LeT or Lakhvi. It’s just for propaganda’s sake that you mention them but in every single legal action you have taken in the Mumbai attacks you have never mentioned them or taken concrete steps agains tthem.

shabana baig September 3, 2016 - 3:11 am

Zionists and Brahmins have joined hands against not only Pakistan but the whole Muslim world. But this alliance will fail and both Zionism and Brahaminsm will be defeated.

Tipu April 17, 2015 - 12:55 am

Well said EH. Our one man army you are on this front. Bravo.

pakiterroristan April 17, 2015 - 5:10 am

Terroristanis are still perplexed why every one worries about them and hate them. LOL

sarosh April 17, 2015 - 11:59 am

Well written. Very precise n info specific

Aazar Kund April 17, 2015 - 12:30 pm

How ironic it is to declare Pakistan as fast growing nuclear arsenal while having a blind eye on nuclear and conventional maturity of unrecognised nuclear states. It is clearly visible that the nuclear regime wouldn’t go against nuclear development of India and Israel because countries like America and Russia will never ever loose any opportunity to invest and earn via military industrial complex in the respective countries.

seemab April 17, 2015 - 1:50 pm

Same old propaganda have been again coined against the nuclear program of Pakistan. And the best thing about the Pakistan’s nuclear establishment is that despite of rumours and criticism the country has not rolled back its deterrent capability and continued to follow the procedures of international non proliferation regime. This is in fact quite absurd to see that western powers close their eyes in case of India’s military development and never misses the chance to criticize Pakistan regarding its nuclear program.

nehath April 17, 2015 - 1:58 pm

This is an irony of the international state actors which possess dubious policies towards the adjacent and even similar nuclear weapon states. India literally introduced nuclear weapons to the region. Pakistan maintains credible minimum deterrence against hostile neighborhood. Like the creation of two independent states of 1947, they become nuclear weapon states which established deterrence in the region. But a big applause for international community which intentionally inclined to establish strategic disequilibrium by extending hand of nuclear suppprt to India. Ironically a complete reversal attitude with Pakistan. However Pakistan build comprehensive command and security framework to protect its nukes.

Sultan April 18, 2015 - 6:45 am

A country who is against UN resolution of kashmir. Deployed half million soldiers in kashmir. To crub kashmir people voices they introduced AFSA rule. Massacare of muslims happened all over india since 1947(Bhagalpur riots, Assam riots 1984, 1964 riots all over india, Mumbai riots 1992, Gujarat riots 2002, Muzaffarnagar riots 2014 and many more). Findings by govt of india itself shows that muslims living in india is below poverty line(sacchhar comitte report). 80% of muslim living in slums.
India’s hindu front is not only against pakistan but actually it is against muslims all over the world. They are having very close alliance with Israel. RAW and MOSSAD operate many operation togeather. Now they are planning to do the same thing in kashmir what zionist have done in palestine. They are building colonies for hindus in kashmir.

It was india who created mukti bahini terrorist organisation in east pakistan and attack pakistan to break it in two part. Till date they are involved in destablizing bangladesh by supporting currupt leader sheikh hasina who is killing muslims without any proper and fair trial.

Writer should concentrate for actuals finding instead of spreading false popaganda.
Pakistan nukes is not for India. It is for all who tries to harm muslims countries such as Greater Israel plan.

Anis Siddiqi April 19, 2015 - 8:18 pm

This is regarding the Indian military forces in occupied Kashmir. Without going into much details, and to reply to the Indian Allegations of cross-border infiltration from Pakistan to Indian occupied Kashmir, please be reminded that total number of military personnel posted by India in occupied Kashmir are in access of 750,000. Now, the total length of the Line of Control – LOC between two parts of Kashmir is 740km i.e. 740,000 meters. A simple arithmetic shall show that if Indian forces are posted to stop infiltration then, it would be more sensible to post one soldier every 0.986666666 meter (less than a meter) along the LOC. This distance vanishes in thin air if the soldiers simply stretch their arms. Only a ghost could pass through, then. But if India does not find it plausible (i.e. putting soldiers every meter through the length of the LOC), or if they are still not sure they could stop infiltration, they have only two choices: they should hire soldiers from outside India and outsource the job or ; accept that the posted soldiers are there to suppress the popular uprising of the indigenous population which they have always denied.

I have raised this issue on international platforms such this one and have challenged any justifiable response from pro-Indian lobby but so fa no one has replied. I would appreciate a feedback on this.

nbsons April 30, 2015 - 12:49 am

Indian mindset is taking them to disaster. As being qualified the biggest arms buyer in the world while 80% of the people live under $2 a day. What a joke. Pakistan has the equalizer of atomic weaponry. Pakistan and China are playing the smart game of bankrupting India by its own deeds. Not a single bullet has to be fired. India is destroying itself. The $50 billion investment of China in Pakistan speaks loudly of its confidence in the country. Pakistan has leapfrogged India in a magnificent way.

Alexandria Whinham June 1, 2015 - 4:00 am

You’re a very convincing writer. I can easily see this in your article. You’ve got a way of writing persuasive information that sparks much interest.

HH The Nawab Jam Sahib of Sanghar June 26, 2015 - 9:03 am

The New York Times is owned by a American-Jewish family which will more often than not sponsor a rhetoric that not only instigates the War on Terror but looks to legitimize in means and efforts to grant higher sympathies to Israel and its allies. The BBC of course is the voice of a Island that still calls itself an Empire what I hate is how it is totally acceptable for the BBC to write what they want and nobody blinks an eye but when Russia Today which is sponsored by the Kremlin writes something it is always tackled for its rhetoric…unparalleled hypocrisy…either way Pakistan was a reality before its inception and continues to be one after the fact even after such despicable ways of propaganda that looks to further divide this nation the masses stand united…it will take a lot more than political language that more often than not sounds like pretentious diction to take down this nation-state…so the birds can chirp…and the dogs can bark…it does not phase us…


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