Archive for the ‘ Nuclear ’ Category

Are Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons Secure?

Qaiser Farooq Gondal for The Washington Times

Pakistan is again facing the possibility of instability, raising concerns that its nuclear weapons are not in safe hands. Once again the ability of Pakistan’s army to secure the weapons is in doubt. The big powers of the world often ask whether Pakistan will be able to overcome this new danger or not. They also worry that if Pakistan suffers from instability, crisis will bleed over the border to Afghanistan.

After the 1979 Islamic revolution of Iran, the world was very much worried as to the spread of the effects of Iranian revolution to Pakistan. But 32 years after revolution in Iran, Pakistan is still safe and free from the effects of revolution in Iran.

In 1979, after the invasion of Afghanistan by the former USSR, alarmists feared that the Soviets would reach the hot waters of Arabian Sea. In fact, USSR did not threaten Pakistan, and it was because of Pakistan’s army that the USSR failed in Afghanistan and retreated back in 1989.

America has been concerned about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons since 2004, and there have been media reports that America has plans to send special security forces to safeguard the nuclear arsenal in case of instability in Pakistan. But America has denied any such reports and Pakistani authorities ridiculed the idea of US troops coming to the country to help safeguard nuclear weapons. Pakistan argues it can protect its own nuclear weapons, and earlier this month, the Pakistani government stated that it will train 8,000 additional troops to protect its nuclear weapons.

One major priority for the United States is to ensure that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons do not reach the hands of terrorists. Multiple attacks on Pakistani military facilities in recent years heightened those fears. In reality, none of the attacks were of any serious nature and all the culprits were captured and trialed in military courts.

China has played a major role in the development of Pakistani nuclear weapons, as the western countries made it impossible to export nuclear weapons and technology to Pakistan. China is also supporting Pakistan to construct institutes to generate nuclear energy as Pakistan is facing shortages of energy.

The main reason for acquiring nuclear weapons by Pakistan is to prevent any future attack by India. There has been no war between India and Pakistan since both the nations conducted nuclear tests and residents of both countries hope nuclear weapons will continue to deter any attacks.

Since 2001, the US has supplied Pakistan with about 100 million dollars to safeguard its nuclear weapons. Pakistan has developed a weapons release program which requires checks and balances. Pakistan is meeting the international standards in order to fulfill the international pressure over the issue of the security of its nuclear weapons.

Pakistan has been developing strategies to survive a possible nuclear war, as it has developed hard and deeply buried nuclear launch facilities to retain a nuclear strike capability after a nuclear attack.

Pakistan is increasing its capacity to produce plutonium, a fuel for atomic bombs at its Khushab facility and is believed to have about 200 nuclear weapons.

In other words, despite continued Western fears, Pakistan retains firm control of its nuclear weapons. The country has taken extensive measures to safeguard them, and will continue to keep them out of the hands of terrorists. The US should stop worrying and trust Pakistan to secure its own weapons.

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Obama Refrains From a Formal ‘I’m Sorry’ to Pakistan

By Helene Cooper and Mark Mazzetti for The New York Times

The White House has decided that President Obama will not offer formal condolences — at least for now — to Pakistan for the deaths of two dozen soldiers inNATO airstrikes last week, overruling State Department officials who argued for such a show of remorse to help salvage America’s relationship with Pakistan, administration officials said.

On Monday, Cameron Munter, the United States ambassador to Pakistan, told a group of White House officials that a formal video statement from Mr. Obama was needed to help prevent the rapidly deteriorating relations between Islamabad and Washington from cratering, administration officials said. The ambassador, speaking by videoconference from Islamabad, said that anger in Pakistan had reached a fever pitch, and that the United States needed to move to defuse it as quickly as possible, the officials recounted.

Defense Department officials balked. While they did not deny some American culpability in the episode, they said expressions of remorse offered by senior department officials and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton were enough, at least until the completion of a United States military investigation establishing what went wrong.

Some administration aides also worried that if Mr. Obama were to overrule the military and apologize to Pakistan, such a step could become fodder for his Republican opponents in the presidential campaign, according to several officials who declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

On Wednesday, White House officials said Mr. Obama was unlikely to say anything further on the matter in the coming days.

“The U.S. government has offered its deepest condolences for the loss of life, from the White House and from Secretary Clinton and Secretary Panetta,” said Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council, referring to Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, “and we are conducting an investigation into the incident. We cannot offer additional comment on the circumstances of the incident until we have the results.”

The American and Pakistani accounts of the NATO strikes vary widely. A former senior American official briefed on the exchange said Wednesday that the airstrikes came in the last 15 to 20 minutes of a running three-hour skirmish, presumably with Taliban fighters on one or both sides of the border. That is at odds with the Pakistani account that its troops were in a two-hour firefight with the Americans.

Pakistan, rejecting the American account, has blocked all NATO logistical supplies that cross the border into Afghanistan, given the Central Intelligence Agency 15 days to vacate the Shamsi air base from which it has run drone strikes into Pakistani tribal areas and announced that it will boycott an international conference on Afghanistan’s security and development next week in Bonn, Germany.

With everything at stake in the relationship with Pakistan, which the United States sees as vital as it plans to exit from Afghanistan, some former Obama administration officials said the president should make public remarks on the border episode, including a formal apology.

“Without some effective measures of defusing this issue, Pakistan will cooperate less rather than more with us, and we won’t be able to achieve our goals in Afghanistan,” said Vali Nasr, a former State Department official who specialized in Pakistan.

But David Rothkopf, a former Clinton administration official and the author of “Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power,” said Pakistani officials need to understand that in the next year, the Obama administration will be less accommodating to Pakistani sensibilities.

“I do think that it’s important for them to recognize that political dynamics in the United States will lead to a hardening of U.S. positions, and the president will have less and less flexibility to accept the kind of behavior that he has in the past,” Mr. Rothkopf said. “The prognosis for U.S.-Pakistani relations is bleak.”

America’s strained ties with Pakistan have been buffeted by crises this year, from the killing of two Pakistanis by a C.I.A. contractor to the raid inside Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.

The headaches of the relationship have meant that Pakistan has few friends inside the administration. As one former senior United States official who has been briefed on the administration’s recent deliberations put it, “Right now there are no Pakistan friendlies” at the White House.

But the administration desperately needs Pakistan’s cooperation in the American plan to withdraw militarily from Afghanistan by 2014. Several senior American officials have said Pakistani help is essential to persuade the Taliban to negotiate for peace.

Twice recently, the administration has solicited help from Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, to deliver messages to Islamabad to help defuse crises in the relationship.

On Wednesday, Mr. Kerry was guarded in his comments about the border episode. “We all appreciate how deeply this tragedy has affected the Pakistani people, and we have conveyed our heartfelt condolences through multiple channels,” Mr. Kerry said in an e-mail. “Ultimately, the only way to move the ball forward is to focus on areas where our interests align and where we can really make progress. Our two countries need each other.”

U.S.-Pakistan Ties Further Strained by Air Strike

By Saeed Shah and Nancy A. Youssef for McClatchy Newspapers

Tension between Pakistan and the United States rose Sunday over a U.S. air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, as the two sides offered widely disparate accounts of what might have happened.

NATO officials said Afghan and U.S. troops operating inside Afghanistan early Saturday had been fired on from the Pakistani side of the border and had requested close air support to help defend themselves. What happened next is still under investigation, officials said.

But Pakistan’s chief military spokesman said he did not believe that there had been any fire directed at the Americans from Pakistan, and said he did not believe the attack could have been inadvertent.

Major Gen. Athar Abbas said the military outpost on a mountain top at Salala in the Mohmand part of Pakistan near the Afghan border was well-marked on maps that both Pakistan and NATO have, and that the U.S. air assault lasted for more than an hour.

“I cannot rule out the possibility that this was a deliberate attack by ISAF,” Abbas said, referring to NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. “This was a visible, well-made post, on top of ridges, made of concrete. Militants don’t operate from mountaintops, from concrete structures.”

The incident sent U.S.-Pakistani relations to their lowest point since the May raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout, when U.S. troops entered Pakistan without notifying Pakistani officials and killed the al Qaeda leader. U.S. officials believe bin Laden had lived for years in Abbottabod, the site of Pakistan’s premier military academy.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a prepared statement that Saturday’s events were a “tragic unintended incident.” But NATO provided no details on what happened. U.S. Army Col. Greg Julian, a NATO spokesman, said officials are still investigating.

The Pakistan positions hit are about 300 yards inside Pakistan, Abbas said, and ISAF troops made “no attempt” to contact the Pakistani side using the established border coordination system. He said that the map references to the Pakistani positions had been previously passed to ISAF.

Taliban fighters often use Pakistan’s tribal area as a sanctuary, from which to launch artillery or rockets, or as a place to retreat under fire from NATO.

Pakistan announced Saturday that it would “review” all military, intelligence and diplomatic cooperation with the United States and ISAF forces in response to the incident.

Pakistan also closed its border with Afghanistan to trucks carrying supplies for ISAF, and announced that American forces would be expelled from Shamsi, a remote air base in Pakistan that was turned over to U.S. forces after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and used as a launching point for the U.S.’ controversial drone program.

On Sunday, Pakistan raised the possibility that it would also boycott a conference next month in Bonn, Germany, on Afghanistan’s future. Pakistan’s cooperation is considered vital for stabilizing Afghanistan and bringing the Taliban into negotiations.

Republicans Sharply Criticize Pakistan in Debate

By Arshad Mohammed for Reuters

Pakistan took a lot of criticism in Saturday’s Republican presidential debate, with a leading candidate saying it was nearly a failed state and another suggesting the United States cut its foreign aid to zero.

But it is unclear whether any of their ideas is likely to be imposed on a country that has nuclear weapons and whose cooperation is seen as vital to stabilizing Afghanistan as the United States prepares to pull out from there by the end of 2014.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said Pakistan has multiple centers of power including the relatively weak civilian leadership, the military and the powerful intelligence agency know as the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.

“The right way to deal with Pakistan is to recognize that Pakistan is not a country, like other countries, with a strong political center that you can go to and say, ‘Gee, can we come here, will you take care of this problem?'” Romney said.

“This is instead a nation which is close to being a failed state. I hope it doesn’t reach that point, but it’s really a fragile nation,” he said.

Polls point to Romney as the Republican who would be the most likely among the party’s crop of candidates to defeat President Barack Obama, a Democrat, in the November 2012 U.S. presidential election. The Republicans begin choosing their nominee in state contests beginning in January.

Texas Governor Rick Perry suggested that every country, including Pakistan, should see its U.S. aid eliminated each year and then should convince the United States why it deserves any money at all.

“Then we’ll have a conversation in this country about whether or not a penny of our taxpayer dollars needs to go into those countries,” Perry said in response to a question about whether Islamabad was playing a double game with Washington.

“Pakistan is clearly sending us messages … that they don’t deserve our foreign aid … because they’re not being honest with us,” he added.

“American soldiers’ lives are being put at jeopardy because of that country … and it’s time for us as a country to say no to foreign aid to countries that don’t support the United States of America,” he said.

‘FRIEND OR FOE’

Businessman Herman Cain had difficulty offering a direct response when asked whether Pakistan was ultimately an ally or adversary. “There isn’t a clear answer as to whether or not Pakistan is a friend or foe,” Cain said.”

U.S. officials have long argued that the Taliban and other militants enjoy safe havens in Pakistan from which they attack U.S. soldiers in neighboring Afghanistan.

They privately argue Pakistan plays a double game, taking billions of dollars in U.S. aid while elements of its government tolerate militant groups such as the Haqqani network blamed for a September attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

Pakistan says it has made more sacrifices than any other country in the war against militancy, losing about 10,000 members of its military and security forces.

There have been growing questions in Washington about whether U.S. troops should to go after Taliban safe havens in Pakistan, an idea sure to be deeply unpopular in a population already embittered by U.S. drone strikes.

Some Republican candidates argued that the United States has little choice but to nurture relations with Pakistan, citing the fact that it has nuclear arms and that it has to be part of the solution in Afghanistan.

“Pakistan must be a friend of the United States for the reason that Michele (Bachmann) outlined. Pakistan is a nuclear power,” said former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, referring to fellow Republican candidate Bachmann.

“It’s important for us, with a nuclear power with a very vast number of people in Pakistan who are radicalizing, that we keep a solid and stable relationship and work through our difficulties,” he added.

Trust Deficit with Pakistan Shrinking: Singh

As Reported by The Express-Tribune via AFP

 

 

The leaders of India and Pakistan will meet on the sidelines of a regional summit this week, as the nuclear-armed rivals seek to push a tentative rapprochement in their fractious relationship.

Talks between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani will take place at the summit of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations that opens Thursday in the Maldives.

India’s foreign minister said Wednesday that a “trust deficit” with Pakistan was shrinking as he headed for a regional summit, in a clear sign of warming relations between the neighbours.

“The trust deficit with Pakistan is shrinking,” S.M. Krishna said on board his flight to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in the Maldives, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

He also said that it was necessary for Pakistan and India to develop a joint strategy to fight terror in the region, the agency reported.

Their meeting follows what Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai described as “positive indicators” from Pakistan in recent weeks that it is serious about reducing tensions.

An Indian military helicopter which strayed into Pakistani territory last month was promptly released along with its crew and returned to India, avoiding what in the past could easily have escalated into a diplomatic row.

And last week the Pakistani cabinet approved a proposal to grant India the status of “most favoured nation” in a move towards normalising trade relations.

“These are I would say indications of forward movement,” Mathai said, adding that “all aspects” of the India-Pakistan relationship would be discussed during the Singh-Gilani talks.

The two prime ministers last met in March when Gilani accepted Singh’s invitation to watch the India-Pakistan cricket World Cup semi-final. They last held formal talks at the 2010 SAARC summit in Bhutan.

Talks between the neighbours’ foreign ministers in July failed to produce a major breakthrough, but both sides signalled a warming of ties, with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani speaking of a “new era of cooperation.”

But efforts to reduce tensions have been complicated by the increasing influence of Afghanistan in the bilateral equation.

Indian involvement in Afghanistan is sensitive, with Pakistan vehemently opposed to its arch foe meddling in what it considers its backyard. Islamabad’s suspicions were fuelled when Afghanistan and India signed a strategic partnership pact last month.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai will also attend the SAARC summit, along with the leaders of other member nations Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Previous summits of the regional body have been largely overshadowed by the India-Pakistan dynamic — a fact that Mathai acknowledged with regret.

“We would like the focus to remain essentially on the common business of SAARC … and hope that the focus will not be diverted to one single event,” he said. The summit is being held in Addu, on the southern Maldives’ island of Gan.

A Monster Roaming The World

By Paul Mcgeough for The City Weekly

Search for a firm footing in Pakistan and there is none – all is quicksand … strategically, politically, morally.

Here in south Asia, strategically sandwiched between failing Afghanistan and the China and India powerhouses, is a country in which journalists are abducted in the night by agents of the state and murdered; in which the only advance after a decade in which Washington has tried to buy friendship with cheques for more than $20 billion, is the expansion of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal – which is on the verge of surpassing Britain’s as the fifth biggest in the world.

In Pakistan, a 50-year-old woman is sentenced to death on a dubious blasphemy charge – and politicians who dare to speak in her defence are gunned down; and a woman is gang-raped and paraded naked through her village on the orders of a local council, over bogus claims that her 12-year-old brother has offended a 20-year-old woman from the clan of the men who defiled her.

But that’s village life. In the leafy garrison town of Abbottabad, an hour’s drive north of Islamabad, Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the attacks of September 11, 2001, was able to hide in plain sight for years. The location of his fortified bunker, a stone’s throw from a prestigious military academy, made it harder to give any credence to the generals’ repeated denials that significant elements of Pakistan’s extensive security apparatus sheltered the al-Qaeda chief and continue to give succour to the Taliban and other insurgency and terrorist movements.

In the south-west, in the wilds of provincial Baluchistan, there have been 150 ”kill and dump” operations this year. Most of the victims are Baluch nationalist rebels. Their killers are the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) and other elements of Pakistan’s national security forces – driven to brutality by a belief, which could be correct, that Pakistan’s arch foe, India, stirs the local nationalist pot. In turn, the Baluch nationalists are accused of running their own death squads – their victims are Punjabi ”settlers”, government workers brought in from other parts of the country.

Baluchistan is half Pashtun, which also makes it a sanctuary for the Taliban from adjoining Afghanistan, where Washington and the world still struggle, with little success, to impose a semblance of democracy on the bones of a fracturing, failing state. Here then is another of the ironies that puts a serious question mark over the bona fides of the Pakistani security forces: the leadership of the Afghanistan Taliban sequesters in Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan, but the various Pakistani security services are so busy putting the Baluch nationalists through the mincer they don’t have time to take down the Taliban command-and-control centre. Instead, they reportedly socialise with the Taliban and sit in on their strategy meetings.

West from Baluchistan is the sprawling port city of Karachi, where the spiralling death toll in renewed ethnic turf-wars gives raw meaning to what local novelist Kamila Shamsie broaches obliquely, recounting how the city ”winks” at her. “Yes, the city said, I am a breeding ground for monsters, ” she writes, “but don’t think that is the full measure of what I am.”

This drab, chaotic home to 18 million people who account for 65 per cent of Pakistan’s economy is being carved up by bullets that this year have accounted for as many as 1000 ”wrong place, wrong time” deaths as gunmen randomly select their targets – sending messages to whole communities, not the individuals with whose blood they paint the rough pavements. As the suburbs seethe, police do little, because they are cowed by the systematic elimination of those in their ranks who intervened in the last iteration of these ethnic wars. Provincial and federal governments and the security forces only wring their hands.

In Karachi everyone lies. No one denies turf wars are being waged. They simply blame everyone else – all the political parties deny any links to the militias that prosecute their bloody agendas and to the crime, drug and land-development mafias that prosper in their wake. And the city’s once-dominant Urdu-speaking Mohajirs fight to maintain their control of corrupted city politics, amid an influx of Pashtuns fleeing upheavals along the Afghan border.

“Tension rises, we see killings and then scores must be settled,” an adviser to the provincial governor says. “We are at war – the political parties say they are not involved, but the mafias take shelter from the parties as they exploit the situation.”

In Islamabad, enter any of the city’s newsrooms, and see fear in the eyes of journalists who risk death and torture for going about assignments. Consider the words of their Karachi colleague Madiha Sattar – “a growth of intolerance has forged an extreme, murderous antipathy to freedom of expression.”

Most shocking in this campaign of fear and intimidation against one of the pillars of democracy was the disappearance in late May of Syed Saleem Shahzad, an investigative reporter for the respected, Hong Kong-based Asia Times Online. Two days after his abduction, Shahzad’s battered body was found at Mandi Bahauddin, 130 kilometres south-east of the capital. The reporter left detailed accounts of the threats he had received from the ISI; in Washington, senior officials unflinchingly confirming that Shahzad’s death had been ”sanctioned” by the Pakistani government.

Umar Cheema might just as easily have been their victim. Behind a door marked ”Investigation Cell” off a basement corridor in the Islamabad offices of The News, the 34-year-old father of two explains that the shock in his colleague Saleem Shahzad’s murder was a realisation it might just as easily have been him.

As Cheema drove home from a party in the early hours during Ramadan last year, 12 men who identified themselves as police commandos abducted him, he says. Informing him first that he was a suspect in a killing, they pulled a bag over his head and hauled him away.

“They took me to a building where the leader stripped off my clothes. Then I was ordered to lie on the floor and they beat me on the back and shoulders for 20 or 25 minutes with leather straps and wooden canes.

“I was writing about corruption in the government and the lack of accountability in the military and intelligence agencies – they said they were beating me because of my reporting. Then they shaved my head and eyebrows – that’s what is done to thieves in rural areas to humiliate them.

“Shahzad’s death left me speechless,” he says. “I was the second last victim before they took him. So I felt very much that this was a message for me – it was very, very personal.”

In Islamabad, the government of Prime Minister Yousaf Gillani is as overwhelmed as it is complicit in the nation’s failings. The economy is in crisis and the government has ceded control of more than half the country to the military or to extremist militias. “None of the cogs of state mesh to make it do what must be done,” Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s Kamran Arif said.

Just south of Islamabad is Rawalpindi, a more typical Asian city than the sanitised and empty boulevards of Islamabad. As home and headquarters to the men and institutions that comprise Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment, this is the centre of absolute power in Pakistan. And it is here that a deep-fried sense of humiliation over the American raid to kill Osama bin Laden, in May this year, is felt most acutely.

“After the bin Laden raid, it’s a question of the survival of the state,” the defence analyst and director of the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute, Maria Sultan, says. “The problem now is that by this very public humiliation, the US has lost its biggest supporter – it’s not the capability of the Pakistani military that is affected, it’s its credibility.”

A close reading of ”Getting Bin Laden”, The New Yorker’s inside account of the May 2 raid, reveals the mission was not just a single US incursion that managed to evade Pakistan’s air defences. On the night, there were effectively three separate American missions, none of which was detected by a military-security complex that demands indulgence by the people of Pakistan on the grounds that it is their only protection from the Indian hordes.

Pakistan’s generals faced a grim choice – they had to admit to deceiving the world in harbouring bin Laden, or to incompetence by not knowing he was lounging in their backyard. So supine were they in opting to plead incompetence there were fears of a mutiny in the middle ranks of the security services.

The US signal to the world of just how much it could not trust its south Asian ally came hard on the heels of serial embarrassments at the hands of the Taliban and other militant groups in Pakistan.

There have been a series of militant attacks on the most secure and sensitive defence establishments. The latest, which some observers concluded could not have been undertaken without inside help, saw a 10-man assault team storm the Mehran naval aviation base in Karachi. It took hundreds of Pakistani navy commandos, marines and paramilitaries to retake the base, but not before two aircraft were destroyed, hostages taken and the base had been occupied for the best part of a day.

But it takes a discerning Pakistani general to differentiate between militants – some are ”strategic assets” of the security apparatus and the generals refuse to go after them.

Dr Ayesha Agha, whose military and political commentaries appear in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, explains: “The military depends on these ‘assets’ – they are a cost-effective means to fighting wars that the Pakistani military wants to fight in India and Afghanistan.” Extrajudicial killings by the military now are counted in the hundreds.

When men in uniform were filmed recently murdering a detainee, the reckoning in human rights circles was that far from being a lapse of judgment, the recording had been allowed in the knowledge that its distribution on the internet would serve as a useful warning to the wider community.

A Karachi taxi driver becomes excited as he ferries us from the airport to a downtown hotel – “Pakistan lovely country,” he bellows. “Terrorism? No, no, no.”

But a single graphic in a 200-page study of Pakistan, published in May by the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, reveals an impossible security challenge. Last year alone, 2113 terrorist attacks, 369 clashes between the security services and militants, 260 operational attacks by the security forces, 135 US drone attacks, 69 border clashes, 233 bouts of ethno-political violence and 214 inter-tribal clashes resulted in more than 10,000 dead and as many injured.

The death of bin Laden and the reported death of al-Qaeda’s new No. 2 figure, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, in an American drone attack last week, are still being factored into a running debate among intelligence specialists on the extent to which al-Qaeda offshoots elsewhere in the world, especially the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula [AQAP], have taken the baton from the Pakistani organisation.

But a July study by the New America Foundation of 32 ”serious” jihadist terror plots against the West from 2004 to 2011, finds 53 per cent had operational or training links to jihadist groups in Pakistan – compared to just 6 per cent being linked to Yemen. And the rising tempo of the drone attacks has failed to dent the rising frequency of Pakistan-linked plots against the West, the study finds.

Implicit or explicit in any discussion on Pakistan’s volatile mix of militant violence and governmental chaos, is the level of anxiety around the world about the security of its nuclear arsenal. Confronted with claims such as that by bin Laden that acquiring a nuclear weapon was a ”religious duty” and the hope expressed by one of his lieutenants that such a weapon one day might be seized in Pakistan, officials in Islamabad invariably boast that all is tightly locked down.

But when we ask a Pakistani diplomat how secure were the weapons in the aftermath of the US mission to kill Osama bin Laden, he replies: “Less so, now that the Americans have revealed to the world that it is possible to sneak into Pakistan undetected, to take something that you really want.”

President Obama’s public appeal that Pakistan not become the world’s first ”nuclear-armed militant state” gives context to disclosures by The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh of the existence of a US Special Operations rapid-response team which would be parachuted into Pakistan in the event of a nuclear crisis.

Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a former director of intelligence and counter intelligence at the US Department of Energy, is boldest in setting out the fears of Washington, London and other capitals – some of which were disclosed without diplomatic varnish by Wikileaks last year.

Writing in Arms Control Today, Mowatt-Larssen, who served 20 years at the CIA, bills Pakistan as the most likely setting for terrorists bent on acquiring a nuclear device to co-opt a nuclear insider – of whom there are estimated to be as many as 70,000 in Pakistan.

“There is a lethal proximity between terrorists, extremists, and nuclear weapons insiders,” he writes. “Insiders have facilitated terrorist attacks. Suicide bombings have occurred at air force bases that reportedly serve as nuclear weapons storage sites. It is difficult to ignore such trends.

”Purely in actuarial terms, there is a strong possibility that bad apples in the nuclear establishment are willing to co-operate with outsiders for personal gain or out of sympathy for their cause.”

“Not possible,” says Maria Sultan. “About eight to 10,000 personnel working at the strategic level on security,” she says, ticking off seven or eight interlocking layers of complex security, the first of which she says would trip most intruders before they came within 80 kilometres of a nuclear facility. “The idea that a terrorist can walk in and get hold of a device is just not possible.”

Such is the bind in which Pakistanis find themselves. But if it is true feeble and corrupt civilian administrations make circumstances ripe for a military takeover, it is hardly surprising the generals have no respect for democratic fundamentals.

As revealed in one of the Wikileaks cables, Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was ready to force President Asif Ali Zardari from office – save for the fact the general thought even less of Zardari’s likely civilian replacement. And historically, Washington has opted to connect with Pakistan through the military power of the generals, rather than the people power of the civilian leadership.

Bruce Riedel, a veteran CIA analyst, sets out the connections in Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America and the Future of the Global Jihad. “…Richard Nixon turned a blind eye to the murder of hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis to keep his friends in Pakistan’s army in power, a strategy that ultimately failed,” Riedel writes. “Ronald Reagan entertained Zia-ul-Haq even as Zia was giving succour to the Arab jihadists who would become al-Qaeda. George W. Bush allowed Pervez Musharraf to give the Afghan Taliban a sanctuary from which to kill American and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan.”

And in the judgment of Bushra Gohar, an elected MP from Pakistan’s troubled Swat Valley, Washington still prefers to deal with the military rather than the country’s civilian leadership. “That’s not a role that the military has under the constitution,” she says during a break in the business of the National Assembly in Islamabad. “There has been a democratic transition in this country and we expect the international community to support it.”

Power vacuums become ripe for exploitation, as was revealed with frightening clarity earlier this year when two of three elected figures who had dared to speak out against Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws were assassinated. In January, Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer was gunned down by one of his state-provided security men; in March, the Minorities Minister and the only Christian in Gillani’s cabinet, Shahbaz Bhatti, died in a hail of gunfire as his car left his mother’s home in Islamabad.

Taseer’s killer confessed and became a national hero. His home is a shrine, he is garlanded with rose petals and, in the oddest twist of all, the young lawyers’ movement that effectively bundled Pervez Musharraf, the last dictator, from power in 2008, has taken the side of this cold-blooded murderer – not the principle for which his victim died.

A visitor leaves Pakistan wondering if anyone here speaks the truth. The dictators habitually resort to amping up religious parties – either to drown out secular ones that might be interested in the ideals of selfless democracy, or to further marginalise the country’s Shiia Muslim minority.

“And people like Musharraf have two faces,” Kamran Arif of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said. “He would say all the right things for the West and do just what he wanted to do at home.”

Some foreign analysts fall back on the seeming failure of Pakistan’s religious parties at the ballot box as a hopeful sign. But a sense of rising radicalisation, particularly in the military and the middle classes, suggests an asymmetric contest for control of a highly unstable society – the non-religious parties fight in the parliament, but the religious parties are street brawlers.

Sherry Rehman, the only elected figure in the country to defend the convicted blasphemer Aasia Bibi, makes the same point in explaining how that debate was lost. “The discourse shifted from the parliament to the street,” she says.

“We have to keep the agenda in the parliament, and not with the gun-toting thugs who make inflammatory speeches outside.”

Like the financial institutions in the 2008 global financial crisis, Pakistan is deemed by Washington to be ”too big to fail”. Between them, however, Washington and Islamabad have been unable in the past decade to make this relationship work – credibly or creditably.

Predictions of imminent collapse in Islamabad are exaggerated, but perhaps not overly so. “The government does not have the capacity to tackle any of the issues,” says the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s Arif. “Things will just keep getting bad … and I don’t discount the fact that we can fall into chaos.”

Like many other analysts, Bruce Riedel laboriously sets out the policy options by which Washington and Islamabad might work together to defeat the global jihadist movement – before he concludes that none is easy or guaranteed.

An adviser to several US administrations and now with the Brookings Institution, Riedel sees Pakistan under siege from a syndicate of radical terrorist groups unified by the notion that nuclear-armed Pakistan could be the extremist jihadist state they have never had.

“They want to hijack Pakistan and its weapons,” he says. Alluding to Islamabad’s role in creating a monster, as often as not with Washington’s sponsorship, he writes: “An extremely powerful jihadist Frankenstein is now roaming the world, with equally powerful protectors in Pakistani society, right up to the very top.

“Who cannot fear that the ‘long beards’ will prevail?”

Panetta: ‘No Choice’ in US Relations with Pakistan

By David Gollust for Voice of America

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday that the United States has no choice but to maintain close relations with Pakistan, despite government links with Islamic militants including the Haqqani network. The State Department, meanwhile, put sanctions on another Haqqani network commander.

Panetta, who took over as defense secretary in June after two years of heading the CIA, declined comment on news reports that Pakistan allowed China to inspect the wreckage of an advanced U.S. helicopter lost in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

But at a public forum with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Washington’s National Defense University, the defense chief was unusually candid about U.S. problem issues with Pakistan.

Panetta said Pakistan has “relationships” with the Haqqani network – militants based in western Pakistan who conduct cross-border attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and with Lashkar-e-Taiba militants who have attacked India.

Both groups are listed by the United States as terrorist organizations. Despite complaints that Pakistan has withheld visas for U.S. citizens being posted there, Panetta said the relationship remains essential.

“There is no choice but to maintain a relationship with Pakistan,” said Panetta. “Why? Because we are fighting a war there. We are fighting al-Qaida there. And they do give us some cooperation in that effort. Because they do represent an important force in that region. Because they do happen to be a nuclear power that has nuclear weapons, and we have to be concerned about what happens with those nuclear weapons. So for all of those reasons, we’ve got to maintain a relationship with Pakistan.”

Secretary of State Clinton said the Obama administration considers relations with Pakistan to be of “paramount importance.”

She said there have been “challenges” in bilateral ties for decades with valid complaints on both sides, and that she credits the Islamabad government with lately recognizing its shared interest with Washington in confronting terrorism.

“I was very pleased when the Pakistanis moved into [the] Swat [Valley] and cleaned out a lot of what had become a kind of Pakistani Taliban stronghold,” said Clinton. “And then they began to take some troops off their border with India, to put more resources into the fight against the Pakistani Taliban. Now, as Leon [Panetta] says, we have some other targets that we discuss with them – the Haqqanis, for example. And yet it’s been a relatively short period of time, two-and-a-half years, when they have begun to reorient themselves militarily against what is, in our view, an internal threat to them.”

The State Department on Tuesday designated a key Haqqani network commander – Mullah Sangeen Zadran – a terrorist under a 2001 White House executive order, freezing any U.S. assets he has and barring Americans from business dealings with him.

At the same time, Sangeen was designated a terrorist by the U.N. sanctions committee, which will subject him to a global travel ban, an asset freeze and an arms embargo.

A State Department statement said Sangeen, is a “shadow governor” of Afghanistan’s southeast Paktika province and a senior lieutenant of network leader Sirajuddin Haqqani. It said Sangeen has coordinated the movement of hundreds of foreign fighters into that country and that he is linked to numerous bomb attacks and kidnappings.

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