Nuclear Security in Pakistan

Pakistan next potential quicksand for US?* US worried about Pakistani nukes if they fall into wrong hands
* Anxious over apparent political paralysis in Pakistan
* Musharraf’s support for US weakening his position
Daily Times Monitor: September 24, 2007

LAHORE: As if it were not enough that the United States is seemingly mired in Iraq and Afghanistan, and may be confronted with an Iran armed with nuclear weapons, Pakistan has now emerged as the latest site of quicksand in Southwest Asia, said an article published in The Washington Times on Sunday.

“We are really worried about Pakistan,” said a US official with access to top-level thinking. “It is the latest fault-line in that part of the world.”

Until now, the Bush administration had relied on Pakistan to be an ally in the war on terror that could persuade other Muslim nations of America’s good intentions, the article said.

Pakistani nukes: Particularly worrisome is the possibility that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of resurgent Islamic extremists. Robert Wirsing, a scholar specialising in South Asia at the Asia Pacific Centre for Security Studies here, says, “Our foremost concern would be having nuclear weapons get into the wrong hands.”

Senior officers of the Pakistani army have asserted they have their nuclear weapons under close control, said the article. The US, while displeased with Pakistan’s nuclear programme, is reported to have helped Pakistan establish safeguards over its nuclear weapons, including keeping them disassembled and components separated.

The article said that the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington estimated Pakistan had built 24 to 48 warheads. The Carnegie Endowment for Peace in New York says Pakistan has produced enough enriched uranium for 30 to 55 weapons.

Political paralysis: Today, Pakistan is causing anxiety because it appears to be paralysed politically. President Pervez Musharraf’s support has plummeted, leaving him poised between resigning, declaring an emergency to stay in power, or running in an uncertain election. He remains a general in command of the army despite demands that he doff his uniform before the election in October; he says he will take it off only after he has been re-elected.

A Pakistani scholar reached by e-mail said, “The president is so insecure that he fears once he takes off his army uniform, he will not enjoy the same authority as he does with it on.”

Musharraf has evidently been so weakened he had political opponent former prime minister Nawaz Sharif unceremoniously hustled out of the country to Saudi Arabia only four hours after he returned from exile earlier this month. Another opponent, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, says she will return from exile in London in October.

More evidence of the consequences of paralysis appeared in a US National Intelligence Estimate in Washington saying Pakistan has become a safe haven for Al Qaeda terrorists, the article said. Repeated reports say their leader, Osama bin Laden, is hiding in the remote reaches of northwestern Pakistan, which borders on Afghanistan.

The Taliban are resurgent in Pakistan. The Pakistani scholar reinforced that view, saying, “There is great resentment against the current regime, their policies and alignment with the West in the fight against terror. The NWFP has seen the spread of the Taliban of late. The Taliban is giving people there an alternative leadership.”

Supporting US weakening Musharraf: Part of President Musharraf’s deteriorating posture — a recent poll had his approval rating at 34 percent, down by 20 points — could be attributed to his support of the US. The Pew Research Centre found 7 in 10 Pakistanis worried that the US would attack their country, 64 percent said the US was more of a threat than India.

What Pakistanis perceive to be longstanding contradictions in American policy has not helped. A former Pakistani ambassador to the US, Maleeha Lodhi, wrote nearly 10 years ago that Pakistan had stood with the US during the Cold War and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. But, she said, “The end of the Cold War persuaded the US to re-evaluate and downgrade its relationship with Pakistan on the ground that the new global environment did not warrant the old strategic partnership.”

A former American official, knowledgeable about US-Pakistan relations, seemed to agree. “They don’t trust us. And I guess we shouldn’t trust them. It’s not much to fall back on when things go wrong.”

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