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Pakistan’s nuclear programme and US concerns


September 3, 2016

A defence pact was concluded between India and the United States on August 29, 2016. Simultaneously, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States has stepped up his efforts to gain a place for his country in the 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group. Pakistan had applied for membership on May 19 but the request was denied citing allegations that some of its scientists had shared nuclear technology with Iran and Libya. Prima facie this can be countered by saying that had Pakistan shared nuclear secrets with Libya, its country could not have been over-run. If Iran already had nuclear weapons, the United States would not have successfully concluded its nuclear deal with Iran in July 2015. However, arguments like these may have little effect in helping Pakistan gain a wedge into the nuclear club. US concerns about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are at the bottom of its attitude. Earlier, on February 12, 2016 the United States had expressed concerns over Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Deputy Spokesman of the US State Department Mark Toner said that the US had concerns about the safety of Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons. In part this concern stems out of having asymmetrical relations between two nuclear armed neighbours. To explain this a little background is needed

From October 1947 to August 7, 1952, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had made at least eight public promises to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir. Nehru went back on his solemn pledges on February 24, 1955, on the ground that Pakistan had become a military ally of the United States. That position stands completely reversed today, when Kashmir is again in turmoil. However, this is not a sudden development. The fact that during the Sino-Indian war of 1962, Nehru himself sought an alliance with the United States and even when the US and India entered into a strategic nuclear partnership they did not review their stance on the undertaking to hold a UN supervised plebiscite in Kashmir. It is true that Dana Rohabracher, now known for his pro-India stance, had criticized his own government over inaction on Kashmir and had even savaged the Indian Ambassador but such instances are rare.

Pakistan did not acquire nuclear weapons to satisfy some passing whim, nor is it naturally a terrorist state. Terrorism is rampant in Pakistan, but then there are more than two million Internally Displaced Persons but besides, it has a floating population of millions of Afghan nationals, whose deadline for their return to their country is forever being extended. Biometric regulation of people entering Pakistan has time and again been resisted by Afghanistan. The Afghan nationals came in the millions in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and grew far more with the American invasion of Afghanistan. Apart from the Af-Pak border area, Pakistan’s port city of Karachi is now the city with the largest Afghan population in the world.

Indeed, Hilary Clinton,, the US presidential candidate while she as Secretary of State had admitted to the American role: “The problems we face now, to some extent we have to take responsibility for having contributed to it…the people we are fighting today, we funded them twenty-five years ago”. Gratifying though it is, Hilary Clinton’s testimony stops a quarter of an inch short of revealing the full extent of the US responsibility for having funded Islamic militants. It did not begin with the Afghan Jihad against the USSR. It began in 1977 when Islamic militants were empowered and funded to destabilize the Pakistan People’s Party regime of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The intention was to punish him for seeking to match the Indian nuclear tests of 1974.

The ultimate result of empowering the religious element, hitherto rejected by the Pakistani electorate, was to make American think tanks consider how to neutralise the nuclearisation of Pakistan, instead of considering how to prevent it. It is amply clear that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s execution must have given rise to a feeling of triumph because Jimmy Carter sanctioned Pakistan only two days after his execution.

This would have remained the nature of US-Pakistan relations had the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan not brought about a sea change in the US policy. This still did not prevent United States legislators from expressing concern over the new stance. On July 9, 2009, Senator Tom Casper voiced his fears that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons could fall in the hands of the militants. Although Paul Jones, Deputy Special Envoy replied that he was confident that nuclear weapons were being closely guarded by Pakistani authorities, it was transparently clear that Paul Jones was keeping his options open. His deposition was therefore re-assuring neither to the United States nor to Pakistan.

In this context, the following news items need consideration of all security agencies, wherever they may be:

1. On August 28, 2003, Taiwanese custom authorities intercepted a ship carrying missile making material bound to North Korea from India.

2. Two containers carrying uranium have been stolen in India. The Chief Minister of Jharkand, Madhu Khoda said in November 2006, a container carrying uranium had been stolen. The same report revealed that uranium had been stolen from Assam the previous year. It seems that no international entity wants access to those thieves.

3. There is a book, a bestseller in India which may interest all strategist analysts The Writing on the Wall: India Checkmates America 2017 by General S. Padmanbhan, ISBN: 81-7049-175-4, New Delhi, Manar Publications, 2004. The title says it all. Shall it come as a surprise that someone in India considers the United States a long-term adversary? This fantasy of India defeating America just next year now was nurtured not by any member of a lunatic fringe, but by a former Chief of the Indian Army Staff. These references aside, the range of India’s missiles itself proves that they are not aimed at Pakistan or even China, but the United States of America. Being the sole superpower yet, the US can be defeated only by a country it empowers.

The only National Security Advisor to weigh Hindu fanaticism against Muslim fundamentalism has been Zbignew Brezizinski: “Irrationality might overwhelm the strategic restraint inherent in the nuclear calculus”. (The Choice, New York, Basic Books, 2004,p.76)

In fact, Zbignew Brezizinski factors in admissions regarding the nuclearization of Pakistan. On May 3, 2007, Richard Barlow, a former CIA analyst disclosed that the Reagan administration deliberately let Pakistan go nuclear because they needed Pakistan’s help in the Afghan war against the Russians.Two years later, on June 28,2009, Andrew Cockburn reported that the US is helping Pakistan modernize its nuclear arsenal. This author recalls what Ronald Reagan’s view on Pakistan’ nuclear program had been: “I just don’t think that it’s any of our business.” Similarly, Zbignew Brezizinski stated that “our security policy towards Pakistan cannot be dictated by our non-proliferation policy.”

In his own book Zbignew Brezizinski made a comment that leaves no doubt that Andrew Cockburn was representing him accurately: “When critics charge that the recent US concerns with proliferation have been late in coming they have a point” (The Choice, p.32). Andrew Cockburn further claimed that when Dr. AQ Khan was peddling his uranium technology, his shipping manager was CIA agent. This too, is credible, given the statement of Ruud Lubbers, former prime minister of Netherlands, that the CIA had blocked action against A.Q. Khan in 1975 and 1979.

Despite his confession and dubious connections, AQ Khan’s role in proliferation and the extent of proliferation itself seems exaggerated. Bureaucratic bungling would be more in character. Pakistan’s Ministry of Commerce published a full page advertisement on July 24, 2000, offering nuclear material for sale. Of course, it carried the usual rider that a No Objection Certificate had to be obtained before a sale was sanctioned, but clearly, unless there was an intention to sell there was no point in publishing an Ad at all.

This is not to say that concerns should not be addressed, but they should be addressed objectively, because the stakes are as high as the survival of this world.