Why does Islamabad, Washington’s best ally, so often give sleepless nights to US officials? One can argue that it is a question of reciprocity.
The latest one: the Americans made fools of the Pakistani Army and its Intelligence agencies by dropping silently into the centre of one of their most secured cantonments to kill Osama bin Laden. It has obviously upset Pakistan!
Chinas nuclear ties with Pakistan have always been a source of tension for Washington.
In this case, Islamabad has found the way to take revenge: they have invited another ‘friend’ to the Game, the Chinese. A report from Pakistan suggests that Beijing is interested in studying the remains of the US top-secret Stealth helicopter abandoned during the Abbottabad raid. A Pakistani official even admitted, “We might let them [the Chinese] take a look.”
It conveys the message: “The Chinese are waiting at our door, don’t mess with us, our ‘all-weather friend’ can replace you”.
An article in the Chinese-language Shanghai Evening Post explains that although the US wants the pieces of the chopper back, “Pakistan may invite China to participate in the study. Based on the pictures, aeronautics and military experts believe it is a modified Stealth helicopter.”
The PLA intelligence has probably already received a few pieces of the chopper as a ‘souvenir’ (or a ‘reward’).
Pakistan has a very poor track record as far as proliferation is concerned; one remembers the saga of Abdul Qadeer Khan, Pakistans top nuclear scientist; and there is always a risk of nuclear weapons falling in the wrong hands.
After all, Pakistan can’t refuse this to a friend. On 11 May, when Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani opened Pakistan’s second Chinese-made nuclear reactor, he praised the ‘unwavering’ support from its ally at a time when the rest of the world pounced on Pakistan for having hosted the dreaded Saudi terrorist for so long in a comfortable safe house.
Gilani hammered the nail in: “It is yet another illustrious example of Pakistan-China cooperation in the field of nuclear science and technology. The high level of friendship that the two countries enjoy continues to be a source of strength for Pakistan,” the Prime Minster said. This may not help to smoothen out the already strained relations with Washington.
The new 330 MW reactor, built in Chashma (Punjab) should be followed by two other units, also made-in-China, at the same plant.
China’s nuclear ties with Pakistan have always been a source of tension for Washington. First, Pakistan has a very poor track record as far as proliferation is concerned; one remembers the saga of Abdul Qadeer Khan, Pakistan’s top nuclear scientist; and there is always a risk of nuclear weapons falling in the wrong hands.
“¦the Pakistani nuclear weapons programme was a source of anxiety for US officials; especially when they discovered AQ Khans network.
Though the government in Islamabad maintains that nuclear weapons are safe in Pakistan and that it is impossible for militants or terrorists to get hold of them, Washington does not often trust Islamabad’s utterances (as in the case of the bin Laden operations).
It is not the first time that Washington is nervous. In 2009, soon after President Obama announced that Pakistan’s nuclear materials “will remain out of militant hands”, the US ambassador in Islamabad sent a secret message to Washington. Anne W Patterson was deeply worried. Her concern was a stockpile of highly enriched uranium kept near an aging research nuclear reactor in Pakistan. There was enough material to produce a nuclear bomb.
In her cable, sent on 27 May 2009, Ms Patterson reported that the Pakistani government was dragging its feet on an agreement reached two years earlier wherein Islamabad had agreed that the United States would remove the material. The US Ambassador had been told by a Pakistani official: “If the local media got word of the fuel removal, they certainly would portray it as the United States taking Pakistan’s nuclear weapons”.
The WikiLeaks cable does not tell us the end of the story. Hopefully the fuel has been removed since then. It, however, remains a fact that the Pakistani nuclear programme recurrently gives ‘sleepless’ nights to successive US Presidents.