Washington is not so much concerned about the kinds of problems that would follow a jihadi takeover for the Pakistani polity or the dangers it would pose for China, India, Russia or the region as a whole. The principal concern is that the jihadis will get control of Pakistans nuclear weapons and, thus, pose a direct threat to the United States.
Mahjar-Barducci also raises the spectre of a war between the United States and the combined forces of China and Pakistan. She says, “The possible scenarios coming out of the present situation are also dangerous. A deterioration of the relations between the U.S. and Pakistan over the war in Afghanistan could lead to a direct confrontation—in which event, the involvement of the giant China, as Pakistan’s ally, might be inevitable. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reports that already a delegation of the Chinese Army visited the Pakistan-Afghan border last October .
“The same MEMRI’s analysis also predicts that in a possible war between Pakistan/China on the one hand and the U.S. on the other, Russia would be on the side of the West. Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov has said that Russia does not want the international troops to leave Afghanistan. Moscow, concerned about development in this region, has begun strengthening the Afghan police forces by supplying weapons and ammunition.
“In the meantime, the relationship between Pakistan and Russia is marred by the Cold War legacy and will take a long time to get normalized. MEMRI reports that the Urdu-language Pakistani daily Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt has warned that ‘another enemy of Pakistan’—Russia—has been added to the list of the countries influencing Afghanistan, and that the presence of Russian troops in Afghanistan will reinforce anti-Pakistan forces in Afghanistan.”
The Nuclear Conundrum
Many analysts in Washington have expressed deep concern over the rise of violent jihadis inside Pakistan, some of whom have established their bases within Pakistan’s once pro-West elite military. Washington is not so much concerned about the kinds of problems that would follow a jihadi takeover for the Pakistani polity or the dangers it would pose for China, India, Russia or the region as a whole. The principal concern is that the jihadis will get control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and, thus, pose a direct threat to the United States. In other words, the existence of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is by itself the primary concern of some in Washington.
Now that times have changed and Pakistan is no longer Washingtons most-desired comrade-in-arms, the United States can no longer accept Pakistans nuclear arsenal.
Like the rise of the jihadis, Pakistan’s nuclearisation was also accomplished with a wink and a nod from Washington. During the 1970s and the 1980s, Washington used Pakistan’s illicit nuclearisation as a stick to stop arms and hardware sales to Islamabad from time to time. But for the most part, and particularly during the Ronald Reagan presidency, the wink-and-nod approach was adopted to keep Pakistan, its frontline warrior against the Soviet Union, happy and yet, on a leash. As a result, Pakistan went nuclear.
Now that times have changed and Pakistan is no longer Washington’s most-desired comrade-in-arms, the United States can no longer accept Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. As early as in 2006, in an article “Future Terrorism: Mutant Jihads” in the fall issue of the Washington-based Journal of International Security Affairs, Walid Phares says, “Many of the components of the worldwide war with jihadism are concentrated in Pakistan. So far, Pakistan’s radical Islamists have been able to block their government from taking back control of the country’s western tribal areas and uprooting the fundamentalist organizations in its east. But potentially even more dangerous is the possibility that jihadists could take control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal . . . .”
From time to time, U.S. officials have hinted publicly that concrete plans are in place in the event of a Pakistani nuclear emergency. For instance, during Senate hearings for her confirmation as secretary of state in 2005, the then national security advisor Condoleezza Rice was asked by Senator John Kerry (D., Mass.) about what would happen to Pakistan’s nukes in the event of an Islamic coup in Islamabad. “We have noted this problem, and we are prepared to try to deal with it,” Rice had said. In the September/October issue of The Atlantic Monthly, in their lengthy article “The Ally from Hell,” Jeffrey Goldberg and Marc Ambinder describe the U.S. plans and preparations in great detail.
A Federation of American Scientists (FAS) report issued this spring states that “the greatest threat to Pakistans nuclear infrastructure comes from jihadists both inside Pakistan and South and Central Asia.”
A Federation of American Scientists (FAS) report issued this spring states that “the greatest threat to Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure comes from jihadists both inside Pakistan and South and Central Asia.” The report, “Anatomizing Non-State Threats to Pakistan’s Nuclear Infrastructure,” states that “while there is appreciation of this danger, there are few substantive studies that identify and explore specific groups motivated and potentially capable of acquiring Pakistani nuclear weapons and/or fissile materials.” The report discusses why the Pakistani neo-Taliban is the most worrisome terrorist group capable of acquiring nuclear weapons provides new numbers for Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile and updates developments in Pakistan’s production of fissile materials.
The Pakistan military—the Pakistani institution most deeply tied to the U.S.—has repeatedly claimed that Washington’s trumpeting of such threats is an expression of its intent to denuclearise Pakistan. Yet the decibel level on this issue increased significantly after Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad last May. “The discovery and subsequent killing of Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, raises several troubling questions,” the new FAS report states, adding that “with regard to the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, commentators note the US’ airborne raid on Bin Laden’s compound—undetected by radars in Pakistan, the world’s ûfth-largest military power—lends credence to the belief that state actors might be capable of successfully seizing and exûltrating [sic] Pakistan’s nuclear assets.”
Last April, the Sino-Pakistan relationship was explored in the sixth instalment of the “China and South Asia Dialogues,” sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Dan Markey of the Council on Foreign Relations joined Paul Haenle and Lora Saalman of Carnegie and a group of Chinese experts at the roundtable in Beijing. In their online report on the event, “Partners in Peril,” Haenle and Saalman note that one of the Chinese panellists stated that, given the disparity between U.S. treatment of India and Pakistan’s civil nuclear programs, China has felt compelled to move forward on civil nuclear cooperation with Pakistan. China is not worried about the security of Pakistani nuclear facilities since it is in the interest of the Pakistani military to ensure their safety, argued another Chinese expert. Markey said he had suggested that China might be overly confident in the ability of Pakistan’s military to protect these nuclear assets, particularly from terrorists.
In December, this topic was featured in a lengthy special report that was a joint project of the conservative National Journal and The Atlantic Monthly in Washington. Published in the 5 November National Journal under the title “Nuclear Negligence” and in the December Atlantic Monthly under the title “The Ally from Hell: What to Do About Pakistan,” authors Jeffrey Goldberg and Marc Ambinder state: “Much of the world, of course, is anxious about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, and for good reason: Pakistan is an unstable country located at the epicenter of global jihadism, and it has been the foremost supplier of nuclear technology to such rogue states as Iran and North Korea.”