WASHINGTON: Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are already under American control even as analysts are working themselves into a lather on the subject, a well-regarded intelligence journal has said.
In a stunning disclosure certain to stir up things in Washington’s (and in Islamabad and New Delhi’s) strategic community, the journal Stratfor reported on Monday that the “United States delivered a very clear ultimatum to Musharraf in the wake of 9/11: Unless Pakistan allowed US forces to take control of Pakistani nuclear facilities, the United States would be left with no choice but to destroy those facilities, possibly with India’s help.”
“This was a fait accompli that Musharraf, for credibility reasons, had every reason to cover up and pretend never happened, and Washington was fully willing to keep things quiet,” the journal, which is widely read among the intelligence community, said.
The Stratfor commentary came in response to an earlier New York Times story that reported that the Bush administration had spent around $100 million to help Pakistan safeguard its nuclear weapons, but left it unclear if Washington has a handle on the arsenal.
Over the past fortnight, even since the crisis in Pakistan broke and eclipsed every other geopolitical story, including Iraq, US officials and analysts have been speaking in different voices on the subject of a jihadi takeover of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.
Some officials have expressed deep concern at the possibility and suggested US is ready with contingency plans to defang Pakistan of its nuclear weapons, while others have tried to assuage Islamabad by saying they believe the country’s military rulers have good custodial control over their crown jewels.
On Monday, a State Department official once again addressed the issue and hinted that Washington was in control of the situation.
“… ultimately, the major responsibility for that falls with the Pakistani government. They have made public comments to the effect that the arsenal is secure, that they have taken a number of different steps to ensure that,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
“We ourselves see no indication to indicate to the contrary. It is secure. We obviously have an interest in seeing that it is secure,” McCormack added.
Stratfor , too, appears confident that the Bush administration has a handle on Pak’s nukes.
Not everyone is so sanguine. In a separate commentary over the weekend that had some US and Pakistani analysts blowing their gasket, two prominent Washington commentators detailed a US military action plan inside Pakistan, possibly with the cooperation of moderate Pakistani forces, to seize the nuclear arsenal if there was imminent danger of an extremist takeover.
“As the government of Pakistan totters, we must face a fact: the United States simply could not stand by as a nuclear-armed Pakistan descended into the abyss,” proposed Frederick Kagan and Michael O’Hanlon, analysts at two Washington DC think-tanks. “One possible plan would be a Special Forces operation with the limited goal of preventing Pakistan’s nuclear materials and warheads from getting into the wrong hands.”
Pakistan’s own leaders have spoken about the subject — of nuclear weapons falling into extremist hands –with different emphasis and objectives.
General Pervez Musharraf has suggested continued Western support to his military regime is the best way to prevent the nukes from falling into extremist hands, an “after-me-the-deluge” argument that some analysts see as unabashed blackmail.
The country’s opposition leader Benazir Bhutto has also invoked the loose nukes scenario to urge US to abandon the military regime, which she says has given rise to growing extremism and fissiparous tendencies that increase the danger of the nuclear arsenal going awry.
Officially though, Islamabad is touchy about any commentary on its nuclear arsenal, and goes into transports of hysteria to assert that it is a responsible country with good command and control over its crown jewels.
In the latest outburst, the country’s out-going foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri asserted that Pakistan is fully capable of securing its nuclear assets and some Western lobbies are busy in creating confusion taking the advantage of ongoing conditions in Pakistan.
The multi-layer security structure of the nuclear assets has a strong command and control system in place and there is no need for anyone at home or abroad to worry about the security of these assets, he insisted.
But judging by the volume of worried commentary and analysis the subject is now getting, there aren’t many takers for such assurances and the last word on the matter hasn’t been said or written.
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