- News on Terror News Analysis -
New York, with inputs from our Washington Bureau:
An interesting possibility that is being spoken about these days is that some sections of the Pakistani military establishment want to voluntarily intern their nuclear warheads in China.
Why do the Pakistanis consider it unsafe to keep their nuclear arsenal where it is right now
This is a plausible possibility considering that in the present scenario the Pakistani military should want its nuclear arsenal to be stashed away to a location where they can retrieve it when they need it in future, and above all where it would, in their reckoning, be out of reach of the Americans. With the Americans making increasingly louder noises about Laden trying to acquire nuclear weapons, this possibility can logically find a fertile soil in the minds of the hawks in the Pakistani military establishment.
Not that the Chinese will readily give it back to the Pakistanis when they ask for their arsenal back in future, but the worrisome question that is thrown up is that the Pakistani consider it unsafe to keep their nuclear arsenal in their own country where it is stockpiled right now.
China is the only likely destination as against the other more favored destinations like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, since neither of these countries would not want to incur American ire by playing ball with the Pakistani Hawks
While doing this, the Pakistani hawks also have to consider whether any such action would be the last straw in the American restraint on this count. They obviously do not want the Americans to smell something fishy and decide to move in to either commandeer or destroy Pakistan's nuclear assets. So this is the reason for this move being kept strictly under warps. More so since China is the only destination as the other likely destinations like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, for depositing the Pakistani nuclear assets are ruled out for different reasons. All three countries would not want to incur American ire by playing ball with the Pakistani Hawks and playing host to the Pakistani nuclear arsenal.
China will too have the same compulsions, but in the eyes of the Pakistanis the long-standing friendship with the Chinese may now pay off
China will too have the same compulsions, but in the eyes of the Pakistanis the long-standing friendship with the Chinese may now pay off. In this they may as well be wrong. But Saudis, Egyptians, or the Turks the possibilities of receiving the Pakistani arsenal are bleak. There are also dangers, assuming that such a transfer to Saudi Arabia at all happens. Since the Saudis are today living in the fear of an Iran style Islamic Revolution; as also Egypt itself being on the hit list of topple game that may be unleashed during Ramzan. And Turkey, a NATO member would be reluctant for reasons of not wanting to give offense to the Americans. But if and when this happens; the Pakistani nuclear arsenal being spirited out of Pakistan. would be the last straw in the American restraint towards Pakistan.
The Americans have been living in a dream that since they have been given all that they have asked for by President Musharraf, he will not let them down
The Americans have been living in a dream that since they have been given all that they have asked for by President Musharraf, he will not let them down. That could be fine, if we assume that the Pakistani leader is heart and soul with the Americans. But the two decade long relationship between the Pakistani Military, the ISI and the Pakistani Government with the powers that be in Afghanistan is an intricate one. And it is wishful thinking that it has been unraveled by Musharraf deciding to ditch the Taliban in favour of the Americans, post September 11th.
Any Pakistani leader is only a pawn on the Pak-Afghan Chessboard, although the most powerful one. But we well know that the game of chess is not decided by the king alone, if his army has its loyalty on the opposite side
Yes we can assume that the Pakistani leader is with the Americans, heart and soul; but no Pakistani leader, howsoever powerful, guarantee to break the Pakistan-Taliban connection, even if he wants to do so heart and soul! Any Pakistani leader is only a pawn on the Pak-Afghan Chessboard, although the most powerful one. But we well know that the game of chess is not decided by the king alone, if his army has its loyalty on the opposite side. What happens in real life in Pakistan, where not just the influential sections of the army, but vocal sections of the population sympathize with the Taliban?
It is significant to note here that many serving officers of the Pakistani army, have spoken against their leaders pro-American policy. This is why they were transferred or made to accept retirement on the 7th of October. It is also significant that many retired Military Generals, Nuclear scientists, ISI chiefs have openly spoken in tones of sedition against their leader. We can only ignore these signals at our own peril!
Now turning to President Musharraf himself, whatever may be his own personal and private beliefs as a admirer of the reformist Turkish leader Ataturk, he remains a prisoner of circumstances. No leader can vouch for the actions of all his countrymen. And in Pakistan, the last few weeks have given enough indications that the powers that be in Pakistan are all out for the Taliban. The borders have been sealed for nearly 2 months now, but anyone can sneak across the border in thousands!
Musharraf may as well keep singing the pro-American tune, but will the powers that be in Pakistan keep on dancing to this tune?
In this scenario, Musharraf's position, is in a strange way, similar to that of Nero, who sang while Rome burned. Musharraf may as well keep singing the pro-American tune, but for how long and to what extent will the powers that be in Pakistan dance to this tune? This is the moot question. In this context we return to our original question of whether the possibility, that is being spoken about these days, that some sections of the Pakistani military establishment want to voluntarily intern their nuclear warheads in China, is plausible. We think it certainly is. And before anything of the like happens, we hope that the Americans decide to move in to at least commandeer the Pakistani nuclear arsenal.
With President Musharraf in New York for the UN Assembly and the following month of Ramzan, the possibility of his power being undermined by some sections of the Pakistani Military in connivance with the religious parties is a distinct one. This can take the form of trying to spirit parts of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal outside the control of President Musharraf.
Americans need to think ahead and act today, so that their control over Pakistani airspace is unchallenged from any inimical forces inside Pakistan
Today we Americans need to think ahead and act now, by at least placing our personnel at the controls of Pakistan's Air Force and its Communications infrastructure, so that American control over Pakistani airspace is unchallenged from any inimical forces within Pakistan. This would be the least provocative thing to do as against commandeering Pakistan's entire nuclear arsenal itself right now. But our proactive move today would be critical in preventing the fall of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal into wrong hands in the critical period ahead, during and after Ramzan.
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- Eric Rogers
On behalf of the News on Terror team
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