Monday, August 10, 2009

Anxiety over Pakistan

Peter Bergen ask Is Pakistan really such a basket case? Foreign Policy Online 08/10/09. His own answer is no. He cites Juan Cole, both at his blog and in a new article, "Pakistan and Afghanistan: Beyond the Taliban", behind subscription in the Political Science Quarterly Summer 2009 as another leading advocate of the non-alarmist view.

Bergen also cites The Terrorist Threat to Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons by Shaun Gregory CTC Sentinel July 2009 that includes among reasons for concern the fact that there have been attacks on Pakistani nuclear facilities on at least three occasions in 2007-8.

The problems of nuclear proliferation is very real, and Pakistan has been the worst proliferater in recent years. Still, Gregory doesn't leave the impression that the Pakistani military is just leaving operative nuclear weapons lying around in easily accessible spots:

In terms of physical security, Pakistan operates a layered concept of concentric tiers of armed forces personnel to guard nuclear weapons facilities, the use of physical barriers and intrusion detectors to secure nuclear weapons facilities, the physical separation of warhead cores from their detonation components, and the storage of the components in protected underground sites.
Gregory raises a caution against the often-mentioned possibility that the US could go in and seize Pakistan's nukes in the event of a governmental crisis. He argues that not only would the army by likely to fight such an outside attempt, but that various security measures mean that at this point the US may not know where all the Pakistani nukes are.


Similarly, the use of U.S. precision strikes to destroy the weapons would need to rely on perfect intelligence and would risk not only significant radiological hazards at strike targets, but also the ire of the Pakistan Army and the wider Islamic world.
He also talks about the possibilities that the Pakistani military or elements of it sympathetic to Islamic extremists might facilitate the transfer of nuclear technology and/or weapons to terrorist groups. The sorts of possibilities he lists are the kinds of things intelligence agencies have to be concerned with. The best way to reduce those possibilities is to have an effective international nonproliferation program. Any way you slice it, as long as nuclear weapons are available, some damn fool is going to be tempted or even eager to use them. But the kinds of concerns he discusses there are not going to be effectively met by the US recklessly supporting military coups in Pakistan or by expanding direct military operations in Pakistan.

Juan Cole in the Political Science Quarterly piece cautions about one brand of threat inflation that we've been seeing in the Afghanistan War and with Pakistan:

Any region where al Qaeda operatives find refuge is a potential security threat, but making sure that the operatives lack access to airports and monitoring their communications would be more effective than provoking a feud with their tribal hosts. September 11 was launched not from Khost in Afghanistan but from Hamburg in Germany, not by tribal persons or seminarians but by engineers trained in the West. Even in their heyday in the 1990s, the Taliban were seldom directly involved in committing international terrorism. The conflation of Pushtuns, and their love of relative autonomy, with Talibanism frequently obscures the local politics that drive militancy. [my emphasis]
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