How will the US-led world deal with Pakistan’s real strength – the patriotic and committed force of thousands of qualified and experienced scientists, engineers, other professionals associated with Pakistan’s nuclear programme? Will all be eliminated/incarcerated at Guantanomo Base or a similar one elsewhere?
By Brig Imran Malik
Defanging Pakistan by dismantling her nuclear programme must rank as one of US’ most fervent yet unfulfilled wishes and hitherto unattained strategic interests! Western media interest in Pakistan’s nukes remains unrelenting, uncompromising, sensational, wishful and largely ill-informed. A good example could be the recent article “The Ally from Hell” in The Atlantic magazine.
Pakistan and the US have many converging and almost an equal number of divergent and even clashing strategic interests though Pakistan's nuclear programme tops that list. Pakistan's nuclear programme does not fit in with the US' view of the world, of Asia and in particular her view of South Asia and the Middle East. The reasons are manifold, diverse and well known.
A deliberate effort has gone in to create and shape Pakistan’s domestic and regional geopolitical and geostrategic environments for the specific purpose of defanging her. The international and domestic opinion is being conditioned and prepared for just such an eventuality. Both internal and external maneuvers have been employed with devastating effect. The militant attacks on military and intelligence installations in the recent past were essentially designed to attack the virtual center of gravity of Pakistan. A feeling of helplessness, of national demoralization and despondency was thus generated. A perception was thus floated that the Government and the Armed Forces were incapable of securing and safeguarding their strategic assets and that there was a present and clear danger that the militants could possibly lay hands on them. Thus the need for international intervention in this case is being justified ostensibly to secure Pakistan’s nukes and to ensure international peace and security!
The threats to Pakistan's Strategic Assets could take either a Direct or an Indirect approach or a combination of both. The direct threats would be manifested in a physical manner threatening direct acquisition of our nuclear devices/materials by hostile forces either from within the territorial boundaries of Pakistan or by external forces. The indirect threats would emanate in the political/geopolitical realms and would constitute the control, limitation, management and/or manipulation of her nuclear programme through an imposition of restrictions vide specific international regimes or orders.
The first direct threat could be manifested by a hypothetical takeover of the Government of Pakistan by the militants and by implication the nuclear programme. It is incredulous as the militants do not have the military wherewithal or staying power to do so nor is the Pakistani nation ready to accept their extremist doctrines. The earlier commotion created by the western powers that the militants were only 60 miles (Swat) away from the capital Islamabad was so shamelessly propagandist in nature. Without any international support the hypothetical militant Government will remain isolated and unlikely to survive. Most Unlikely.
The next direct threat is terrorists infiltrating into one or more storage sites overpowering the guards and getting away with a nuclear device or radioactive material. This appears to be rather farfetched as the security measures at these sites are altogether at another level and the chances of a militant attack succeeding are quite low. Extrication for the militants in the face of violent reactions by the Armed Forces would be extremely difficult. Possible, but unlikely.
Another contingency could possibly be the spiriting away of a nuclear warhead or radioactive material by the militants with the help of supposedly rogue elements amongst the personnel in the nuclear programme or responsible for its security. This is unlikely as such an operation would necessitate the presence and connivance of a reasonable number of conspirators at a given time and site. Such large groups would be hard to hide and susceptible to counter intelligence measures. Possible, but unlikely.
Physical destruction of our assets through a sustained strategic bombing campaign can be ruled out too. Firstly Pakistan’s nuclear assets are likely to be well protected physically in deep, well-constructed sites. Secondly even if the western arsenal manages to penetrate the protective layers of these sites the risks of uncontrolled emission of radioactivity would be too high. This would be an unacceptable consequence for the entire international community and the west would be held responsible for the deadly consequences. Unlikely.
The most dangerous hypothesis could see US-led western forces (with the assistance of India and Israel) making physical ingresses into Pakistan’s air and ground spaces, airdropping troops at all her nuclear installations/storage sites simultaneously to take over the custody and control of all her nuclear assets. Such a large scale operation is factually quite farfetched and militarily unsustainable. It would mean a virtual declaration of war on Pakistan inviting equally forceful and violent reactions from her. Threatened existentially Pakistan could possibly respond very aggressively by threatening western strategic interests in Central-South Asian Region (SCAR) and the Greater Middle East Region (GMER) thus spreading the war into unplanned and unforeseen dimensions. This threat to expand the war zone to such a large degree (Balance of Terror) may be the biggest deterrent for the western powers to follow such a foolhardy and Quixotic plan. Unlikely, even if we disregard the reactions of regional giants like China, Russia, KSA, GCC, Iran, Turkey and others.
Thus it appears that the direct action threats are not very viable options and perforce the western powers will have to resort to the indirect approach or a combination of the two.
One indirect approach could see the US President invoking the Nunn-Lugar and the Obama-Lugar Bills which authorize him to take action to stop the spread of conventional as well as nuclear weapons. Congressional support for action against Pakistan’s nukes would be readily forthcoming. A pliable and willing UNSC would take no time in authorizing a resolution "to take all necessary steps and actions to secure Pakistan's nuclear assets and programme". Thereafter Pakistan will be required to cap, roll back and eventually dismantle her nuclear programme in toto. Pakistan will probably be required to place her nuclear programme and assets under an international force for dismantling and safe disposal or dismantle the programme herself under the supervision of a UN led international force/committee. Failing which debilitating economic and trade sanctions, diplomatic isolation and military operations by a UN sanctioned expeditionary force would be threatened. Possible, likely. (The China Factor though would be decisive, either way.)
Alternately, a weak, eager-to-appease and pliant Government could be imposed upon Pakistan. This incompetent Government could quickly reduce Pakistan’s economy to basket case status by systematically destroying state enterprises, installations and infrastructure. It could ensure nationwide despair and despondency through a breakdown of governance and massive corruption. Under foreign pressure and coercion and self-created economic emergencies the Government could possibly squeeze and dry up funds to strategic organisations like the SPD, NESCOM, ISI, other strategic and intelligence agencies et al. This would in effect mean an indirect capping of Pakistan’s nuclear programme and weakening of supporting organisations. This will have a direct impact on their R&D, maintenance, sustenance and expansion programmes. (Sound Familiar?) Bankrupt and under debilitating debts and pressures of the IFIs, Pakistan could then be dealt a fait accompli/Hobson’s choice – economic revival or her nuclear programme!! Possible.
A common clause in all contingencies will be the coordinated operations by a large number of CIA operatives/contractors (Blackwater, Xe etc) in cahoots with their local agents in support of any direct or indirect threats. Further as part of the internal maneuver the domestic scene would also be simultaneously subjected to serious and devastating upheavals through law and order situations, heightened terrorist activities targeting well-chosen personalities, armed forces and nuclear installations. Simultaneously India and Afghanistan could mass their troops on Pakistan’s borders to raise the ante and threaten to grab fleeting opportunities (Kashmir, FATA) if any come by! Thus the Government would be forced to negotiate from a position of abject weakness and expected to buckle under unbearable pressures.
Game Over! Or is it? Or a new one beckons?
We need to consider a couple of very pertinent questions.
First the timing of such an attempt. When will it or can it be attempted? During the current US/NATO/ISAF (mis)adventure in Afghanistan? They are already at their wits end in dealing with the militants and would be hard pressed to take on another campaign. Unlikely.
Could it be timed just as the US/NATO/ISAF forces egress from the region? They could achieve strategic surprise by undertaking such an operation when least expected. It would serve to assuage their frustration of Afghanistan and let them sort Pakistan out too – a parting kick? Possible, likely.
Or maybe at an even later stage. No time appears to be a good time because a favourable strategic environment is not likely to come about easily. It will have to be crafted with regional help. And that comes with its own consequences. So the longer the US-led world takes to defang Pakistan the stronger her defences and capabilities will become and the more difficult the operation would be. Strategic Catch 22, if there was one ever!!
Furthermore do the US and the US-led world have the will and the economic clout to do so? Do they still have the requisite war stamina? Are they ready to accept further casualties? Who will foot the bill and from where? (Maybe China will sanction a loan!) What will the strategic situation in Afghanistan be like?
How will the US-led world deal with Pakistan’s real strength – the patriotic and committed force of thousands of qualified and experienced scientists, engineers, other professionals associated with Pakistan’s nuclear programme? Will all be eliminated/incarcerated at Guantanomo Base or a similar one elsewhere? Renditions? Where? Or what? Can it risk this group’s dispersion or dissipation within the region? Or even beyond? Do they have any idea of the latent possibilities in such a proposition and their consequences? The US needs to take a deep breath, has to be extremely pragmatic, holistic and realistic in its approach to this issue.
Pakistan cannot be coerced into ceding control over its nuclear assets or destroying it voluntarily. It will always retain all and that means all options on the table. Defanging Pakistan is a dream that resides in the minds of those western armchair strategists who have only vague ideas of the South-Central Asian Region (SCAR), its peoples and its peculiar imperatives. They underestimate the tenacity of the Pakistani nation – the same tenacity with which they created and sustained this programme against all imaginable odds! They will guard this programme with their lives. Direct approaches will not succeed. Indirect ones will be foiled by the people and the Armed Forces of Pakistan who are ONE on this issue. No Pakistan Government, no matter how much indebted to the western world it might be, will ever dare to compromise on this issue. The consequences would be unimaginable for them. The west has apparently missed the boat and every passing moment is taking the boat farther away.
The US must adopt a just, fair and impartial approach to the issue of nuclear weapons. There should be no exceptions. No self-serving regimes like the FMCT or bilateral arrangements as with India and Israel. She has no credibility in this part of the world. Thus she is forced to use force rather than logical persuasion. That is because she has lost her moral ascendancy due to her selfserving, partial and biased policies. As long as the world continues to give Israel and India preferential treatment in this field there will be no progress at international fora like the NPT, CD, CTBT, FMCT or the MTCR et al. Pakistan will not accept any coercion or succumb to threats or inducements. She sees it as an existential threat and will respond accordingly. There is a need to approach this issue with equanimity, on a level playing field and to accord Pakistan the same respect, position, treatment and opportunities as accorded to other countries in the region.
Else neutralizing Pakistan’s nukes will always remain a wish too far…………………….