The angry reaction in Pakistan to Seymour Hersh’s article in the New Yorker, once viewed in the context of its ludicrous contents, seems justifiable. The long winded report (7000 words approx) is based on unnamed sources, its contents stand repudiated by government officials in Pakistan and US and the hypotheses it outlines don’t even pass muster of plain ‘common sense’. Despite all these limitations it is an indication of the power of the US media implements – and the clout of its all powerful doyens that whatever they say is gulped down hook, line and sinker by the readership at large without questioning its veracity. The things have reached such a pass because writers like Hersh are effectively plugged into the US policy making institutions and along with a select group, are shaping opinions and paving way for American interests globally.         

According to Hersh’s recent article, Obama Administration has been negotiating highly sensitive understandings that would allow “specially trained American units to provide added security for Pakistani [nuclear] arsenal in case of a crisis”. It also reports that the concerns regarding security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal are so grave in US that a covert team remains ready to fly to Pakistan at short notice. The “highly classified” response team was scrambled, within last few months, consequent to a report that a Pakistani nuclear component had “gone astray”. The mission was aborted, Hersh contends, quoting an unnamed ‘Pentagon consultant’, when the intelligence proved to be wrong and the team was recalled from Dubai.
Seymour Hersh’s implausible story fails to factor in obvious realities; Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal forms the most vital component of the Pakistan’s strategic military equation vis-à-vis India; it remains country’s lifeline to survival in deteriorating odds and there is no conceivable scenario in which Pakistan would share the control of its nuclear assets with any one. The element of control is non-negotiable, much in the manner in which the intelligence concerning US strategic assets is off limits as much to friends as to enemies. As regards the wild goose chase that ended in Dubai, the lesser said the better. It amply reflects Hersh’s penchant for using anonymous and unverifiable sources to fabricate outlandish scenarios. It is worth remembering that in November 2001, as well, he authored a similar report , which claimed that US was making plans to seize or disable Pakistani nuclear weapons to prevent them from falling into the hands of Islamic extremists.
There is no dearth of nuggets in Hersh’s latest article. US, Hersh reports, is going to help Pakistan ‘secure’ its assets not by removing the warheads but by removing the trigger mechanisms needed to set the weapons off. “The triggers are a key element in American contingency plans… the unit, which had earlier focused on the warheads’ cores has begun to concentrate on evacuating the triggers, which have no radioactive material and are thus much easier to handle,” he writes. What good would be served by possession of triggers, which in any case can be replaced, while the fissile material is left behind? and how would it secure the arsenal for Pakistan; one desperately tries to make sense. And who is going to collect and handover the triggers to the elite team belonging to the Joint Special Operations Command, landing in C-17 cargo planes, for which the smart US staff officers, as per Hersh have even worked out the number of triggers which can be carried by each plane and also the storage spaces where these are to be “sequestered”. Or is the elite US team going to run from bunker to storage bunker in its search for the triggers and will their heist remains unchallenged by the guards protecting these assets. The list of questions remains unending. Finally, is there a US capability for carrying off such an undertaking? The wreckage of US helicopters carrying elite US Special Forces teams sent to rescue American hostages in Iran (Operation Eagle Claw; Apr 24 1980), certainly have a more sobering message to convey.
The most exciting nugget of all; “Some analysts suspected that Pakistani military had taken steps to move elements of the nuclear arsenal “out of the count” – to shift them to a storage facility known only to a very few – as a hedge against mutiny or an American or Indian effort to seize them”. What is the “count”, to whom it is to be made and why any nuclear weapons should be left out of that count is an enigma that the author has consigned to ambiguity, without making an attempt at explanation. Watertight Secrecy and security is the name of the game in storage, deployment and employment of nuclear weapons and Pakistan, driven by survival imperatives in face of malignant Indian preponderance can never share such intelligence. There can be no “out of counts” stock of nuclear weapons because nothing is to be counted to any one under any circumstances in the first place.
Hersh’s make-believe world concerning the environment in which Pakistan is fighting for its life is reflected by what he told the CNN regarding why US’ ‘securing’ of Pakistani arsenal would help Pakistan. “US officials hope securing Pakistani bombs will convince India to pull troops off the Pakistani frontier, allowing Pakistan to turn more of its military’s attention towards battling al Qaeda and Taliban fighters along its northwestern border with Afghanistan – where US troops have been battling the Taliban since 2001,” he said. One doesn’t grudge his Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism, but in understanding the imperatives of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal Seymour Hersh seems out of touch with reality.