Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

American Strategy in Pakistan: How Should America Perceive Pakistan’s Overlapping Proliferation and Terrorism Dangers?

Posted by K.E. White on May 23, 2007

Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state currently seething with unrest, presents a profound challenge to American and global security. Pakistan is a terrorist hotbed, possibly offering international terrorists a new homebase. And Pakistan comes with a nuclear punch: What happens if one of these groups acquires a nuclear weapon?

But before crafting solutions, U.S. policy must prioritize its strategic goals toward Pakistan.

Is stabilizing the Musharraf regime to be gained at all costs? Should concerns over nuclear weapon leakage outweigh combating terrorist operations in the state? Naturally all these goals should be accomplished: But what goal should set American policy towards Pakistan?

Two recent publications point to the ‘Pakistan divide’ among the non-proliferation community.

Alex Stolar argues that fear of nuclear leakage obscures the greater problem facing Pakistan: Musharraf failing to consolidate the state. Even the most likely WMD-related threat facing Pakistan—a radiological device detonated in Pakistan—demands the state authority be strengthened.

Here is a portion of Stolar’s Stimson Center article:

…Today, the military’s Strategic Plans Division devotes over 8,000 men, mostly undercover, to protecting Pakistan’s weapons and fissile material. The Pakistani military is a highly capable and professional force. It is highly improbable that it would hand over its crown jewels to individuals or organizations that it cannot control during this period of unrest.

It is equally unlikely that terrorist would be able to steal Pakistani nuclear weapons or fissile material. It is true that the fiat of the Pakistani state is being challenged throughout Pakistan, and especially in the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan. In the most troubled regions, police and military forces are struggling to maintain order. However, the installations that house Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and fissile material, as would be expected, are heavily guarded and among the most secure facilities in all of Pakistan.

Similarly, fears that the current unrest could lead to a takeover of the Pakistani government by extremists are also misplaced. Religious parties are an important element of Pakistani society, but their political clout remains limited. It is unlikely that religious parties could engineer a takeover of the Pakistani government, as they lack both the popular support and the military power that would be required. The political power of religious parties would be further diminished if General Pervez Musharraf would remove the shackles from the two major political parties in Pakistan that do not define themselves in religious terms.

Unfortunately, unfounded fears about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons have obscured more pressing threats. Radiological terrorism in Pakistan, as elsewhere, is possible. To conduct an act of radiological terrorism, extremists would need to fashion a radiological dispersal device (RDD) which consists of little more than conventional explosives and radiological materials that can be found in laboratories and hospitals. Though an RDD would cause few deaths, it could contaminate a large swath of land and stretch Pakistan’s emergency response capabilities.

The implications Stolar’s argument are two-fold:

1) Push Musharraf to make the political accommodations necessary to stabilize Pakistan (i.e. presumably have open/contested elections and relinquish his grasp over military control).

2) Push aside concerns of an illusory nuclear leakage threat and put American efforts into ensuring a stable state apparatus

But Daniel Byman offers a different take in his PSQ article:

The country that deserves the greatest attention today is Pakistan. Pakistan hosts of large domestic jihadist presence and significant numbers of foreign jihadists while possessing a nuclear weapons program that it has demonstrated it does not, or will not, control. The possibility of leakage is more than plausible, and the results could be catastrophic for the region and for the United States. Unfortunately, the United States will have to make trade-offs between working with Pakistan to fight terrorism and its efforts to stop proliferation.

In Pakistan, several assassination attempts on Pervez Musharraf appear to have involved military officials linked to jihadists. Each component, by itself, is important, but together they present an exceptionally dangerous combination.

…Pakistan stands out as an exceptionally dangerous combination of high levels of corruption and a high risk of terrorist penetration, with at best a medium-level security force. Other countries that are corrupt and do not have highly competent security forces do not have a grave risk of terrorist penetration.

America’s first priority, according to Byman, should help Pakistan secure its nuclear supplies directly—even if this hurts general non-proliferation efforts.

Should American energies first go to pushing Musharraf or securing nuclear arms? While a tactical (and somewhat overlapping) discussion, it rests of two very different views of Pakistan and the challenges it poses.

And when the possibly catastrophic costs of choosing the wrong policy, this discussion is one of the most urgent in the crosscutting nonproliferation and American foreign policy establishments.

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6 Responses to “American Strategy in Pakistan: How Should America Perceive Pakistan’s Overlapping Proliferation and Terrorism Dangers?”

  1. Oemar said

    The role of US “inside” Pakistan is a very passive one. US is pumping money in the state, thinking that it will help them with the fight against terror (read Taliban). That money is instead going to Kashmiri insurgents and fuelling Pak’s proxy war against India. It is high time that US SEES to it that their money reaches its intended destination.

    As far as the nuclear issue is concerned, personally I believe that action should be based on any anticipation of negative events inside Pak. Cause with nuclear issues, the words “Too Late” isn’t what someone wants to hear.

  2. Neel said

    Pakistan has always been an useful tool for the US in the region. During cold war it fought the proxy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Pakistan also served US policy of a bullwork against India. Now in the post cold war era Pakistan is playing a skillful double game. It is literally blackmailing the US in its fight against the anti US forces like Al Quaida and Taliban, by fighting and providing safe heavens to these elements at the same time. The US seems to be helpless in this situation and has no other way but to pump in billions of dollars, hoping to buy victory. Ronald Regan, the ex US President, had the wisdom of creating an army of Islamic fanatics in Pakistan to fight the Soviets. Now the US is fighting monster created by itself and paying the price of its shortsighted policies !

  3. Khalil said

    As far as the nuclear threat is concerned i dont think that pakistani nuclear facilities are un protected and any one can have access to nuclear material.

    The matter of the fact is this that US and west as been extra cautious about matter. Most of their perceptios based on propaganda and on false reporting by CIA (Remember CIA also reported WMDs in Iraq which never found).

    Now there are options if US wants to deal with exagerated threat

    1- Attacking nuclear facilities and destroying them all and assuming control of remaining warheads which will lead to destruction of all control mechanism and the WMD or fissile material can go in hands of terrorists.

    2- Aiding pakistan in developing more efficient control system and training the people thete moreover should launch an aggressive program with help of government of pakistan to teach people about the sonsequences of nuclear terrorism.

    3- Should help people of pakistan in getting rid of social problems should not help and promote dictators like musharraf. This will help reduce anti american feeling in pakistan.

    4- America should also take care of israeli nuclear programme which is believed to have about 400 war heads and their nuclear facilities are not safeguarded under IAEA and should also think about their own prolifiration activities which enabled israel and England to becvome nuclear states and also now dealing with india to provide nuclear technology and fuel which eventually result in more WMDs.

    5- America should adopt realistic approach towards muslimss and help them establish democracies and should not help monarchies and dictatorship.

    I think all this can help in turning so called threat of nuclear terrorism off except the first option

  4. laxwragma said

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