The Games Pakistan Plays
by Charles Lemos, Sun May 17, 2009 at 10:11:01 PM EDT
It is gratifying to see the nation's paper of record report on the seemingly bizarre games that Pakistan is playing with its nuclear arsenal.
Members of Congress have been told in confidential briefings that Pakistan is rapidly adding to its nuclear arsenal even while racked by insurgency, raising questions on Capitol Hill about whether billions of dollars in proposed military aid might be diverted to Pakistan's nuclear program.
Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed the assessment of the expanded arsenal in a one-word answer to a question on Thursday in the midst of lengthy Senate testimony. Sitting beside Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, he was asked whether he had seen evidence of an increase in the size of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal.
"Yes," he said quickly, adding nothing, clearly cognizant of Pakistan's sensitivity to any discussion about the country's nuclear strategy or security.
Inside the Obama administration, some officials say, Pakistan's drive to spend heavily on new nuclear arms has been a source of growing concern, because the country is producing more nuclear material at a time when Washington is increasingly focused on trying to assure the security of an arsenal of 80 to 100 weapons so that they will never fall into the hands of Islamic insurgents.
It should be noted that these reports of Pakistan rushing to add to its nuclear arsenal of some 80 to 100 weapons are not new.
The Israeli geo-politics magazine Debka Net Weekly reported earlier this week that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had warned the Obama Administration that Pakistan was adding to its nuclear arsenal, that some nuclear sites in Pakistan's restive frontier province are "already partly" in the hands of Islamic extremists and that Pakistan was "lost". This story then made its way into the Times of India.
There was no official word from either Washington or New Delhi about the exchanges, with India in the throes of an election and US winding down for the weekend. But US experts have been greatly perturbed in recent days about what they say is Washington's misplaced confidence in, and lackadaisical approach towards, Pakistan's nuclear assets. The disquiet comes amid reports that Pakistan is ramping up its nuclear arsenal even as the rest of the world is scaling it down.
"It is quite disturbing that the administration is allowing Pakistan to quantitatively and qualitatively step up production of fissile material without as much as a public reproach," Robert Windrem, a visiting scholar with the Center for Law and Security in New York University and an expert on South Asia nuclear issues told Times of India in an interview on Thursday. "Iraq and Iran did not get a similar concessions... and Pakistan has a much worse record of proliferation and security breaches than any other country in the world."
Windrem, a former producer with NBC whose book "Critical Mass" was among the first to red flag Islamabad's proliferation record going back to the 1980s, referred to recent reports and satellite images showing Pakistan building two large new plutonium production reactors in Khushab, which experts say could lead to improvements in the quantity and quality of the country's nuclear arsenal. The reactors had nothing to do with power-production' they are weapons-specific, and are being built with resources who diversion is enabled by the billions of dollars the US is giving to Pakistan as aid, he said.
This is a game that the Pakistanis love to play. In 1991 when the United States cut its aid to Pakistan from $660 million per year down to zero, Pakistan then embarked on its nuclear ambitions. A scant seven years later, the country ignited its nuclear tantrum and we have been hostage to them ever since. More from the New York Times:
The Congressional briefings have taken place in recent weeks as Pakistan has descended into further chaos and as Congress has considered proposals to spend $3 billion over the next five years to train and equip Pakistan's military for counterinsurgency warfare. That aid would come on top of $7.5 billion in civilian assistance.
None of the proposed military assistance is directed at the nuclear program. So far, America's aid to Pakistan's nuclear infrastructure has been limited to a $100 million classified program to help Pakistan secure its weapons and materials from seizure by Al Qaeda, the Taliban or "insiders" with insurgent loyalties.
But the billions in new proposed American aid, officials acknowledge, could free other money for Pakistan's nuclear infrastructure, at a time when Pakistani officials have expressed concern that their nuclear program is facing a budget crunch for the first time, worsened by the global economic downturn. The program employs tens of thousands of Pakistanis, including about 2,000 believed to possess "critical knowledge" about how to produce a weapon.
The dimensions of the Pakistani buildup are not fully understood. "We see them scaling up their centrifuge facilities," said David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security, which has been monitoring Pakistan's continued efforts to buy materials on the black market, and analyzing satellite photographs of two new plutonium reactors less than 100 miles from where Pakistani forces are currently fighting the Taliban.
Back in mid March, Congresswoman Jane Harman introduced H.R. 1463:
Prohibits, with a national interest waiver, U.S. military assistance to be provided to Pakistan unless the President certifies to Congress that the government of Pakistan is: (1) making Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan available for U.S. questioning; and (2) providing adequate assurances that it will monitor Khan's activities in order to prevent his participation in any efforts to disseminate nuclear technology.
While H.R. 1463 does not directly address the circumstances surrounding this latest mad-dash by the Pakistanis, this bill is a good place as any to start reining in Pakistan's nuclear ambitions. Whatever games Pakistan is playing, we should not abet them.