Ialmost dropped my coffee when reading the caption under a picture of a
mild-looking Muslim cleric type on Page 2 of the International Herald Tribune
I’ll quote: “I am here,” Hafiz Saeed, described as the
leader of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba and accused of planning the 2008
attacks on Mumbai, on Wednesday taunted the United States at a news conference
in Rawalpindi, near Pakistan’s military headquarters, a day after Washington
offered $10 million for information leading to his capture.
There was no
story to accompany the picture by Aamir Qureshi of Agence France Press, only the
caption above which, in a few words, seems to say it all: Pakistan is out of
control. And worse, the very thin strand that links American control to
Pakistan’s nuclear weapons has become frayed to the point of
The Saeed press conference could not have been held without the
connivance of the Pakistani authorities. If the media knew, Pakistani
And it could not have been held around the block from
Pakistan’s military headquarters in downtown Rawalpindi, unless the Pakistani
security services wanted it to. Clearly, there was a message here.
American killing last year of Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil where he had
been hiding for several years was as open a signal as one could wish for that
military trust has broken down between the Pakistanis and the
Since then much straw has been added to the burden on the
camel’s back, fueled mainly by the collateral damage the Pakistanis continue to
encounter as a result of America’s ongoing war with the Taliban in neighboring
Bad feelings have been exacerbated by the burning of the
Koran by American forces; the running amok of an American serviceman leaving
women and children slaughtered, and the continued inadvertent allied military
attacks on Pakistani forces in one way or another. All have all taken their toll
on the relationship.
And now the Saeed press conference which can only be
interpreted as the equivalent of a Pakistani forefinger-in-the air to the
Americans; their way of saying, “Goodnight Irene, goodnight!” Except, if
anything, what I hear are alarm bells; a wake-up call. It is time for the world
to stop being exclusively preoccupied with Iran, though it should not give up
working to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear for one moment, and start being
worried about Pakistan as well.
Each of these two, Iran and Pakistan,
alone are a problem; together they are a massive problem.
the 2010 Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the Pakistanis have between 70 and 90
nuclear weapons; others have claimed 250, a figure reported in the Washington
Post in 2011.
They have been involved in nuclear development since 1972,
conducted six nuclear tests in May1998 with bombs at least three times more
explosive than those dropped on Hiroshima, have between 10,000 to 20,000 highly
advanced centrifuges producing bombgrade material in Kahuta and missiles with a
range of 2,500 kilometers. This is no paper tiger.
For the past decade or
so, the Pakistanis and Americans have had an agreement on the security of these
weapons. The Americans also reportedly invested over $100 million in helping to
keep them safe.
Those agreements, however, are with the military, not the
regime and, as we have seen in Egypt and more importantly Turkey, generals can
Now, with a sought after terrorist giving a press conference
down the road from the military folks with their fingers on the button, one
cannot but wonder what control there really is right now, and how much
cooperation is left.
The Belfer Center at Harvard says in its 2010 study,
“Securing the Bomb,” that Pakistan unequivocally poses the greatest threat on
earth that Islamic fundamentalists are going to get their hands on a nuclear
weapon. Pakistan’s current government, and increasingly its military, are not
far off from filling the requirement of being “Islamic fundamentalists”
This has to be a source of concern.
justifiably, are very keen to get out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible. And
they know better than others how acute the gulf of mistrust between the
Pakistanis and the Americans has become. But whatever they do, the Americans
cannot leave 250 70 KT nuclear bombs and 10,000 spinning centrifuges
The thought that the Americans would allow this to happen is
scary. But things happen in life, including the six Pakistani nuclear tests in
Baluchistan between May 28 and 30, 1998 that took everyone by surprise. So did
the Shah of Iran’s Israeliled missile program which fell so conveniently into
the laps of the Ayatollahs way back when.
This is something that needs to
be addressed now, and in the same strident way the world is demanding safety
from the specter of an Iranian nuclear weapon.
Imagine a world with
multiple fundamentalist Islamic nuclear powers, with Pakistan and Iran at its
head. Imagine a world where a nuclear power allows a wanted terrorist to hold a
press conference on the doorstep of the country’s security
Yup, I agree, time to move to Mars!
The writer is a senior
research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv
University. His latest book, The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival, is the
recipient of the National Jewish Book Award in the history category for 2011.