PostScript: A scary moment

Imagine a world with multiple fundamentalist Islamic nuclear powers, with Pakistan and Iran at its head.

Hafiz Saeed, the head of Jamaat-ud-Dawa 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood)
Hafiz Saeed, the head of Jamaat-ud-Dawa 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood)
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 Thursday morning.
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 snapping.
The Saeed press conference could not have been held without the connivance of the Pakistani authorities. If the media knew, Pakistani intelligence knew.
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.
The 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 Americans.
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 Afghanistan.
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.
According to 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 be ousted.
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” themselves.
This has to be a source of concern.
The Americans, 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 unchecked.
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 apparatus.
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.