By Dr Farah Zahra
Official Washington has frequently stated that Pakistani nuclear arsenal is safe and secure. However, leaked US diplomatic memos indicate the US officials worry about the potential for personnel at the country’s expanding fissile material production programme
“We have precise information that America wants to sabotage Pakistan’s nuclear facilities in order to control Pakistan and to weaken the government and the people of Pakistan,” the President of Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stated in a press conference in Tehran on June 7.
Ahmadinejad who leads the ‘Alliance of Builders of Islamic Iran’, a coalition of conservative political groups in the country, is a controversial figure both within Iran and internationally. He has been censured in Iran for economic lapses and indifference towards human rights. His second term in 2009 drew significant domestic as well as international criticism. Major opposition parties, clerics and politicians have strongly criticised the legitimacy of his presidency within his own country.
The remark about US intentions and Pakistan’s nuclear facilities is not merely Ahmadinejad’s enthusiasm to seek allies against the US, but also to strengthen Iran’s position when its relations with the Gulf Arab states, with the crisis in Bahrain, are tense. Interestingly enough, Ahmadinejad’s statement is issued a day after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) declares that it had new evidence of a possible military dimension to Iran’s nuclear work. In the same press conference the Iranian president accused the IAEA of doing Washington’s bidding and as an extended rejoinder adds the Pakistan angle aiming at two or more birds with the same stone. The timing of course fits in rather nicely with the developments in US-Pak relations and the rising mistrust and anti-American sentiment in Pakistan.
Official Islamabad has not been supportive of Iran’s nuclear programme. Pakistan’s former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s in his visit to the US last year stated that Iran should not pursue nuclear weapons. However, the two states have just concluded the 7th Pakistan-Iran Joint Commission on Road Transportation which recommended opening many additional international crossing points for the promotion of trade, commerce, and people-to-people contact.
Pakistan is aware that the US has not been too fond of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme — whether it is the Pressler Amendment, requests to sign Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), advice against counter-nuclear tests in May 1998 and the list is long. However, Ahmadinejad says that the US has malicious intentions towards the people of Pakistan. He does not state that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons would be ‘sabotaged’ as an end in itself. Rather he knows it would be done to weaken Pakistan and its people. “The United States would then use the UN ... for a massive presence and weaken the national sovereignty of Pakistan,” he added. So, this is really the same narrative about the US’s viciousness towards Muslims. Many would find this second half of his statement of the US wanting a ‘massive presence’ in physical terms in Pakistan even more difficult to understand.
Pakistan has responded by stating that it seeks more specifics regarding Ahmadinejad’s statement. Prime Minister Gilani spoke at a dinner of coalition partners the same evening and declared that Pakistan’s nuclear assets were in safe hands and nobody should have any doubts about this. However, Deputy Chief of Jamaat-e-Islami Senator Professor Khurshid Ahmad has already thanked the Iranian president “for his timely warning”. He goes on to state, “...from Sudan also similar message has come, and my own in-depth study of the statements of the US key functionaries and reports published by think tanks and media show that our nuclear assets are under serious threat.” Other ‘anonymous’ high-ranking security officials have told the media that Islamabad has received other clues that align with the Iranian president’s assertion. Pursuing clues, and satisfying the security essentials, can be done without getting involved in any US-Iran issues, even though Pakistan may require Iran’s help with energy.
Pakistan has been expressing its worries to Washington regarding the matter. Unconfirmed reports in the press even state that Pakistani Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani has mentioned to President Obama his worries that the US wants to see Pakistan destabilised to provide justification for seizing the country’s nuclear weapons. However, it is worthwhile noting that the narrative is different here. It is the nuclear weapons under threat from the US, and not the citizens of Pakistan in general. Incidents of ‘catching’ and deporting US spies around sensitive installations in Pakistan have also been reported as is the latest case of five CIA operatives involved in the Bin Laden’s information providing. US citizen Mathew Craig Barret was being followed by security agencies at Jhang Bahtar near Fatch Jang, who are of the view that he was mapping out sensitive locations.
Official Washington has frequently stated that Pakistani nuclear arsenal is safe and secure. However, leaked US diplomatic memos indicate the US officials worry about the potential for personnel at the country’s expanding fissile material production programme (to slowly make off with sufficient fissile material to make a basic nuclear weapon). In his last visit, Senator John Kerry again assured Pakistan in very strong terms that he was prepared to “write in blood” that Washington had no design on its nuclear facilities.
It may be that President Ahmadinejad’s hard-line views on the US’s global agenda do not reflect American intentions towards Pakistan’s people or its nuclear programme. It may also not be an accurate reflection of the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, regardless of speculations arising in the wake of recent events in the country. Placing this in the context of Iran’s dealing with the international community as well as with regards to the timing of the statement, at a minimum, the motives behind this statement clearly exceed merely the safety of Pakistan nuclear arsenal. It is not in Pakistan’s interest to have such media statements emanating from states purportedly Pakistan’s friends. It is difficult to state whether the statement was made despite this knowledge.
The writer is a Fellow at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London.
Source: The Daily Times, Pakistan