Ready for a pop quiz? Name the country with the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world, now totaling over 100 weapons. Israel? Guess again. North Korea? Nope. Ok, here’s a disturbing hint. The country’s chronically unstable national government has been toppled several times by military coup while ethnic and religious strife generates frequent terrorist violence. Give up? Here’s another alarming clue. This country’s national intelligence service is filled with officers sympathetic to indigenous terrorist groups. In short, you have a virtual failed state with a nuclear arsenal, posing a clear and pronounced risk that terrorists could steal a nuclear warhead or enough radioactive material to build a dirty bomb. And to make matters worse, this nation has been at war with its neighbor, another country with nuclear weapons, over territory with no strategic value.
Care to hazard an educated guess? Well, how about another clue? Osama Bin Laden lived in this country for several years and many American officials believe members of its military and intelligence establishment knew his whereabouts while we engaged in a worldwide manhunt to track him down. Bin Laden resided within spitting distance from this country’s most prestigious military academy. Did I forget to mention that this nation, a major recipient of American foreign aid, is considered an important ally? No, this is not a fictional country taken from the plot of a B-grade thriller; it is the one known as Pakistan.
During America’s military effort to remove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan and to destroy Al Qaeda’s infrastructure, the former found refuge in a region of Pakistan where power resides in the hands of local warlords and the national government has limited authority. The war against American troops was directed from Pakistan, whose government resisted taking decisive military action against the Taliban because its intelligence service believed they were useful to prevent India from developing a sphere of influence in Afghanistan. One must assume that under other circumstances, the US would have taken the fight to Pakistan, but its nuclear arsenal prevented that.
Even as a domestic Taliban movement terrorized Pakistan, the military and the notorious ISI, its Inter-Services Intelligence agency, remained reluctant to confront the militants. We must remember that the Taliban were educated in religious schools or madrassas in Pakistan, established by its leader Zia-al Huq to create anti-communist cadre to defeat the pro-Soviet Afghan government in the late 1970’s. The mujhadeen fighters who resisted the Soviet puppet regime went on to establish the Taliban.
The Pakistani military and intelligence agencies have played a dangerous double game, currying American favor to secure advanced weapons and much needed aid while sheltering and/or abetting the Taliban and Al Qaeda both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The response to the murder of Osama Bin Laden was revealing. Initially, the Pakistani government congratulated the U.S. before it condemned the attack on Bin Laden’s compound as a violation of its sovereignty. Afterwards, the Pakistani Taliban unleashed a retaliatory attack against American forces with the apparent tacit approval of the Pakistani military and intelligence community.
There is evidence Pakistan provided vital technical expertise to enable nuclear programs in both North Korea and Iran. Apparently, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb was involved. Yet, the Pakistani government placed him under house arrest and refused to allow Americans to question him. Presumably, officials feared he would reveal the extent of governmental involvement in the export of nuclear technology around the world.
Conservatives condemn Obama for not doing enough to cripple or terminate Iran’s nuclear program. It is a supreme irony or hypocrisy that none of these critics recall how George H.W. Bush turned a blind eye towards Pakistan when it successfully developed and tested a nuclear weapon that made the world much more unstable and dangerous.
While Pakistan has the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world, they are closely followed by India, whose total supply of weapons is roughly the same. There is a dangerous nuclear arms race on the subcontinent between countries whose armies have clashed more than once over Kashmir and whose relationship remains more volatile than that between the US and the USSR during the height of the cold war. A major foreign policy objective for any American president, indeed for the entire world, should involve nuclear disarmament talks in South Asia. In the meantime, India is a stable democracy, despite its own alarming sectarian violence, while Pakistan remains a chronically unstable nation with a large and growing nuclear stockpile. It is a nightmare waiting to happen and the scariest place on earth.
Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano