The Alliance from Hell

October 23rd, 2012

How the U.S. and Pakistan Became the Dysfunctional Nuclear Family of International Relations – Published on ZNet (first on TomDispatch), by Dilip Hiro, October 19, 2012.

The United States and Pakistan are by now a classic example of a dysfunctional nuclear family (with an emphasis on “nuclear”). While the two governments and their peoples become more suspicious and resentful of each other with every passing month, Washington and Islamabad are still locked in an awkward post-9/11 embrace that, at this juncture, neither can afford to let go of.  

Washington is keeping Pakistan, with its collapsing economy and bloated military, afloat but also cripplingly dependent on its handouts and U.S.-sanctioned International Monetary Fund loans. Meanwhile, CIA drones unilaterally strike its tribal borderlands. Islamabad returns the favor. It holds Washington hostage over its Afghan War from which the Pentagon won’t be able to exit in an orderly fashion without its help. By blocking U.S. and NATO supply routes into Afghanistan (after a U.S. cross-border air strike had killed 24 Pakistani soldiers) from November 2011 until last July, Islamabad managed to ratchet up the cost of the war while underscoring its indispensability to the Obama administration.

At the heart of this acerbic relationship, however, is Pakistan’s arsenal of 110 nuclear bombs which, if the country were to disintegrate, could fall into the hands of Islamist militants, possibly from inside its own security establishment. As Barack Obama confided to his aides, this remains his worst foreign-policy nightmare, despite the decision of the U.S. Army to train a commando unit to retrieve Pakistan’s nukes, should extremists seize some of them or materials to produce a “dirty bomb” themselves.

Two Publics, Differing Opinions: … //

… Clashing Views on the War on Terror:

Most Americans consider Pakistan an especially unreliable ally in Washington’s war on terror. That it provided safe haven to bin Laden for 10 years before his violent death in 2011 reinforced this perception. Bin Laden’s successor, Ayman Zawahiri, is widely believed to be hiding in Pakistan. So, too, are Mullah Muhammad Omar and other leaders of the Afghan Taliban.

It beggars belief that this array of Washington’s enemies can continue to function inside the country without the knowledge of its powerful Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI) which reputedly has nearly 100,000 employees and informers. Even if serving ISI officers are not in cahoots with the Afghan Taliban, many retired ISI officers clearly are.

The rationale for this, top Pakistani officials say privately, is that the Afghan Taliban and the allied Haqqani Network are not attacking targets in Pakistan and so pose no threat to the state. In practice, these political-military entities are being sustained by Islamabad as future surrogates in a post-American Afghanistan. Their task is to ensure a pro-Islamabad government in Kabul, immune to offers of large-scale economic aid from India, the regional superpower. In short, it all boils down to Washington and Islamabad pursuing clashing aims in war-ravaged Afghanistan and in Pakistan as well.

The Pakistani government’s multifaceted stance toward Washington has wide public support. Popular hostility toward the U.S. stems from several interrelated factors. Above all, most Pakistanis view the war on terror from a radically different perspective than Americans. Since its primary targets have been the predominantly Muslim countries of Afghanistan and Iraq, they equate it with an American crusade against Islam.

While U.S. pundits and politicians invariably cite the $24 billion in assistance and military aid Washington has given Islamabad in the post-9/11 period, Pakistanis stress the heavy price they have paid for participating in the Washington-led war. “No country and no people have suffered more in the epic struggle against terrorism than Pakistan,” said President Asif Ali Zardari at the United Nations General Assembly last month.

His government argues that, as a result of joining the war on terror, Pakistan has suffered a loss of $68 billion over the past decade. A widely disseminated statistic at home, it includes estimated losses due to a decline in foreign investments and adverse effects on trade, tourism, and businesses. Islamabad attributes all this to the insecurity caused by the terrorist acts of local jihadists in response to its participation in Washington’s war. Then there are the roughly 4,000 Pakistani military fatalities suffered during post-9/11 operations against terror groups and other homegrown militants — significantly higher than all allied troops killed in Afghanistan. Some 35,000 civilians have also died or suffered injuries in the process.

Drones Fuel Popular Rage: … //

… The Nuclear Conundrum

Since India would be the prime target of any nuclear-armed extremists, the Indian government dreads the prospect of Pakistan’s nukes falling into such hands far more than President Obama. The alarm of both Delhi and Washington is well justified, particularly because Pakistan’s arsenal is growing faster than any on Earth — and the latest versions of nukes it’s producing are smaller and so easier to hijack.

Over the past five years, Pakistani extremists have staged a series of attacks on sensitive military installations, including nuclear facilities. In November 2007, for example, they attacked Sargodha airbase where nuclear-capable F-16 jet aircraft are stationed. The following month a suicide bomber targeted a Pakistani Air Force base believed to hold nuclear weapons at Kamra, 37 miles northwest of Islamabad. In August 2008, a group of suicide bombers blew up the gates to a weapons complex at the Wah cantonment containing a nuclear warhead assembly plant, leaving 63 people dead. A further assault on Kamra took place in October 2009 and yet another last August, this time by eight suicide bombers belonging to the Pakistani Taliban.

Given Pakistan’s dependence on a continuing supply of U.S.-made advanced weaponry — essential to withstand any onslaught by India in a conventional war — its government has had to continually reassure Washington that the security of its nuclear arsenal is foolproof. Its leaders have repeatedly assured their American counterparts that the hemispheres containing nuclear fuel and the triggers for activating the weapons are stored separately under tight guard. This has failed to allay the anxieties of successive American presidents. What disconcerts the U.S. is that, despite contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to underwrite programs to help Pakistan secure its nuclear arms, it does not know where many of these parts are stored.

This is not going to change. The military planners in Islamabad correctly surmise that Delhi and Washington would like to turn Pakistan into a non-nuclear power. At present, they see their nuclear arsenal as the only effective deterrent they have against an Indian aggression which, in their view, they experienced in 1965. “We developed all these nukes to use against India,” said an unnamed senior Pakistani military officer recently quoted in the London-based Sunday Times Magazine. “Now they turn out to be very useful in dealing with the U.S.”

In short, Pakistan’s military high command has come to view its nuclear arsenal as an effective deterrent not only against its traditional adversary, India, but also its nominal ally in Washington. If such thinking solidifies as the country’s military doctrine in the years following the Pentagon’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, then Pakistan may finally find itself removed from Washington’s list of non-NATO allies, ending the dysfunctional nuclear family of international politics. What that would mean in global terms is anyone’s guess.
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  • (Dilip Hiro, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of 33 books, the most recent being Apocalyptic Realm: Jihadists in South Asia (Yale University Press, New Haven and London). To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Hiro discusses the embattled Pakistan-U.S. relationship, click here, or download it to your iPod here.
  • This article first appeared on TomDispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing, co-founder of the American Empire Project, author of The End of Victory Culture, as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing. His latest book is The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s, Haymarket Books).

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