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The Alliance From Hell

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Posted on Oct 18, 2012
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By Dilip Hiro, TomDispatch

(Page 3)

Unlike in Yemen, where the government has authorized the Obama administration to stage drone attacks, Pakistani leaders, who implicitly accepted such strikes before the Pentagon’s gross violation of their country’s sovereignty in the bin Laden killing, no longer do so.  “The use of unilateral strikes on Pakistan territory is illegal,” said Foreign Minister Khar. Her government, she explained, needed to rally popular backing for its campaign to quash armed militant groups, and the drones make that impossible. “As the drones fly over the territory of Pakistan, it becomes an American war and the whole logic of this being our fight, in our own interest, is immediately put aside and again it is a war imposed on us.”

Underlying the deployment of a drone, helicopter, or jet fighter to hit a target in a foreign country is an updated version of the Vietnam-era doctrine of “hot pursuit,” which ignores the basic concept of national sovereignty. Pakistani leaders fear that if they do not protest Washington’s continued use of drones for “targeted killings” of Pakistan-based individuals selected in the White House, their arch-rival India will follow suit. It will hit the camps in Pakistan allegedly training terrorists to destabilize Indian Kashmir. That is one of the ongoing nightmares of Pakistan’s senior generals.

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.

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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.

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.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.

Copyright 2012 Dilip Hiro


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