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Monday, September 25, 2023

Pakistan’s Nuclear Program still an eyesore? Part 2

The USA’s multiple thrusts to defang Pakistan’s nuclear program includes inducing or trapping Pakistan’s political rulers. The first attempt was made on Benazir Bhutto during her exile in London in the 1980s. She was helped to return to Pakistan in 1986 and to become the first woman PM of a Muslim country in 1988.

Donald Trump further upped the ante by adopting a highly belligerent posture. He stopped the installments of the CSF to the Pak Army and made its release conditional to showing progress in the war on terror. Pakistan was accused of providing safe havens to the Haqqani network (HN).

The Trump regime let the regime of Nawaz Sharif fall in July 2018 in order to apply brakes to the rapidly progressing CPEC and development of the Pak-China strategic relationship.

Trump cultivated a personal friendship with Narendra Modi but also exhibited his softness toward the new PM Imran Khan (IK). He deceptively offered his services to the visiting IK to Washington in July 2019 to mediate in resolving the Kashmir dispute, but soon after, gave a go-ahead signal to Modi to annex disputed Indian-occupied Kashmir on August 5, 2019.

Read more: Pakistan nuclear technology helped country earn $7.4 bn

He convinced IK not to take any proactive steps in Kashmir and to restrain the jihadi elements from crossing the LoC. He coerced the PTI regime to make CPEC controversial and to almost stop work on the Phase-2 projects.

Trump expressed his gratitude to Pakistan for help in signing the Doha peace agreement in Feb 2020 but didn’t renew CSF and the US economic assistance. IMF, FATF and India were used as tools to coerce Pakistan and weaken its economy.

Joe Biden’s biases

Joe Biden came under huge pressure domestically on account of the hasty and humiliating exit of the US and NATO forces from Afghanistan in Aug 2021. To minimize his embarrassment, he blamed Pakistan for the debacle, instead of being grateful to Pakistan for the safe withdrawal of the occupying forces.

For this reason, he gave IK a cold shoulder and didn’t make any effort to improve Pak- US relations. IK’s visit to Moscow on 24 February, the day on which Russian troops crossed into Ukraine, and his refusal to vote against Russian aggression in the UN further miffed Biden.

IK accused Biden of toppling his regime in April 2022 because of his leaning toward Russia, but Washington refuted the allegations. Audio leaks have now proven that IK was playing the conspiracy narrative to enhance his declining popularity and to earn the sympathies of the people.

Apparently, the Biden regime showed positive signs of making amends in its biased foreign policy by improving relations with the new regime under Shahbaz Sharif.

As a consequence to the changed attitude of the US, the EU, Arab Gulf States, the IMF and FATF had also become soft and cooperative.

These developments gave a ray of hope to the PDM regime that with their cooperation and support, it would be able to surmount its economic woes, but its optimism received a shock after the statement made by Biden regarding Pakistan’s nuclear program.

Biden’s challenges

Faced with heavy criticism from the Republicans, several domestic movements due to his failure to address social issues, and presiding over the humiliating exit from Afghanistan, Biden’s position at home became wobbly.

The war in Ukraine which is going against the interests of the US and Europe further added to his worries. China is on its way to becoming the next superpower, while Russia under President Putin has once again emerged as a power to reckon with. Saudi Arabia and UAE have for the first time defied the US pressure over oil production.

Read more: 100 million deaths and more: The cost of an India-Pakistan nuclear war

They are trading oil and gas with Russia and China in rubles and yuan against the wishes of the US. High profile visit of President Xi Jinping to Riyadh this month has shaken the US Middle East policy. The US is losing friends and is seen as a declining power.

Biden’s dig on Pakistan’s nuclear program

Faced with multiple difficulties, it was very strange that Biden chose to stir up Pakistan’s nuclear program in Oct 2022, the timings of which were unsuitable for the US, badly in need of friends.

In line with the narrative of his predecessors, he opined that Pakistan is among the most dangerous countries of the world and its nuclear program is without any cohesion. He expressed his fears that it can be misused by anyone.

In other words, he reincarnated the old narrative of ‘lack of safety and falling in the wrong hands’.

It needs deeper appraisal as to what impelled Biden to raise this issue in his address to the Democratic Congressional Committee when the strained Pak-US relations had just begun to show signs of improvement.

Pakistan’s measured response

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry promptly expressed its reservations in a measured and mature manner, stating that the successive regimes in Washington as well as the IAEA have been expressing their full satisfaction on the multi-layered safety system and foolproof effective control of Pakistan’s nuclear program, which has never shown any lapse.

The US ambassador Donald Blome was summoned and was handed over the protest note.

Should Pakistan continue to rely on the USA?

As an afterthought, the US State Department made an effort to control the damage by expressing its confidence in the safety apparatus of Pakistan and its capacity to protect its nuclear assets, and that the US regarded Pakistan an important ally.

Biden’s remarks could have been made in reaction to Pakistan abstaining from voting in the UN to condemn the Russian attack on Ukraine. But it does disclose the mindset of the US leadership.

Read more: Pakistan Army assures safety of nuclear assets

By now Pakistan should have gotten used to the unjust and partial attitude of the USA and should remain content in maintaining transactional relations with the double-dealing USA.

If the US, obsessed with its agenda to denuclearize Pakistan, decides to further strangulate Pakistan’s dwindling economy at this vulnerable stage, it will plunge Pakistan into the worst-ever crisis endangering its security and integrity.

After a long history of betrayals spread over six decades, Pakistan’s policymakers should review the policy of heavy dependence upon the US and the US-controlled IMF, and prepare the future foreign policy on assumptions that under no circumstances the US would prefer Pakistan over India, or help Pakistan at the cost of annoying India.

Internal dangers to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal

The USA’s multiple thrusts to defang Pakistan’s nuclear program includes inducing or trapping Pakistan’s political rulers. The first attempt was made on Benazir Bhutto during her exile in London in the 1980s. She was helped to return to Pakistan in 1986 and to become the first woman PM of a Muslim country in 1988. A commitment was taken from her to roll back the nuclear program. Smelling the rat, the military establishment kept her away from the Kahuta plant, and was unseated in 1990.

Her return from exile in Oct 2007 to become 3rd time PM was made possible by US-UK in return for rolling back the nuclear program. To frighten her, she was subjected to a bomb attack at Karsaz on 17 Oct 2007 which she narrowly escaped. When she crossed swords with President Musharraf with whom she was required to share power, she became a danger and was bumped off on Dec 27, 2007.

In Aug 2008, PM Gilani before proceeding to Washington issued a notification to place the ISI under the Interior Ministry, but his move was thwarted by the COAS Gen Ashfaq Kayani. In Sept 2008, during his visit to Washington, President Zardari asked the so-called western friends to provide $200 billion to resolve Pakistan’s economic issues. It was widely speculated that secretly he had given the undertaking to close the nuclear program.

Read more: Pakistan’s nuclear program again under attack?

The US came closest to achieving its objective when Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington Hussain Haqqani, at the behest of President Zardari and PM Gilani, handed over a Memorandum to CJCSC Mike Mullen in Oct 2011, in which offers were made to allow NATO forces to step into FATA freely, to obtain approval of Pentagon for promotions and postings of senior officers of army, to open nuclear facilities for inspections by IAEA, and to drastically reduce the size of armed forces. This gory plan was again aborted by Gen Kayani and Lt Gen Shuja Pasha.

The current economic situation has become so fragile that technically the country has defaulted. The incumbent government has been forced to enforce financial emergency. In the wake of extreme political instability, the crumbling economy heightened insecurity in KP and Baluchistan due to terrorism, moral, ethical, social, religious and human values having hit rock bottom, rumors are afloat, that the compromised PDM government might sell or mortgage nuclear arsenal in return for a bailout economic package. The PM and Finance Minister are, however, confident that they will pull out the economy from the quagmire and things are moving in the right direction. Fuel and daily commodities prices have been reduced.




The writer is a retired Brig Gen, war veteran, defence, security and political analyst, international columnist, writes exclusively for Veterans Today, Global Village Space, Bitter Truth and Bangla Vision, author of five books. He can be approached at asifharoonraja@gmail.com.

The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.