EDITORIAL: Pakistan and the road to nuclear redemption

Pakistan and the road to nuclear redemption

If Frederick Kagan and Michael O’Hanlon were bloggers their ruminations on how to safeguard Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal would be contemptuously dismissed. But when an architect of the “Surge” and his Brookings Institute sidekick turn their attention to Pakistan, there’s good reason to be concerned. This back-of-an-envelope military planning from nominal experts is likely to garner some unwarranted attention. For one thing, since the White House regards the Surge as a stunning success, it’s natural that Kagan (and Surge cheerleader O’Hanlon) will receive a sympathetic ear. And though their counsel is singularly lacking in substance, a president with little interest in detail is unlikely to notice its absence.

Consider this statement from Kagan and O’Hanlon’s op-ed in which the dream of American military salvation ( “send in the Marines”, “here comes the cavalry”) is once again invoked:

One possible plan would be a Special Forces operation with the limited goal of preventing Pakistan’s nuclear materials and warheads from getting into the wrong hands. Given the degree to which Pakistani nationalists cherish these assets, it is unlikely the United States would get permission to destroy them. Somehow, American forces would have to team with Pakistanis to secure critical sites and possibly to move the material to a safer place.

But this is not a plan; it’s a brain fart. Any plan, however brief, however elemental, however broad its brush strokes, cannot include the adverb somehow. Somehow is how in search of a plan. But there’s good reason Kagan and O’Hanlon wistfully say “somehow”: the Pakistanis thus far have had no interest in revealing to their overbearing American friends the locations of these critical sites. The idea that the Pakistani military or any faction within it would in effect hand over the prize jewels of Pakistan’s national defense for American safekeeping — even if that was in “a remote redoubt within Pakistan” — is laughable. There can be little doubt that American officials have already been provided with multiple assurances that the components of this arsenal are already secure in a number of remote redoubts. Clear evidence (from the point of view of Pakistan’s military) that these sites are secure is that the Americans don’t know their whereabouts.

As the New York Times noted this weekend, a U.S. sponsored, post-9/11 plan to safeguard Pakistan’s nuclear weapons,

…has been hindered by a deep suspicion among Pakistan’s military that the secret goal of the United States was to gather intelligence about how to locate and, if necessary, disable Pakistan’s arsenal, which is the pride of the country.

So, it would seem that while Washington indulges in hair brain schemes for safeguarding Pakistani nukes, Pakistan’s military is less concerned about these weapons falling into the hands of militants than it fears America using Pakistan’s instability as a ruse for implementing a unilateral disarmament scheme.

Kagan and O’Hanlon, sensing that pro-American Pakistanis might be in short supply, have nevertheless devised a Plan B — sort of. This one requires, “a sizable combat force — not only from the United States, but ideally also other Western powers and moderate Muslim nations.” Our theoreticians are confident that the “longstanding effectiveness of Pakistan’s security forces,” will provide sufficient time for a U.S.-led coalition to be deployed. The American troops won’t come from Iraq or Afghanistan — South Korea? This is one of the many details still to be worked out.

Now we get to the really interesting passage, indicating that our Iraq war supporters have made great strides during post-invasion therapy. From here on, annotation rather than commentary is required:

…if we got a large number of troops into the country, what would they do? [Excellent question. This indicates that K&H understand that it’s vital to have a plan when sending thousands of American troops into unfamiliar territory.] The most likely directive would be to help Pakistan’s military and security forces hold the country’s center — primarily the region around the capital, Islamabad, and the populous areas like Punjab Province to its south. [Again, top marks to our theoreticians for assuming that it would be a good idea to steer clear of the hornets’ nest of Karachi.]

We would also have to be wary of internecine warfare within the Pakistani security forces. Pro-American moderates could well win a fight against extremist sympathizers on their own. [Let’s hear it for the Anbar Awakening.] But they might need help if splinter forces or radical Islamists took control of parts of the country containing crucial nuclear materials. The task of retaking any such regions and reclaiming custody of any nuclear weapons would be a priority for our troops. [We can go after the WMD and find them this time. We know they’re there…. We just have to find them.]

If a holding operation in the nation’s center was successful, we would probably then seek to establish order in the parts of Pakistan where extremists operate. Beyond propping up the state, this would benefit American efforts in Afghanistan by depriving terrorists of the sanctuaries they have long enjoyed in Pakistan’s tribal and frontier regions.

Brilliant! Kagan and O’Hanlon have really hit on the masterstroke — a U.S. invasion of Pakistan’s tribal territories. Now all those Democrats who said Iraq was a distraction from the war on terrorism will be forced on board. Who would have anticipated that the fall of Musharraf might provide such a golden opportunity?

And just in case Vice President Cheney doesn’t have time to study the Kagan-O’Hanlon plan in detail, here’s the summary: We’re going to find the WMD, defeat al Qaeda, and when the dust settles, Pakistan will be back on the path to democracy. After such a glorious success, by November 2008 everyone will have forgotten about Iraq.

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3 thoughts on “EDITORIAL: Pakistan and the road to nuclear redemption

  1. Alma Jurgensen

    I thought we were, secretly, already watching over Pakistan’s nuclear facilities…that’s what the news earlier this week suggested.

    It appears, also, that we are training a group of some 25+ ‘advisers’ to go to Pakistan to help train the Pakistan military. Again, I was under the impression that Pakistan’s military was highly trained already.

    Is this ‘plan’ just another excuse to get a ‘hands-on’ position in Pakistan?

    I must admit to confusion on this issue.

  2. Paul Woodward

    Anyone reading a New York Times headline that says, “U.S. Secretly Aids Pakistan in Guarding Nuclear Arms,” can be forgiven for getting the impression that Uncle Sam is keeping a watchful eye on these weapons. The article itself, however, makes it clear that although Pakistan has received equipment and training from the U.S. to improve the security of its facilities, Pakistan has kept the U.S. at a safe distance:

    While American officials say that they believe the arsenal is safe at the moment, and that they take at face value Pakistani assurances that security is vastly improved, in many cases the Pakistani government has been reluctant to show American officials how or where the gear [supplied by the U.S.] is actually used.

    That is because the Pakistanis do not want to reveal the locations of their weapons or the amount or type of new bomb-grade fuel the country is now producing.

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