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Evelyn N. Farkas

Pakistan and nuclear proliferation

By Evelyn N. Farkas
March 5, 2009
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A 2007 Foreign Policy magazine poll of 117 nongovernmental terrorism experts found that 74 percent consider Pakistan the country most likely to transfer nuclear technology to terrorists in the next three to five years. Because two years have passed since the survey was taken, that horrific development could be just a year away. And now that the Pakistani government has released from house arrest A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear program and admitted (though later recanted) proliferator of nuclear weapons technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea, we should be nervous. Not because we think the septuagenarian stands ready to peddle his wares again, but because of what it may signal about how seriously Pakistan takes the issue of nuclear proliferation.

Last September, the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism requested a meeting with Khan to discuss nuclear proliferation. The meeting did not take place, not least because the hotel that the Commission was enroute to was blown up hours before its members' arrival, leading the Commission to cancel its visit to Pakistan.

What the Commission did find out - and chronicled in its report "World At Risk" - is that Pakistan and Asia as a whole are the greatest areas of geographic concern for the United States when it comes to the potential for proliferation to terrorists.

Pakistan's provinces bordering on Afghanistan offer a safe haven for terrorists, including Al Qaeda's top leaders. Osama bin Laden continues to seek nuclear weapons and, according to a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, will not hesitate to use them against the United States. Pakistan has about 85 nuclear weapons, and material to make more. In the aftermath of the US-India civil nuclear agreement, China agreed to build two nuclear power plants in Pakistan. More plants mean more material and potential nuclear weapons. Perhaps more important, more plants mean more facilities and transportation routes to guard and material to keep secure.

The nascent nuclear arms race in Asia, which involves India, Pakistan, and China, must be on the agenda of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the new US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. And it must be high on the list of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's priorities as a corollary to revamping the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, nonproliferation norms, and a long-overdue strengthening of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The root cause of the armed standoff between India and Pakistan - the territorial dispute over Kashmir - will not be in Holbrooke's ambit, reportedly because of effective Indian lobbying. For this reason as well, the secretary of state and other senior officials will need to be engaged in confidence-building between India and Pakistan, and involving other potential partners such as Russia.

Holbrooke should seek to obtain cooperation between the US and Pakistani governments on the issue of nuclear security. As part of this cooperation, US intelligence officials should gain access to Khan and whatever information Pakistan's directorate for Interservices Intelligence has on illicit nuclear networks. Washington should also seek to help Pakistan's military and academic community to reduce the risk that terrorists gain access to nuclear science.

US efforts to reduce the danger the Asian nuclear arsenals pose, especially in Pakistan, can be pursued simultaneously with supporting stability, economic development, and democracy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Clinton charged Holbrooke with coordinating across the US government to achieve US strategic goals in the region, presumably including countering a nuclear arms race and keeping weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists. In a Washington Post op-ed last year, Holbrooke wrote, "Washington has usually sent mixed signals to Pakistan. This time the message should be clear and consistent: democracy, reconciliation, the military out of politics, a new policy for the tribal areas - and more democracy." He should should also add: nuclear security and nonproliferation.

Evelyn N. Farkas, who was executive director of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, is author of "Fractured States and US Foreign Policy: Iraq, Ethiopia and Bosnia in the 1990s."

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