John Bolton former US National Security Adviser has recently argued on several platforms with a mere hypothetical assumption absent from a thorough, reliable and credible academic research that the fall of Kabul and the arrival of Taliban in Afghanistan after the complete US withdrawal could lay their hands on the Pakistani nuclear weapons. Sadly, Bolton has missed his analysis on what will happen to the sophisticated US military weapons worth nearly a trillion US dollars in Afghanistan? How will these weapons be managed amidst the evolving situation of Afghanistan?
The US and its allies are silent on this evolving, but serious imperative that could potentially have deleterious implications on the peace and security of Afghanistan in general and its neighboring country Pakistan in particular. Single-handedly, Bolton’s belief system appears to be biased, aggressive, fanatic, and fictional; the existing US leadership may not necessarily follow up as a matter of policy.
Bolton’s argument for that matter could create more confusion and complexity both in the US and amongst the comity of the South Asian region. Arguably, his assumption is potentially based on frustration out of twenty long years of the US failure in Afghanistan to which he remained a crucial part for sometimes that are currently being debated both in the US itself and abroad as to how and why the US failed in ensuring broader peace and stability in Afghanistan. In addition to many credible pieces on the US failure on Afghanistan, even the former US State Secretary and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger has recently commented in his piece in the Economist on the US failure in Afghanistan.
Bolton’s naïve argument on the fall of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in the hands of non-state actors negates not only the consistent Pakistan’s efforts in ensuring the safety and security of its nuclear weapons to the international standard required, but also the enriched existing literature on why state’s acquire nuclear weapons in the first place amongst which the state’s security remains the predominant factor due to which state aggressively strives to acquire nuclear weapon capability.
In the realist paradigm like many nuclear weapon states, Pakistan also acquired such credible capability for security reasons in reaction to India’s nuclear weapon tests in 1974 and 1998. Obviously, one may assume that Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence is India-specific. Rationally, no nuclear weapon state would desire to let its nuclear weapon fall in the wrong hands nor would it want these weapons to be proliferated to other countries. Why would any analyst for that matter Bolton expect a rational actor (Pakistan) to do such an unthinkable? This is irrational against the core values of nuclear deterrence.
While understanding the sheer value of nuclear deterrence, Pakistan has come a long way maturing not only its nuclear weapon deterrence capability against its potential adversary, but also strengthened the safety and security mechanism related to nuclear weapons and its related facilities. For example, in the wake of its nuclear tests, Pakistan immediately created National Command Authority by ensuring the creation of reliable and credible command and control mechanism, personnel reliability program, export control regimes, Pakistan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority, Pakistan’s Centre of Excellence and Nuclear Security etc. to ensure that its nuclear weapon and its related facilities remain safe, secure, credible, and reliable. Many credible institutions such as the International Atomic Energy Agency have already acknowledged the untiring efforts of Pakistan’s safety and security mechanism.
It is imperative to note that some credible voices surely much higher in positions than the Bolton’s could be in the US that has already expressed high confidence in the safety mechanism of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. All including Bolton must have heard and read such voices amidst the complex time in Pakistan faced with the menace of terrorism and extremism. For example, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen described U.S. concern about the matter during a September 22, 2008, speech: “To the best of my ability to understand it—and that is with some ability—the weapons there are secure. And that even in the change of government, the controls of those weapons haven’t changed.” Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte in testimony to Congress on November 7, 2007 believed that there is “plenty of succession planning that’s going on in the Pakistani military” and that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are under “effective technical control.” Moreover, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated in a January 21, 2010, interview that the United States is “very comfortable with the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.” Similarly, James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, told the House Intelligence Committee February 10, 2011, that “our assessment is that the nuclear weapons in Pakistan are secure.” All these responsible statements potentially negate what Bolton has recently argued. Perhaps, Bolton’s unconvincing argument does not matter much here.
That being noted, if Bolton has read these credible statements and understood the literature why Pakistan went nuclear and how Pakistan becomes geopolitically significant player for regional peace and stability as it borders with Afghanistan and Iran, then most probably he would come up with more sensible argument as to what more needs to be done for holding direct talks with Pakistan, make more friends rather than enemies, prevent undiplomatic and biased argument, and develop reasonable strategies with all the responsible and immediate stakeholders to manage the evolving situation in Afghanistan in order to prevent another perceived 9/11.
Admittedly, Pakistan’s geopolitical significance for that matter cannot simply be ignored, nor could it benefit the US to mistrust and mismanage Pakistan amid the evolving situation in Afghanistan. Ask any leading strategist, one may come with the similar conclusion that even though the US withdraws from Afghanistan, its prime interest may never doom away from the region. And where Pakistan sits in the evolving geopolitical landscape, it is for those leading strategists to carefully and correctly guide the leading security advisers like Bolton in the US on the evolving significance of Pakistan than ever before. The viable policy solution for the US and its allies is to hold consistent talks, develop trust, retain balancing act, and manage Pakistan timely and effectively to prevent any unforeseen and ugly strategic environment that could potentially harm all and benefit none.
*Dr Zafar Khan, The author is an Executive Director at Balochistan Think Tank Network (BTTN), at BUITEMS, Quetta