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Can USA Clutch Pakistan Nukes? Fables And Veracities – OpEd

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After Operation Geronimo, a number of apprehensions are being raised. Both the Pakistani, international media and the analysts are claiming that USA can make a grab at the Pakistan’s strategic weapons. In this context the Pakistani Prime Minister Mr. Gilani and Chief of Army Staff General Kiyani warned US to refrain from any kind of intrusion within the Pakistani territory. Recently, Britain Newspaper ‘Sunday Express’ revealed that President Obama has given green signal to his forces to take control of Pakistan’s strategic weapons if terrorists try to take control to avenge Osama Bin Laden. Moreover it was stated that in this operation, the American forces or the Govt will not take permission from Mr. Zardari and take hold of sensitive facilities including Sargodha Air base.

Now the million dollar question is that could really USA grab strategic weapons of Pakistan, a country which has the sixth largest army and pocesses one of the best command and control system of the world? Nevertheless if we study Pakistan’s security system then there are three reasons that America would not try to seize its strategic weapons. First, as mentioned earlier that Pakistan has an advantage of a strong and robust command and control system which consists of a multi-tiered security system around the strategic weapons focused on 8,000 to 10,000 security personnel. Let’s suppose that if the terrorists do get access to these weapons, the Permissive Action Links (PALs) which is based on “two or three man rules” would prevent these terrorists in detonating the nuclear weapons. Thus it is not possible for the terrorists to get access to strategic weapons and the US would have no reason to make their claim on the control of Pakistan’s strategic weapons.

Secondly, if terrorists do attempt to control the strategic weapons of Pakistan then the question is would USA really take control of Pakistan’s strategic weapons? It is a known fact that USA wants a safe exit from Afghanistan and this is not possible without Pakistan’s assistance whether USA realizes it or not. In case USA confiscates Pakistan’s strategic facilities, it would provoke Pakistan’s public which is already against the US policies. Another interesting thing is that all American bases in Afghanistan are near the border of Pakistan in order to safe exit through Pakistan so If America takes possession of Pakistan’s strategic facilities then American will be have to face confrontation from both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Since America has built almost all its bases near Pakistani boarders it would become very difficult to make a safe exit from Pakistan especially after the any future terrible incident.

Thirdly, if the US forces do try to capture Pakistan’s strategic weapons, then the US would have to know the exact locations of all its strategic weapons. But if they are unsuccessful in apprehend only one nuke then in retaliation, Pakistan is pretty much capable of targeting American bases as well as Israel which is USA’s favorite child in the region. Thus in this scenario, it would be very difficult for the US to take control of the strategic weapons of Pakistan and jeopardize its interest as well as peace of the world. It’s a mere USA’s bluff to take control of Pakistan’s strategic weapons.

Now we see the other face of the picture. However after the recent Abbottabad incident, majority members of the parliament of Pakistan raised the question as to why Pakistan does not shoot down the drones? In response to the question, the DG ISI Lt. General Shuja Pasha answered that Pakistan has the capability to shoot down Drones, but Pakistan would not sustain the consequences of this type of confrontation with USA. His answer was met with a deafening silence from the parliamentarians.

To elaborate further it is observed that there are two main ingredients of deterrence i.e. capability and credibility. Pakistan possesses the capability of nuclear weapons as well as its sophisticated delivery system. Credibility revolves around two important factors namely ‘Second Strike Capability’ and ‘Political Will’. Political Will means the strong spirit of political leadership to use the nuclear weapons when their national interests are threatened. It is also a backbone of nuclear deterrence; however the recent statements of DG ISI Pasha and the silence of the parliamentarians were very zilch in terms of nuclear deterrence.

So the statement of Gen. Pasha and the response of parliamentarians could tempt the US to make a grab at the Pakistan’s strategic weapons. Now President Obama himself said in an interview with BBC that the US will not hesitate to carry out action such as the incident in Abbottabad. It is true that the US will do what they like with respect to Pakistan who in turn would not take action against violation of its sovereignty. These types of action will persuade USA for action against Pakistan’s strategic weapons. It is a possibility that Pakistan and its forces would not take action against USA’s raid on its sensitive facilities due to lack of political will. Again it can be mentioned here that Pakistan has one of the strong and robust command control system. In this context we can take example of a man that is well trained and has a sophisticated AK-47 but he would not use it due to the threat of consequence. One consequence being that this stance could prompt the US to make a grab at the strategic weapons of Pakistan. To conclude, Pakistan should realize that it has every ability to counter terrorists act as well as the capability to deter to the USA’s aggression but they lack in terms of political will.



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M. Suleman Shahid

M. Suleman Shahid is a Research scholar at the Strategic & Nuclear Studies Department, National Defence University Islamabad, and may be reached at [email protected]

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