November 10, 2009

Nuclear Fallout

Seymour Hersh’s latest digging turned up little that isn’t commonly known to those following the region. Pakistan’s thorough denial of his charges aren’t directed at the actual conspiracy so much as the spirit of conspiracy.

For the record, the following doesn’t exist.

Admiral Mike Mullen, asked about increased American insight into the arsenal, said, through his spokesman, “I am not aware of our receipt of any such information.” (A senior military officer added that the information, if it had been conveyed, would most likely “have gone to another government agency.”)

But the corners Hersh shined his light into could already be theorized: America has in-depth knowledge of Pakistan’s nuclear command structure and little knowledge of the actual weapon’s locations. Pakistan lies and America plays along. Nuclear components aren’t truly threatened either. Hersh, while exploring the possibility, never portrays an Islamic fundamentalist coup as realistic.

The report is good for insight into Pakistan’s tactical workings, particularly Pervez Musharraf’s explanation of the underground tunnel network transporting nuclear material out of sight from American satellites. Pakistan didn't need a rumor that America formed special teams to safeguard Pakistan’s nuclear weapons during a state of emergency, but the idea itself is nothing out of the ordinary.

Hersh’s bombshell is more of a flash grenade, a pseudo explosion, through no fault of his own. Those feelings that followed unleashed the essence of Pakistan’s fury.

“Pakistan neither needs any American unit for enhancing the security for its arsenal nor would accept it,” Hersh quoted a Pakistani military spokesman as responding to him.

Then, the day after his story broke, the Foreign Ministry reacted, "Pakistan's strategic assets are completely safe and secure. The multi-layered custodial controls, which have been developed indigenously, are as foolproof and effective as in any other nuclear weapons state. Pakistan, therefore, does not require any foreign assistance in this regard. Nor will Pakistan, as a sovereign state, ever allow any country to have direct or indirect access to its nuclear and strategic facilities. Any suggestion to this effect is simply preposterous."

Pakistani officials accused Hersh of displaying his "well-known anti-Pakistan bias, calling his article, "nothing more than a concoction to tarnish the image of Pakistan and create misgivings among its people."

But Hersh never said anything too controversial, normal rumors in Pakistan really, and he interviewed figures from both sides, even admitting that America's strategy made Pakistan "hate our guts." Hersh’s real message is the continuing fragility of US-Pakistani and Pakistani-Indian relations,. An ugly truth, hence the backlash.

Perhaps part of America’s new propaganda strategy, Ambassador Anne Patterson called the report “false and baseless,” saying the US had no intention of seizing the country’s nuclear weapons. Here we find an answer - Hersh spent as much time analyzing how terrorists or rogue Pakistanis could seize a bomb, but the focus remains on America.

The mere existence of his report is radioactive, not necessarily what’s in it. Contents of rumors over Pakistan’s weapons range on a relative scale, but raising the issue to begin with, for any reason, is an absolute offense. US-Pakistani relations are like a frozen ocean - stable enough to stand on, infinite distrust underneath.

Hersh quotes a senior Pakistani official who, “exploded with anger during an interview when the subject turned to the American demands for more information about the arsenal. After the September 11th attacks, he said, there had been an understanding between the Bush Administration and then President Pervez Musharraf ‘over what Pakistan had and did not have.’

‘Today,’ he said, ‘you’d like control of our day-to-day deployment. But why should we give it to you? Even if there was a military coup d’état in Pakistan, no one is going to give up total control of our nuclear weapons. Never. Why are you not afraid of India’s nuclear weapons?’ the official asked. ‘Because India is your friend, and the longtime policies of America and India converge. Between you and the Indians, you will fuck us in every way. The truth is that our weapons are less of a problem for the Obama Administration than finding a respectable way out of Afghanistan.’”

“They like us better in Pakistan than you Americans,” said one Indian official. “I can tell you that in a public-opinion poll we, India, will beat you.”

That is the spirit in Pakistan.

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