The United States’ raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout without Pakistan’s consent has emboldened the trigger-happy superpower to expedite its moves to take control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. The May 2 Abottabad operation that killed the al-Qaeda leader gave the US the necessary fillip to go for this major strategic goal that also serves the national security interests of Israel and India.
However, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons will not fall into the hands of the United States in an Iraq-style invasion. It may come as a result of intense US pressure on hapless Pakistan or in the form of help.
Following the now-not-so-secret threat that Pakistan would be bombed back to the Stone Age if it did not cooperate with the US in the war on terror, the then President Pervez Musharraf wargamed and concluded that despite the possession of nuclear weapons, the survival of his country could be assured only by collaboration and not by confrontation. Since then, this has been the strategy of Pakistan even though the price it has been paying in terms of human lives is colossal, if not devastating.
Having compromised its sovereignty, Pakistan is in a pathetic situation where the choice before it is not about what is good for Pakistan but about what is least harmful to Pakistan.
The Raymond Davis affair is a case in point. Davis, a CIA mercenary, killed two Pakistanis in broad daylight on a busy Lahore street in January. His arrest led to a diplomatic row between the US and Pakistan. The Pakistani people with one voice demanded that Davis be brought to justice despite the US call for his release on the basis that he enjoyed diplomatic immunity. In the face of unprecedented public unity and outcry, the Asif Ali Zardari and Yousuf Raza Gilani regime took great pains to show that it was with the people and that Pakistan’s sovereignty had not been sacrificed on the altar of a superpower with an imperialistic agenda. Alas! Within two months Davis walked out of Pakistan a free man. It is said the victims’ family members were arm-twisted by Pakistani authorities to accept blood money in millions of dollars in exchange for Davis’s freedom.
No matter how intense the public protests were, the Pakistani regime had not shied away from paying pooja to the superpower, which has poured more than US$ 10 billion in military and economic aid into Pakistan since the war on terror began in 2001. Perhaps, this was why the US showed scant regard for Pakistan’s sovereignty — whatever rump it has been reduced to now — when it raided bin Laden’s hideout.
Whatever the anger the Pakistani regime displayed following the raid was more a ploy to mollify the people than a real expression of emotion triggered by the humiliation of not being consulted before the raid.
The British Daily Mail two weeks ago carried a story saying that the script for the drama — how Pakistan should behave if the US launched a unilateral attack on the bin Laden hideout — was written ten years ago. In other words, the Pakistani government’s roar, gnashing of teeth and table-thumping speeches in Parliament were part of the drama. But unlike a majority of the Americans, a majority of the Pakistanis are not gullible. They know their government’s anti-American rhetoric comes with a wink at Washington.
In politics time is a good healer. The people in Pakistan shouted, protested, burnt US flags and some even held funeral prayers for bin Laden, invoking God’s mercy on America’s public enemy number one. Now the dust has settled, bin Laden has become history and it’s business as usual for both Pakistan and the United States.
But the manner in which the Pakistani government and its powerful military have calmed down after big talk has given carte blanche to US hawks to do anything they like in Pakistan. This means taking control of Pakistan’s nukes.
It is no secret that both the US and India have been raising doubts about Pakistan’s ability to protect its nuclear arsenal from terrorists or jihadi elements within the military. Wikileaks cables released last year also confirmed US concerns about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.
Last Sunday, Britain’s Sunday Express newspaper carried an exclusive story with the headline ‘US to protect Pakistan’. The story by Marco Giannangeli suggested that US President Barack Obama would order troops to parachute in to protect key nuclear sites if Pakistan’s nuclear installations came under threat from terrorists out to avenge the killing of bin Laden.
“The plan is green lit and the President has already shown he is willing to deploy troops in Pakistan if he feels it is important for national security,” the Sunday Express quoted a US source as saying.
The Sunday Express story appears to have been planted by some US hawks who do Israel’s bidding. The question before the Pakistanis is whether their government, which says little when US drones kill Pakistani civilians, will wilt under US pressure and let US troops take over the nuclear sites under the pretext of protecting them from terrorists.
Another question is whether this week’s confrontation between Pakistani troops and the US forces at a border outpost in Pakistan was a move to trigger a limited war with Pakistan — a war that will apply pressure on Islamabad to let the US forces in.