The United States’ Democrat vice-presidential hopeful Senator Joseph Biden has made an assessment of Pakistan as a “dangerous” state and has thereby sought to trim the Democrat electoral pitch for maximum advantage. The disenchanted formerly Republican voter is now supposed to vote Democrat because the Obama-Biden team is aware of the “dangers of terrorism and nuclear proliferation”. Talking about terrorism, Mr Biden said during his TV debate with the Republican candidate for vice-presidentship, Ms Sarah Palin: “I promise you, if an attack comes in the homeland, it’s going to come...from Al Qaeda planning in the hills of Afghanistan and Pakistan. That’s where they live”.
While this was said to decry the Republican emphasis on Iraq as a source of future danger, the case made against Pakistan as the “most dangerous place” in the world is a repetition of what the major magazines and newspapers in the Western world have already said.
Mr Biden’s second comment during the debate was on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. He said: “Pakistan already has nuclear weapons. Pakistan already has deployed nuclear weapons. Pakistan’s weapons can already hit Israel and the Mediterranean. Iran getting a nuclear weapon would be very, very destabilising... So they’re both very dangerous. They both would be game-changers”.
This statement is factually wrong because Pakistan does not have deployed nuclear weapons and its missiles do not have the range to strike Israel. It is amazing that Mr Biden should have delivered this gaffe, billed as he is as a foreign policy expert.
In any case, his statement is going to play in favour of those in Pakistan who say that the war against terrorism is not Pakistan’s war and that the US is less interested in fighting Al Qaeda than in destroying Pakistan’s nuclear capability. His comment on the growth of terrorism in Pakistan draws on the lack of support by the media — “it is not Pakistan’s war” — to the Pakistan army as it fights terrorists in the Tribal Areas. Of course Mr Biden didn’t say he did not believe Prime Minister Gilani when the latter said recently that terrorists in the Tribal Areas were training foreigners on Pakistani territory and that these elements could attack the United States. In fact, the Biden remark reflects the confidence he has in the democratic order now in place in Pakistan. Another government “backgrounder” from Pakistan says that Al Qaeda and the Taliban are “not different entities but one consolidated structure” planning to transform Pakistan into an Al Qaeda state.
How unstable is Pakistan today? Some measure of it has been provided by the Marriott Hotel blast and the attempted killing of the ANP leader Mr Asfandyar Wali. Pakistan’s press is faithfully recording the process of “Talibanisation” of the country’s capital where no one is safe. An article has described how Sector G-11 of Islamabad has overnight sprouted four mosques within a square of 500 yards in its centre. In the I-10 sector, a public park has been trespassed by a madrassa which has grown from a one-room affair to a multi-storeyed institution. The mosque administration has told the citizens that no permission was required for building a mosque. Islamabad sprouted 43 illegal mosques in 2007, while by official reckoning, the legal mosques in the city are sufficient to cater to the population. There are 80 madrassas already in existence there.
Scared of what might happen to them, foreign sportsmen don’t come to Pakistan any more. The latest blow to Pakistan’s prestige is the refusal of a girls’ cricket team from the West Indies to tour Pakistan because of the fear of getting caught up in an Al Qaeda strike. Foreign businessmen have stopped coming to Pakistan, many have cancelled their orders for Pakistani exports, and Pakistan’s own investments in the manufacturing sector have not only ceased but a lot of Pakistani capital is fleeing from the country through “dollarisation”. It is this state of affairs that causes the world to think about the fate of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and, ironically, this is also a major reason why the “Friends of Pakistan” must come forward to its help.
[B]Far from planning to divest Pakistan of its nuclear weapons, the Bush Administration began by tacitly recognising Pakistan as a nuclear power. One big factor in Pakistan’s siding with the global coalition against terrorism after 9/11 was the nuclear “acceptance” it promised and the shelter it provided from the IAEA investigations against Dr AQ Khan for his proliferation activities in the illegal “nuclear market”. Pakistan’s nuclear command and control system, aimed at securing its nuclear assets from unauthorised manipulation, was given clearance by the world, including the direct rival, India. Why are nuclear fears rising now?[
For those who want Pakistan to boycott the war on terrorism “in order to prevent the US from grabbing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons”, one only has to say that this course will only serve to endanger the weapons. The fact is — to repeat Prime Minister Gilani’s comment — that the world needs Pakistan’s help to fight the war on terror. And the route to safety lies in fighting the Al Qaeda machinery of terrorism inside Pakistan and to prevent it from seizing Pakistan’s major cities before it tries to capture the state and consequently our nuclear assets. *