Friday, October 23, 2015

Bomb Go Boom!

When India mounted an underground nuclear weapons test back in 1974, three years after a disastrous war between India and Pakistan – one that resulted in Pakistan’s loss of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) – its President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto accelerated his nation’s nuclear weapons development program. Pakistan, under PhD metallurgist, Dr. A.Q. Khan and other top scientists, began a long and intensive program to manufacture sufficiently enriched uranium, relying on technology that they were able to secure from China, a country with its own set of wars and tensions with India. By the mid-1980s, there was enough highly enriched uranium for a bomb. In 1987, Pakistan stunned the world and mounted its own underground nuclear weapons test.
More tests followed. Plutonium made its way on to the Pakistan stage by 1998, and the warheads and their delivery systems became sequentially more sophisticated. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Khan was instrumental in passing “how to” nuclear weapons information to both North Korea (which clearly has nuclear weapons) and Iran. Convicted of espionage and dismissed from Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, his punishment, a relative short stint of house-arrest, suggest governmental complicity in Khan’s purported betrayal of his country. It was a meaningless slap on the wrist.
Today, estimates place Pakistan’s nuclear warheads at between 45 and 100 individual devices. Pakistan has well-developed land-based missiles to launch its weapons and is also on its way to creating sea-based launch capacity. Given that Pakistan is almost exclusively Muslim (north of 95%, mostly Sunni with 15-20% Shiite), its nuclear weapons are not infrequently called the “Muslim Bomb.” And Pakistan is anything but stable.
The rage of Muslim extremist regional anger was fueled heavily by the policies of General Zia Ul Haq (above), who deposed Ali Bhutto in a military coup and was President of Pakistan from 1978-88. The good general installed militant Muslim representatives on virtually all Pakistani college campuses (with real power), encouraged fundamentalist schools, the madrasa, to teach militant values at primary and secondary levels and was seen as a friend to the Islamist cause. His movement of radical Islamists into positions of influence and power linger into the present.
Pakistan has vacillated between civilian rule and military coups throughout its almost 70-year history. With serious income inequality, Pakistan has always had a few mega-rich, powerful families pitted against a military, where impoverished youth have been promoted up the ranks, a rare parallel path to power for ordinary citizens. Corruption in Pakistan is legendary.
Radical populist Islam generated sympathies in the military and its parallel Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI). After all, this is where impoverished youth can wreak revenge on the privileged classes. Zia died in a mysterious plane crash in the summer of 1998, but his legacy of interweaving radical Islam into major institutions across his country, government and private, has complicated regional risks to unparalleled levels.
Despite Taliban (Sunni extremists) incursions and violent actions in Pakistan, a growing presence particularly in northern and western reaches of the country, Pakistani grassroots are more comfortable with nasty Sunnis than they are with what most Pakistanis see as even nastier Americans. Bin Laden’s killing may have brought cheer to Americans, but the hatred of the US grew even more vitriolic in Pakistan. With a virtually autonomous Western Tribal District, where even the Pakistani military has limited power, bordering Afghanistan, Taliban and other extremist operatives have a safe haven from both American and Pakistani forces.
Pakistan is a purported ally of the United States in its war on terrorism, and as long as we have fears in Afghanistan, that paper alliance is likely to continue. But it is widely believed that the military and ISI support Islamic radicals, throwing only a few under the bus now and again to keep the American military aid flowing in.
If Israel has fears over Iran – whose nuclear program was born in Pakistan as noted above – if Americans who oppose Iran’s purported nuclear path fear an out-of-control Iran, then then they should be terrified of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Bombs and warheads in an unstable nation with a history of sharing its nuclear secrets with extremists. Add a military sympathetic to radical Islam and increases attacks within Pakistan by Taliban and other Muslim extremists! Iran is at least relatively stable; the government is very much in control.
Pakistan is a simmering mess, ripe for all kinds of violent destabilizing acts… and the horrific potential for one or more fully-operational warheads or bombs being supplied to radicals with a proclivity to use them against…. Yeah… Scary, huh? But do you see Congress up in arms over this much-more-likely risk? Silence. Think about it. Pakistan is right now. Iran is a maybe for the distant future.
I’m Peter Dekom, and while everyone is looking at Iran’s nuclear program….

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