Seymour Hersh’s most recent article features a sick peek into the mind of a relatively honest president and explores the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

The militant takeovers of regions in Paksitan and its Army’s conflict this year have left about two million lives “torn apart”  with “hundreds of thousands of civilians were crowded into government-run tent cities” after what “residents had described nights of heavy, indiscriminate bombing and shelling, followed in the morning by Army sweeps” without warning, Seymour Hersh reports at The New Yorker this weekend. About which, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari was asked by the reporter.

“Zardari did not dispute that there were difficulties in the refugee camps—the heat, the lack of facilities,” Mr. Hersh reports. “But he insisted that the fault lay with the civilians, who, he said, had been far too tolerant of the Taliban. The suffering could serve a useful purpose: after a summer in the tents, the citizens of Swat might have learned a lesson and would not ‘let the Taliban back into their cities’.”

Last June, Sabrina Tavernise reported at The New York Times that nearly three million people were forced to flee their homes in the first six months of 2009, referring to it as Pakistan’s “worst refugee crisis since partition from India in 1947. Only about a third of the displaced had found refuge with relatives at that point, many of whom left their homes to make it easier for the government to re-establish its authority in their villages. “The more time passes, the more good will is lost, and the more likely they are to become frustrated with the war effort,” she reported.

Rahimullah Yusufzai, “an eminent Pakistani journalist”, told Mr. Hersh that when the Taliban “got into power they went crazy and became brutal”, however:

The turmoil did not end with the Army’s invasion. “Most of the people who were in the refugee camps told us that the Army was equally bad. There was so much killing,” Yusufzai said. The government had placed limits on reporters who tried to enter the Swat Valley during the attack, but afterward Yusufzai and his colleagues were able to interview officers. “They told us they hated what they were doing—‘We were trained to fight Indians.’ ” But that changed when they sustained heavy losses, especially of junior officers. “They were killing everybody after their colleagues were killed—just like the Americans with their Predator missiles,” Yusufzai said. “What the Army did not understand, and what the Americans don’t understand, is that by demolishing the house of a suspected Taliban or their supporters you are making an enemy of the whole family.” What looked like a tactical victory could turn out to be a strategic failure.

Mr. Hersh continued that Pres. Zardari’s strategy was to bribe the Taliban—as the U.S. did with ‘insurgents’ in Iraq. “His long-term solution, Zardari said, was to provide new business opportunities in Swat and turn the Taliban into entrepreneurs. ‘Money is the best incentive,’ he said. ‘They can be rented.’,” Mr. Hersh reports.

On Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal—the focus of Mr. Hersh’s article—the president “spoke with derision about what he depicted as America’s obsession with the vulnerability of his nation’s nuclear arsenal”, saying, “Our Army officers are not crazy, like the Taliban. They’re British-trained. Why would they slip up on nuclear security? A mutiny would never happen in Pakistan. It’s a fear being spread by the few who seek to scare the many.”

Pres. Zardari turned the tables to discuss India’s nuclear arsenal, the reason for Pakistan’s, saying the U.S. should supply more military welfare to Pakistan because it’s a “a balance-of-power issue”.

“A former State Department official who worked on nuclear issues with Pakistan after September 11th said that he’d come to understand that the Pakistanis ‘believe that any information we get from them would be shared with others—perhaps even the Indians. To know the command-and-control processes of their nuclear weapons is one thing. To know where the weapons actually are is another thing’,” Mr. Hersh reports after stating: “The triggers are a key element in American contingency plans. An American former senior intelligence official said that a team that has trained for years to remove or dismantle parts of the Pakistani arsenal has now been augmented by a unit of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the élite counterterrorism group. He added that the unit, which had earlier focused on the warheads’ cores, has begun to concentrate on evacuating the triggers, which have no radioactive material and are thus much easier to handle.”

JSOC, once headed by commander of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal, is most notably used for targeted assassinations. Mr. Hersh, earlier this year, referred to it as an “assassination wing” of the executive branch—as “Congress has no oversight of it”—based on the research he’s conducting for a new book. This is the unit “evacuating the triggers” connected to one of the most significant, clandestine nuclear arsenals in the world.

The scare over Pakistan’s arsenal is directly related to the existential partnership between many elements with Inter-Services Intelligence (I.S.I.), the Pakistani government’s intelligence wing, and Taliban faction in Pakistan—to aid in the struggle against Indian occupation of Kashmir—and in Afghanistan to maintain perpetuity in preventing the fractured U.S.-occupied nation-state from becoming a client-state of India. Other interests have related to natural gas pipelines in Central Asia and disrupting Afghan officials from the ability to monopolize taxing opium trafficking into Pakistan. This relationship began with the I.S.I. as the middleman between the U.S. and the mujahideen during the U.S. aid of the latter’s resistance against the Soviet invasion of the 80’s.

As critical as I am of the I.S.I. (probably more than the U.K.’s MI-6 and Israel’s Mossad), blame it heavily for a role in the 26/11 Mumbai Attacks of a year ago and providing propaganda for foreign forces to corrupt the civilian government of Pakistan, the worry of a Pakistani nuclear arsenal falling into non-civilian militant hands wouldn’t happen without the consent of the U.S. In other words, the chances is insignificantly minuscle—well within the margin of error to, probably, decimal points.

Were the U.S. to leave the region, it’s pretty uncontroversial that Indian intelligence—Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)—is competent and well-infiltrated to alert adequate forces in the region with heavy interest in a de facto safeguarded Pakistani arsenal. These forces being the extremely powerful Indian Army and nuclear arsenal with second-strike capacity, Russia and China.

Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, the greatly outspoken former head of I.S.I., told Mr. Hersh that the U.S. would be wise to not press the nuclear issue because Russia and China would back Pakistan.

As crazy as the man who maintained those mujahideen ties, with the Taliban that emerged to rule most of Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal, can be at many times—though, the two Asian powers have a vested in taking RAW tips of Pakistan’s arsenal being at risk very seriously—a disarmed Pakistan empowers India to a point which Russia and China would not be comfortable. At the moment, the three governments are sharing mutual economic and geopolitical interests without making any moves to disrupt this alliance. In short, there is almost a silent agreement that the three remain on the same footing. Only the U.S. could disrupt this, leaving India in a place to target its greatest foe or risk, what trends show to become, great economic prosperity.

India is playing all sides of every coin very well, in a Machiavellian sense, with the U.S. not pressuring it to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and ceasing to scrutinize India’s enrichment and expansion of its nuclear arsenal. In this sense, India is America’s ‘Israel of the East’.

There are elements of radicalization in Pakistan brewing. The once relatively extraordinarily secular nationalist society isn’t a ‘hot bed’ for the next wave of ‘Islamofascist militancy’. The people are reacting to a rational distrust toward their government. Pres. Zardari’s cold words, like those to Mr. Hersh regarding refugees, and his collaboration with the Obama Administration beefing up airstrikes that enact wanton destruction of people and their property are ending the honeymoon civilians had in reaction to the end of the brutal dictatorship of General Pervez Musharraf. After the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, Pres. Zardari’s wife, any change would’ve been lauded as a step toward freedom. The harsh realization is that it oppressive institutions continue to exist at extreme levels.

An article for Mr. Hersh on geopolitical relations as tense as those between India and Pakistan wouldn’t be complete without some very entertaining chest-thumping from officials on both sides that is worth reading. Otherwise, if you’re as wonky as I am on Central Asian relations and nuclear geopolitics, the article isn’t as provocative as those in Mr. Hersh’s archive.

I’m still sickened that the Pakistani president said what he said, though I really shouldn’t be surprised. That’s government.

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  1. […] understanding teh security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal at The New Yorker over the weekend, of which Little Alex partially analyzed. He discussed the battle between the military and the White House over the Afghanistan occupation […]

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