Delhi, 19 November 2002
November 17, 2002
Bush has denied reports that the United States has contingency plans
to neutralise Pakistan's nuclear assets.
The US president seemingly offered this assurance to Pakistan's
General Musharraf when the two met on the sidelines of the UN summit
this year, following the publication last December of an article in
the New Yorker magazine by investigative journalist Seymour
Hersh, saying the US and Israel had contingency plans to take out
Pakistan's nuclear warheads in the event of the country falling to
Hersh is a liar," Bush is quoted as telling Musharraf, in a Washington
Post article that previewed a forthcoming book by its Managing
Editor Bob Woodward about the war on terrorism in which the comment
is made. It is not clear from the article in what context Bush made
the remark and who raised the issue. But Bush evidently proffered
the assurance before reports saying US intelligence has evidence
that Pakistan provided nuclear know-how to North Korea till as
recently as three months back. In the New Yorker article,
Hersh, quoting unnamed intelligence officials, says the Pentagon has
developed contingency plans to work with an Israeli special
operations unit to seize Pakistan's nuclear weapons if the country
recent weeks, the administration has been reviewing and
"refreshing" its contingency plans. Such operations depend
on intelligence, however, and there is disagreement within the
administration about the quality of the CIA's data," Hersh
reported. "The American intelligence community cannot be sure,
for example, that it knows the precise whereabouts of every
Pakistani warhead –– or whether all the warheads that it has
found are real."
then quoted an official as saying Pakistan has some dummy locations,
and if the US–Israeli combine mounted an operation and failed to
clear all the nukes, then "the cat is out of the bag".
officials had scoffed at Hersh's report even at the time it was
published, but there was plenty of discussion –– in undertones
–– in the Government, think tanks and media circles about the
need to exfiltrate Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme, especially
after reports of its top nuclear scientists having connection with
the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.
issue has resurfaced in recent days following the episode involving
North Korea and the impending war on Iraq. In a critique of the Bush
administration's Iraq policy, New York Times editorialist
Nicholas Kristof on 16 Nov wrote, "After all, if it's
appropriate to carry out pre-emptive strikes on countries that
sponsor terrorism and secretly develop nuclear weapons, then we
could launch an invasion today –– on Pakistan."
Bush and other senior administration officials have continued to
insist that Pakistan has met the standards for being an ally in the
war on terrorism despite skepticism in many circles. In the
analysts' community, speculation is rife that the seeming abandon
with which the Bush administration views Pakistan's shenanigans
suggests it already has a handle on the country's nuclear assets.
Soon after the Hersh report, when Secretary of State Colin Powell
was asked about the safety of Pakistan's nuclear weapons, he said he
was confident that he (Musharraf) understands the importance of
ensuring that all elements of his nuclear programme are safe and
he knows that if he needs any technical assistance in how to improve
that security level, we would be more than willing to help in any
way that we can," Powell added meaningfully.
Hersh is a widely acclaimed investigative reporter who is the author
of a book on Israel's nuclear programme. But he gained notoriety in
India for calling former Prime Minister Morarji Desai a CIA agent,
an allegation he did not retract despite a lawsuit. In his New
Yorker piece, Hersh says some senior officials say they remain
confident that the intelligence community can do its job (of taking
out Pakistani nukes), despite the efforts of the Pakistani army to
mask its nuclear arsenal.
be challenged to manage the problem, but there is contingency
planning for that possibility," he quotes a military adviser as
telling him. "We can't exclude the possibility that the
Pakistanis could make it harder for us to act on what we know, but
that's an operational detail. We're going to have to work harder to
get to it quickly. We still have some good access."
before Hersh's article and soon after the 9/11 catastrophe, there
were several commentaries on the think tank circuit –– usually a
sign of the thinking within the administration –– calling for
greater accountability of Pakistan's nuclear assets because of the
danger of fundamentalists taking over.
for contingencies, non-proliferation scholar Jon Wolfstal had said
that time that US plans "should include the ability to rapidly
deploy forces to Pakistan to find and regain control of any lost
nuclear materials and, only as a last option in a crisis, remove
them from Pakistan to a secure location.
steps might seem extreme. Yet when faced with the real possibility
of losing control of nuclear weapons to the types of organisations
capable of the destruction seen on September 11, they could be
considered realistic and even prudent. The consequences of not being
prepared to act are too great for us to imagine, even with our new
ability to imagine the horrible," Wolfstal had maintained.