Wikileaks on Pakistan

November 28, 2010

iran pakistanIn the State Department cables released by Wikileaks and so far reported, the most eye-catching as far as Pakistan is concerned is a row with Washington over nuclear fuel.

According to the New York Times, the cables show:

“A dangerous standoff with Pakistan over nuclear fuel: Since 2007, the United States has mounted a highly secret effort, so far unsuccessful, to remove from a Pakistani research reactor highly enriched uranium that American officials fear could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device. In May 2009, Ambassador Anne W. Patterson reported that Pakistan was refusing to schedule a visit by American technical experts because, as a Pakistani official said, “if the local media got word of the fuel removal, ‘they certainly would portray it as the United States taking Pakistan’s nuclear weapons,’ he argued.”

The Pakistan Army is deeply sensitive about any questions on the safety of its nuclear weapons.  The country is also often awash with conspiracy theories accusing the Americans of harbouring secret plans to dismantle the nuclear weapons.

That said, the row reported by the NYT appeared to have been about HEU at a nuclear research reactor rather than the weapons themselves, so it may turn out to be less dramatic than it appears.  Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are considered to be well-guarded although analysts have cited a risk of militants trying to seize nuclear material which they might use to make a dirty bomb. (For a factbox on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, see here).

Of potentially huge significance for Pakistan are cables, reported in The Guardian, saying that Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear programme.

“The Saudi king was recorded as having ‘frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons programme’, one cable stated. ‘He told you [Americans] to cut off the head of the snake,’ the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir said, according to a report on Abdullah’s meeting with the US general David Petraeus in April 2008.” The Guardian reported.

Pakistan has traditionally had a very close relationship with Saudi Arabia.  But it has also been building bridges with Iran, whose cooperation it needs to secure a settlement in Afghanistan.

Rival India earned Tehran’s opprobrium by voting against it at the International Atomic Energy Agency over its nuclear programme. Though India has since been trying to repair the damage it does not seem to have got very far, since Iran has started speaking out publicly about Kashmir - angering New Delhi, which dislikes outside interference in Kashmir as much as Pakistan welcomes it.  India has meanwhile been trying to improve its own relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Well worth watching how Pakistan and India handle their relationships with Saudi Arabia and Iran in the event of heightening tension between the two.

The New York Times also quoted cables showing King Abdullah speaking scathingly about President Asif Ali Zardari.

The king called President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan the greatest obstacle to that country’s progress. ‘When the head is rotten,” it quoted the him as saying  “‘it affects the whole body.’” 

Meanwhile there might be more later in the details on U.S. distrust of Pakistan. But that is hardly new.

(File photo of the presidents of Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan)

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