Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

Pakistan and its nuclear weapons loom large over Obama administration


Pakistan and its nuclear weapons are back in the centre  of the U.S. foreign policy frame as a steady stream of reports from think tanks and newspapers build the case for President-elect Barack Obama to recognise and act urgently with regard to the potential threat from the troubled state.

The New York Times Magazine in an extensive article  headlined Obama’s Worst Pakistan Nighmare says the biggest fear is not Islamist militants taking control of the border regions. It’s what happens if the country’s nuclear arsenal falls into the wrong hands. And it then takes a trip to the Chaklala garrison where the headquarters of Strategic Plans Division, the branch of the Pakistani government charged with protecting its growing arsenal of nuclear weapons, are located and led  by Khalid Kidwai, a former army general.

“In the second nuclear age, what happens or fails to happen in Kidwai’s modest compound may prove far  more likely to save or lose an American city than the billions of dollars the United States spends each year  maintaining a nuclear arsenal that will almost certainly never be used, or the thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars we have spent in Iraq and Afghanistan  to close down sanctuaries for terrorists,” writes David E. Sanger, author of a forthcoming book: “The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power”.

The article quotes a Bush administration official as saying there were two ways Pakistan’s weapons could fall into the wrong hands. One was when the Pakistani military was moving its tactical weapons closer to the frontlines when it could be much more vulnerable to seizure by militants. A time of heightened tensions with India, as is the situation now following the attacks in Mumbai, would be a top reason for Pakistan to begin moving its weapons.  Could that be one of the objectives of the Mumbai attacks, the New York Times asks.