Back From the Brink

11Nov09

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This has been the week of the Seymour Hersh piece. The news just keeps on coming out of that one article.

But I don’t want to talk about the New Yorker item, or not really. In light of the publication of this piece, I’d like to revisit a less current document.

In April 2009 the Asia Society put out a report called ‘Back From the Brink? A Strategy for Stabilizing Afghanistan-Pakistan.’ The current United States Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard C Holbrooke, who was then the Chairman of the Asia Society, handpicked the team that prepared the document. If you read this report (which you may have already done), you find that it anticipates or rather advises the events that we have seen unfold in the region to a tee. In fact, you could do what I do, which would be to keep it handy as a guidebook to what is to come next.

But don’t get ahead of yourself. I did that, and felt a bit like Cassandra (as you’ll see later in this post). Although, it must be said that there are no predictions of death and destruction, and no grand plans of remapping and Balkanisation here. So if that’s what you’re looking for then you’d better go elsewhere because if what you read below is what the Americans have in mind, it doesn’t sound half bad to me.

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Here’s how the report starts:

The governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan are at risk from a combination of violent insurgency, loss of public confidence, and economic crisis. These trends threaten not only the loss of control by the Afghan and Pakistani governments, but also the spread of terrorist safe havens and, in the most extreme situation, the loss of control over some of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons or materials.

Does that sound familiar to you given everything that’s going on now? But now here’s the thing. The solution doesn’t seem half bad when you think about it.

The United States should seek out ways to incorporate Pakistan into the global nuclear nonproliferation regime. The Task Force took note of a 2005 statement by International Atomic Energy Agency director Mohamed ElBaradei that…suggested accepting that India and Pakistan are declared nuclear weapons states as a fact and endorsed the US – India civilian nuclear agreement as a way to bring a declared nuclear state closer to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Under existing circumstances (especially given concerns over terrorism and proliferation), it is not possible to duplicate that agreement with Pakistan, but it is worth starting a dialogue with Pakistan to explore what might be possible, and under what conditions, to acknowledge Pakistan’s nuclear weapons status, provide assistance to ensure the safety and security of its nuclear assets, and bring Pakistan into greater conformity and closer cooperation with the global nonproliferation regime.

Here the problems start. For one thing, I can see how most Pakistanis would take umbrage at…well, all of it really, but to start with the idea that Pakistan’s nuclear assets should be up for discussion.

Secondly, as Hersh quotes Pakistani military and civilian leaders as saying: Why don’t you worry about India’s nukes? This report doesn’t stop there. It says in plain words that ‘it is not possible to duplicate that agreement with Pakistan.’

[To go back to that Cassandra reference, when the US and India signed the civilian nuclear agreement I had a well-known, published defense analyst with me on Breakfast at Dawn. I tied the US-India agreement to the report and asked if this meant there might be some move soon to explore the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear weaponry. The analyst smiled indulgently and dismissed my question. Now, I didn’t go on a screaming and shouting rampage like our erstwhile heroine, but I did clutch my guidebook a wee bit madly, and here we are today.]

Thirdly, where do the Americans get off lecturing Pakistanis about nuclear proliferation and the Non-Proliferation Treaty?

Valid points.

But would it be so bad if the United States attempted to acknowledge Pakistan’s nuclear weapons status? After all, it is a great source of pride to the people of this country. Going by that logic (not mine), the clout that may come with that recognition could further strengthen the position of Pakistan in the global arena. Would that be so bad after all?

And really, think of all the time and money we’re spending in keeping these things safe. As I recall, they were meant to make us feel more secure.

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9 Responses to “Back From the Brink”

  1. Brilliant! Well put! and honestly the whole debate has been going on for quite sometime now! This issue needs to be talked about, we are sick of being scrutinized at all levels end up feeling like a mess!

  2. 2 Amina

    I think you put forward valid points. Well written and succinct!

  3. 3 Timoth Thompson

    Brilliant. You capture simple truths that escape so many in South Asia.

  4. 4 Mubeen Irfan

    We all assume as our base point being that Pakistan will one day be in the same turmoil as Afghanistan or worse some war stricken african nation. But I find it very hard to just assume. Let’s not base our decisions on this irrational and far fledged thought.

  5. It’s amazing how simply you’ve stated such valid points… Great work!

  6. It’s amazing how simply you’ve stated your points. Great piece! 🙂

  7. naveen:

    this from the report you linked:

    Combat narcotics by
    ° Destroying major heroin laboratories.
    Removing the protectors of trafficking from influential positions.


    judging by the “inaction” one can only deduce one of the following:

    (a) the US admin. does not want to follow through, or
    (b) it is incapable of doing so

    and while this is dichotomous:

    Strengthen administration in both the North-West Frontier Province and Baluchistan to create conditions under which Pakistan can take direct
    responsibility for the security of its borders, and Afghanistan can recognize them as open borders.

    both the US and the Pakistan governments have miserably failed.

    the dichotomy is obvious – how can a border be sealed for one and porous for the other? in fact this border (the Durand line) is akin to the Kashmir cancer left behind by the Raj to destabilise its former colonies

    *****

    as for acknowledgement of nuclear status – does it really matter? other than ‘pride’ how would it change the ground realities?

    look at another state created in the name of religion…does it care if it awarded the nuclear status?

  8. 8 Faisal kapadia

    Good points but to me the whole idea of nukes is scary. we got them to act as a deterrent but to what? Conventional war still gives time right now the scenario to my knowledge is one of 17 mins for a nuke exchange to wipe out many major cities in india and pk. So no i think we can do without nukes and i hate to sow paranoia seeds but the attak and infiltration in ghq has me more scared then mr hersh’s “unnamed source” mongering. infact if he reads this, here is a source in pak saying stop shitting us till u can disarm israel.


  1. 1 Back From the Brink | Tea Break

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