An ill Matthew Yglesias confesses he doesn’t know how exactly the U.S. ought to conduct itself with respect to Pakistan. Bradford Plumer has a nice summary of the problem (click through for the hyperlinks):
Most policymakers and pundits don’t seem to know how to deal with Pakistan. (I certainly don’t.) On the one hand, the United States wants Musharraf to be more aggressive about hunting down Al Qaeda operatives in North Waziristan. On the other hand, moving too aggressively against that part of the country might cause Musharraf’s government to collapse, in which case radical Islamists could seize power–and with it, control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Scary stuff.
Plumer then wonders:
At any rate, I’m curious to know what sort of safeguards Pakistan has in place to prevent its nukes from falling in the wrong hands, should, say, Taliban sympathizers in the intelligence services stage a coup (or whatever). The reporting on this front appears patchy. In 2004, Graham Allison warned that the security measures were still much too flimsy, and wanted the United States and China to do a thorough review of Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile, in order to help Musharraf set up proper controls. That would involve a lot of delicate diplomacy–especially since Pakistan is understandably reluctant to open its arsenal up to outside inspection–but it doesn’t seem completely undoable.
So what’s actually being done? A Congressional Research Service report in 2005 noted that the United States was offering some assistance, but mostly to “focus on helping secure nuclear materials and providing employment for personnel, rather than on security of nuclear weapons.” See also here. And last August, Pakistan declared that it had set up a “tri-command nuclear force,” but it’s not clear whether that would safeguard the weapons in the event of a coup. (In any case, the country’s past assurances on this score have been fairly suspect.) Those seem to be the main media stories of late. Who knows, perhaps the administration really is doing all it can here, but I’d sort of like to see a closer investigation.
There’s also the possibility of war with rival-nuclear-power-India to worry about. As for solutions, I too am stumped by the larger problem of how to deal with a nuclear power struggling with militants, rogue intelligence services, and hostilities with a nuclear neighbour. My modest suggestion of the day is that if I were in charge of U.S. foreign policy, I would have made a resolution of the Kashmir dispute a very high priority around 2002 (when things got very heated for a while between India and Pakistan), if I hadn’t already.
Obviously Kashmir is a tricky issue, but it’s not an impossible one. Constructive and careful intervention by an outside party might well make real progress on the issue, perhaps even leading to a solution that most of the parties could live with. This would be valuable for two reasons. First, one thing people are always forgetting is just how radicalizing the issue of Kashmir is within Pakistan. If you care about the issue of Islamic radicals in Pakistan – and you really ought to care – then you should be very interested in steps that might remove a major cause around which militants in the country have tended to rally. Second, obviously, a resolution of (or even progress on) the Kashmir dispute would significantly reduce the probability of a nuclear exchange on the subcontinent, an exchange that would be disastrous for the entire world’s environment and leave millions dead and dying.
Anyway, all this is just to say that I’ve spent the last few years wondering why this isn’t a very big priority for people whose opinions matter.