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World must look beyond ‘securing’ Pak nukes

At the core of Western (and, obviously, Indian) concerns is the fate of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, writes Amit Baruah.

world Updated: Jan 01, 2008 03:31 IST
Amit Baruah

Concern, yes. Panic, no. That should be the approach of the world to the chaos created in Pakistan following the December 27 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi.

At the core of Western (and, obviously, Indian) concerns is the fate of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Mostly, these concerns have been aired in private, but German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was an exception.

He voiced the fear in Berlin that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons could fall into the wrong hands. In an interview to Bild, Steinmeier said: “Nuclear weapons should never fall into the hands of Islamists. Despite the current unstable situation, there is not yet any concrete risk (that it could happen) but the situation has to be put right for that to remain true.”

“We will discuss what we can do to this end with the United Nations, the United States and the Europeans.”

Twice, in 2007, the president of the UN Security Council, reflecting the concerns of the world body, strongly condemned acts of terrorism in Pakistan. In both cases, they related to Benazir — the first was the attack on her in Karachi on October 18 and second, her assassination.

Paying tribute to Benazir, the Council president, using pretty much standard language, asked all states, in accordance with international law, to cooperate actively with Pakistani authorities to bring those responsible for the assassination to book.

The general approach emanating from the US and Britain is that elections should go ahead regardless of the tragedy and chaos created by Benazir’s assassination.

In an article published in Pakistan’s Urdu daily Jang on Monday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown echoed the sentiments expressed by US President George W. Bush that elections should be held to honour the memory of Benazir.

It’s entirely possible that the forces behind the murder could strike again in Pakistan. Their larger game plan is an Islamist Pakistan, one where democratic elections have little or no meaning.

Backing Pervez Musharraf as the “best bet” for the West is no longer an adequate approach in dealing with Pakistan. A “major deal” was cut with Musharraf by Bush just before the Americans went public with the A.Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring being busted in January 2004.

Given the sensitivities of the nuclear weapons’ issue, the nature of the deal between Musharraf and Bush will never be made public. Privately, Indian officials have said it involved some kind of US access to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

The US may have some “entry point” into Pakistani nuclear weapons, but the battle is hardly to secure these weapons alone. The larger battle is for changing the mindset of ordinary Pakistanis, weaning them away from extreme Islamism and anti-Americanism.

Here, the US and its Western allies, including Musharraf, have failed since Islamabad’s “U-turn” in September 2001, when Pakistani joined the war on terror.

Statements and sentiments will not do in restructuring Pakistan’s polity. Empty expressions of concern, too, will not amount to much. Pakistan will have to fights its own internal battles against extremism.