Farooq Hameed Khan
Pak- Iran relations may not be at their very best, yet Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s startling disclosure that Iran has precise information about American plans to sabotage Pakistan’s nuclear installations, should be an eye opener for Pakistan’s security establishment . The Iranian President further warned that the United States would then use the UN Security Council and other international agencies as levers to prepare the grounds for a massive presence ( in Pakistan) to weaken Pakistan’s sovereignty.
President Ahmedenijad must surely have credible evidence of the US conspiracy . His remarks reinforced Pakistani fears that targeting Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal remains the ultimate objective of US policy. For Iran, the horrifying scenario of a ‘denuclearized and weakened Pakistan under US domination’ , would heighten Iran’s insecurity and make its nuclear program more vulnerable to US and Israeli aggression.
The US has made deliberate efforts to gain intelligence and access to our nuclear program under various pretexts. Intelligence gathering, monitoring and surveillance of Pakistani nuclear sites , missile test firings and movement of launch platforms, through spy or commercial satellites is routinely resorted to, though senior US Defence officials admitted that complete information of our strategic installations is yet not available.
During Gen Musharraf’s rule, the US was reportedly engaged in a US $ 30 million project to streamline nuclear safety , command and control procedures. Better sense prevailed at our Strategic Plans Division and the US role was restricted to training our experts in USA, the program was non intrusive and was based on our right to ‘pick and choose’ from the US offered checklist of cooperation.
In 2007, then Member Science and Technology of the Planning Commission of Pakistan recalled rejecting a US offer for aerial mapping including application of ‘magnetic anomaly techniques’ for supposedly sub surface mineral survey in Pakistan. Suspicions were raised when it transpired that out of 100 US personnel in this program, only around five were technical experts, remaining being US marines. Moreover the US side declined to share the original raw data and offered to provide the processed results instead which was unacceptable to us.
However the biggest US breakthrough may have been made through the CIA intelligence network created in Pakistan in the last few years under cover of anti terrorism training and tracking militants in our towns . With the help of well paid local recruits, vital intelligence about the location and security arrangements around our strategic installations may have been acquired.
Many will recall the transfer of a US training team from Police Training College Sihala, that is located few kilometers from Kahuta nuclear facility, near Islamabad, after the establishment’s Commandant reported undesirable activities of these foreigners.
Western media reports have repeatedly suggested in the past that United States has contingency plans to send in Special Forces to help ‘secure the Pakistani nuclear arsenal’. On 31 December 2007, ‘The Herald’, UK reported that US Special Forces snatch squads were on standby including neighboring Afghanistan to seize or disable Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal in the event of a collapse of government authority or the outbreak of civil war following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. These troops, augmented by volunteer scientists from America’s Nuclear Emergency Search Team organization, were under orders to take control of an estimated 60 warheads dispersed around six to 10 high-security Pakistani military bases.
A ‘Sunday Telegraph’ report dated 15 May 2011 revealed the Obama administration plans to deploy US troops in Pakistan in case the country’s nuclear installations come under threat from terrorists, who have warned to avenge the killing of Osama bin Laden. The report adds that US President Obama would order troops to ‘parachute’ in to protect key nuclear missile sites- including the Pakistan Air Force’s Central Sargodha Headquarters, home base for nuclear-capable F-16 combat aircraft aircraft.
Pakistan should not also ignore the UAE government’s decision to hire former Blackwater Chief’s new Company ‘Reflex Responses’, to set up an 800-member battalion of foreign troops for the United Arab Emirates to thwart internal revolt and conduct ‘special operations’ . Like the Shamsi airbase that UAE handed over to US for drone/military operations, is this elite mercenary force a standby arrangement for any US misadventure in Pakistan?
Would the US launch a pre emptive strike against our nuclear sites? The US is known to war game various contingencies to capture or cripple Pakistan’s nuclear weapons including a surprise air/missile strike from Arabian sea based aircraft carriers to neutralize PAF bases, air defence, command and communications network. This would be followed by moving in Special forces like the top secret Task Force 373, a joint militarycommando unit based in Afghanistan involved in clandestine operations, to capture key nuclear installations.
Given the multi tiered all round security of our strategic installations, it would be unwise for US to attempt an Abbottabad style( Osama operation) strike against our strategic sites. Unlike Abbottabad compound that was unprotected and provided a free run to US Seals, US troops would have to overcome resistance by almost 18000 Pakistani soldiers armed with light and heavy weapons, backed up by elaborate air defence network, that guard these sites . With Pakistan’s nuclear assets widely dispersed , disassembled and their mobile launch platforms ever on the move, the US should expect lot of surprises .
In my opinion the US ‘Get Pak Nukes’ Strategy envisions a ‘false flag’ attack by CIA supported local militants on a nuclear installation including a power plant. Any such terrorist attack , even a failed one would be sufficient to trigger an international uproar specially in the western and Indian media , calling for a UN backed US led intervention to takeover Pakistan’s nuclear assets . Such a move at the UN is not likely to succeed since Chinese support is highly unlikely.
An essential prerequisite of any US foreign intervention plan envisages deep psychological operations against the target country. The deliberate and well orchestrated campaign by the western and Indian media supported by vested domestic forces to malign , demoralize and weaken Pak Army which is the custodian of the nuclear arsenal and create doubts about its ability to defend the strategic assets, is becoming strikingly visible.
The international media ‘s recent hype terming Pakistan’s nuclear weapons as the fastest growing, and its arsenal increasing to around 100, almost comparable to India’s nuclear strength, is noteworthy. This coincided with Pakistan’s latest test firing of a nuclear-capable, surface-to-surface missile “Nasr” that can hit targets at 60 kilometers and is Pakistan’s answer to India’s Cold Start Doctrine. ‘Nasr’ adds deterrence value to Pakistan’s strategic weapons development program at shorter ranges and demonstrates that Pakistan’s capability to deploy low yield, tactical nuclear warheads.
Pakistani defence strategists regularly war game responses to possible threat scenarios should the US alone or in league with India decide to take advantage of Pakistan’s misperceived vulnerability, specially after Abbottabad incursion by US Special Forces. A massive Pakistani retaliation remains guaranteed , that could even spark a nuclear conflict beyond anyone’s control in the region.
Pakistanis would rather pay heed to the Iranian President’s warning, than accepting Senator Kerry’s assurance who vowed to write with his blood that the US was not eyeing Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Make no mistake, targeting Pak nukes may be the mother of all blunders!
The writer is a retired Brigadier of Pakistan Army and a defence analyst.
NOTE :This is a cross post from THE NATION