This then brings us back to what might be accomplished in the political and diplomatic realms. Critics of the Pakistani regime insist our best bet to manage the growing nuclear risk is to back Ms. Bhutto and the democratic stability her supporters claim her election might bring. Others, noting Ms. Bhutto has anointed herself leader of the Pakistani Peoples Party for life, are less sure. They contend that the U.S. must continue lending military assistance to the current government to assure a steady flow of needed supplies to U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan through Pakistan. Musharraf, they remind us, is the devil we know.
How well Washington’s efforts to square these two views will work is anybody’s guess.
In the long-run though, this much is clear: If the U.S. is at all serious about checking the Pakistani loose nuke threat, it will at least have to stop goading Pakistan’s military into making even more nuclear weapons as a hedge against the U.S. sealing and threatening nuclear partnership with New Delhi.
Right now, that’s what the Pakistani military fears. On the one hand, they worry that once the U.S. and the world’s key nuclear supplier states finalize nuclear space and defense cooperation with New Delhi, India will quickly eclipse Pakistan’s strategic nuclear capabilities and gain the advanced conventional means to knockout most of Pakistan’s deployed nuclear forces. On the other hand, they worry that Washington is more than willing to let India encircle Pakistan, turning a blind eye to India’s increasing ties to Tehran and growing presence in Afghanistan. That’s why Pakistan’s military leadership decided, in 2006, to launch Pakistan’s crash nuclear expansion program.
Senior U.S. State Department officials tried to downplay this decision’s significance. First, they tried to sit on the intelligence on Pakistan’s nuclear build up hoping no one would notice. This, however, didn’t work: Commercial imagery of Pakistan’s nuclear construction effort leaked out. Then, they tried to dismiss Islamabad’s arguments for expanding their nuclear complex. This, however, is difficult. With U.S., Russian, and French civilian nuclear assistance and uranium imports, India will be able to ramp up its military fissile production five-fold or more. Also, with access to the very best U.S. and European space, satellite, rocket, missile defense and sensor technologies, India will certainly pose a far greater conventional threat to Pakistan and its nuclear forces.
Finally, the U.S. is doing all it can to convince the world’s nuclear supplier states to agree to provide nuclear cooperation with India while insisting that no such cooperation be provided to Pakistan. This hardly sits well with the elite in Islamabad. Worse, senior U.S. diplomats are so desperate to reassure Indians that the proposed U.S. nuclear deal is in their strategic interest that they have been encouraging Indians to believe that New Delhi might resume nuclear testing without risking a U.S. or foreign nuclear fuel supply cut off. All of this is goading Islamabad to prepare for the very worst — a U.S.- assisted Indian nuclear breakout.
As for Indian relations with Iran, U.S. diplomats — again, driven by a desperate desire to secure the nuclear deal with India as soon as possible — have been egregiously downplaying these ties lest they upset the U.S. Congress. This has caused Pakistan’s military fits, especially the U.S. State Department’s denial of significant Indian military and intelligence cooperation with Iran.
This cooperation is real and includes the establishment of a senior Indian-Iranian military working group, the conduct of joint Indian-Iranian naval exercises, New Delhi’s training of Iranian military personnel, and the stationing of Indian intelligence agents in Iran at Zahedan adjacent to the rebellious Pakistani state of Balluchistan. Also, a part of this cooperation is India’s construction of the Iranian port at Chahbahar just outside of the Strait of Hormuz opposite Pakistan’s naval base at Gwadar, its construction of roads from this port into Afghanistan (where India is actively working to reduce Pakistani influence), and reported requests for permission to use of Iranian airfields against Pakistan in times of war.
Although each of these Indo-Iranian security undertakings have been highlighted in the press and by Congressional letters to Prime Minister Singh and President Bush, the U.S. State Department has either denied them or downplayed them as being “insubstantial.” Such tin-ear diplomacy, in turn, has only helped to convince the Pakistani military that the U.S. government actually supports India’s military encirclement of Pakistan.