Recently, the American government and Afghanistan have increased pressure on Pakistan’s military with very public accusations of support and sympathy for Islamic militants in South Asia. Jeffery Goldberg and Marc Ambinder’s article The Ally From Hell for the latest issue of The Atlantic Magazine helps fuel the American paranoia about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. The article, which doesn’t provide much new insight other than the claim that the nuclear weapons are transported in low-security vans, is a joint venture of The Atlantic and National Journal.
The piece claims that due to Pakistan’s paranoia about the United States or India locating Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, the Strategic Plans Divisions (SPD) (the security agency in charge of the safety of the nuclear arsenal), continuously moves the weapons from one storage location to another. Immediately after the American raid assassinating Osama bin Laden, the SPD decided to transport mated and de-mated nuclear weapons in low-security civillian vehicles to avoid detection by terrorists.
Despite many statements by high-ranking Pakistani officials claiming that their nuclear arsenal is safe and a very hard to hit target, Goldberg and Ambinder argue that Pakistan’s nukes can very easily fall into the hands of any jihadist organization or rogue states such as Iran and North Korea. Interestingly, earlier this year International Atomic Energy Agency’s Deputy Director General Denis Flory termed Pakistan’s nuclear program safe. While quite a few Pakistani newspapers have reported on Flory’s statement, after a quick Google search, it seems that this piece of news failed to make its way into Western media.
The article relies on more than twenty anonymous sources and has many self-contradictory statements that convolute the reporters’ own argument and render it weak. For example, on the one hand the reporters are deeply concerned about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and on the other hand they include a map showing sites possibly linked with the country’s nuclear program. Do they assume that militants would not be able to access the map that they have published for the world to see?
The article doesn’t hesitate to mention that since the raid in Abbotabad, “the ISI has waged a street-level campaign against the CIA, harassing its employees and denying visas to its officers.” However, there is no mention of CIA contractor Raymond Davis who killed two Pakistani civilians in the middle of a city, and a third person died in an accident by the car that came to pick Davis up from the crime scene. Nor are the innocent civilians mentioned who are killed by American drone strikes in North Western Pakistan. Instead, they write, “American drones, of course, operate in the skies over Pakistan’s northern tribal areas, but these missions are generally conducted against jihadists who have also turned against the Pakistani government” (emphasis added).
Even the statements from sources that have been identified cannot be completely trusted. In order to highlight Pakistan’s displeasure with America for not siding with Pakistan during times of conflict with India, Goldberg and Ambinder write, “In 1971, [C. Christine] Fair says, “the Pakistanis were angry at the U.S. again, for not bailing them out from another war they started against India”. In a follow up discussion on Twitter, Christine Fair said that she hadn’t been quoted accurately and her explanation of the 1971 war between Pakistan and India was much more nuanced.
This instance just makes you wonder how many other sources had been misquoted and how much contextual information was distorted.
The reporters seem appalled that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) does not work in American interests, this feeling of betrayal stems mainly from the assumption, that the ISI should work only in favor of U.S. interets. Does the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or any other intelligence agency work in any interests other than its own country’s interests? Furthermore, while the reporters deride Pakistan for obsessing over a possible U.S. takeover of their nuclear arsenal, they also write that, “this paranoia is not completely irrational, of course”. The United States, according to Goldberg and Ambinder, already has a plan in place in case of a jihadist coup, civil war or catastrophic event in Pakistan. The plan which sounds very Hollywood inspired suggests that, “in the event of a coup, U.S. forces would rush into the country, crossing borders, rappelling down from helicopters, and parachuting out of airplanes, so they could begin securing known or suspected nuclear-storage sites”.
Finally, the article generally gives the impression that they are breaking the news that Pakistan’s military has a relationship with the Taliban and “at one time, the ISI was on friendlier terms with al-Qaeda’s leaders.” However, isn’t this relationship exactly what Washington is hoping would bring the Taliban and Haqqani leaders to the negotiating table?