Can the Taliban take over Pakistanâ€™s nuclear arsenal?
Last week, Hilary Clinton expressed concern that the Taliban could lay hands on Pakistan's nuclear weapons, as the country is apparently descending further into chaos. This news item seems to have taken the main stream media (MSM) as well as in the blogsphere like a firestorm. One example is how Jebachman, a reader at Salon, noted that (to paraphrase) this presents a danger surpassing anything the United States has ever faced.
It definitely sounds like serious business, but is it really time to check the best-before dates on the Spam tins in the bomb shelter? Could a few tribal groups collectively known as the Taliban really take over Pakistan's nuclear arsenal? Just how concerned should we be, here?
One of my good friends was born and raised in Peshawar, which is near the region controlled by the Taliban. He was a journalist in that region for several years before he moved to Canada in the mid-90s. He's now a university professor. He keeps in regular contact with his relatives and former journalism colleagues back in Peshawar as well.
Since I figured that would pretty much make him an expert on the situation, I gave him a call to find out what he thought about the whole thing. Here's what he said:
Imagine if a town of about 5,000 people, none with more than a 4th grade education and no weapons more advanced than AK-47s and a few rocket-propelled grenades were threatening to take over the US Government and its nuclear weapons and impose their morals and values over the entire US population, would anyone take their threat seriously? They might do a bit of damage on their way to Washington, but would they be able to take a single nuclear weapon, let alone the entire arsenal?
Transpose this scenario to Pakistan, and that is exactly what's happening. The Taliban, who are based in tribal areas in northern Pakistan, have a tight control over their small region. Because the Taliban are based in hard to reach mountains, the Pakistani army can't fight them easily (the US and Canadian forces in Afghanistan face a similar problem). Over the last few years, people from this group have occasionally descended from the mountains to commit suicide bombings (or shootings) in nearby cities to show they mean business. However, since they lack modern weapons and logistical support and have no air power, the Taliban are in no way able to come down from these mountains to take on the Pakistani army head-on in pretty much flat terrain. Which means they have no hope of taking over the country or its nuclear arsenal.
Okay, so maybe the Taliban aren't about to raid Islamabad, you're thinking. But what if some members of the Pakistani military suddenly decide that the Taliban have the right idea and steal a nuclear weapon for them?
Although it's remotely possible that some soldiers could try this (and I'm emphasizing the word 'try'), most of the highest-ranking officers in the military are educated in the west, with graduate degrees from such places as MIT, Stanford, Oxford and GaTech, among others. They have no interest in sharing power with a rag-tag army whose leadership didn't make it to grade nine. And if you look at the history of Pakistan, it's evident that the military basically runs the country. When they're not happy, they stage a coup d’état and take control of the civilian government, as happened with Musharraf in 1999.
So, what about what Clinton said about the risk that the Taliban could take control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal?
Glad you asked.
What we're looking at here is basically a threat to scare Republicans (and people like Jebachman), to ensure the Pakistani Government gets funding in order to 'fight' the Taliban. Former President George Bush used the same tactics when he was in power, which worked so well that America invaded Iraq in March of 2003. And I sincerely doubt his administration was the first to use it, either.
Hey! Those are pretty harsh words there, Kanuk. Got any proof?
As a matter of fact, how about this urgent upcoming bill in Congress designed to provide emergency funds for helping Pakistan? This bill has just been introduced to the floor. Interestingly enough, the Republicans are already in agreement to support it. It seems like Clinton, Obama and the MSM's fear tactics were pretty effective.
But lest you think otherwise, the Pakistani Government plays this game too. Like most governments all over the world, they want large sums of money from the US Government. So the Government of Pakistan has been telling our Government that if they don't get large sums of money, they'll stop fighting the Taliban. And every time they do, our president opens the checkbook and starts a campaign of fear about how dangerous the Taliban are in Pakistan. It's like a feedback loop, with everyone trembling in fear and thinking irrationally (see the discussions on torture).
There you have it. One less thing to worry about. Additional information about the Pakistani’s perspective on this and other issues can be found at my friend’s blog: South Asian perspectives on culture, economics, and politics .
Oher relevant sources about what's really happening in Pakistan:
CHOWK is a platform to publish, discuss and debate writings on a variety of issues that are important to the people of India, Pakistan, and other South Asian countries.
Update (July 28, 2009):
I found this Toronto Star article published on July 19, 2009, which discusses the aftermath of the conflict discussed above. As the title indicates, we still had nothing to worry about: