Shyam Bhatia In London
Pakistan’s worst fears that the US has plans to seize its nuclear stockpile have been confirmed by US expert, Dr Jack Caravelli, a former adviser to at least two US Presidents.
This is the first time someone of Caravelli’s eminence has confirmed that secret plans are in place to take control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in case terrorists take control of that country. His revelation underlines the concerns expressed by former Pakistani diplomat Asif Ezdi, who said in the aftermath of the Osama raid in Abbottabad that “the nation’s confidence in the viability of our defences has been badly shaken”.
“Clearly, there is a need to carry out a comprehensive reassessment of these threats and to prepare ourselves for all eventualities,” he wrote in a Karachi newspaper.
Significantly, Ezdi continued. “The most troubling question is whether our nuclear deterrent is safe from a similar US assault.”
Caravelli’s disclosure seemingly contradicts visiting US Senator John Kerry’s reassuring “guarantee” only a week earlier that the US had no designs on Islamabad’s nuclear weapons.
“It would be irresponsible for the US government not to have some kind of plans, given what it knows and understands of the current nuclear situation of Pakistan,” Caravelli told BBC Radio 5 Live.
Washington tolerated Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions hatched during the height of the cold war because they were seen as balancing the military strength of what the Americans perceived as a pro-Soviet India.
It was after the May 1998 tests that the US and its NATO allies became aware that Pakistani nuclear information was being clandestinely sold to any number of so-called “rogue” governments at the time, including North Korea, Iraq, Iran and Libya. While none of these governments - even with nuclear weapons - had the capability of taking on the US, there were concerns that they could pass on their secretly acquired know-how to terrorists.
These concerns reached crisis point following Al-Qaida’s terrorist attacks on US targets in September 2001 when Osama bin Laden’s teams hijacked four commercial jets, crashing two of them into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York.
On their part, the US authorities are now no longer as tolerant as these once were of Pakistan’s nuclear activities. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Washington has made several unsuccessful attempts to gain access to Khan and several of his senior scientific colleagues to get a better understanding of what nuclear weapons technology has been exported and to whom.
Despite various obstructions, US experts have ploughed on with their efforts to get a better understanding of how to safeguard the Pakistani nuclear programme. After 2001 the Bush administration is estimated to have spent some US$ 100 million to help Pakistan secure its steadily growing nuclear armoury. Less well-known were the contingency plans developed by the Clinton and the Bush administrations to take over Pakistan’s nuclear sites in the event these came under threat from terrorists.
These plans have taken on a new urgency following reports that Pakistan has embarked on a plan to develop small tactical nuclear weapons for use on the battlefield against India, but which would also be ideal for terrorists to use against individual cities in the West and elsewhere. But according to Caravelli, who served under both Clinton and Bush, the contingency plans will come into operation if the “perfect storm” occurs and terrorists take control of Pakistan.
“For a number of years, the plans existed that in the most dire of circumstances the US would at least have the options to undertake operations to try and secure those weapons and materials, if necessary,” Caravelli said in his radio interview. A leading US nuclear expert on non-proliferation and terrorism, Caravelli is also a former Deputy Assistant Secretary at the US Department of Energy and had served on the White House National Security Council where he was the President’s main adviser for non-proliferation policies affecting Russia and the Middle East.
His insights will chill the hearts of those Pakistanis who believe that the bottom line of US policies affecting Pakistan is to somehow gain control of the country’s nuclear weapons and infrastructure. In fact, many Pakistanis believe that recent terrorist attacks on some of their supposedly secure military centres were designed to highlight Islamabad’s inability to safeguard its vital nuclear facilities.