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US gives another free pass to Pak nuclear program

US gives another free pass to Pak nuclear program

Author: Chidanand Rajghatta
Publication: The Times of India
Date: May 20, 2009.
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/US-gives-another-free-pass-to-Pak-nuclear-program/articleshow/4552420.cms

The United States has again given what virtually amounts to a free pass to Pakistan's India-specific nuclear weapons program, washing its hands off reports by its own military and intelligence that Islamabad is rapidly expanding its arsenal, while insisting it will ensure US aid is not spent on the country's nuclear program.

A phalanx of American officials sprang to the defense of questionable US policy on Pakistan on Monday after reports over the weekend confirmed that Islamabad was accelerating its fissile material production, and the consequent concern in sections of the administration and Congress over whether billions of dollars of US aid would indirectly help underwrite the expanded program.

Most of the batting for Pakistan was done at the State Department, but the Director of the CIA, Leon Panetta, and America's highest ranking general, Admiral Mike Mullen, also stepped up during their day's engagements to certify the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons and the firewall between US aid and the nuclear program, even as Congress tied up loose ends clear an immediate $ 2 billion aid package this week, the first of many tranches over the next decade.

"I'm not going to address the issue of whether or not the Pakistanis are increasing their nuclear capability," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said on Monday, deferring to Admiral Mullen (who last week confirmed the expansion), while adding, "We're going to work closely with the Government of Pakistan to make sure that the money is spent for the specific purposes that the US Congress had in mind."

As reported in this paper last week, US experts have expressed consternation that Pakistan is being allowed expand its nuclear weapons program "without as much as a reproach."

Pressed to explain why the administration thought the aid would not help the expanding program when money was essentially fungible (exchangeable in the sense of freeing up domestic resources for the nuclear program), Kelly said he wouldn't link the two issues: the idea of providing an assistance package and the fact that Pakistan has a nuclear capability.

"We shouldn't make this connection, because this assistance package is for very specific purposes... I don't see necessarily a connection between the two...We're going to make sure that the package is well spent," Kelly said.

"We take our responsibility as custodians of appropriated funds very seriously. We're going to work closely with the Government of Pakistan to ensure that this money goes to the purposes to which they're intended," he added.

((But the questions about Pakistan's accelerating nuclear weapons program just wouldn't go away at the daily briefing.

Question : So we can - can we just go back to the Pakistan nuclear arsenal? I wasn't sure in your initial answer whether you said that the United States opposes Pakistan increasing the size of...

Kelly : No, I didn't say that. I hope I didn't say that. I simply stated a fact, that Pakistan has a nuclear capability and that we shouldn't draw any links between the issues of our assistance package and their nuclear capability.

Question: Does the United States oppose the idea of Pakistan increasing the size of its nuclear arsenal?

Kelly: I think I referred you back to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on that.

Question: And what you referred us to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on was the question of whether or not it is, in fact, expanding its nuclear arsenal. And the chairman was quite explicit in stating that Pakistan is, in fact, expanding its arsenal. The question that Charlie's asking, which I'm seeking to follow up on, is whether or not the US believes that to be a good thing.

Kelly: I'm not going to comment on that, I'm afraid.

Question: Why not?

Kelly: It's just - I don't think it's my place right now to comment on the issue of whether or not it's a good thing if they expand their nuclear capability.

Question: The Department has been very vocal in stating what things Pakistan must do in order to contribute to stability, which you just identified as a key goal of ours. So what should prevent you from addressing whether or not the expansion of a nuclear arsenal would or would not contribute to stability?

Kelly: I'll just say that we are working very closely with the Government of Pakistan - with the elected Government of Pakistan. We have this joint effort, as I said before, to help them deal with the instability within their borders, and help them deal with the threat of extremism within their borders. But, you know, it's - I'm not going to speculate on their intentions, whether they're increasing it or not increasing. These are intelligence matters and I'm just not going to make a comment on it.))

Elsewhere in the administration, there were similar calls to delink the aid package from Pakistan's nuclear program. Avoiding the fungibility argument, Admiral Mullen told a Washington think-tank on Monday that he was "not aware of any US aid that has gone toward nuclear weapons, save that which is very focused... on improving their security. Which is exactly what we'd like and they've done that."

He was referring to the $ 100 million that the previous Bush administration gave to enhance Pakistan's nuclear weapons security, about which some US officials say they have no idea where and how it was spent.

Across the country on the west coast, CIA Director Leon Panetta also addressed the Pak nuclear issue, conceding that Washington did not know the location of all of Pakistan's nuclear weapons, but offering a hopeful assurance -- without stating the basis for it -- that they were secure and would not fall into the hands of extremists.

The Obama administration's orchestrated support for US aid to Pakistan despite its nuclear transgressions followed the same broad patterns of previous US governments which essentially believed it is more important to stabilize Pakistan than to call its nuclear program to account, without linking the two. This line of reasoning has its critics, more so since Pakistan is seeking to expand its capability at a time when Taliban are at the gate.

"Squandering precious resources on nuclear bombs is disgraceful when Pakistan is troubled by economic crisis and facing an insurgency that threatens its very existence," the New York Times said in an editorial on the subject on Monday. "Trying to keep up to 100 bombs from extremists is hard enough; expanding the nuclear stockpile makes the challenge worse."

While the Congress made some feeble attempt to link the aid to greater transparency and accountability on the nuclear front, administration officials have stepped in swiftly to nix it, arguing it will not serve any purpose because Pakistan will not play ball. They fear Pakistan would rather forsake aid, go bankrupt and self-destruct with horrendous consequences -- a dread some critics say Islamabad is capitalizing on.

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