Monday, May 18, 2009

Arms Race Update - Pakistan Expanding Nuclear Arsenal

You would think Pakistan would have better uses for the billions in military aid it has received from the United States than to ramp up its ability to wage a war of mutual annihilation on India. Apparently that's not the way Pakistan sees it. From The New York Times:

Adm. Mike Mullen the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed the assessment of the expanded arsenal in a one-word answer to a question on Thursday in the midst of lengthy Senate testimony. Sitting beside Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, he was asked whether he had seen evidence of an increase in the size of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal.

“Yes,” he said quickly, adding nothing, clearly cognizant of Pakistan’s sensitivity to any discussion about the country’s nuclear strategy or security.

Inside the Obama administration, some officials say, Pakistan’s drive to spend heavily on new nuclear arms has been a source of growing concern, because the country is producing more nuclear material at a time when Washington is increasingly focused on trying to assure the security of an arsenal of 80 to 100 weapons so that they will never fall into the hands of Islamic insurgents.

Admiral Mullen's terse admission reflects one of the most intractable problems in this region, one that largely plays out beneath NATO's nose in Afghanistan where our supposed ally, Hamid Karzai, constantly courts support from India. Fareed Zakaria recently noted that India is Afghanistan's main aid donor.

India wants to expand its presence in Afghanistan for reasons legitimate and illegitimate. It does have a pressing interest in the TAPI (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India) pipeline project that could give India access to Caspian Basin oil and gas. But it also allows India to give Pakistan fits over fearing an Indian-dominated Afghanistan boxing it in.

What never seems to get mentioned in the TAPI discussions is how India would secure its pipeline access against interruption by Pakistan. The pipelines would have to pass through Pakistan to reach India meaning Islamabad could turn off the taps for any number of strategic purposes which would cause enormous havoc to the Indian economy.

It's hard not to see Pakistan's drive to acquire more nukes except in the context of a perceived sense of increasing tensions or, worse, a belief in inevitable war with India. Pakistan is all too aware of India's massive drive to rearm and its overall qualitative and quantitative superiority over its Muslim neighbour. It's little comfort to Pakistan to know that India wants a more effective military to try to offset China's rearmament efforts because Islamabad realizes all that new Indian hardware can be used against Pakistan as easily as China.

The West has to solve this problem of growing Indian influence in Afghanistan. The more we allow containment paranoia to spread through Pakistan, the more we nudge Pakistan into the arms of China and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. If we think we've got problems now...

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