WASHINGTON: Finally acknowledging that Pakistan represents a clear and present danger to American and world security, the Bush administration is trying to get a stranglehold on the countryâ€™s nuclear weapons.
In the latest move, Washington has sought direct access to Pakistanâ€™s Nuclear Command Authority by posting an officer at the US embassy in Islamabad to liaise with the body that controls the countryâ€™s nuclear weapons.
The demand, first reported in Pakistani newspapers Jang and News , comes even as US president George Bush said in a TV interview on the weekend that a future 9/11 kind of attack would most likely emanate from Pakistan, not Afghanistan.
Bush and high-ranking US officials had previously glossed over Pakistanâ€™s role as the hub of world terror while targeting Iraq.
Most major terror attacks in the world have emanated from Pakistan, and not from the usual US suspects like Iran, Iraq and Syria.
The US administrationâ€™s attempts to get a stranglehold on Pakistanâ€™s nuclear weapons show that Washington now appears to have come out in the open about a country that has long been described by many analysts as the most dangerous place on earth and the ground zero of world terror.
Ironically, the change in the American thinking comes even as Pakistanâ€™s vibrant civil society has forced a course correction by jettisoning a US-backed militaristic government in favour of a more democratic dispensation.
Although Washington appears to harbour more doubts about the new democratic government than about the previous military junta it allied with, its efforts to get a handle on Pakistanâ€™s security predates the gradual transfer of power.
The latest attempt to get a fix on Pakistanâ€™s nuclear assets is the 12th in a series of demands aimed at establishing greater US oversight on what many commentators see as a dangerously unstable country. Last month, Washington issued a set of 11 demands that shocked Pakistanâ€™s security establishment, which described it as highly intrusive and untenable.
The demands included allowing US personnel to enter Pakistan on the basis of national identity (like driverâ€™s licence) and forgoing visas; accepting US licences, including arms licences, in Pakistan; US personnel being allowed to bear arms and wear their uniforms in Pakistan; application of US criminal jurisdiction on American personnel in Pakistan etc.
Pakistanâ€™s defence ministry, the foreign office and the law ministry were reported to have rejected the demands outright.
Pakistanâ€™s security mavens have gone ballistic over the US security bear hug.
“The first step in dealing rationally with our indigenous terrorist problem holistically and credibly is to create space between ourselves and the US. As the US adage goes: â€˜There is no free lunch.â€™ For Pakistan, lunching with the US has become unacceptably costly,” wrote Shireen Mazari, who heads the Pakistan Institute of Strategic Studies.
While Mazari wants Islamabad to punish the US by denying it access to Afghanistan, other analysts point out that Pakistan will be toast within weeks without US financial and institutional support.
According to reports from Pakistan, the new request for an NCA liaison was made through verbal contact via an assistant secretary-level official.
Elizabeth Colton, the US embassy spokesperson in Islamabad, did not deny outright the story but told the Pakistani media: “We are in touch with all elements of the Pakistan government all the time. But we do not publish or discuss details of our diplomatic discussions and assignments.”