Monday May 20, 2024

Obama’s attempt to focus on Pak nukes fails


By Shaheen Sehbai
October 26, 2015
WASHINGTON: Of the two key issues that dominated the Nawaz-Obama talks at the White House, nuclear issue is drawing the maximum interest, compared to Afghanistan, and questions are being raised as to why a senior Pakistani official went out of the way to disclose details of Pak nuclear weapons development programme.
Though the 2,800-word joint statement issued after the talks mentioned these two important issues among the many that could even barely get a mention inside the Oval Office, analysts and think tanks are unanimous that there was a total breakdown on the nuclear issue.
Comparing the 2015 joint statement with a 2,400-word statement issued exactly two years ago in 2013, when the recently elected PM, in his honeymoon period, visited the Oval Office, the different is the new 400 words that deal with the nuclear issue and Afghanistan. The rest is by and large the repetition of the same verbosity.
Pakistani officials and analysts are still guessing and wondering why PM Nawaz Sharif, or his negotiating team, conceded to include the word “nuclear terrorism” in the joint statement as that only means there is a fear of the nukes getting into the hands of terrorists, although Pakistan and the world know this is not even a remote possibility.
“So why even conceive that this is a threat unless this was used as a bargaining chip to get the K-word, or Kashmir, included in the same joint statement,” a senior Washington-based Pakistani analyst asked.
A US source present in the interaction between top media and think tank members, including CNN’s Peter Bergen and Mideast Institute’s Marvin Weinbaum among others, with Sartaj Aziz, after the PM had left US, revealed the entire discussion was focused on the nuclear and Afghan issues.
Sartaj was grilled over disclosure by Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad about Pakistan possessing small tactical nukes and he tried to explain the rationale at one point asking the US side to be rational and realistic, looking at ground realities and not some misty theories conceived thousands of miles away from the battleground.
Sartaj Aziz’s meeting with US writers and thinkers started on a very terse note, the source revealed. “Sir you have been replaced as the National Security Advisor, so why should we even take your word seriously,” he was asked.
As Mr. Aziz is highly experienced and well-versed in international media and audiences, he gave a very convincing answer. “I have been wearing two hats and the NSA hat was getting very heavy. So the change will help me a lot,” the 85-year old leader responded.
But explaining why FS Aizaz went public with the tactical weapons specific details, Sartaj gave a better answer: “You guys are thousands of miles away from where the Pakistani troops face the Indians. They have built 10 cantonments along the border and they think their Cold Start Doctrine will easily subdue Pakistan. We have to respond in whatever best way we can. We don’t worry about what some intellectuals may think sitting thousands of miles away. So our nukes would be the best deterrence. If you were in such a situation, what would you do?”
There was a lot of nodding by the listeners.But that did not answer the question why Secretary Aizaz went ahead to disclose what otherwise are thought to be national secrets.
After talking to a number of people who were present and who know, I am convinced that Mr. Aizaz spoke out “on his own” and there was no policy decision or even consultation at any level that this highly sensitive information should be leaked in the manner it was.
In fact Mr. Aizaz was furious after the event. A senior journalist from Pakistan whose newspaper headlined his disclosure was asked by the Pakistani official why such importance was given to this particular piece of info. The journalist said it was the only new info that was revealed in his briefing.
According to a well-placed source Mr. Aizaz was also asked later by other security institutions why he had gone public and his response was that he was responding to specific media articles that had mentioned a lot of negative things about the Pak nuclear programme.
Whether his answers satisfied these institutions is not clear but when he gets back home an internal discussion or debate, which may or may not be an inquiry, would definitely be held.
US media experts say in fact the entire visit of PM Sharif produced only one remarkable piece of information officially confirming details of Pak nuke programme and that was given by Mr. Aizaz.
The other surprise was the tacit admission by PM Sharif in the joint statement that he discussed with the US president “the continuing threat of nuclear terrorism.”
This implies that there was in the past such a threat and it continues to be so, despite the categorical declarations and assertions by the Pakistani nuclear and security establishments that Pak nukes were and are absolutely safe and in secure hands. So why should a PM concede existence of any threat while there is none.
It was obvious that President Obama welcomed “Pakistan’s constructive engagement with the Nuclear Security Summit process and its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and other international forums.”
Yet the overall view here is that the nuclear talks failed as was evident from the statements issued by the White House and other US officials after the summit.
“Let me state categorically, we have not entered into negotiations on 123 Agreement with Pakistan nor are we seeking an exception for Pakistan within the nuclear supplier group in order to facilitate civil nuclear exports,” a senior Administration official said after the meeting.
“Let me just assure you categorically that the press allegations of a 123 Agreement with Pakistan are completely false,” the official added.
The US anger and frustration was also evident in these words of the same official: “We have a long standing dialogue with Pakistan about its nuclear programme, and various developments in this programme.
We are particularly concerned and have expressed these concerns to Pakistan that there is requirement of all countries possessing nuclear weapons to ensure the safety and security of these weapons and do everything it can to promote strategic stability. So we will continue to engage in dialogues like this with Pakistan.”
Subsequent the US and international media reports confirmed some of these views.
“Pakistan wants peace, but it has no plans to slow down its nuclear weapons programme, either,” Al-Jazeera International said in a report. “That was the message from Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif this week in Washington. Problem is, that desire has caused problems to the White House.
Al-Jazeera summed up the visit in these words: “The prime minister’s visit this week turned out to be nothing more than a courtesy visit.”
Other reports say Obama’s attempt to focus on Pak nukes after his agreement with Iran has backfired and has been scuttled. That was probably the last important thing he wanted to achieve before his term expires in a year and he leaves a shaky legacy.