Extremist, Nuclear Pakistan: An Emerging Threat?

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Since the devastating attacks on New York andWashington, a wide range of actions has been takenby the Bush administration to neutralize the terroristinfrastructure arrayed against the United States. Inaddition, the president singled out Iran, North Korea,and Iraq as an "axis of evil." Iraq has been broughtunder intense pressure to give up its weapons of massdestruction or face military strikes.

One nation that has been overlooked so far isPakistan, which the United States has touted as a"frontline ally" in the anti-terrorism war. ButPakistan's cooperation has been grudging and spotty.Thousands of al-Qaeda fighters managed to escapeinto Pakistan, where they have been sheltered andhelped to regroup by Pakistani member groups of theInternational Islamic Front. Sections of the Pakistanimilitary and its intelligence agencies continue to aidal-Qaeda and its sister terrorist groups in Pakistan.Many of the gains made during 2001 and 2002 in theU.S.-led war on terrorism in Afghanistan have beensquandered because Pakistan has become al-Qaeda'snew command center.

Even worse, Pakistani nuclear experts areunder investigation for links with al-Qaeda.There is legitimate concern that President PervezMusharraf's regime does not have full controlover Pakistan's nuclear weapons. Furthermore,Pakistan is reported to have shared its nucleartechnology with North Korea, and possibly withMyanmar and Saudi Arabia, thus contributingto the problem of nuclear proliferation.

A nation that is penetrated by Islamic radicalsand that possesses dozens of nuclear weaponsand proliferates them to other dictatorial countriesposes a tangible and immediate problem.But U.S. policy toward Pakistan does not reflectthat reality. In the absence of pressure from theUnited States, Pakistan has not found it necessaryto take serious action against Islamicextremists or to end its proliferation activities.Other unstable nations are likely to look toPakistan as a role model that has achievednuclear status and checkmated the United Statesinto acquiescence. North Korea may be the firstnation to follow the Pakistani path.

A reevaluation of U.S. policy toward Pakistan isimperative. Forcing Pakistan to dismantle the terroristinfrastructure within its borders and put atight lid on its nuclear proliferation activities ismore likely to fortify short- and long-term U.S.national security interests than is an invasion ofIraq. There is also a need for contingency plans torapidly secure and extract Pakistan's nuclearweapons in case of a coup by Islamic radicals.

Subodh Atal

Subodh Atal is an independent foreign affairs analyst based in Washington, D.C.