There is a country which has well-publicised links to extremist Islamic terrorists, has a long-standing beef with one of its neighbours, is dangerously unstable, and has around 100 nukes ready to go… and surprise, surprise, it is not Iran.
Leaving aside the question of whether Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons and what that might mean, Pakistan is still the number one risk for something unpleasant going down. North Korea might enjoy rattling its sabre and low-key showing off its giant-breeding programme but Pyongyang knows its nukes are effectively a bargaining tool and a defensive weapon, and are highly unlikely to ever use them. There is always a risk of a collapsing North Korean regime firing off its nukes in a final blaze of un-glory or selling nuclear secrets/weapons to other regimes/terrorists, and although these are scary scenarios they are not as pressing as the issue of Pakistan.
Pakistan is after all a country where a handful of militants can storm a military base and hold it for 16 hours, and where a terror suspect with a $10,000,000 bounty on his head can live in the open, taunting a government that is in theory an ally of his own. And don’t forget that the Taliban already have control over a sizeable chunk of Pakistan. Meanwhile, despite their leaders attending cricket games together, India and Pakistan are still an incident away from full-blown war. Overall then the risk of something scary and nuclear happening in Pakistan is probably higher than any other country by a considerable distance. Islamic extremists steal a nuke? Nuclear war with India? State collapse and lost nukes in the chaos? With so many potential scenarios it must be about time for a Tom Clancy novel on the subject. Maybe this is why Pakistan is stoking the fire in the Iran nuke debate – to divert the world’s eyes from their own impending sh*tstorm. Still, it is nice to see a nuclear power not being a hypocritical dickwad to Iran like all the others.
So why doesn’t Pakistan’s situation get more attention? I don’t recall it being mentioned at all during the recent nuclear security summit in South Korea, which included Pakistan as a participant. My take on it is that Pakistan is almost too much of a threat to stability and security in South Asia to be told to buck up its act. It is, despite appearances to the contrary sometimes, a vital “ally” in the war in Afghanistan and is a big power thanks largely to those very nukes. Furthermore there is the very hard question of what can be done about it. Clearly stabilising the Pakistani state would help a lot but given the current political situation in Pakistan this seems unlikely. If India gave up its nukes there is perhaps a chance Pakistan would too, but I wouldn’t bet on it – regardless of whether India has nukes, Pakistan having them is a good deterrent against India. Plus India wouldn’t want to give up their nukes unless China gave up theirs, and China wouldn’t unless the US and Russia gave up theirs, and they wouldn’t until Britain, France, and North Korea gave up theirs and if all that happened then it might actually be useful to have some nukes because they could thaw hell out of its deep-freeze. At least Israel would still have some…
So yeah, its kind of one of those problems without an easy answer. Makes you just want to ignore it and go chasing Joseph Kony through the African jungle or something. Of course if it is ignored it might just stay as it is with a risk there but nothing actually happening. However, with US and Chinese aid and support Pakistan might be able to stabilise and stamp out the extremists, and come to some sort of long-term understanding with India to reduce the risk of conflict between them. This may be what will happen anyway, but until that day the safety and security of Pakistani nukes and the need to maintain peaceful Pakistani-Indian relations should be just as high on the international diplomatic agenda as North Korea or Iran, if not higher. Plus as a bonus for cricket fans like myself, if their country became more stable and peaceful Pakistan’s team would be able to play home games again without the hotel they and their opponents are staying at being bombed. That sucked.