Nu­clear fuel memos ex­pose wary dance with Pak­istan

The Pak Banker - - Editorial5 - Jane Perlez

Less than a month af­ter Pres­i­dent Obama testily as­sured re­porters in 2009 that Pak­istan's nu­clear ma­te­ri­als "will re­main out of mil­i­tant hands," his am­bas­sador here sent a se­cret mes­sage to Washington sug­gest­ing that she re­mained deeply wor­ried. The am­bas­sador's con­cern was a stock­pile of highly en­riched ura­nium, sit­ting for years near an ag­ing re­search nu­clear re­ac­tor in Pak­istan. There was enough to build sev­eral "dirty bombs" or, in skilled hands, pos­si­bly enough for an ac­tual nu­clear bomb. In the cable, dated May 27, 2009, the am­bas­sador, Anne W. Pat­ter­son, re­ported that the Pak­istani govern­ment was yet again drag­ging its feet on an agree­ment reached two years ear­lier to have the United States re­move the ma­te­rial.

She wrote to se­nior Amer­i­can of­fi­cials that the Pak­istani govern­ment had con­cluded that "the 'sen­sa­tional' in­ter­na­tional and lo­cal me­dia cov­er­age of Pak­istan's nu­clear weapons made it im­pos­si­ble to pro­ceed at this time." A se­nior Pak­istani of­fi­cial, she said, warned that if word leaked out that Amer­i­cans were help­ing re­move the fuel, the lo­cal press would cer­tainly "por­tray it as the United States tak­ing Pak­istan's nu­clear weapons."

It may be the most un­nerv­ing ev­i­dence of the com­plex re­la­tion­ship - some­times co­op­er­a­tive, of­ten con­fronta­tional, al­ways wary - be­tween Amer­ica and Pak­istan nearly 10 years into the Amer­i­can-led war in Afghanistan. The ca­bles, ob­tained by Wik­iLeaks and made avail­able to a num­ber of news or­ga­ni­za­tions, make it clear that un­der­neath pub­lic re­as­sur­ances lie deep clashes over strate­gic goals on is­sues like Pak­istan's sup­port for the Afghan Tal­iban and tol­er­ance of Al Qaeda, and Washington's warmer re­la­tions with In­dia, Pak­istan's arch­en­emy.

Writ­ten from the Amer­i­can Em­bassy in Is­lam­abad, the ca­bles re­veal Amer­i­can ma­neu­ver­ing as di­plo­mats try to sup­port an un­pop­u­lar elected govern­ment that is more sym­pa­thetic to Amer­i­can aims than is the real power in Pak­istan, the army and in­tel­li­gence agency so cru­cial to the fight against mil­i­tants. The ca­bles show just how weak the civil­ian govern­ment is: Pres­i­dent Asif Ali Zar­dari told Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph R. Bi­den Jr. that he wor­ried that the mil­i­tary might "take me out."

Frus­tra­tion at Amer­i­can in­abil­ity to per­suade the Pak­istani Army and in­tel­li­gence agency to stop sup­port­ing the Afghan Tal­iban and other mil­i­tants runs through the re­ports of meet­ings be­tween Amer­i­can and Pak­istani of­fi­cials.

That frus­tra­tion pre­oc­cu­pied the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion and be­came an is­sue for the in­com­ing Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, the ca­bles doc­u­ment, dur­ing a trip in Jan­uary 2009 that Mr. Bi­den made to Pak­istan 11 days be­fore he was sworn in. In a meet­ing with Gen. Ash­faq Parvez Kayani, the army chief of staff, Mr. Bi­den asked sev­eral times whether Pak­istan and the United States "had the same en­emy as we move for­ward."

"The United States needs to be able to make an ob­jec­tive as­sess­ment of Pak­istan's part of the bar­gain," Mr. Bi­den said, ac­cord­ing to a Feb. 6, 2009, cable.

Gen­eral Kayani tried to re­as­sure him, say­ing, "We are on the same page in Afghanistan, but there might be dif­fer­ent tac­tics." Mr. Bi­den replied that "re­sults" would test that.

The ca­bles re­veal at least one ex­am­ple of in­creased co­op­er­a­tion, pre­vi­ously undis­closed, un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. Last fall, the Pak­istani Army se­cretly al­lowed 12 Amer­i­can Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions sol­diers to de­ploy with Pak­istani troops in the vi­o­lent tribal ar­eas near the Afghan border.

The Amer­i­cans were for­bid­den to con­duct com­bat mis­sions. Even though their num­bers were small, their pres­ence at army head­quar­ters in Ba­jaur, South Waziris­tan and North Waziris­tan was a "sea change in think­ing," the em­bassy re­ported.

The em­bassy added its usual cau­tion: The de­ploy­ments must be kept se­cret or the "Pak­istani mil­i­tary will likely stop mak­ing re­quests for such as­sis­tance."

Within the past year, how­ever, Pak­istan and the United States have gin­gerly started to pub­licly ac­knowl­edge the role of Amer­i­can field ad­vis­ers. Lt. Col. Michael Shavers, an Amer­i­can mil­i­tary spokesman in Is­lam­abad, said in a state­ment that "at the request of the Pak­ista­nis," small teams of Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions forces "move to var­i­ous lo­ca­tions with their Pak­istani mil­i­tary coun­ter­parts through­out Pak­istan."

More­over, last week in a re­port to Congress on op­er­a­tions in Afghanistan, the Pen­tagon said that the Pak­istani Army had also ac­cepted Amer­i­can and coali­tion ad­vis­ers in Quetta. The ca­bles do not deal with the sharp in­crease un­der Mr. Obama in drone attacks against Al Qaeda and the Tal­iban in the tribal ar­eas with Pak­istan's tacit ap­proval. That is be­cause the ca­bles are not clas­si­fied at the high­est lev­els. Over all, though, the ca­bles por­tray deep skep­ti­cism that Pak­istan will ever co­op­er­ate fully in fight­ing the full panoply of ex­trem­ist groups. This is partly be­cause Pak­istan sees some of the strong­est mil­i­tant groups as in­surance for the in­evitable day that the United States mil­i­tary with­draws from Afghanistan - and Pak­istan wants to ex­ert max­i­mum in­flu­ence in­side Afghanistan and against In­dian in­ter­ven­tion.

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