Nu­clear fuel memos ex­pose wary dance with Pak­istan

The Pak Banker - - Editorial5 - Jane Perlez

One se­cret cable of­fers an­other glimpse into an­other el­e­ment of the nu­clear games­man­ship be­tween the United States and its Pak­istani al­lies: Even while Amer­i­can of­fi­cials were try­ing to per­suade Pak­istani of­fi­cials to give up nu­clear ma­te­rial, they were qui­etly seek­ing to block Pak­istan from try­ing to buy ma­te­rial that would help it pro­duce tri­tium, the cru­cial in­gre­di­ent needed to in­crease the power of nu­clear weapons.

Af­ter pro­vid­ing spe­cific de­tails of the pro­posed sale, a Dec. 12, 2008, se­cret cable to the Amer­i­can Em­bassy in Singapore, seek­ing help to stop a trans­ac­tion that was about to take place, con­cluded, "We would have great con­cern over Pak­istan's po­ten­tial use of tri­tium to ad­vance its nu­clear weapons pro­gram."

The ca­bles also re­veal that the Amer­i­can Em­bassy had re­ceived cred­i­ble re­ports of ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings of pris­on­ers by the Pak­istani Army more than a year be­fore the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion pub­licly ac­knowl­edged the prob­lem and be­fore a video that is said to show such killings sur­faced on the In­ter­net. The killings are an­other source of ten­sion, com­pli­cated by Amer­i­can pres­sure on Pak­istan to be more ag­gres­sive in con­fronting mil­i­tants on its own soil.

In a Sept. 10, 2009, cable la­beled "se­cret/no­forn," mean­ing that it was too del­i­cate to be shared with for­eign gov­ern­ments, the em­bassy con­fronted al­le­ga­tions of hu­man rights abuses in the Swat Val­ley and the tribal ar­eas since the Pak­istani Army had be­gun fight­ing the Tal­iban a few months ear­lier.

While care­fully worded, the cable left lit­tle doubt about what was go­ing on. It spoke of a "grow­ing body of ev­i­dence" that gave cre­dence to the al­le­ga­tions.

"The crux of the prob­lem ap­pears to cen­ter on the treat­ment of ter­ror­ists de­tained in bat­tle­field op­er­a­tions and have fo­cused on the ex­tra­ju­di­cial killing of some de­tainees," the cable said. "The de­tainees in­volved were in the cus­tody of Fron­tier Corps or Pak­istan army units." The Fron­tier Corps is a para­mil­i­tary force partly fi­nanced by the United States to fight the in­sur­gents.

The Pak­istani Army was hold­ing as many as 5,000 "ter­ror­ist de­tainees," the cable said, about twice as many as the army had ac­knowl­edged. Concerned that the United States should not of­fend the Pak­istani Army, the cable stressed that any talk of the killings must be kept out of the press.

"Post ad­vises that we avoid com­ment on these in­ci­dents to the ex­tent pos­si­ble and that ef­forts re­main fo­cused on di­a­logue and the as­sis­tance strat­egy," the am­bas­sador wrote. This Septem­ber, how­ever, the is­sue ex­ploded into pub­lic view when a video emerged show­ing Pak­istani sol­diers ex­e­cut­ing six un­armed young men in civil­ian clothes. In Oc­to­ber, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion sus­pended fi­nanc­ing to half a dozen Pak­istani Army units be­lieved to have killed civil­ians or un­armed pris­on­ers.

The ca­bles verge on gos­sipy, as di­plo­mats strained to un­der­stand the per­son­al­i­ties be­hind the frac­tious Pak­istani govern­ment, and par­tic­u­larly two men: Gen­eral Kayani and Pres­i­dent Zar­dari.

Of­ten, the United States finds that Mr. Zar­dari, the ac­ci­den­tal leader af­ter the as­sas­si­na­tion of his wife, Be­nazir Bhutto, is sym­pa­thetic to Amer­i­can goals - stiff sanc­tions on ter­ror­ist fi­nanc­ing, the clos­ing down of ter­ror­ist train­ing camps - but lacks the power to ful­fill his prom­ises against re­sis­tance from the mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence agen­cies.

Mr. Zar­dari's chief an­tag­o­nist, Gen­eral Kayani, emerges as a stub­born guar­an­tor of what he sees as Pak­istan's na­tional in­ter­est, an army chief who med­dles in civil­ian pol­i­tics but stops short of over­turn­ing the elected or­der.

Early in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, Gen­eral Kayani made clear a con­di­tion for im­proved re­la­tions. As the di­rec­tor gen­eral of the Di­rec­torate for In­ter-Ser­vices In­tel­li­gence, or ISI, from 2004 to 2007, he did not want a "reck­on­ing with the past," said a cable in 2009 in­tro­duc­ing him to the new ad­min­is­tra­tion. "Kayani will want to hear that the United States has turned the page on past ISI op­er­a­tions," it said. Gen­eral Kayani was prob­a­bly re­fer­ring to the peace ac­cords with the Tal­iban from 2004 to 2007 that re­sulted in the strength­en­ing of the mil­i­tants.

If the gen­eral seems con­fi­dently in charge, the ca­bles por­tray Mr. Zar­dari as a man not fully aware of his weak­ness. At one point he said he would not ob­ject if Ab­dul Qadeer Khan, revered in Pak­istan as the fa­ther of its nu­clear weapons pro­gram, were in­ter­viewed by the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency but tac­itly ac­knowl­edged that he was pow­er­less to make that hap­pen. Mr. Zar­dari, who spent 11 years in prison on ul­ti­mately un­proved cor­rup­tion charges, feared for his po­si­tion and pos­si­bly - the word­ing is am­bigu­ous - his life: the ca­bles re­veal that Vice Pres­i­dent Bi­den told Prime Min­is­ter Gor­don Brown of Bri­tain in March 2009 that Mr. Zar­dari had told him that the "ISI di­rec­tor and Kayani will take me out." His sus­pi­cions were not ground­less. In March 2009, a pe­riod of po­lit­i­cal turmoil, Gen­eral Kayani told the am­bas­sador that he "might, how­ever re­luc­tantly," pres­sure Mr. Zar­dari to re­sign and, the cable added, pre­sum­ably leave Pak­istan. He men­tioned the leader of a third po­lit­i­cal party, As­fand­yar Wali Khan, as a pos­si­ble re­place­ment.

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