Pakistan says nuclear controls are firmly in place

September 3, 2013

Pakistan on Tuesday described its nuclear policy as one of “restraint and responsibility” and declared that it has a well-established regimen of controls to “ensure the safety and security” of its nuclear facilities.

The Foreign Ministry in Islamabad issued the statement after a report in Tuesday’s Washington Post documented growing U.S. concerns about Pakistan’s nuclear safeguards and security agencies.

The government said it is “fully committed” to the goals of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation, follows standards set by the International Atomic Energy Agency and is “fully implementing” controls mandated by international conventions on chemical and biological weapons.

Pakistan’s statement did not comment specifically on the pattern of mistrust between Washington and Islamabad that was described in the Post report, which was based on secret budget documents provided to the newspaper by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

But several Pakistani experts said the problem of mutual mistrust between the two governments was well known and documented, despite a lengthy history of bilateral cooperation and a decade-long counterterrorism partnership. The rift deepened, from Pakistan’s point of view, after key incidents, including the secret U.S. raid inside Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.

“The trust deficit is not a secret, and it has been widening over the years,” said Rifaat Hussain, a Pakistani defense expert. “They call each other strategic partners, but they withhold strategic information from each other.”

Hussain said Pakistani officials are highly suspicious that the United States has designs on their country’s nuclear arsenal. He said many Pakistanis are convinced that after U.S. forces withdraw from Afghanistan next year, Washington will seek to “cap Pakistan’s nuclear capability.”

Pervez Hoodbhoy, a Pakistani physicist and leading critic of nuclear arms, said he found nothing surprising in the Post report.

“Of course the U.S. has put Pakistan under a microscope. Everyone knows that,” he said.

Hoodbhoy noted that the U.S. military regularly carries out “war gaming exercises aimed at dealing with possible nuclear contingencies,” including the theft of nuclear warheads and the emergence of a militant Islamist government in Pakistan.

Pakistani media outlets seized on information in the Post report about alleged extrajudicial killings of suspected Islamist militants by Pakistani security forces and on the reasons that U.S. officials did not publicly reveal or act on those concerns.

Pakistani human rights groups have tried to focus attention on such killings, especially revenge or targeted killings reportedly committed by government forces during a high-profile conflict with Taliban fighters in the Swat Valley in 2009.

But Pakistani military officials have dismissed the allegations as untrue.

The chairman of Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission, I.A. Rehman, said Tuesday that “such reports of alleged excesses by the security forces need to be properly investigated” and that his group had asked for a probe into reports of killings in Swat.

“It is a serious issue, and it needs to be tackled in a serious way,” otherwise public trust in government institutions can be damaged, Rehman said.

Shaiq Hussain in Islamabad contributed to this report.

Pamela Constable covers issues related to immigration policy, immigrant communities and international figures and issues that crop up in our local and regional midst.
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