WikiLeaks cables show U.S. focus on Pakistan’s military, nuclear material
During a visit to Pakistan barely a week before Barack Obama’s inauguration, Vice President-elect Joseph Biden sought reassurance from Pakistan’s military and intelligence chiefs that they “had the same enemy” as the United States and were prepared to take action against insurgent sanctuaries inside their border.
Pakistani army head Gen. Ashfaq Kayani told Biden that the two countries were “on the same page,” although there would inevitably be “tactical differences” in their approaches. Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the intelligence chief, said he was hurt that the CIA did not appear to trust him, according to one of dozens of private U.S. diplomatic cables released Tuesday by the Web site WikiLeaks.
Nearly two years later, the administration is still asking the same questions. In the meantime, it has plied Pakistan with aid, worried about the safety of its nuclear arsenal, and tried to keep its civilian government from falling or being overthrown by the military.
The documents, most of which date from 2009, revealed some new elements of the always-fraught relationship. Pakistan, which has publicly rejected any U.S. military presence beyond trainers restricted to specified bases, secretly authorized as many as 12 U.S. Special Operations commandos to work as advisers to conventional army units in operations last year against insurgents in the tribal belt along the border with Afghanistan.
A Oct. 9, 2009, cable from the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad described the arrangement as a “sea change” in Pakistani military attitudes. It noted that “previously, the Pakistani military leadership adamantly opposed letting us embed our special operations personnel with their military forces.”
The U.S. personnel would “provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support and general operations advice,” including “a live downlink of unmanned aerial vehicle full motion video” to Pakistan’s 11th Corps, the unit responsible for operations in the tribal areas that are insurgent sanctuaries.
It is not clear from the cable how many, if any, of the special forces advisers were put in place.
The security of Pakistan’s nuclear arms was a recurring theme in the released cables, beginning with a December 2008 U.S. intelligence briefing to NATO noting, “Despite pending economic catastrophe, Pakistan is producing nuclear weapons at a faster rate than any other country in the world.”
In a cable to brief the new Obama administration before Kayani’s February 2009 visit to Washington, U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson said that “our major concern has not been that an Islamic militant could steal an entire weapon, but rather the chance someone working in [government weapons] facilities could gradually smuggle enough fissile material out to eventually make a weapon and the vulnerability of weapons in transit.”
In May of last year, Patterson reported that Pakistan had reneged on an agreement to allow the United States to remove an aging stockpile of highly enriched uranium at a research nuclear reactor. The Pakistanis worried, she said, that the media would get wind of the removal and “portray it as the United States taking Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.”
The following month, in a briefing prepared for a visit by then-national security adviser James L. Jones, Patterson said Pakistan had gone “on the defensive” about its arsenal after international media’s reporting about U.S. concerns. The Pakistani government, she wrote, “is particularly neuralgic to suggestions that its nuclear weapons could fall into terrorist hands and to reports of U.S. plans to seize the weapons in case of emergency.”
In the cables, Pakistani officials complain about a U.S. civil nuclear accord with India, their traditional adversary, and note that its provisions will allow Indians to divert materials to their own weapons program.
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