Just over the horizon: Pakistan becomes foreign policy issue #1

I’m going to get right into this:  Pakistan is a growing problem, both for America and for the global issue of nuclear proliferation, and now represents the single most important foreign policy issue for America (and NATO).  A bold statement?  Yes.  But recent developments in the region, combined with some troublesome history, is leading me to believe that Pakistan (not Iraq, Afghanistan or Iran) needs to be at the centre of American foreign policy. 

First, I’ll give a quick recap of where the situation currently stands:

Let’s start with America’s military operations in the region.  At this point, it’s inaccurate to call it the Afghan war -America is well into a drone-based bombing campaign in Pakistan.  Also, for some time now, there’s been a push among the top of the US military leaders to expand the Pakistan campaign and engage in more aggressive tactics. Complicating issues even further, it’s pretty clear that factions within the Pakistani Army, notably the secretive S-wing of Pakistan’s spy service, have been aiding the Taliban.  Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is openly aware of the S-wing ties, but is hesitant to do much about it.  I could go on here explaining the intricacies of the situation, but the links I’ve provided in this paragraph give you a pretty clear picture.

Politically, Pakistan’s government is on shaky ground, with India already declaring them “close” to becoming a failed state, and The Economist citing them as the country at greatest risk of becoming a failed state

With all of their internal and external strife, there’s one issue that’s becoming a major concern – Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.  What happens if they become a failed state?  Are their weapons safe and secured? 

Historically, Pakistan already has a bad track record with “sharing” their nuclear program.  AQ Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, confessed in 2004 to having sold nuclear secrets to Libya, Iran and North Korea (it’s pretty hard to think of three worse countries to get the bomb). 

Now flash forward to April 2009, and we’re starting to hear more and more about Pakistan’s role in nuclear proliferation.  The Boston Globe had an editorial about the risk of Pakistan selling nuclear arms to terrorists, and yesterday’s Wall Street Journal posted an article about the risk of nuclear arms falling into the hands of Islamic extremists.

 So what does this all mean?

Well, I’m worried.  Here’s what we’re facing:  A nuclear arsenal in the hands of a potentially failed state, which is home to a terrorist group with which we’re currently at war, all in a country with an infamous history of sharing nuclear secrets… I don’t like this combination.  We hear lots of worry about Iran’s nuclear program, but I’m much more worried about Pakistan’s. Iranian nuclear arms development is still years away.  Pakistan’s control over their weapons is a threat today. 

Lately, we’ve seen some redirection of American foreign policy to start accounting for the Pakistan problems, which is good.  I’m no expert in this field, so I can’t intelligibly comment as to what combination of diplomacy and force may be needed, nor how that equation changes as the situation develops.   So while I can’t propose a silver-bullet solution, I can say this much:  preventing Pakistan from failing, keeping their extremist forces contained and protecting their nuclear arsenal needs to be priority #1 in America’s foreign policy objectives. 

Forget Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran for the moment.  The ‘worst case scenario’, should Pakistan fail, is much darker than anything that could transpire (in the short term) in any of those three countries.

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One Response

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