Obama Administration Preps for ‘Come to Mohammed’ Meeting with Afghan, Pak Leaders
Could a storyline leaked to the New York Times’ front page on Monday signal an end to America’s codependence on an untrustworthy Pakistan?
Despite the erratic behavior of the Pervez Musharraf government for most of George W. Bush’s presidency, of the Big Worry — Pakistan’s nukes — we were always told, no problem. I can remember Pentagon and Bush Administration officials speaking cryptically of fail-safe mechanisms which would keep the weapons or nuclear material from ever falling into the wrong hands.
Today’s story in the Times says something different. Apparently, for at least the last two weeks, Obama Administration officials have been concerned:
As the insurgency of the Taliban and Al Qaeda spreads in Pakistan, senior American officials say they are increasingly concerned about new vulnerabilities for Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, including the potential for militants to snatch a weapon in transport or to insert sympathizers into laboratories or fuel-production facilities.
The officials emphasized that there was no reason to believe that the arsenal, most of which is south of the capital, Islamabad, faced an imminent threat. President Obama said last week that he remained confident that keeping the country’s nuclear infrastructure secure was the top priority of Pakistan’s armed forces.
But the United States does not know where all of Pakistan’s nuclear sites are located, and its concerns have intensified in the last two weeks since the Taliban entered Buner, a district 60 miles from the capital. The spread of the insurgency has left American officials less willing to accept blanket assurances from Pakistan that the weapons are safe.
Pakistani officials have continued to deflect American requests for more details about the location and security of the country’s nuclear sites, the officials said.
One only need read Ahmed Rashid’s latest work, Descent Into Chaos, to believe in the likelihood of one scenario American planners worry over. What if warheads need to be moved due to instability or insurgency where they are located? Can the Pakistanis claim that there are no Taliban or al-Qaeda sympathizers among the ranks of the military which would effect that move? The answer is no. The further answer, according to my reading of Rashid’s work, is that there have been and continue to be Islamic extremists in leadership and rank and file positions within Pakistan’s nuclear program.
The Obama Administration picked a good week to signal “no more B.S.” to Pakistan. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is due at the White House on Wednesday. When the last American president used to meet with the last Pakistani president, what came of the meetings were little more than photo-ops with Bush heaping praise on Musharraf.
Just hours after the Times hit newsstands, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen gave a news briefing where he used diplomatic but strong language to describe the state of affairs with Pakistan and what is needed from them as stalwart U.S. allies:
“But Afghanistan has been an ‘economy-of-force’ operation for far too long,” Mullen said. “The Taliban, aided by al-Qaida and other extremists and safe havens across the border, are recruiting through intimidation, controlling through fear and advancing an unwelcome ideology through thuggery.”
The Taliban also are making advances in Pakistan. “I am gravely concerned about the progress they have made in the south and inside Pakistan,” the chairman said. “The consequences of their success directly threaten our national interests in the region and our safety here at home. This isn’t about ‘can-do’ any more; this is about ‘must-do.’”
The United States must increase its efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mullen said. More manpower is flowing into Afghanistan, and more money and resources are moving in to Afghanistan and Pakistan. “But we need a commensurate commitment from the civilian side,” he said. “And as I’ve said many times before, we need more, and more concerted, pressure applied from Pakistan as well.”
Mullen’s “must-do” goes for Afghan President Hamid Karzai as well. Karzai sent his own message to the world today when he named former defense minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim as one of his two running mates. Fahim, a bad seed even by that region’s standards was pushed aside as Karzai’s 2004 running mate for being a warlord not totally supportive of an Afghan central authority. Fahim has been accused of war crimes in the past and was one of the several warlords entitled by the CIA and Pentagon during the first several years of the Bush War on Terror. Those entitlements – and millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars – worked against peace and prosperity in Afghanistan once the Taliban were thought to have been defeated.
Karzai will be joining Zardari and Obama Wednesday for a summit in which Obama really has his work cut out for him. It appears the mistakes of the Bush Administration in allowing South Asia to go to hell in a handbasket are not lost on Obama’s team. There seems to be the laying of groundwork for a tough meeting — we’ll have to wait and see what comes of it all.