American troops are massed on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border poised to enter Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region to hunt members of the Haqqani outfit. Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani issued a warning to the US. He said that America should think ten times before going in for a unilateral military offensive inside Pakistan because his country is a nuclear power. General Kayani is not known for his emotional outbursts. So what does his statement imply?
Would Pakistan nuke American troops? That would mean bombing the Af-Pak region so it may be discounted. Would Pakistan nuke American cities? Pakistan lacks the missile power to do that so it may be discounted. Would Pakistan outsource nuclear weapons to terrorists to nuke American cities? That possibly could be done. How should the world react to General Kayani’s warning? To issue a veiled nuclear threat to the world’s biggest military power requires uncommon confidence. Does the Pakistan Army Chief’s confidence flow from his mentors in China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA)?
It might be recalled that in July 2005 Chinese Major-General Zhu Chenghu had threatened that China would attack over one hundred American cities with nuclear weapons if the US interfered in a war between Communist China and Taiwan. After strong objections by Washington Chinese authorities mildly rebuked the General but did not punish him. So it cannot be easily determined whether General Kayani’s statement reflected the PLA’s encouragement or was off his own bat. In any event can the world be complacent about veiled nuclear threats being tossed about by the army chief of a nation regarded as the global hub of terrorism?
It is a danger that the world may ignore at its own peril. The UN can impose the most stringent sanctions against Pakistan unless Islamabad takes convincing remedial steps to ensure that its nuclear weapons will not be misused. As a permanent member of the Security Council, China can veto any UN resolution. If China uses its veto power to protect Pakistan the rest of the world should seriously consider also applying sanctions against China. Given China’s strength this may appear unthinkable. But the possible consequences arising from global complacency regarding nuclear terrorism are even more unthinkable. History teaches that the results of appeasement can be horrendous.
Today the world asks: “Are Pakistan’s nuclear weapons safe from falling into the hands of terrorists?” After General Kayani’s recent warning that question has become redundant. Now the world should ask: “Are Pakistan’s nuclear weapons safe in the hands of its army?”