Pakistan is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal despite the distraction of its insurgency -- turning some heads in the U.S. Congress about whether billions of dollars in forthcoming military aid may be diverted to Pakistan’s nuclear program, according to a report in the New York Times.
According to the Times and other published reports, Congress has been briefed about Pakistan’s ongoing nuclear initiatives both in private and public briefings by Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Pakistan’s fresh nuclear race is frustrating to U.S. officials who are determined to ensure that Pakistan’s present reported inventory of 80 to 100 nuclear weapons don’t wind up in the hands of Islamic militants, the Times reported.
Congress is presently mulling the spending of three billion dollars over the next five years to train and equip Pakistan’s military for counterinsurgency warfare. This aid would be on top of the 7.5 billion already earmarked by the U.S. for the assistance of Pakistani civilians.
During Senate testimony last week, Mullen was asked whether he had seen proof of an expanded Pakistani nuclear arsenal.
“Yes,” he offered -- in apparent difference to Pakistan’s sensitivity about discussing its nuclear strategy or security.
Meanwhile, Pakistan is cranking out unknown quantities of new bomb-grade uranium and in the near future will be also producing bomb-grade plutonium for a new generation of weapons.
All this flies in the face of President Barack Obama’s announced priority to hammer out a treaty that would foreclose Pakistan and any other country from manufacturing yet more fissile material – the heart of all nuclear weapons.
As it is, U.S. aid to Pakistan’s nuclear program has been held to a $100 million classified program to help Pakistan secure its weapons and materials from seizure by al-Qaida or the Taliban. However, reported the Times, the largesse of American aid could free up other money for Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions.
For sure, reported the Times, Pakistan could use the cash.
Pakistani officials are worried that their nuclear program is being starved by the budget crisis spawned by the global economic downturn.
Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution scholar has noted that Pakistan “has more terrorists per square mile than anyplace else on earth, and it has a nuclear weapons program that is growing faster than anyplace else on earth.”
As to the particulars of the Pakistani buildup, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security, David Albright, opined, “We see them scaling up their centrifuge facilities. ...
“The Bush administration turned a blind eye to how this is being ramped up,” he added. “And of course, with enough pressure, all this could be preventable.”
The reality is that Pakistan has never agreed to any limits and is one of three countries -- along with India and Israel -- that never signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the committee chairman, laid down the law saying, “Unless Pakistan’s leaders commit, in deeds and words, their country’s armed forces and security personnel to eliminating the threat from militant extremists, and unless they make it clear that they are doing so, for the sake of their own future, then no amount of assistance will be effective.”
Thus far, Pakistani government officials have said only that the government was “maintaining the minimum, credible deterrence capability.”
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