Jewish World Review Feb. 12, 2004 / 20 Shevat, 5764
Stratfor Intelligence Brief by
U.S.-Pakistan tussle over nukes is part of a larger game
The Pakistani situation continues to boil. The United States, on Feb. 10, said it has had intelligence about the activities of Pakistani nuclear scientists for several years, which it passed on to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.
To be more precise, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters that the United States had passed on "pieces of information" to the Pakistanis.
The United States is, therefore, now in the process of trying to explain how it missed the nuclear-transfer program by stating it had at least some knowledge of the program that was passed to Musharraf, while strongly hinting it was aware of the whole thing. Musharraf, in the meantime, told the New York Times that the United States had not given him convincing proof, nor had it provided any evidence, of Abdul Qadeer Khan's activities until October 2003.
This is getting really strange. Why are the Americans and Pakistanis arguing over when Washington told Musharraf about the nuclear plot? Musharraf had to have known about Khan because, as general and president, he commands the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI; and the ISI was all over the Pakistani nuclear program.
It is inconceivable that the ISI was not aware of a plot by a group of scientists - all of whom were under constant surveillance by the agency and knew full well they were - to sell nuclear secrets around the world.
The United States has sprung a trap on Musharraf. It is not about what Washington told him or when; it is about the ISI.
Musharraf can take one of two positions. He can admit he knew about the plot and sanctioned it - and tell the United States to get lost.
The problem with that is that he is facing the prospect of the United States, India and, for good measure, the Israelis, weighing in with helpful comments about Pakistani-al-Qaida collaboration on nukes. If the president of Pakistan announces to the world that the plot was OK by him, then Pakistan is going to be in a world of hurt.
Therefore, Musharraf is denying that he knew anything about it. However, if that is true, then he has a rogue intelligence service on his hands, and the military is also suspect. If the ISI knew what Khan was doing, which it did, and didn't tell Musharraf - which he says it didn't - then Musharraf has no choice but to dismantle the ISI.
This is precisely what the United States wants.
Remember that the United States, in essence, told the world it intends to carry out military operations in Pakistan as part of the endgame on al-Qaida. Al-Qaida has many supporters within the ISI and the Pakistani military, and the United States wants these elements purged before any major operations are launched, since the same people who covered up the Khan operation will also provide cover and intelligence to al-Qaida. An offensive into Pakistan cannot succeed unless the ISI is dismantled, or at least purged.
The purpose of the nuclear game is to force Musharraf into carrying out such a purge. The U.S. assertion that American intelligence informed Musharraf, and his argument that U.S. intel didn't give him any real evidence, is simply Washington turning up the heat a bit. It is also about Musharraf trying to pretend it doesn't hurt.
Musharraf does not want to break up the ISI or get into a fight with the military. For one thing, it is not clear who would win a showdown if one occurred. For another thing, Musharraf would be left as an American puppet without any leverage. On the other hand, if he refuses to take responsibility for the situation, he is admitting that the Pakistani nuclear arsenal is not in his control - and that is not something India, Israel or the United States is going to tolerate.
The United States said it was going into Pakistan to get al-Qaida. Washington did not mention what the move would look like, but, all things considered, this makes sense. Washington seems to have acquired a taste for nuclear justifications for strategically necessary moves.
We might not think it is a great idea, but there it is. More important, the ISI is the central problem in dealing with al-Qaida. It has to be broken before an offensive can be successful.
Musharraf is being given an ultimatum: If he doesn't deal with his intelligence service, the Indians and Israelis will have every right to be nervous, and the United States won't lift a finger to help them solve the problem.