Are nuclear weapons safe in Pakistan?

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Seymour Hersh, with his usual uncanny inside access,writes in the New Yorker on the current state of the US-Pakistani alliance in light of concerns about the security of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal. Hersh feels that the Pakistanis’ apparent cooperation is a case of telling the Americans what they think they want to hear in return for coveted American bankrolling. By and large, he says, the Pakistanis distrust and dislike the Americans, fearing that anything they shared with the US in candor would find its way to Indian intelligence. Hersh hopes the Obama regime is not naive enough to believe the lines that the Pakistanis are feeding them, including their assurances that their nuclear arsenal is secure.

The US is stuck propping up the extremely unpopular Zardari regime, garnering the enmity of important segments of Pakistani society. The antipathy within the military is bolstered by the perception that they have been coopted as proxies in the US war on terror, turning their guns on their own people (local villagers, rather than the Taliban, were certainly the main victims of the bloodbath in Swat) from their traditional self-defined role defending their country against India. And it is upon this cooptation that the US’s “Af-Pak” strategy depends.

Hersh reviews evidence that the military has indeed turned far more fundamentalist in the past decade and that there are significant jihadist elements. A number of scenarios in which an internal mutiny could occur, and place a nuclear device in renegade hands, seem plausible. Secret US commando units will almost surely jump into a Pakistani crisis to seize and secure their nuclear weapons, but the outcome is not likely to be welcomed by Pakistan whether it succeeds or fails.