WASHINGTON: “Pakistan has a professional and dedicated security force that understands the importance of nuclear security,” says the US State Department.
“We have confidence that the government of Pakistan is well aware of the range of potential threats to its nuclear arsenal,” said a State Department spokesperson, Helaena White.
The statement, sent to Dawn in response to a query, indicates a recent lessening of concern in Washington about Pakistan’s nuclear programme. The assurance also follows a series of reports in the mainstream US media that the United States is willing to offer a deal to Pakistan, which would legitimise its nuclear programme, as a similar deal did for India.
The proposed deal, according to the US media, would also be discussed in a meeting between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and US President Barack Obama when the two leaders meet at the White House on Oct 22. The prime minister reaches Washington on Tuesday on a two-day official visit.
Reports about the deal followed a claim that Pakistan has the world’s fastest growing nuclear programme and is capable of making up to 200 nuclear devices by the year 2020.
The claim, by the influential Council on Foreign Relations, led to speculations in the US media that this “fastest growing nuclear arsenal” was a threat to world peace as Pakistan was not strong enough to defend its weapons against possible terrorist threats.
But the media gave another spin to this story following reports that Pakistan and the United States had been “secretly discussing a nuclear deal”. Now they argue that a deal could secure those weapons by placing certain restrictions on the reach and quantity of Pakistan’s nuclear devices.
The proposed deal would also require Pakistan to work with organisations like the International Atomic Energy Agency to further strengthen the security of its nuclear installations.
When Dawn contacted the State Department for the official US position on this debate, it was told that Washington had no doubts about Pakistan’s capability to defend its nuclear sites and devices.
The spokesperson said that Pakistan was also engaged with the international community on nuclear safety and security issues.
“We hold regular discussions on these issues through the Security, Strategic Stability and Non-proliferation Working Group, which met most recently in Washington in June 2015,” she said.
While she only said that the US was “in regular contact” with Pakistan on a range of issues as it prepared for Prime Minister Sharif’s visit, the White House went a step ahead and confirmed that he would also discuss the nuclear issue with President Obama.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, however, warned not to expect this deal “to come to fruition next week”.
Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2015