ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Sunday dismissed an article in a US magazine that called the South Asian nation an “ally from hell” for Washington and raised questions about the safety of its nuclear arsenal and commitment to fighting militancy.
A statement from Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs termed the cover story of The Atlantic's December 2011 issue “pure fiction, baseless and motivated.”
“The surfacing of such campaigns is not something new. It is orchestrated by quarters that are inimical to Pakistan,” the statement said.
Writers Jeffrey Goldberg and Marc Ambinder wrote that Pakistan is “an obvious place” for militants to seek nuclear weapons or materials because of a weak government and infiltration of its security forces by jihadist sympathisers.
But Pakistan, the article said, is more concerned about American designs on its nuclear arsenal and goes to great lengths to conceal its weapons.
The United States has spent almost $100 million helping secure Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, and appropriated almost $20 billion in civilian and military aid since the September 11, 2001 attacks in a bid to secure Pakistan's allegiance in the US-led war in neighbouring Afghanistan.
The article said US officials have grown increasingly disenchanted with Pakistan efforts to root out sympathisers on its territory, particularly after the May 2 raid by American Special Forces that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a town about two hours outside of Islamabad home to the country's premier military academy.
Since then, Pakistan fears that the Pentagon plans similar raids to forcibly “denuclearize” it.
The authors, citing unnamed sources, said those fears are valid.
The article details contingency plans involving hundreds of US commandos specially trained in securing weapons of mass destruction that would swoop in and disable or seize Pakistan's nuclear arsenal in the event of the collapse of the state or a jihadist coup.
That fear explains perhaps the most startling allegation: that Pakistani authorities transport assembled nuclear weapons in civilian vans without heavy security, moving in regular traffic to avoid being noticed.
This, the authors said, makes Pakistan's nuclear weapons “vulnerable to theft by jihadists,” compromising security in a country where numerous militant organizations of various stripes are believed to be headquartered.
The Pakistani statement rejected these fears.
“No one should underestimate Pakistan's will and capability to defend its sovereignty, territorial integrity and national interests.”
It is not just Pakistan's weak institutions that worry the US, the article said. Its powerful military and intelligence agency, the directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), actively aid militants.
“The Pakistani government has wilfully misled the US for more than 20 years about its support for terrorist organisations,” wrote Goldberg and Ambinder.
The US has increased pressure in recent months on Pakistan to act against militant groups in its territory, especially the Haqqani militant network that has launched brazen attacks against US and other targets in Afghanistan.
Washington says the Haqqani network is based in Pakistan's North Waziristan along the border with Afghanistan.
The former chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said in September that the Haqqani group is a “veritable arm” of the ISI.
The tensions have complicated the outlook as the Obama administration pushes ahead with plans to draw down troops and hand security control to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.