Qureshi on nukes

30 Nov 2011

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IT is unfortunate that a former foreign minister should have made remarks that can only add to the existing pressure on Pakistan and lend credence to western concerns about the safety of the country’s nuclear weapons. Speaking at Ghotki on Sunday, where he announced his decision to join Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf, Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that the country’s nuclear arsenal was not safe under President Asif Zardari, prompting the government to retort that his remarks were “baseless”. Mr Qureshi also criticised Pakistan’s foreign policy, especially its alliance with the US which until recently he had defended as foreign minister. On the nukes, Mr Qureshi had repeatedly assured the world that they were safe. In a meeting with Hillary Clinton last year, Mr Qureshi said Pakistan’s nuclear weapons were under no threat and there had not been “a single mishap during nuclear energy generation in the last 35 years” — views he had earlier aired in a Russian TV interview. To add suspense to the political drama, Mr Qureshi said he would give more details about the presumed risk to Pakistan’s nukes at the next PTI meeting in Karachi.

Now that he is in the opposition, Mr Qureshi has every right to flay the government as well as target President Zardari. But Mr Qureshi knows more than anybody else that the civilian part of the government of which he was an important member has no access to, much less control over Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. The latter are under several layers of military command and control — also acknowledged by the international community. Mr Qureshi has wagered on a PTI landslide in the next election, and expects to be suitably rewarded. But, how will he reconcile his current views with the obvious line he will take if he is back in the foreign ministry?