WASHINGTON, Dec 3: The White House said on Wednesday that it agreed with a bipartisan congressional commission’s report that Pakistan sat closest to the intersection of nuclear weapons and terrorism.
“I have no reason to disagree with it,” said White House Press Secretary Dana Perino when asked if the White House agreed with the report.
The bipartisan Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism reported earlier on Wednesday that if there was a WMD attack on the United States, it would originate in Pakistan.
“Were one to map terrorism and weapons of mass destruction today, all roads would intersect in Pakistan,” and that “the focus of US policy should be to help Pakistan achieve political and economic stability”, the report said.
The commission briefed President Bush and Vice President-elect Joe Biden, senior congressional leaders on Wednesday and warned them “it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013”.
The commission urged the United States to “build a national security workforce for the 21st century” by establishing a programme of education and training individuals.
“Our highest priority is to prevent an attack on American citizens, to prevent weapons of mass destruction from being used here in our country and around the world,” said Ms Perino when asked to comment on the report.
“We recognise that there is more to do, but what we have done is provided a really good foundation for the next team to be able to take that on and continue to try to keep us safe,” she said.
The report observed that while Pakistan was a US ally, “there is a grave danger it could also be an unwitting source of a terrorist attack on the United States — possibly using weapons of mass destruction”.
The Commission urged the next administration and Congress to pay particular attention to Pakistan, “as it is the geographic crossroads for terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
Indeed, the border provinces of Pakistan today are a safe haven, if not the safe haven, for Al Qaeda.”
The report estimated that Pakistan has about 85 nuclear weapons, which are under the complete control of the Pakistani military. Although most US and Pakistani officials assert that these weapons and their components were safe from inside or outside theft, “the risk that radical Islamists — Al Qaeda or Taliban — may gain access to nuclear material is real,” the report claimed.
“Should the Pakistani government become weaker, and the Pakistani nuclear arsenal grow, that risk will increase. With each new facility, military or civilian, comes added security concerns,” the report said.
The commission noted that Pakistan was steadily adding to its nuclear weapons stockpile, which remained its chief deterrent against Indian attack.
It also noted that in October 2008, on the heels of the US-India civil nuclear agreement, China agreed to build two nuclear power plants in Pakistan.
“This deal — especially if it does not contain mechanisms to prevent nuclear material from being transferred from the new civilian plants to military facilities — signals a nascent nuclear arms race in Asia,” the commission warned.
“The risk of a WMD attack being planned and executed from Pakistan’s northwest frontier area is growing, as that area continues to function as a safe haven for Al Qaeda.”
The commission also issued the following recommendations:
The next President and Congress should implement a comprehensive policy towards Pakistan that works with Pakistan and other countries to (1) eliminate terrorist safe havens through military, economic, and diplomatic means; (2) secure nuclear and biological materials in Pakistan; (3) counter and defeat extremist ideology; and (4) constrain a nascent nuclear arms race in Asia. The President and Congress should develop and implement a comprehensive policy involving all elements of national power — military, economic, and diplomatic — to eliminate terrorist safe havens in Pakistan. This policy should also be implemented with regard to Afghanistan, India, China and Russia.
Action: The United States should continue to support Pakistan’s efforts to eliminate Al Qaeda’s safe haven in Fata and the NWFP, through increased joint military and intelligence operations. The United States should also support Pakistan’s efforts to work with tribal leaders and to strengthen the Frontier Corps and local police.
The United States should continue to provide Pakistan direct military support in the hunt to capture or kill al Qaeda and Taliban terrorist leaders. The United States, with other countries, should also provide funding and training to the Pakistani military, as well as to the Frontier Corps and other local and provincial security forces. Where possible, any operations should be executed by Pakistani forces; the US military footprint in Pakistan should remain minimal.
Allowing the Pakistani armed forces to lead the fight, supported by the United States, other North Atlantic Treaty Organization members, and other friendly countries, avoids further arousing Pakistani nationalism and anti-Americanism. Minimizing direct US involvement lessens the opportunity for nationalist outcry and may allow a more rational assessment of the situation. The Pakistani government, military, and people need to understand that their interests are also at stake—an unfortunate reality driven home by the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and by the September 2008 attack against the Islamabad Marriott.