Saturday, November 17, 2007

Bhai, bhai

Some really interesting stuff in the NYT over the last couple of days. Here's an article talking about how the U.S. has sold Pakistan equipment and technology to safeguard its nuclear weapons from unauthorized use and/or theft, but refused to share "one of the crown jewels" of American nuclear protection technology because of issues of trust (on both sides). The NYT also apparently knew about this for three years. So much for "all the news that's fit to print".

A raft of equipment — from helicopters to night-vision goggles to nuclear detection equipment — was given to Pakistan to help secure its nuclear material, its warheads, and the laboratories that were the site of the worst known case of nuclear proliferation in the atomic age.

While American officials say that they believe the arsenal is safe at the moment, and that they take at face value Pakistani assurances that security is vastly improved, in many cases the Pakistani government has been reluctant to show American officials how or where the gear is actually used.

That is because the Pakistanis do not want to reveal the locations of their weapons or the amount or type of new bomb-grade fuel the country is now producing.

The American program was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when the Bush administration debated whether to share with Pakistan one of the crown jewels of American nuclear protection technology, known as “permissive action links,” or PALS, a system used to keep a weapon from detonating without proper codes and authorizations.

In the end, despite past federal aid to France and Russia on delicate points of nuclear security, the administration decided that it could not share the system with the Pakistanis because of legal restrictions.

In addition, the Pakistanis were suspicious that any American-made technology in their warheads could include a secret “kill switch,” enabling the Americans to turn off their weapons.

While many nuclear experts in the federal government favored offering the PALS system because they considered Pakistan’s arsenal among the world’s most vulnerable to terrorist groups, some administration officials feared that sharing the technology would teach Pakistan too much about American weaponry. The same concern kept the Clinton administration from sharing the technology with China in the early 1990s.

The New York Times has known details of the secret program for more than three years, based on interviews with a range of American officials and nuclear experts, some of whom were concerned that Pakistan’s arsenal remained vulnerable. The newspaper agreed to delay publication of the article after considering a request from the Bush administration, which argued that premature disclosure could hurt the effort to secure the weapons.

Since then, some elements of the program have been discussed in the Pakistani news media and in a presentation late last year by the leader of Pakistan’s nuclear safety effort, Lt. Gen. Khalid Kidwai, who acknowledged receiving “international” help as he sought to assure Washington that all of the holes in Pakistan’s nuclear security infrastructure had been sealed.

The Times told the administration last week that it was reopening its examination of the program in light of those disclosures and the current instability in Pakistan. Early this week, the White House withdrew its request that publication be withheld, though it was unwilling to discuss details of the program.

There's also a piece describing the Bush-Mush relationship.

White House aides said Mr. Bush is clear-eyed about his pact with the general, a pact that was sealed on a Saturday evening in November 2001, over an intimate dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. They had just met face-to-face for the first time, during a meeting of the United Nations, and, despite past tensions between their countries, an air of cozy familiarity filled the room.

“It was a lovely dinner, very sociable,” said Wendy J. Chamberlin, the former ambassador to Pakistan, who attended. “I wasn’t nervous, because I knew Musharraf and I knew how charming he is, and I could see that they would get along fine. And besides, the mood was exuberant. Musharraf was like a conquering hero, Musharraf had done the right thing. He was the man of the day.”

Today, of course, the general is hardly the man of the day. On Friday, Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte — who was the host at the Waldorf dinner as the ambassador to the United Nations then — arrived in Pakistan to press General Musharraf to end Pakistan’s state of emergency. Back in Washington, Mr. Bush was close-mouthed, saying little about the man he once praised as “a courageous leader and friend of the United States.”

The two have spoken just once, on Nov. 7 by telephone, in the two weeks since General Musharraf imposed de facto military rule. Mr. Bush, who initiated the call, termed it “a very frank discussion” — Washington code for a pointed airing of differences.

“My message was very, very plain, very easy to understand,” the president said. “And that is: the United States wants you to have elections as scheduled and take your uniform off.”

The “Bush-Mush relationship,” as some American scholars call it, has always been complicated, more a bond of convenience than a genuine friendship, some experts said. When he was running for office in 2000, Mr. Bush didn’t even know General Musharraf’s name; he couldn’t identify the leader of Pakistan for a reporter’s pop quiz during an interview that was widely replayed on late-night television.

Relations between the nations had been tense over Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions even before Mr. Bush took office, and American aid to Pakistan had been all but cut off. But Sept. 11 threw the United States and Pakistan together. Mr. Bush demanded General Musharraf’s allegiance in pursuing Al Qaeda — and got it. General Musharraf demanded military aid that could help him maintain power — and got it.

Experts in United States-Pakistan relations said General Musharraf has played the union masterfully, by convincing Mr. Bush that he alone can keep Pakistan stable. Kamran Bokhari, an analyst for Stratfor, a private intelligence company, who met with General Musharraf in January, said the general views Mr. Bush with some condescension.

“Musharraf thinks that Bush has certain weaknesses that can be manipulated,” Mr. Bokhari said, adding, “I would say that President Musharraf doesn’t think highly of President Bush, but his interests force him to do business with the U.S. president.”

In his autobiography, “In the Line of Fire,” General Musharraf writes glowingly of the trust Mr. Bush placed in him. But he passed up a chance to praise Mr. Bush on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” where he was promoting the book. Mr. Stewart asked who would win a hypothetical contest for mayor of Karachi, Mr. Bush or Mr. bin Laden.

“I think they’ll both lose miserably,” the general replied.

Well, if I were meeting someone for the first time, I'd have pretty good impressions of them too if the meeting was here. I also love the fact that the intimation is that Mush thinks Bush is kind of a dumbass. Him and 6 billion other people. Anyway, go read both articles. Really interesting stuff.

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