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September 10, 2013

Reported US Surveillance of Pakistan’s Nuclear Program Raises Questions

by Kokab Farshori

A recent Washington Post article reporting that the United States has stepped up surveillance of Pakistan's nuclear program has once again raised questions about the bilateral relationship between Washington and Islambad.  The reported surveillance has focused new attention on the issue of mutual trust in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.
 
Pakistan has always maintained its nuclear arms are totally secure and has rejected any suggestion they could fall into the wrong hands.  

But the recent Post article based on what it said are classified documents reported that Washington has increased surveillance of Pakistan’s nuclear arms.  

Does this reflect U.S. distrust of Pakistan?  

"The United States helps Pakistan to establish frames of reference and abilities to safeguard material, but then, at the same time, there is not the same kind of transparency to allow the United States to go in and verify those activities," said Thomas Lynch, a Distinguished Research Fellow at the National Defense University in Washington D.C.   So, the United States, being a large country, doing the same things that it does with other countries with nuclear programs, expends capital and expends energy to determine if the assistance is having the desired effect."

But he adds such reports are bound to raise concerns in Islamabad over U.S. intentions towards Pakistan’s nuclear program.

"I think most American policymakers recognize that in Pakistan, this kind of activity gets morphed into a dramatic worry that the United States is spying on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in order to take them or eliminate them," LYnch said. "That fear is understandable, but it is quite overblown."

After the story appeared in the Post, Pakistan reiterated that the command and control structure of its nuclear program is completely safe. Experts say while there may be some distrust in U.S.-Pakistan relations, the two countries are united by vital common interests.  

"Mutual interests are prevalent throughout the spectrum," said Aqab Malik, who is a Carnegie Fellow at the New America Foundation. "And it’s about balancing those interests with the negative threats that may emanate from each side.  It’s a balancing act.  And overall strategic interest is much greater than the threats against each other."

And Malik is optimistic about the direction of the U.S.-Pakistan relations.

"Pakistan and the United States have established strategic dialogue again.  They reinitiated it," he said.  ?The new government wants to facilitate better relationships with Afghanistan and India, as well as the United States and other countries."  

Analysts stress that eliminating threats from militants and ensuring the safety of U.S. troops as they withdraw from Afghanistan should be the main priority for Washington and Islamabad.