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Pakistan: We Won’t Share Nukes with Saudis

Pakistan will not be sharing its nuclear weapons with Saudi Arabia. Well, at least that’s what Pakistan’s foreign secretary is saying. The New York Times reports:

Closing a wide-ranging trip to Washington, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry angrily rejected speculation that his country could sell or transfer nuclear arms or advanced technology as “unfounded and baseless.”

“Pakistan is not talking to Saudi Arabia on nuclear issues, period,” Chaudhry insisted. The arsenal, believed to be in excess of 100 weapons, is focused only on Pakistan’s threat perception from “the East,” Chaudhry said, a clear reference to long-standing rival and fellow nuclear power India.

Despite all the handwringing and analysis that Chaudhry’s statements have produced, this isn’t really big news, and we doubt officials in Riyadh are pulling out their hair over this.

Here’s why: The nature of authority in Pakistan is such that it enables the government to continuously deny and prevaricate about having anything to do with proliferation. After all, this is precisely what it did even as A.Q. Khan was operating the biggest black market in the history of nuclear weapons.

It is important to remember that despite Pakistan’s having written laws derived from British models, the Pakistani state is not organized on the model of a modern European state in which unified systems of bureaucratic and legal power culminate in a single responsible official, subject both to law and political checks in an organized way.

Instead, a well documented civil-military divide exists in Pakistan. This divide allows for the military, regardless of what is written on paper, to maintain control over certain policy issues, to influence others and to frustrate the efforts of civilian politicians to change the country in ways the military doesn’t like.

Further, both the civil and the military sides of power in Pakistan are organized more like a series of interlocking and autonomous fiefdoms than like a centralized, bureaucratic state. As a result, the Pakistani government resembles a hydra, one beast with many different heads. The foreign minister is not, as western observers might conclude, the person who, under the supervision of the prime minister, leads Pakistan’s foreign policy. He is one of many voices (and, on national security issues, far from the most powerful) in the mix.

Real power in Pakistan is found less in formal institutions and more in the hands of informal groups of individuals. If there is to be any support from Pakistan for a Saudi nuclear program, it would likely not be on an official government-to-government basis mediated through the cabinet and the foreign minister. Rather, the support would come person-to-person, network-to-network. The foreign minister might be one of the last to know what was going on behind closed doors. The worry, and it is a real one, is that some of those individuals and networks in the underworld of the Pakistani nuclear program might be in touch with much more dangerous and irresponsible actors than the King of Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan has dropped out of the headlines as the United States pulls back from Afghanistan, but it remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world.

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