Saturday, May 2, 2009

Obama administration has to tread carefully with Taliban "virus" in Pakistan, to keep it away from nukes


John R. Bolton, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, has an important op-ed on p. A11 of the Weekend (May 2) Wall Street Journal, “The Taliban’s Atomic Threat: The extremists who harbored al Qaeda could get control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal”, link here.

The government of Pakistan has become an unstable, experimental patchwork of constitutional civilian authority and the military, and the ability of the military to deal with the Taliban – often infecting its own ranks like a virus – represents a major existential threat. It seems ironic that the Bush Administration and Northern Alliance drove the Taliban out of power in Afghanistan, only to lose it to a malignant spread through Pakistan.

The biggest threat would be that the Taliban could gain control of the suitcase nukes and deploy them, possibly (from mercenaries) from high altitude rockets to cause EMP strikes as well as conventionally. This is true Tom Clancy territory. The nukes must be "quarantined."

The Obama administration has to play all possible cards, as in courting Nawaz Sharif, rival of Asif Ali Zardari, as in a front page story May 2 in the New York Times by Helene Cooper and Mark Mazzeti, “In Pakistan, U.S. Courts Leader of Opposition: Zardari is seen as weak in resisting surge by Taliban militants,” link here.

The other “curious” international story today sounds like something out of a cable biohorror movie. Guests of a hotel in Hong Kong (the Metropark) are locked down for a week and not allowed to leave after the government learned that guest from Mexico had A(H1N1). The Hong Kong government had experienced criticism for its reticence in handling SARS in 2003, so politicians will take no chances at all. This is an extreme measure. When you travel today, you do so at your own risk. You can be detained at the slightest whim of a politically motivated foreign government.

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