Nukes, Terrorists, and the Nation-State Connection

While Pakistan is teetering on the brink of a massive  political upheaval, the question on everybody's mind is what will happen to the country's nukes?  The big fear is that fissile materials or a complete weapon will somehow end up in the hands of Al-Qaeda (AQ) or some other radical group.

But history has shown that the events in Pakistan are much larger in scope and importance than many realize, and it has to do with the simple fact that terror groups, even the supposedly all-powerful AQ*, are dependent on the intact weapons infrastructure of developed nations to provide both the expertise and atomic materiel if they ever intend on developing a functioning nuclear weapon.  And AQ is attempting to do this in Pakistan by mimicking the communist Cold War playbook of the 70s and 80s, when then-nuclear equipped South Africa (SA) was assimilated into the global socialist camp.

The fall of South Africa

The West abandoned the continent of Africa during the 60s to focus on the more important Cold War engagements in Central Europe and Vietnam.  Thankfully, the cudgel was picked up by the forces of apartheid-era South Africa.  Unfortunately, the story of their decades-long struggle against the proxies of the Soviet Union and Cuban forces is a taboo subject in the PC elite national security establishment.  While we must acknowledge the horrendous and oppressive nature of the apartheid policies of the South African government, we must also shed the light of truth on one of the most significant campaigns of the Cold War and the consequences of the global left's victory over the continent's only nuclear power.

The South African Border Wars were a horribly misnamed conflict, for it was one of the most sustained and far-ranging ground and air campaigns ever conducted by a modern nation.  It extended throughout the breadth of sub-Saharan Africa, as the South African Defense Forces (SADF) took the fight into Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, and Angola against Soviet proxy fighters and Cuban forces.  The Kremlin's most-utilized groups included the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and Namibia's Southwest Africa People's Organization (SWAPO).

To counter the SADF's military superiority, the Kremlin complimented the conventional fight with a classic campaign of subversion and information warfare to seize the moral high ground in world opinion.  The anti-apartheid campaign, which was rife with avowed communists and terrorists was leveraged to the hilt to sap Western support for SA.  The focus on socialist putative saviors such as Nelson Mandela began to materially affect the battlefield stamina of the SADF.  A similar terror and PR campaign led by Yassar Arafat against Israel prior to the 1973 war prepared the way for what was hoped to be a decisive conventional fight.

As far as SA was concerned, the timing couldn't have been worse.  A Vietnam War-weary US electorate was in no mood to get involved in another anti-communist adventure in a far flung land, especially when the friendly regime doggedly hung on to the apartheid form of government.  South Africa therefore had to become as self-sufficient as possible in weapons manufacturing, because of the continuing decline in world opinion over its racist policies.

All of this was understandable in the conventional weapons realm, but in 1979, US satellites picked up a brilliant flash over the Indian Ocean and the rumors and recriminations flew.  At the time, it was never confirmed that a joint SA-Israeli nuclear test actually took place, but later events would show that SA had, in fact, a well-developed atomic research and engineering infrastructure.  Of course, this capability became a prime target for South Africa's enemies, but more about that later.

Largely ignored by the US military, the African war raged on, usually with the SAADF as the victor.  Finally in 1987, Cuba's Fidel Castro planned a campaign in Angola that was to be the final fight against the SADF.  Known as the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale, Cuban and Angolan forces massed troops and aircraft under the leadership of Soviet generals to deliver a death blow to the SADF and its allies.  Yet, it was the SADF who initially achieved a series of stunning victories and inflicted massive casualties on the communists.

Castro, however, was not about to let the final outcome result in a PR embarrassment for the communists prior to any peace accord.  On June 27, 1988, he ordered advanced Mig-23s to bomb the Calueque hydro-electric plant.  The new fighter-bombers crippled the dam and killed 12 SADF soldiers.  After the thousands of casualties inflicted by the SADF on the communists in the campaign, one might think the attack on Calueque would have only steeled the resolve of the SADF, but such was not the case.

The Mig-23 attack and the realization that the SADF did not have an effective counter due to lack of Western arms and materiel changed the entire makeup of the 20-plus year Border Wars.  The communist shadow campaign had concurrently shifted the focus to the apartheid government and its "racist" Army with the result that in world opinion, SA had permanently lost the moral high ground.  Western governments had long ago enacted economic sanctions, and they would certainly not renew support to SA's military arm, even to counter Castro's advanced aircraft.  SADF casualties at the power plant, though light, signaled a sea change for the South African military, and shortly after the attack, the peace accord was implemented, accompanied by the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Angola.

SA's savior and one time imprisoned terrorist leader, Nelson Mandela, proclaimed,

The defeat of the apartheid army was an inspiration to the struggling people in South Africa!  Without the defeat of Cuito Cuanavale our organizations would not have been unbanned!  The defeat of the racist army at Cuito Cuanavale has made it possible for me to be here today!  Cuito Cuanavale was a milestone in the history of the struggle for southern African liberation!
[Funny, the last time I checked, Soviet generals leading the MPLA were a bunch of white guys -- but I digress]

The reality on the battlefield was a stalemate, but Mandela was essentially correct.  A masterful campaign of subversion, deception and information warfare using apartheid as the fulcrum was combined with conventional warfare to shift the political and military balance ensured a communist victory.

Postwar South Africa

It was eventually discovered that South Africa had built  six gun-type nuclear weapons (with one partially complete) by the 1980s with the goal of implementing a continental deterrent strategy vis-à-vis the communist backed forces of Angola, Namibia, and others.  However, forced into the political, military and social chaos of the time, then-President F.W. de Klerk declared in 1993 the extent of his country's nuclear program and opened up its facilities to inspections.

This was all well and good, but the atomic infrastructure that now was to be devoted to "peaceful" purposes would shortly come under control of Mandela's African National Congress (ANC), which had long ago been labeled a terrorist group.  As if there was any doubt about its socialist leanings, in 1994 Mandela's transition government officially formed an alliance with the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP), and defined itself as a "disciplined force of the left."  Today, the country still suffers from gross inequities because the ANC had essentially established a one party rule with "former Marxist activists turned top government officials" who discouraged Western style economic development.

In retrospect, it's entirely possible that de Klerk's rapid turnaround and declaration to the IAEA nearly 15 years ago may have been an attempt to limit the spread of technologies and materials to the country's soon-to-be communist ruling class and its terrorist allies.  In the end, the communists had not only plucked a jewel from the collection of African economic basket cases, it had also gained control of a complete nuclear processing system and the scientists to go along with it.

The Return of Bhutto and the Pakistan Peoples Party

By all accounts, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has been a champion of democracy and human rights for fellow Pakistanis.  And no one can doubt her courage and determination in the face of violent and often deadly opposition to her policies.  Her most recent trip home has resulted in multiple house arrests, an assassination attempt by a suicide bomber, and the usual outcry about how Musharraf is squashing free speech violating the opposition's rights.

As was the case with South Africa and Mandela, we shouldn't allow the public front of the goals of establishing democracy and equity to deflect attention from the stated policies of Bhutto's parent political party, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP).  And while often perceived as focusing on the secular realm, should Bhutto and the PPP come to power there could well be an entirely different set of governing principles.

For example, the PPP is far from secular since one of its core principles includes the creed that "Islam is our Faith."  Its other core principles are equally disconcerting for a political movement that portrays itself as a modern, democratic party:

  • Democracy is our Politics
  • Socialism is our Economy
  • All Power to the People
In contrast to the American left, which goes apoplectic when someone uses the terms of Islamo-fascist or neo-communist, the PPP prides itself on the new brand of political philosophy that "blend [s] ...Islam and Socialism to [...] be known as Islamic Socialism."  This certainly doesn't inspire confidence in any future Bhutto government any more than when the communist ANC eventually turned the most prosperous country on the African continent into a haven for criminals and terrorists with access to atomic material and expertise.

Meanwhile, the violence and political infighting in Pakistan bring us back to the basic question: What will happen to Pakistan's nukes, delivery systems, and the supporting technology base?

Some, like Douglas Farrah, see the potential for supplying AQ with a weapon or the means to make one a near certainty.  Others, such as former CIA Pakistan station Chief Robert Grenier, think that terrorists could acquire some warheads, but the near-term chance of this happening should not be over-inflated.  Still others are more optimistic about controlling the nukes.  Kamran Bokhari of Strategic Forecasting Inc. said,

Pakistan has cultivated a broad network of military commanders to help protect its sensitive nuclear materials.  [And} "Contrary to popular belief, the Pakistani nukes are not about to fall in the hands of transnational jihadist nonstate actors or other rogue elements within the military.  The army has developed a decent command-and-control infrastructure to protect its nuclear assets."
But all of this misses the larger point.  A Bhutto government which pledges adequate control and safeguards of Pakistan's nukes either intentionally or naively skirts the issues of the impact of its Islamist-Socialist government on the loyalty of the Army, the government's potential dealings with Islamic radicals in the country, and any other power sharing arrangements.  And from history, we now know that South Africa's communist ruling class ignored and/or abetted the pilferage of its own nuclear technology, while it shook hands with its ideological brethren in AQ.

At the other end of the spectrum is Nawaz Sharif, who has just returned to Pakistan with a brief stop-over in Saudi Arabia.  He was the Prime Minster who ordered the Pakistani nuclear test in response to India's testing in 1998.  Sharif is reportedly instigating a new round of fanatical religious fundamentalism in an effort to de-stabilize the army and intelligence services and thereby gain critical support from Pakistan's generals.

The US, as usual focuses on the technical aspects of the problem rather than the overall geo-strategic maneuver.  We have provided almost $100 million worth of equipment since 2001 to help secure Pakistan's nukes.  The previously classified program included helicopters, nuclear detection devices, fences and other materiel to prevent warheads, nuclear technology and scientists from the terrorists and criminal enterprises.  But Musharraf is the one who understands the big picture.  Even if strong physical security measures are implemented, he,

...warned that government control of the nation's nuclear weapons could suffer if a "disturbed environment" accompanies upcoming elections...
All of this could not have come at a more critical time for the coalition's fight in the War on Terror.  Musharraf has massed over 15,000 troops in the Swat Valley on the Northwest frontier.  Backed by helicopter gunships and artillery, the huge assault on terrorist positions will either destroy the radicals in place, or bloody their noses and push them out beyond the Pakistani border.  It won't be easy since a massive wave of enemy reinforcements, to include foreign fighters, militants, and AQ, has joined up with Taliban forces in the area.

Some think this offensive is Musharaff's gambit to curry favor with the US administration while showing the world he is still in charge despite the return of Bhutto and Sharif.  Perhaps.  But we must also consider the possibility that the internal political upheaval is integrated into the fight in the Swat Valley, with the ultimate goal of the Taliban, allied terrorist groups, and their backers of turning over the country, and the keys to the atomic bunkers to AQ. Not coincidentally, Bhutto has already focused her initial campaign efforts in the Northwest Frontier, the area controlled by the very same Islamists who are the target of Musharaff's offensive.

In the next few weeks will we be witnesses to another Cuito Cuanavale, or can the central government and the army remain steadfast in the face of a determined enemy while the country is struggling internally for its very life?  When all is said and done, Musharraf is indeed the best hope for securing his country's nuclear arsenal.  And this time, the West can ill-afford to turn its back on a staunch ally in the War on Terror, while spouting phony pomposities about oppression and injustice that could very well put our own existence at risk.

Douglas Hanson is the National Security Correspondent for American Thinker

* AQ in all of its incarnations is long overdue for a broad examination that answers the basic question of "just who in the hell are these guys, anyway?"  At least in the public domain, our civilian and military agencies have either neglected to conduct a thorough analysis of the bad guys, or have shoved the inconvenient conclusions of nation-state connections under the rug.  For example, AQ was barely a blip on the radar screen in the Strategic Assessment of 1999.  Yet in a few short years, this motley bunch of religious fanatics and mountain men led by a cashiered Saudi engineer managed to successfully attack us on 9-11; fight effectively alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam's holdovers in Iraq; while simultaneously developing and conducting a sophisticated global information warfare operation on a shoestring.  To brand this organization as a "terror group" strains credulity.  I recommend my earlier article, Arafat's First War, for revealing background information on PLO leader Yassar Arafat.