- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2003

A Pakistani nuclear missile can now hit Tel Aviv, according to a former Pakistani intelligence chief who is "strategic adviser" to his country's Islamist politico-religious parties.
Gen. Hamid Gul, the retired head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, in his latest well-publicized (in Pakistan) statement, says: "We have the nuclear capability that can destroy Madras [India]. Surely the same missile can do the same to Tel Aviv. Washington cannot stop Muslim suicidal attacks. Taliban are still alive and along with 'friends.' They will continue the holy jihad against the U.S. America will destroy Iraq and later on repeat the same act of war against Pakistan, Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia."
A coalition of six extremist religious parties (MMA) now governs two of Pakistan's four provinces a direct result of the free elections the U.S. insisted be held after President Pervez Musharraf endorsed the Bush administration's war on terror. MMA leader Sami ul-Haq, a newly elected senator, has also declared jihad against the U.S. and Israel. "If the U.S. attacks Iraq, the MMA alliance and all their supporters will attack Washington and Tel Aviv," he said.
Another redoubtable MMA leader, Fazlur Rehman, said, for his part, "The U.S. better take seriously the consequences of its attack against Iraq because we are fully capable of taking revenge." Arguably the most powerful extremist religious leader, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, head of Jamat-e-Islamai, warned President Bush he "will suffer the horrible punishment of God."
Pakistan possesses between 35 and 60 nuclear weapons with the missile capability (obtained from North Korea) to deliver them. The nuclear arsenal is designed as a deterrent to India's older nuclear capability. India conducted its first nuclear tests in 1974. This was the first time an influential Pakistani, well-known for his visceral hatred of the U.S. and Israel, had mentioned another nation besides India as a possible target for Pakistani nukes.
A number of Pakistani generals are Islamist fundamentalists and resent Mr. Musharraf's close alliance with the U.S. It was a "shotgun wedding," some of them have said. Mr. Musharraf had no choice when Mr. Bush called him the day after September 11, 2001, and asked him whether he could count on him to pursue the new war against Taliban and al Qaeda. Mr. Musharraf made a quick command decision, broke with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and gave the U.S. the use of several bases for Operation Enduring Freedom.
The all-powerful ISI's culture has long been anti-American, dating back to 1989 when the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan and the U.S. began punishing Pakistan for its secret nuclear buildup. Ever since the collapse of Taliban in November 2001, ISI officers have spread the word among the tribal chiefs along their ill-defined Pakistani-Afghan border that "America will be coming after Pakistan's nuclear arsenal as soon as they have finished with Afghanistan."
How safe is Pakistan's nuclear arsenal? Shortly after September 11, Mr. Musharraf ordered the country's nuclear weapons to be detached from their launchers and stored in six different secret locations with fail-safe security systems. But Mr. Musharraf has survived six assassination plots since September 11, and the CIA is clearly concerned about the very real possibility an Islamist general could take over one day and acquire control of the arsenal.
Pakistan has carefully refrained from signing the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty. Nor is it committed to the non-first-use doctrine. India and Pakistan pulled back last summer from a face-off involving 1 million troops. There is little doubt if India were to humiliate Pakistan militarily over the longstanding Kashmir dispute, Pakistan would retaliate with a nuclear salvo. Senior Indian national security officials accept this possibility with equanimity. In fact, one of them, speaking privately a month ago, said: "We could easily survive one or two nuclear hits. But when we retaliate, Pakistan would disappear from the map."
The North Korean crisis has been adjudged by Secretary of State Colin Powell as "not a crisis." Pakistan, in that perspective, is even less of a crisis.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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