By Shireen M Mazari
On January 17, the supposedly reputable Sunday Times of Britain, published a story by Christina Lamb from Washington – known for her bashing of the Pakistani state – entitled “Elite US troops ready to combat nuclear hijacks”, which was premised on lies and half-truths, derived from sources already proven incorrect in the distant and not-so distant past. Lamb’s story goes that US troops are ready to snatch Pakistan’s nukes if militants get their hands on either fissile material or a nuke itself. The stale premise is that this could possibly be from within the country’s “security apparatus”. It is too bad the newspaper failed to verify its facts – something we in the Pakistani media are constantly being told to do!
Point by point Lamb has either presented or quoted outright lies or distorted facts.
First: She has cited a retired CIA source, who had worked in the US energy department intelligence unit, as declaring that Pakistan had the “highest density of extremists in the world”! Now how has this statistic been acquired? Was any research done? Where did the 9/11 hijackers come from? What do they mean by the term “extremist?” Are those who elect extreme right parties in Europe not “extremists” also? And so on.
Two: The same source is quoted as claiming that there have been attacks on army bases “which stored nuclear weapons” and a suspect source, Shaun Gregory, has been used to substantiate this baseless claim. Yes, army targets have been there but nowhere close to any nuclear base or site.
Three: Gregory had, a while back, written in a US military journal on counterterrorism, documenting three incidents connecting acts of terror in Pakistan to nuclear targets. None of these match the facts on the ground. The first incident was a November 2007 suicide attack on a PAF bus near the Sargodha air base, on the main road and not inside the base itself. This was cited as an attack on a nuclear site since this was a F-16 base and these planes are of course nuclear capable! What logic for a supposedly sound British academic. The second incident cited by Gregory was a December 2007 incident when a suicide bomber blew up at the Kamra air base – again because the F-16s are there so it was assumed the nukes were the targets! But the base is recessed far away from the main aeronautical complex at Kamra which was targeted and where there are neither F-16s nor nukes! The third incident Gregory had cited was the devastating attack at the gates of the POF complex at Wah. But the ignorance of both Gregory and Lamb is revealed by the fact that neither of them seem to know that the Wah complex focuses on conventional weapons especially tanks and APCs and not on missiles or warheads. One can take comfort in the fact that these writers do not know where the missiles and warheads are produced and assembled!
Four: Lamb then goes on to cite a “fourth” attack supposedly targeting our nukes which took place on the GT Road at the turning for Kamra! According to Lamb, even though the Pakistanis have denied that Kamra is a nuke base, Gregory asserts it is. Now how credible is Mr. Gregory? Well, suffice it to say that he has a personal axe to grind with the Pakistani state and that his so-called Pakistan Security Research Unit at Bradford is more on the net than on the ground and many questioned have been raised about the source of its funding, especially for those in the know who are aware of its origins!
As for Lamb’s assertion that last August a 6-man suicide team was arrested in Sargodha but there is some confusion as to whether this was the same group that included the 5 US citizens of Pakistani origin who were arrested much earlier than when the story of their arrest broke in the Pakistani media. Lamb cites the latter case as an additional one and then refers to the map of Chashma that they had. Now what she fails to mention, although as a journalist on Pakistan she should have known, is the fact that the reason the Pakistani authorities have refused to deport these 5 to the US is because they are suspected of working for the CIA – either to infiltrate the militants or to actually gather information on Chashma which the US has desperately been seeking out in connection with info regarding our nukes – and have still not gained much access on this count.
Five: Lamb then in a show of either feigned or genuine ignorance refers to the suicide attack at the gate of the Naval Housing Complex in E-8 as an attack on the “naval command centre.” The latter is not in sector-E-8 at all, which is only a naval residential colony!
Six: She sees the attack on GHQ also as a targeting specifically of our nukes although this would be like declaring that the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon was specifically to target US nukes! So 9/11 made US nukes and their command and control insecure and unsafe by this logic!
Seven: Then a really old issue is raised again – that of the scientist Bashir Mahmood, who was arrested in October 2001, after he had retired from being a power plant engineer in the nuclear power sector, for having met Osama Bin Laden and because he had set up a Muslim charity. Again what Lamb conveniently refuses to mention is that the man had been interrogated and the case had been closed. Certainly he had met OBL but so many CIA people had also been meeting OBL when they thought he could be set up to work for them, before 9/11 of course.
All in all, clearly this story has been planted and Lamb used, once again to put forward lies and factual distortions to drum up a scare about Pakistan’s nuclear assets. Is it also a mere coincidence that the story has come in the wake of the growing differences between the Pakistani civil and military leadership with the US administration? It is unfortunate that a paper like The Sunday Times failed to verify the contents of the story first.