The US believes that Pakistan is capable of defending the weapons against any move to seize them: Boucher.
WASHINGTON: The United States has no plans to seize Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, says Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher.
In an interview to Dawn, Mr Boucher rejected the suggestion that once the Taliban were defeated, the US would turn its attention to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.
‘I think it is silly. Nobody has any basis to make a claim like that,’ Mr Boucher said. The US, he said, believed that Pakistan was capable of defending the weapons against any move to seize them.
Mr Boucher said the US was seeking a constructive, long-term engagement with Pakistan that went beyond the US need to defeat the terrorists responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The US, he said, would soon launch a major effort to help those displaced during the current military offensive in Swat and the adjacent valleys.
Senior US officials met at the State Department on Wednesday to review various options for helping Pakistan while a similar meeting was held at the White House on Tuesday.
The US has already made a disaster declaration to coordinate relief efforts by various government agencies. So far the US has donated $62 million to a fund set up to help the displaced people.
Mr Boucher said the US believed that ‘Pakistan has a very capable’ army which could defeat the Taliban in Swat and other areas.
‘But it needs counter-insurgency training, particularly to learn how to keep an area once the militants are cleared,’ he said. The US has earmarked $400 million of military aid for Pakistan for this year and $700 million for next year.
‘Most of it is meant for training and equipping the FC but a lot would also go to the army and other law-enforcement agencies,’ Mr Boucher said.
He said the US never believed that the militants could capture Islamabad but ‘the worry is that these people will expand their ability to attack any place and at any time they want. And this is something no body wants’.
Mr Boucher said the US did not see the Taliban campaign changing into a Pasktoon nationalist movement. ‘The Pakhtoons, including those living in the tribal areas, want a better life, like everybody else. And they want it within a moderate and modern Pakistan.’
The US official said the situation in Pakistan was already improving. ‘The economy is showing signs of improvement. The food and energy shortages have reduced. Political forces are getting together against the militants. And the people in general are getting together to deal with the dangers threatening their country,’ he said.
Mr Boucher welcomed Prime Minister Gilani’s decision to call an all-parties conference to deal with the political consequences of the military action in Swat, describing it as a step in the right direction.
Mr Boucher, who served as assistant secretary for more than three years and will soon be replaced, said his most worrying moment in dealing with Pakistan was the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
‘It was hard to predict how Pakistan would go forward’ after the assassination, he said. ‘It is a sign of the strength of the Pakistani system that Pakistan been able to face’ this and other challenges.
‘Is army the strongest stabilising factor in Pakistan?’ he was asked. ‘I would not say that. People throughout the society, the army, the federal government, the local and provincial governments and the civil society; they all share the desire to build a strong, moderate and modern Pakistan.’
Mr Boucher recalled that in his dealing with former president Pervez Musharraf, he had ‘a lot of multiple and intense conversations’ with him about the need for restoring democracy to Pakistan.
‘President Musharraf understood the strategic need for the transition,’ he added. ‘Ultimately, it was a combination of both … the realisation that it was time for change’ and the people’s pressure that forced the general to accept democracy, Mr Boucher said.
‘I will never answer that question,’ said the US official when asked which Pakistani leader he was the most comfortable with.