Hersh: Nuclear Mutiny in Pakistan?

One word haunts Seymour Hersh's new investigative piece about the potentially shaky security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal: "mutiny." As Hersh writes, "the Taliban overrunning Islamabad is not the only, or even the greatest, concern. The principal fear is mutiny—that extremists inside the Pakistani military might stage a coup, take control of some nuclear assets, or even divert a warhead."

In pooh-poohing the prospect of mutiny, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari shows more confidence in the basic logic and sanity of the world than one might expect from a man whose wife was assassinated during her own 2007 run for office. The widow of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto put it like this:

"Our Army officers are not crazy, like the Taliban. They’re British-trained. Why would they slip up on nuclear security? A mutiny would never happen in Pakistan. It’s a fear being spread by the few who seek to scare the many.”

Maybe it's mere semantics. But my ears twitch a bit when I hear the words "a mutiny would never happen in Pakistan." Pakistan is, after all, a country that has experienced four military coups in its six decades of existence. It would seem to say something bleak about a country's accepted power structure when a civilian president sees a military-led overthrow as something other than, well, mutinous.

But all that, as I noted, may just be semantics. We should move on.

Two of the more interesting passages in Hersh's piece both happen to include a form of the word "rent."

"Rent" doesn't mean anything special to me. Rather, I will quote these passages because: 1) they're fresh, interesting, and arguably very worrisome; 2) unlike some of the most eye-popping revelations in Hersh's work, they are attributed to named sources.

I have no concrete reason to doubt Hersh's unnamed sources. As an investigative reporter, Hersh is legendary. But seeing as I'm writing this at my kitchen counter and I don't have any super-secret sources of my own in the clandestine upper echelons of government, I simply don't know how to arbitrate between anonymous assertions and official denials. So I won't try. Read the piece. Judge for yourself.

Instead, as promised, those "rent" quotes.

The first involves President Zardari. Hersh writes that Zardari told him that "his government was not 'ready' to kill all the Taliban. His long-term solution, Zardari said, was to provide new business opportunities in Swat and turn the Taliban into entrepreneurs. 'Money is the best incentive,' he said. 'They can be rented.'"

Who am I to say this won't work? Truly. I wish Zardari luck in renting the Taliban. It would be a wonderful resolution to Pakistan's crisis. And it would sure beat the prognosis offered in the second "rent" quote.

The second quote comes from Sultan Amir Tarar, who Hersh describes as "the archetype of the disillusioned Pakistani officer."

Tarar, who retired in 1995 and has a son in the Army, believed—as did many Pakistani military men—that the American campaign to draw Pakistan deeper into the war against the Taliban would backfire. “The Americans are trying to rent out their war to us,” he said. If the Obama Administration persists, “there will be an uprising here, and this corrupt government will collapse. Every Pakistani will then be his own nuclear bomb—a suicide bomber,” Tarar said. “The longer the war goes on, the longer it will spill over in the tribal territories, and it will lead to a revolutionary stage."

Tarar's advice: the Obama Administration should negotiate with the Afghan Taliban, even if that means direct talks with Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader.

Hersh's piece, "Defending the Arsenal," is in the November 16 issue of The New Yorker and available online now.

'Upstreamism': Your zip code affects your health as much as genetics

Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."

Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
  • Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
  • Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
Keep reading Show less

Meet the Bajau sea nomads — they can reportedly hold their breath for 13 minutes

The Bajau people's nomadic lifestyle has given them remarkable adaptions, enabling them to stay underwater for unbelievable periods of time. Their lifestyle, however, is quickly disappearing.

Wikimedia Commons
Culture & Religion
  • The Bajau people travel in small flotillas throughout the Phillipines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, hunting fish underwater for food.
  • Over the years, practicing this lifestyle has given the Bajau unique adaptations to swimming underwater. Many find it straightforward to dive up to 13 minutes 200 feet below the surface of the ocean.
  • Unfortunately, many disparate factors are erasing the traditional Bajau way of life.
Keep reading Show less

After death, you’re aware that you’ve died, say scientists

Some evidence attributes a certain neurological phenomenon to a near death experience.

Credit: Petr Kratochvil. PublicDomainPictures.net.
Surprising Science

Time of death is considered when a person has gone into cardiac arrest. This is the cessation of the electrical impulse that drive the heartbeat. As a result, the heart locks up. The moment the heart stops is considered time of death. But does death overtake our mind immediately afterward or does it slowly creep in?

Keep reading Show less

Scientists create a "lifelike" material that has metabolism and can self-reproduce

An innovation may lead to lifelike evolving machines.

Shogo Hamada/Cornell University
Surprising Science
  • Scientists at Cornell University devise a material with 3 key traits of life.
  • The goal for the researchers is not to create life but lifelike machines.
  • The researchers were able to program metabolism into the material's DNA.
Keep reading Show less