London, Dec 2: The man who devised the Bush Administration's Iraq troop surge has urged the US to consider sending elite troops to Pakistan to seize its nuclear weapons if the country descends into chaos.
In a series of scenarios drawn up for Pakistan, Frederick Kagan, a former West Point military historian, has called for the White House to consider various options for an unstable Pakistan.
The plans include: Sending elite British or US troops to secure nuclear weapons capable of being transported out of the country and take them to a secret storage depot in New Mexico or a "remote redoubt" inside Pakistan. Sending US troops to Pakistan's north-western border to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
A US military occupation of Islamabad, and the provinces of Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan if asked for assistance by a fractured Pakistan military, so that the US could shore up President Pervez Musharraf and General Ashfaq Kayani, who became Army Chief this week.
"These are scenarios and solutions. They are designed to test our preparedness. The United States simply could not stand by as a nuclear-armed Pakistan descended into the abyss," Kagan, who is with the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank with strong ideological ties to the Bush Administration, told the Guardian.
"We need to think now about our options in Pakistan," Kagan argued that the rise of Sunni extremism in Pakistan, coupled with the proliferation of al-Qaeda bases in the north-west, posed a real possibility of terrorists staging a coup that would give them access to a nuclear device.
He also noted how sections of Pakistan's military and intelligence establishment continued to be linked to Islamists and warned that the army, demoralised by having to fight in Waziristan and parts of North-West Frontier Province, might retreat from the borders, leaving a vacuum that would be filled by radicals. Worse, the military might split, with a radical faction trying to take over Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.
Kagan accepted that the Pakistani military was not in the grip of Islamists. "Pakistan's officer corps and ruling elites remain largely moderate. But then again, Americans felt similarly about the Shah's regime and look what happened in 1979," he said referring to Iran.
Kagan said he was not calling for an occupation of Pakistan.
"I have been arguing the opposite. We cannot invade, only work with the consent of elements of the Pakistan military," he said.
"But we do have to calculate how to quantify and then respond to a crisis that is potentially as much a threat as Soviet tanks once were. Pakistan may be the next big test," Kagan added.
One Pentagon official said last week that the defence department had indeed been war-gaming some of Kagan's scenarios.
Meanwhile, Pakistan"s Foreign Office spokesman in Islamabad said: "Pakistan rejects the conjecture that there is any danger of our strategic assets falling in wrong hands."
"Our strategic assets are as safe as that of any other unclear weapon state. As for the irresponsible conjectures about external contingency plans, suffice it to say that Pakistan possesses adequate retaliatory capacity to defend its strategic assets and sovereignty," the statement said.