Without news reports about the dysfunction of national institutions, serious problems could be hidden from public view and remain insufficiently addressed, said Zia Mian, a physicist who directs Princeton University’s Project on Peace and Security in South Asia.
“The fact that people do report [such stories] is important. And the fact that there are whistleblowers is important,” he said in an interview last week.
Particularly in a nation such as Pakistan with a strong national security establishment protecting nuclear secrets, some voice on behalf of the public interest is needed, he argued.
Secrecy is needed to some degree to protect national assets, but it also “allows incompetence, mismanagement, violations of law and prevents a democratic process from actually working,” Mian said, noting that the Pakistani media has faced enormous impediments to reporting on these issues.
“If the international community basically goes silent on this question also -- the international media, in particular -- then there is actually no possibility of learning from mistakes,” he said. “If things failed catastrophically, is that what you want?”
Hoodbhoy has argued for years that given the high stakes involved in potential extremist access to nuclear arms or materials, the Pakistani government must demonstrate to the world that its arsenal stewardship is terrorist-proof.
The Pakistani military saying, “‘Trust us,’ isn’t good enough,” Hoodbhoy told GSN this week. “But an incredibly fierce reaction follows every time this point is raised by the U.S. media.
“Actually, that reaction is also very visible when raised by a Pakistani,” added Hoodbhoy, who recently lost his post at Lahore University of Management Sciences after years of publicly raising concerns about military and security shortcomings. “The safety of the nuclear arsenal is now a sacred cow.”
Mian acknowledged that occasionally news reports on the Pakistani nuclear stockpile or on Pentagon planning complicate life for Washington envoys in gaining the trust of Islamabad’s nuclear establishment -- the Strategic Plans Division or SPD -- in discussing these matters.
“You should report everything that you possibly can, as long as it’s done accurately and fairly,” Mian said. “And if it kind of makes life difficult for DOE [the U.S. Energy Department] about getting SPD to talk to them, well, that’s DOE’s problem. Let them work it out.”