Biden was attending an informal fundraising dinner Thursday at a private Los Angeles home sponsored by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee when he made the comment. Speaking of China and its leader Xi Jinping, he reflected on the role of the US in relation to China as it grapples with its stances on Russia, India and Pakistan.
“How do we do that?” he said, according to a transcript on the White House webpage. “How do we deal with that compared to what is happening in Russia? And what I think is perhaps one of the most dangerous countries in the world: Pakistan. Nuclear weapons without any coherence.”
Zardari said in Karachi on Saturday that he had discussed the matter with Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif and decided to call the US ambassador to the State Department for an explanation of Biden’s comments.
“I believe this is exactly the kind of misunderstanding that arises when there is a lack of involvement,” he said, apparently referring to Imran Khan’s former government and its alleged lack of involvement in international diplomacy.
“If Pakistan has nuclear assets, we know how to keep them safe and how we can protect them as well,” Zardari said.
Sharif in a statement rejected Biden’s comments, calling them factually false and misleading. He said Pakistan has proven over the years to be a responsible nuclear state and its nuclear program is managed through a technically sound command and control system. He noted Pakistan’s commitment to global standards, including those of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Sharif said Pakistan and the US have a long history of friendly and mutually beneficial relations. “It is our sincere desire to work with the US to promote regional peace and security,” he said.
Zardari told reporters that if there are any questions about nuclear weapons security in the region, it should be discussed with Pakistan’s nuclear-armed neighbor India. He said India recently fired a missile that accidentally landed in Pakistan.
Pakistan and India have been arch-rivals since their independence from British rule in 1947. They have bitter relations over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, which is divided between them and claimed by both in its entirety. They fought two of their three wars over Kashmir.
Two former prime ministers took to Twitter to respond to Biden’s comments.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the brother of the current Prime Minister, said Pakistan is a responsible nuclear state perfectly capable of protecting its national interests while respecting international law and practices. Pakistan became a nuclear state in 1998 when Sharif came to power for the second time.
“Our nuclear program is in no way a threat to any country. Like all independent states, Pakistan reserves the right to protect its autonomy, sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.
Former Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted that Biden is wrong about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, saying he is confident they are safe. “Unlike the US which has been involved in wars around the world, when has Pakistan shown aggression, especially after nuclearization?”
Khan was impeached by a vote of no confidence in parliament in April and has claimed, without providing evidence, that he was impeached as a result of a US-led plot involving Sharif. The US and Sharif deny the allegation.
Zardari noted that Biden’s statement was not made at a formal platform such as a press conference, but at an informal fundraising dinner. “I don’t believe it has a negative impact on Pakistan-US relations,” he said.
Pakistan and the US have traditionally been allies, but their relations have been rocky at times. Pakistan served as a frontline state in the US-led war on terror after the 9/11 attacks. But relations soured after US Navy Seals killed al-Qaeda leader and 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden in May 2011 at a compound in the garrison town of Abbottabad, not far from the Pakistan Military Academy.