Most of the reports and assessments about Pakistan?s nuclear assets being in danger are either biased or based on disinformation or deliberate distortion of facts. This also shows how ill-informed and myopic some American experts and intellectuals can be.
Article By Shahid R. Siddiqi courtesy Daily Dawn
In August 2007, USAF lost track of six Cruise Missiles armed with 150-kil oton nuclear warheads for 36 hours. These were loaded onto a B-52 Bomber at USAF base in North Dakota, were improperly and illegally flown around the continental US and were eventually discovered at a USAF base in Louisiana. It is illegal for the US military to load nuclear weapons on a plane and carry them over US territory.
The US Air Force called it a ?big mistake? ? the result of “widespread disregard for the rules” regarding handling of nuclear weapons, writes Dave Lindorff. Ignoring this breach of nuclear security, the United States, its officials, lawmakers, defence experts and journalists continue to pontificate on threats to Pakistan?s nuclear arsenal including a possible terrorist takeover.
Assurances by Pakistan that its nuclear safeguards comply with international standards are ignored. General Kidwai, head of the Strategic Plans Division, which is tasked to ensure security of Pakistan?s nuclear assets, had this to say to David Sangers of NewYork Times: ?Please grant to Pakistan that if we can make nuclear weapons and the delivery systems, we can also make them safe. Our security systems are foolproof.”
Consistent refusal to accept Pakistan?s position should ring alarm bells in Islamabad. Is this an orchestrated effort aimed at targeting Pakistan under a false pretext, just as it was done in Iraq?
In the caves of Tora Bora Osama bin Laden could not be accused of possessing WMDs but he could certainly be accused of ?having an interest in acquiring them?. A supposed meeting (of which intelligence reports were ?frustratingly vague? ? said George Tenet, the CIA Chief) between a ?renegade? Pakistani nuclear scientist, Bashiruddin Mahmood, with Al Qaeda leaders was used as ?proof of this deep interest?. And since at the same time a band of rag tag militants had created an environment of terror inside Pakistan, a picture perfect theme was presented: ?Pakistan?s nuclear arsenal was at risk of being grabbed by Al Qaeda for use against the West?.
The story line is ridiculous. It is universally known that due to high level of difficulty in acquiring and using nuclear weapons, very few terrorist entities are capable of using or have shown significant interest in seeking nuclear weapons or material. There is no evidence that Al Qaeda is one of them.
But the hype about the insecurity of Pakistan?s nuclear assets continues. The western media and commentators raise doubts about Pakistan being a viable state, the possibility of its nuclear weapons falling into terrorists? hands and A.Q. Khan episode being repeated.
David Sanger writing in NYT quoted Graham Allison, supposedly a nuclear expert, as having said ?when you map WMDs and terrorism, all roads intersect in Pakistan.” Though he concedes that “the nuclear security of the arsenal is now a lot better than it was?, he goes on to say ?but the unknown variable here is the future of Pakistan itself, because it’s not hard to envision a situation in which the state’s authority falls apart and you’re not sure who’s in control of the weapons, the nuclear labs, the materials”.
Shaun Gregory (University of Bradford, UK) writing in West Point’s Counter Terrorism Center Sentinel claimed without citing evidence that ?Pakistan?s nuclear facilities have already been attacked at least thrice by its home-grown extremists and terrorists over the last two years.? He then concludes that ?the challenge to Pakistan?s nuclear weapons from Pakistani Taliban groups and from Al Qaeda constitutes a real and present danger?.
Sadly, such assessments are either biased, based on disinformation or deliberate distortion of facts. This also shows how ill-informed, naive and myopic some American experts and intellectuals can be.
As for Pakistan?s viability, past set-backs notwithstanding, its viability has never been in doubt. The nation is resilient, united in crisis and its security ensured by a nuclear-armed defence forces, counted among the best in the world. Contrary to Western perception, the country is not overrun by Islamic militants but inhabited by moderate Muslims who reject extremism.
The militants, who in western perception will seize Pakistan?s strategic assets, are in fact a hodgepodge group of religious bigots, illiterate, rogue elements from tribal areas and stateless Uzbek, Tajik and Chechen fighters from earlier Afghan wars who style themselves as Taliban-i- Pakistan. They are neither ideologues nor do they espouse any religious or political cause. Launched into Pakistan to commit acts of terrorism, they are widely condemned and have limited support of a small minority of orthodox and illiterate tribal and rural populations.
Incapable of breaching sophisticated security systems of sensitive establishments, they limit their attacks to easier high visibility targets such as main entrances of army?s General HQ or an ordinance factory, and easier still, on unsuspecting security personnel in places of worship or the streets.
It is ludicrous to treat such acts of terrorism as worst case scenario. These attacks are no evidence that Pakistan?s security apparatus is crumbling or the army is about to capitulate. Neither do these militants pose any existential threat to the state.
Asked about threat of takeover of nuclear weapons by militants, General Kidwai told NYT “this is all overblown rhetoric?. Pakistan?s strategic weapons programme is under formalised institutional control and oversight. National Command Authority effectively controls, manages and monitors strategic organisations. Its 8,000-men Security Division secures nuclear assets and materials.
Congressional Research Service Report (RL-31589) on Nuclear Threat Reduction Measures for India and Pakistan observes about Pakistan: ?Fissile material components (pits) are thought to be kept separately from the rest of the warhead. Such a physical separation helps deter unauthorised use and complicates theft?.
To-date Pakistan?s nuclear material or radioactive sources have remained safe from theft or pilferage nor has there been any attempt by terrorist elements to gain access to weapons or fissile materials. Guarav Kampani of Center for Nonproliferation Studies admits, ?despite such speculative scenario building among policy and security analysts, there is little public evidence to suggest that the safety or the security of Pakistan?s nuclear installations or its nuclear command and control mechanism was ever in jeopardy from internal political instability or Islamists or terrorist forces inside Pakistan or nearby in Afghanistan, either during the American ?War against Terrorism? in Afghanistan or during 2001-2002 IndiaPakistan military standoff?.
As for militants using stolen fissile materials to produce nuclear weapons, IAEA experts admit this to be highly unlikely. A May 2004 report by Harvard University?s Project on Managing the Atom states that nuclear attack would be among the most difficult types of attacks for terrorists to accomplish.
Even if Al Qaeda, supposedly on the run, manages to acquire hazardous unshielded radioactive materials, it is inconceivable for it to overcome road blocks such as knowledge of nuclear technology, diagnostic and testing labs, engineering and industrial facilities needed to fabricate a nuclear device and delivery mechanism.
Similarly, even if the terrorists acquire a bomb, there is no way they could carry this huge hazardous device by land, air or sea all the way to Europe or America undetected by in telligence agencies, customs and security check points along the route and use it without a delivery mechanism and the electronic code.
Why, one may ask, would Al Qaeda draw the ire of Pakistan army and engage in a highly risky exercise of seizing nucle ar devices or materials, when it cannot use them?
Doubts have also surfaced about the possibility of a coup by military officers sympathet ic to Al Qaeda in a bid to snatch nuclear assets. For any one familiar with the organisa tion of Pakistan?s defence forces, this is hogwash. Pakistan is no banana republic.
The army?s officer?s cadre in herited liberal British tradi tions but recent years have seen some shift towards mod erate Islam, which is quite nat ural. There is, however, no shift towards any kind of ex tremism. The half million plus strong army remains a highly disciplined force, well struc tured and organised, led by a four-star general who com mands 9 corps and other for mations headed by a large number of generals.
The sheer size of the service, its command structure, strict adherence to chain of com mand and established tradi tions of loyalty to service and the state preclude possibility of such a coup taking place, or succeeding even if an attempt is made. Caution is also taken to prevent radicalisation of se nior ranks.
Besides, the disconnect be tween the corps of officers and the affiliate bodies of National Command Authority that guard and control nuclear as sets, except through an elabo rate multilayered institutional mechanism at the very top, would not allow any breach of nuclear security.
One can go on arguing about the fallacy of western ap proach towards the safety and security of Pakistan?s nuclear assets, but apparently this will make no difference. Irrespective of how safe these are, the West would continue to berate them, for it has its own agenda to follow