Page 1 of 2 Keeping Pakistan's nukes extremist-free By Russ Wellen
Never mind loose nukes, what if a whole nuclear program gets loose?
In the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks last November, war has thus far been
averted between India and Pakistan. Nevertheless, India speaks of "surgical
strikes" and Pakistan has moved troops from its western border with Afghanistan
to its eastern with India, where they're reported to be in a high state of
Remaining vigilant is also sound advice for the rest of the world when it comes
to India and Pakistan. Both states refused to sign the nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty and later embarked on their
own programs. As if to prove the folly of both courses of action, they came
dangerously close to nuclear war during their 2002 standoff. But another
problem, equally troublesome, persists.
It's common knowledge that the former states of the Soviet Union suffer an
ongoing threat from the theft of loose nukes. India and Pakistan, however, face
the theft of their entire program.
India's nuclear weapons aren't usually considered at risk. But the Bharatiya
Janata Party (BJP) sometimes acts as apologists for Hindutva extremists, such
as those who staged the 2002 Gujarat riots. Who's to say that the next time the
BJP is in power the prime minister will be strong enough to resist the
importunities of Hindutva leader K S Sudarshan? His recent pronouncements about
nuclear war were remarkably cavalier.
Nevertheless, Pakistan is considered more vulnerable to extremist takeover, an
issue that reared its head when Benazir Bhutto's assassination in December of
2007 raised concerns about the integrity of the Pakistan state. It was further
highlighted in a recent Sunday New York Times Magazine story by David Sanger.
The danger boils down to two key elements: 1. How safe are Pakistan's nukes
from takeover by extremists? 2. How safe is Pakistan's premier intelligence
agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and army from takeover by
In fact, as confirmed by Kenneth Luongo in the October issue of WMD Insights,
Pakistan has made great strides in the security of its nuclear weapons. He
explains that in 1999, then-president General Pervez Musharraf created the
National Command Authority (NCA) to assert control over Pakistan's nuclear
weapons program. The NCA then authorized a branch of the army called the
Strategic Plans Division (SPD).
In his article, Sanger profiles the SPD's chief, Khalid Kidwai, who "oversees a
security structure intended to protect Pakistan's nuclear arsenal from ...
Islamic militants, al-Qaeda scientists, Indian saboteurs and those American
commando teams that Pakistanis imagine, with good reason, [stand] ready to
seize their nuclear treasure if a national meltdown seems imminent".
Though it's almost a year older, a report from the University of Bradford's
Pakistan Security Research Unit (PSRU) in the United Kingdom provides even
greater perspective than Luongo's WMD Insights article. Its author, Professor
Shaun Gregory, writes: "The three main elements of physical security are: (a)
physical barriers and intrusion detectors, (b) the use of tiers of armed force
personnel to provide layered defence of nuclear sites and (c) the physical
separation of warhead core from weapon detonation components, and the storage
of these nuclear weapons components in protected underground sites."
Pakistan has also designated certain facilities as no-fly zones and is
acquiring specialized vehicles to prevent hijacking of nuclear materials when
they're most vulnerable - while in transit.
Other preventive measures Pakistan has taken include signing the Container
Security Initiative, which provides Karachi with radiation detectors. Also, as
part of a new US program called the Second Line of Defense Megaports, detectors
and imaging equipment were set up in a port in southern Pakistan.
Meanwhile, Pakistan has access to an International Atomic Energy Agency
database for sharing information about missing radiological materials. Finally,
Pakistani officials have stated that their warheads have been fitted with
permissive action links (PALs), a locking device which prevents detonation
without a code.
But, Gregory writes, to facilitate maximum anticipation of an attack on its
nuclear weapon sites (as well as to foil a quick ground strike) by India,
Pakistan has located them in its west. "The unanticipated consequence," he
explains, is that the nuclear weapons are "either within or close to the more
volatile tribal regions of Pakistan to the west and northwest of Islamabad".
As for security in general, he warns: "Until such an event [as an attack]
occurs the elements of the defences will remain untested." For instance, an
explosion would be "made more serious by prevailing westerly winds which could
take radiological plumes across population centers".
The London Independent's Johann Hari quotes Scott Sagan, a nuclear security
expert: "If Pakistan fears they may be attacked [by India or presumably
jihadis], they have an incentive to take [the weapons] out of the [more secure]
bunkers and put them out in the countryside." Where, of course, there's that
much greater a chance they'll be apprehended by jihadis.
In fact, the Times' Sanger reports that a top George W Bush administration
official expressed his fears to him that "some groups could try to provoke a
confrontation between Pakistan and India in the hope that the Pakistani
military would transport tactical nuclear weapons closer to the front lines,
where they would be more vulnerable to seizure. Indeed, when the deadly terror
attacks occurred in Mumbai [other] officials told [Sanger] they feared that one
of the attackers' motives might have been to trigger exactly that series of
A security program: only as good as those administering it
Gregory explains that Pakistan chooses its nuclear weapons staff from the
Punjab, an area of the country less likely to be populated by Islamists. Also,
applicants for nuclear jobs are screened for psychological problems as well as
questionable affiliations. Once on the job, staff members are rotated to cut
potential conspiracies off at the root.
He explains that "some 8,000 personnel - drawn from the SPD's Security Division
[and intelligence agencies such as the ISI] - are involved in the security
clearance and monitoring of those with nuclear weapons duties".
Still, Sanger reports, "[US] Secretary of Defense Robert Gates noted to me that
'there is no human vetting system that is entirely reliable', pointing out that
lie-detector tests and other screening techniques that CIA employees regularly
undergo have, at times, failed to identify spies."
At this point, we feel compelled to bring to light inaccuracies in Sanger's
reporting pointed out to us by Brian Cloughley, who writes for Jane's and, like
Gregory, has contributed to the PSRU. Sanger opens his story in the Chaklala
Garrison, where he visited the headquarters of the SPD. Near Islamabad airport,
it's an enclave for the homes and offices of Pakistan's military and
Sanger writes: "Just past a small traffic circle, a tan stone gateway is manned
by a lone, bored-looking guard loosely holding a rusting rifle. The gateway
marks the entry to Chaklala Garrison, an old British cantonment from the days
when officers of the Raj escaped the heat of Delhi for the cooler hills on the
approaches to Afghanistan."
Cloughley, who called on Joint Staff Headquarters at Chaklala just last
November, explains that, far from manned by a "lone, bored-looking guard", it
is a "well-guarded, large military base". Also he says "that no soldier in the
Pakistan army has a rusty rifle".
Furthermore, "the 'officers of the Raj' didn't go anywhere near Chaklala to
escape the heat of Delhi ... when Delhi is hot, Chaklala (a suburb of
Rawalpindi, in the plains) is hot, too. As for the "cooler hills", Cloughley
asks, "What hills? The highest point is some 250 feet above sea level."
Cloughley also writes: "I tell you this, flatly: Sanger may have got to an
office in which Lt Gen Kidwai was present, but that wasn't General Kidwai's
office." Furthermore, "I know Kidwai, and I tell you: he doesn't tell anyone
anything of importance." He accuses Sanger of "cheap, nasty and silly
journalese at its most risible depths."
Cloughley's extensive experience with the Pakistani military has left him with
respect for its professionalism and much less concern for the security of its
nuclear weapons than Washington expresses.
As for the ISI, its presence on Gregory's list of personnel involved in nuclear
security isn't likely to inspire confidence on the part of Washington, which
fears that elements of the ISI are prone to sympathy for Islamist ideals.
Fundamentally, as Stratfor points out, the ISI is an "extremely complex
organization fraught with internal contradictions. As with any other foreign
intelligence service, its opaque nature creates conditions that are ripe for
operations that might not necessarily have official sanction."
The ISI, of course, helped cultivate the Taliban as a hedge against Indian
interests in Pakistan's neighbor Afghanistan. (Much like the United States
armed the mujahideen with consequences even more unmanageable.) Then, before
9/11, the ISI's chief, General Mahmoud Ahmed, is believed to have authorized
wiring $100,000 to Mohammed Atta, ringleader of the September 11 attackers.
Finally, after apparently providing financial support and intelligence to
Lashkar-e-Taiba for the November attacks on Mumbai, the ISI's notoriety became
a worldwide phenomenon.
At Asia Times Online, Pakistan Bureau Chief Syed Saleem Shahzad provides us
with an analysis of the ISI's role that's as detailed as it is plausible. Turns
out the attack on Mumbai was apparently meant to take place in Kashmir, but
"the focus ... shifted towards Pakistan's tribal areas. The director of the
external wing [of the ISI was replaced], placing the [plan] in the hands of a
low-level ISI [major] and [Lashkar-e-Taiba's] commander-in-chief, Zakiur
"Zakiur and the ISI's forward section in Karachi, completely disconnected from
the top brass, approved the plan [which was then] fine-tuned by al-Qaeda." (See
Al-Qaeda 'hijack' led to Mumbai attack December 2, 2008.)
But in a more recent piece, Shahzad reported that, in the wake of 26/11, plans
to appoint a civilian as director general of the ISI and reduce the agency to
an intelligence wing of the Ministry of Interior have been agreed to by the
military. (See Pakistan's
spies reined in December 25.)
Also, according to Ian Bruce in Scotland's the Herald, "There has ... been
pressure [from the United States] to keep Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency
... out of the nuclear loop." Gregory, meanwhile, was able to confirm that, as
of December 2007, "no ISI representative sits formally on the NCA."
Meanwhile, how trustworthy is the Pakistani army, which Shahzad referred to as
the "main patron" (as in sponsor) of the ISI?
Does the Pakistani soldier seek martyrdom?
In April, Myra MacDonald of Reuters, who once traveled with the Pakistan army,
wrote: "My impression was that the Pakistan