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    South Asia
     Jan 16, 2009
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 alert.

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 extremists?

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 events."

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 intelligence.

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 Rahman.

"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 

Continued 1 2  


Obama, soccer and South Asian security (Jan 10,'09)


1. Masked motives in China's piracy push

2. India and the US talk missile defense

3. Gaza: A pawn in the new 'great game'

4. US Fed takes a step too far

5. India's economy in junk mode

6. Japan: The price of normalcy

7. Energy security guides China on Gaza

8. Manipulate your woes away

9. Be careful what you wish for

10. Downturn raises odds at Singapore casinos

11. The world according to Hillary

(24 hours to 11:59pm ET, Jan 14, 2009)

 
 



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