South Asia Research and Analysis Studies

Targeting Pak nukes!
Farooq Hameed Khan

Although the Pak-Iran relations may not be at their very best, yet President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s startling disclosure that Iran has precise information about American plans to sabotage our nuclear installations, should be an eye opener for Pakistan’s security establishment. The President further warned that the US would then use the UNSC and other international agencies as levers to prepare the grounds for a massive presence in Pakistan to weaken its sovereignty.

Surely, President Ahmedenijad must have some credible evidence about USA’s conspiracy; his remarks reinforced Pakistan’s fears that targeting its nuclear arsenal remains the ultimate objective of Washington’s foreign policy. For Iran, the horrifying scenario of a ‘denuclearised and weakened Pakistan under US domination’ would heighten its insecurity and make its nuclear programme more vulnerable to US/Israeli aggression.
The US has made deliberate efforts to gain intelligence and access to our nuclear programme under various pretexts. Intelligence gathering, monitoring and surveillance of Pakistani nuclear sites, missile test firings, and movement of launch platforms through spy or commercial satellites is routinely resorted to, although senior US Defence officials have admitted that complete information about our strategic installations is yet not available.
During Musharraf’s rule, the US was reportedly engaged in a $30 million project to streamline nuclear safety, command and control procedures. Better sense prevailed at our Strategic Plans Division (SPD) and its (USA) role was restricted to training our experts in America; the programme was non-intrusive and was based on our right to ‘pick and choose’ from the US offered checklist of cooperation.
In 2007, then Member Science and Technology of the Planning Commission recalled rejecting a US offer for aerial mapping, including application of ‘magnetic anomaly techniques for supposedly subsurface mineral survey in Pakistan. Suspicions were raised when it transpired that out of 100 US personnel in this programme, only around five were technical experts, remaining being American marines. Moreover, Washington declined to share the original raw data and offered to provide the processed results, which was unacceptable to us. However, the biggest US breakthrough may have been made through the CIA network created in Pakistan in the last few years undercover of anti-terrorism training and tracking militants in our towns. Also, with the help of well-paid local recruits, vital intelligence about the location and security arrangements around our strategic installations may have been acquired.

Some Western media reports have suggested that Washington has contingency plans to send in Special Forces to help “secure the Pakistani nuclear arsenal.” On December 31, 2007, The Herald reported: “US Special Forces snatch squads were on standby, including neighbouring Afghanistan to seize or disable Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal in the event of a collapse of government authority or the outbreak of civil war following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.” These troops, augmented by volunteer scientists from America’s Nuclear Emergency Search Team organisation, were under orders to take control of an estimated 60 warheads dispersed around six to 10 high-security Pakistani military bases.
So would the US launch a pre-emptive strike against our nuclear sites? America is known to war game various contingencies to capture or cripple Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, including a surprise air/missile strike from the Arabian Sea based aircraft carriers to neutralise PAF bases, air defence, and command and communications network. This would be followed by moving in Special Forces like the Task Force 373, which is a joint military commando unit based in Afghanistan involved in clandestine operations to capture key nuclear installations.
Given the multi-tiered all round security of our strategic installations, however, it would be unwise for the US to attempt an Abbottabad-style strike against our strategic sites. Unlike Osama’s compound that was unprotected and provided a free run to the US Navy SEALs, its troops would have to overcome resistance by almost 18,000 Pakistani soldiers armed with light and heavy weapons, backed by elaborate air defence network that guard these sites. With Pakistan’s nuclear assets widely dispersed, disassembled and their mobile launch platforms ever on the move, the US should expect lot of surprises.
In my opinion USA’s ‘Get Pak Nukes’ strategy envisions a ‘false flag’ attack by the CIA supported local militants on a nuclear installation, including a power plant. Any such attack would be sufficient to trigger an international uproar in the Western/Indian media calling for a UN backed US-led intervention to takeover Pakistan’s nuclear assets. Such a move at the UN is not likely to succeed, since China’s support is highly unlikely.
An essential prerequisite of any US foreign intervention plan envisages deep psychological operations against the target country. The deliberate and well-orchestrated campaign by the Western/Indian media supported by vested domestic forces to malign, demoralise and weaken the Pak Army, which is the custodian of the nuclear arsenal and create doubts about its ability to defend the strategic assets, is becoming strikingly visible.
So Pakistanis would rather pay heed to the Iranian President’s warning, rather than accepting Senator John Kerry’s assurance, who vowed to write with his blood that the US was not eyeing Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Make no mistake, targeting Pak nukes may be the mother of all blunders!