No Extremist threat to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons
Shamsa Ashfaq


As is the custom, the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal has been put into question once again. On 30 January 2012, Pakistani Nuclear Physicist and Defence analyst Dr Pervez Hoodboy while speaking to a group of Indian journalists at the launch of his book ‘Confronting the Bomb’, pointed out the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal as a major concern. He expressed fear of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals being ‘hijacked’ by extremists as a result of increasing radicalization of the Pakistan Army, given attacks on army installations including the ISI headquarter in Lahore. Voicing of such fears is not new to Pakistani ears. In the past, after every militant attack on army installations in Pakistan some national and international think tanks, a group of media persons and intelligentsia started to voice concerns over the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear assets. Not only this, even the killing of Osama Bin Laden raised unnecessary fears that he had help from ‘friends’ in Pakistan military and spy agencies and that Al-Qaeda sympathizers might also be among those guarding Pakistan’s nukes. Pakistan, however, has always rejected such fears over its nuclear weapons as “misplaced and unfounded” clarifying that it has very robust, multilayered command and control system.

The security measures in Pakistan are being followed since 50s. In 1964, Pakistan Nuclear Safety Committee (PNS) was constituted, in 1970 a Nuclear Safety and Licensing Division was formed. In 2001, Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) was established to ensure safeguards and regularizations of nuclear facilities. In Pakistan so far 13 regulations in connection to nuclear programme were developed that are at par with international standards and to the IAEA safety standards. For over 30 years, Pakistan has enjoyed an excellent operational and safety record of its two nuclear power plants, KANUPP and CHASNUPP, which both operate under IAEA safeguards.
Since 2000, the nation’s key nuclear institutions have been under the unified control of the National Command Authority (NCA), a ten-member body, comprising the president; prime minister; chairman of the joint chiefs of staff; ministers of defense, interior and finance; director-general of the Strategic Plans Division (SDP); and the commanders of the army, air force and navy. Decision-making power regarding nuclear deployment rests with the NCA. Its chairman, who is the president of Pakistan, casts the final vote. The SPD acts as National Command Authority’s secretariat, is in in-charge of developing and managing nuclear capability and exercises day-to-day control.
The weapons are under strict control of the SPD. The weapons designed to be delivered by missiles, fighter-bombers are stored at secure and secret locations. Pakistan has 10,000 soldiers guarding its nuclear installations and the SPD has its own independent intelligence section. Staff working in nuclear facilities goes through an extensive vetting process, involving political, moral and financial checks and psychological testing for 10,000 staff by security monitors keep close tabs on 2000 scientists working in ultra-sensitive areas. Pakistan’s controls are such that orders to abort a mission involving a nuclear weapon could be given at the last second. Even if a rouge pilot were to fire a missile he would not have the code to arm the warhead, according to SPD. Additional steps have also been taken by Pakistan to augment the safety and security of nuclear installations and to prevent WMD proliferation. So by all means, Pakistan nuclear facilities and weapons are safe of any possible tsunami.
Pakistan gives highest level of importance to the safety and security of its nuclear installations. It has successfully established a strong safety culture in its nuclear activities and diligently adhering to the principles of the Nuclear Safety Convention, which Pakistan signed at the time of its inception. The safeguard and security that the country ensured for its nuclear programme are significant. Pakistan is confident of it but will remain persistent and never complacent about its nuclear safety, therefore, is always continuing to review its security measures in this connection. Pakistan’s nuclear assets are vital for its strategic deterrence posture so there is no question of their falling into the wrong hands.
Nuclear weapons do pose threat to humanity but Pakistan’s motivation to acquire nuclear weapons is its need to survive in the most hostile environment. It is the country’s nuclear weapons programme that saved Pakistan from a Libya or Iraq-style invasion by western forces after 9/11. Dr Hoodboy’s contention that nuclear weapons actually caused Kargil is also unfounded as it is the nuclear weapons that have actually and successfully stopped subcontinent from becoming the ‘most dangerous place in the world’. The nuclear weapons have created strong incentives for caution in New Delhi and Islamabad by threatening to make the Pakistan-India war catastrophically costly.
Every nation weak or powerful has the right to its defence in today’s nuclearised environment. The cold war ended nearly 20 years ago and there are no disputes between P5 states about borders and territory. The communist crusade is a thing of past and there will be no wars of civilizations. It is paradoxical that in this situation the military expenses in the world still amount to more than 1,464 billion dollars. If the world’s sole super power does not feel safer with what all the sophistication and advancement of technology to safeguard its sovereignty how the developing, poor and vulnerable nations can guarantee their survival?
Pakistan went nuclear to ensure its survival against eminent threats emerging from nuclear India and the catastrophic failure of US foreign policy in south Asia. It sees its nuclear weapons as a means of insulating the country against the dangers of hostile intentions from across the border. Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is secure because it recognizes the hazards of those weapons falling into the wrong hands. So the specter of radical Islamists taking over and brandishing the Islamic bomb is rather far-fetched.