Securing the nukes
Abdul Zahoor Khan Marwat


A report examining nuclear security worldwide suggests India's "nuclear security measures may be weaker than those of Pakistan" but says the risk "appears to be moderate". The Harvard Kennedy School report, "Preventing Nuclear Terrorism: Continuous Improvement or Dangerous Decline?" says it is difficult to judge whether India's nuclear security is capable of protecting against the threats it faces.

On the other hand, "Pakistan has substantially strengthened its nuclear security in the past two decades," the report says, citing changes in organisations governing nuclear security, training, equipment and approaches to screening personnel, requirements for nuclear material accounting and control, approaches to strengthening security culture and "substantial changes in every other aspect of nuclear security covered in the survey" as reasons for the improved nuclear security.

Measures taken to secure Pakistan's nuclear weapons highlighted in the report include: Allotment of 25,000 troops to guard Pakistan's nuclear stocks and facilities by the Strategic Plans Division (SPD); Equipment of sites with extensive barriers and detection systems; Separate storage of nuclear weapons components although this may change as Pakistan shifts towards tactical nuclear weapons intended for rapid deployment; Equipment of weapons with locks to prevent unauthorised use; Extensive cooperation with the United States to improve nuclear security.

However, on one count the report is wide off the mark. It claims the risk of nuclear theft in Pakistan "appears to be high" and likely adversary threats in India are "less extreme" than those in Pakistan. "Overall, the risk of nuclear theft in Pakistan appears to be high," citing "some of the world’s most capable terrorist groups, an environment of widespread corruption and extremist sympathies" as risk factors. It also says the possibility of collapse of the government in Pakistan or an "extremist takeover cannot be entirely ruled out".

Also, while there is "no clear trend, either upward or downward" regarding the level of risk for Indian nuclear sites, it highlights a trend "toward increasing risk" in Pakistan as its nuclear arsenal expands and the strategic doctrine shifts toward tactical nuclear weapons. The report also highlights which it perceives as negative trends including: Absence of recent US expressions of confidence; shift towards rapid-deployment tactical nuclear weapons; a 'probable' increase in the number of locations as a result of an increase in the number of weapons.

To say the least, the criticality of nuclear weapons for the country’s defence and international sensitivities are clearly known to the Pakistani security establishment, government and policymakers. Pakistan has taken several discernible measures to safeguard the nuclear components which are dispersed throughout the country and whose location is unknown except to the concerned people.

Those having fundamental discomfort with nuclear weapons in Pakistan, especially tactical nuclear weapons, should stop producing reports that are highly exaggerated and patently false. No terrorist group poses a threat to nuclear weapons, including tactical, in Pakistan, which are strongly guarded. Not only the weapons are in safe hands but also the nuclear programme works as a hedge against strategic threats to our security and gives us a prideful national identity.