By Usman Ali Khan
There is a perception that Pakistani nuclear weapons would fall into the hands of terrorists. The theory goes that the terrorists would be able to detonate these weapons and cause mass destruction. Pakistan shares these international concerns about nuclear terrorism. The likelihood of such acts is as good or bad as anywhere. As regards Pakistan, the proposition of nuclear terrorism is implausible because it would take more than Mission Impossible III to convert this fantasy into a reality. Pakistan’s nuclear materials, facilities and assets are safe and secure and the country’s nuclear security regime is anchored in the principle of multi-layered defense for the entire spectrum – insider, outsider or cyber threat.
Unlike States where 80 years old nuns can slip into military nuclear facilities or where electronic locks – called PALs – of the nuclear weapons are set in straight zeroes, Pakistan takes nuclear security and safety very seriously. Firstly, there are very few who would know where these weapons are stored. Two, the Strategic Plans Division claims that the storage sites are kept under layered defense by some twenty eight thousand specially trained troops. Three, there is a personnel reliability program that is designed to keep a close watch that there is no insiders collusion and unauthorized transfer of weapons. These and several other measures are internationally acknowledged and appreciated.
Pakistan has also taken some international obligations for nuclear security. It is a party to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and works closely with the IAEA to deal with safety and security of radioactive sources and illicit trafficking of nuclear materials.
Perhaps the most credible endorsement of Pakistan’s nuclear security regime comes from its most steadfast enemy. The consensus among India’s top generals and defense experts is that Pakistan’s nukes are pretty secure. “No one can be 100 percent secure, but I think they are more than 99 percent secure,” said Shashindra Tyagi, a former Chief of Staff of the Indian Air Force. “They keep a very close watch on personnel. All of the steps that could be taken have been taken. This business of the Taliban taking over — it can’t be ruled out, but I think it’s unlikely. The Pakistan’s nuclear establishment understands the threats they face better than anyone, and they are smart enough to take care of it.”
It is believed that miscalculation, miscommunication, or panic is being created about certain terrorists stealing nuclear weapons. The militants of the Islamic State group may have some individuals in Pakistan but they are not a major cause of concern.
Furthermore, the army chief re-emphasized Pakistan’s commitment to root out all kinds of terrorists, stating that the determination to eliminate the militants exceeds the limits of any particular area, and is not confined to any particular group. Addressing a gathering of Pakistani Americans and officials from the state and defence departments at a reception hosted by Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, Jalil Abbas Jilani, in honor of the visiting military delegation, the COAS said Operation Zarb-e-Azb is being carried out without any discrimination, “whether it is the Haqqani network or the TTP or any other group.” He added that the operation to hunt down the terrorists was “not taking place in just North Waziristan or South Waziristan but throughout the country”.
After 9/11, there is intense international attention to the risks of nuclear terrorism. Despite a number of claims, there is no credible evidence that any terrorist group has yet succeeded in obtaining a nuclear bomb or the materials needed to make one. The nuclear intent and capability of terrorist groups has been “fundamentally exaggerated.”
As we look towards the future, we should consolidate our scrupulous attention, as it is not one of the severest nuclear threats of Pakistan weapons getting in the hands of terrorists, but anxieties about terrorists obtaining nuclear weapons are essentially baseless. Nuclear terrorism should neither be hyped out of proportion, nor used as vehicle to pursue unrelated and undeclared strategic objectives as it is cooked up and is a product of fantasy.