earlier, they were able to deceive the guards at the entry of the citadel of the Pakistan army, the General Headquarters, in Rawalpindi. On that occasion, more than 40 people were taken hostage, of whom 37 were rescued due to a daring operation by the commandos of the elite Special Services Group.
The Head Office of the Federal Investigation Agency in Lahore was bombed in October this year. A similar attack took place in 2008. Since 2007, attacks have been launched on military, air force and naval personnel and officials. On the other hand, the media also reported that some terrorists had tried to enter the restricted area where the nuclear facilities are located, but they were stopped at the outer security ring.
on Safety and Security of Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons
his detailed report published in the New Yorker dated 16 November
2009 (though it was already made public a week earlier), Seymour Hersh
claims that the United States was doing all it could to ensure that
Pakistan’s nuclear warheads were safe and secure. He referred to
United States President Barack Obama’s response to a question by a
journalist about the safety of those weapons. President Obama reportedly
said that the United States wanted to “make sure that Pakistan’s
nuclear arsenal is secure – primarily, initially, because the Pakistan
army, I think, recognises the hazards of those weapons falling into the
of Hersh’s assertions put the Pakistanis in an awkward and deeply
embarrassing position. For example, a spokesman for Admiral Michael
Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Hersh that
Admiral Mullen was deeply involved in day-to-day Pakistani developments
and “is almost an action officer for all things Pakistan”. However,
Admiral Mullen denied that he and General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani
Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, or their staffs, had reached an
understanding about the availability of American forces in case of a
mutiny or a terrorist threat to a nuclear facility. “To my knowledge,
we have no military units, special forces or otherwise, involved in such
an assignment”, Admiral Mullen is reported to have said through his
spokesman. The report informs that, for the last three years, the United
States and Pakistan have been working very closely on the nuclear
light of conflicting reports, one wonders who should be believed – the
American journalist Hersh, who has suggested that the United States is
seeking a greater role in the protection of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons
from terrorists or the angry refutation by the Chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff Committee, General Tariq Majid, who dismissed Hersh’s
report as sensational and mischievous. He reportedly said that, “We
have operationalised a very effective nuclear security regime, which
incorporates very stringent custodial and access controls. As overall
custodian of the development of [the] strategic programme, I reiterate
in very unambiguous terms that there is absolutely no question of
sharing or allowing any foreign individual, entity or a state, any
access to sensitive information about our nuclear assets” (The News,
10 November 2009).
considered a number of scenarios that could plunge regional and world
peace into jeopardy. The most serious was the possibility of a mutiny
within the military stationed at the Pakistan nuclear weapon sites. It
was based on the assumption that support for radical Islam and sympathy
for the Taliban-Al Qaeda ideology could exist even among soldiers and
officers stationed in places where the weapons are kept. When Hersh
probed that possibility with military officers who he claimed to have
spoken to, they rejected such a turn of events. They told him that the
personnel working in such places were thoroughly scrutinised and those
whose ideological orientation or mindset was suspect were screened out.
Hersh was told that the nuclear devices are kept in deep tunnels that
can never be detected by spy satellites. Even more importantly, the
procedure adopted to make the nuclear weapons operational is exceedingly
complex. The different elements and parts of a nuclear bomb are kept
apart from one another. In order to use these devices, they needed to be
assembled in one place. The procedure has been streamlined and, in case
of a war or some threat to national security, a select group of military
personnel could quickly make them operational.
United States and Pakistan’s Sovereignty
may be recalled that a controversy raged in Pakistan recently over the
Kerry-Lugar Bill, which was attacked by right-wing media and politicians
as an invasion of Pakistani sovereignty. Hersh’s report suggests that
the Americans are determined to take control of Pakistan’s nuclear
assets. In one sense, it gives credence to the conspiracy theory that
the Americans are out to nullify Pakistani sovereignty and security –
the nuclear weapons epitomising sovereignty and security!
is, therefore, not surprising that it was not only a top Pakistani
military officer who refuted the claim that the terrorists could get
hold of Pakistani nuclear weapons; Pakistan’s President Asif Ali
Zardari, the Federal Minister of Information, Qamar Zaman Kaira, and the
Pakistan Foreign Office also issued similar statements. Their standpoint
was supported by statements issued by the United States Secretary of
State, Hillary Clinton, and the United States’ Ambassador to Pakistan,
this latest controversy subside now that the power holders on both sides
are singing the same refrain or will it only adversely affect the United
States-Pakistan alliance against terrorism? That remains to be seen.
this is not the most interesting aspect of the recent controversy.
most crucial problem policymakers have to face in the current situation
is that the Taliban-Al Qaeda network will not hesitate to try anything
to stop the offensive launched against them by the Pakistan military and
to force the American and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces to
pack up and leave Afghanistan. There are good reasons to believe that
General Majid is speaking with sincerity that only those which the
military has already included in the core group, who, in case of an
emergency, will make those weapons operational, can access them unless
that core group itself is eliminated. Arguing thus, he assured that it
was not possible to reach the nuclear warheads and use them because all
precautions have been taken to prevent that from happening.
men in command positions in the Pakistani military who are in charge of
the nuclear assets know that if they use such weapons, there would
inevitably be a similar retaliation. The destruction and suffering that
will follow in such a situation will defy imagination; hence the
assumption is that while nuclear weapons are not usable, they guarantee
peace. However, from the die-hard Islamist point of view, such reasoning
may not carry much persuasive power.
no watertight, foolproof guarantee can be provided by any nation or
military that some mad men in their midst would never be able to get
hold of such weapons and use them. Such a danger is present in all
circumstances and, therefore, the Pakistani explanation is convincing on
its own merits.
is, however, no reason to believe that the Americans would not be
interested in getting as accurate as possible knowledge about those
weapons because, in case the unimaginable happens and hardcore Islamists
do manage to get hold of them, regional and world peace would be gravely
threatened. Some time ago, Rowan Scarborough, a journalist with Fox News,
reported that three attempts have already been made by terrorists to get
to Pakistan’s nuclear assets. Under the circumstances, the United
States has a detailed plan to rapidly deploy the Joint Special
Operations Command, a super-secret commando unit headquartered at Fort
Bragg, North Carolina, in Pakistan to take control of Pakistani nuclear
weapons in case Pakistan was destabilised and extremists come to power.
Some rumours suggest that an elite commando force is already stationed
in Afghanistan for such an undertaking.
is truly very sad that Pakistan should end up in such a sordid and
profoundly dangerous situation. In the mid-1960s, Pakistan was being
celebrated as the paragon of economic development that many nations,
including South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia keenly studied, but after
the 1965 war with India, Pakistan could not return fully to the path of
peaceful development and change.
The military defeat at the hands of India in 1971 in the former East Pakistan, which broke away to become Bangladesh, played a most vitiating role in accentuating a belief in the need for an Islamist orientation of the armed forces. Such a mindset reached consummation during the Afghan jihad of the 1980s. It set in motion a process that inevitably took it down the path of violent politics, which undermined the social peace within Pakistan and created dangerous situations of a military confrontation with India.
the beginning of the 1980s, Pakistan’s standard of living was higher
than not only India but China as well. Now, China is way ahead and,
since 2006, India has also surpassed Pakistan. Poverty, illiteracy and
despondency mark the lives of the majority of an otherwise very
hardworking and warm-hearted Pakistani nation.
and when things return to some modicum of normalcy, it would be
imperative to consider other options as well to make Pakistan strong and
confident through progressive investments in education and economic
development. The Americans will have to persuade India and Pakistan to
sort out their differences if the arms race in this region is ever to
stop. At present, Pakistan’s reputation as the most dangerous polity
on earth is, unfortunately, likely to persist.
General Tariq Majid, ‘Pak N-safety plan’, The News, 10
Rowan Scarborough, Fox News, 14 May 2009, http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/05/14/
plan-pakistan-teeters-falling-taliban/ (accessed on 19 November 2009).
- Seymour Hersh, ‘Defending the Arsenal: In an unstable Pakistan, can nuclear warheads be safe’, The New Yorker, 16 November 2009.
Ishtiaq Ahmed is a senior research fellow at the Institute of
South Asian Studies (ISAS), National University of Singapore on leave
from the University of Stockholm. Email: email@example.com.
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