After Karachi: Is Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal safe?

Discussion in 'West Asia & Africa' started by SHASH2K2, May 24, 2011.

  1. SHASH2K2

    SHASH2K2 New Member

    May 10, 2010
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    Bihar, BanGalore , India
    After Karachi: Is Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal safe?

    The assault by Pakistani militants on the naval air station at Mehran in Karachi represents a highly sophisticated attack against an important military installation.
    The base is home to Pakistan's US-supplied Orion P3-C maritime patrol aircraft. At least two of the aircraft were destroyed.
    A few US contractors - as well as a small number of Chinese engineers - were also at the base. Their presence highlights the peculiar split nature of Pakistan's military alliances.
    The attack, audacious by the standards of Pakistan's Taliban, raises all sorts of awkward questions about security at the facility.
    Did standards just slip? Were the militants underestimated? And what does it imply for security at other key installations, not least those associated with Pakistan's nuclear deterrent?

    Islamabad's sensitivity

    Details on Pakistan's nuclear forces are hard to confirm.
    The country is estimated to have a nuclear arsenal of between 70 and 90 warheads, and it is busily modernising its capabilities across the board.
    This includes new weapons systems to deliver the warheads along with new nuclear facilities to provide the crucial nuclear materials needed to expand its arsenal.
    Little is known about the exact location of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. US officials have said that they are widely dispersed, and experts believe that they are stored unassembled with the nuclear cores separate from the rest of the weapons system.
    Washington has sought to assist Pakistan with various technical measures to safeguard its weapons.
    However, such efforts have not gone as far as they might, tending to founder on Pakistan's sensitivity about divulging details of its nuclear arsenal.
    Indeed, it is striking that in the wake of the US attack that killed Osama Bin Laden there was considerable comment in Pakistan about the ease with which the US pulled off the operation.
    One of the key concerns was that if the US special forces could do this, might they not be able to swoop down and seize Pakistan's nuclear weapons as well?
    The suggestion is probably fanciful, but it speaks volumes about the underlying suspicions that exist between Islamabad and Washington.
    Reasons to worry Until recently US officials took Pakistan's pronouncements of the safety of its nuclear arsenal pretty much at face value - at least in public.
    But as violence inside the country has grown, so too have worries in Washington.

    Last May, in an interview in the specialist magazine Arms Control Today, Gary Samore, a senior White House official who oversees non-proliferation matters, acknowledged that "the Pakistani government takes the nuclear security threat very seriously and they've put a lot of resources into making sure that their nuclear facilities and materials and weapons are well secured".
    However, he made his concerns crystal clear: "What I worry about is that, in the context of broader tensions and problems within Pakistani society and polity... even the best nuclear security measures might break down."
    One route to improving nuclear security is clearly on the diplomatic front through arms control; putting a ceiling on arsenals and halting the production of fissile material.
    But neither India nor Pakistan seems willing to make much progress here. Of course if India is considered, then China, too, has to be brought into the nuclear equation.
    Efforts to maintain the physical security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal have been impressive up to now.
    But there are several reasons to worry:

    • most of Pakistan's nuclear sites are close to or even within areas dominated by Pakistani Taliban militants. When they were first constructed, the imperative was to keep them away from the border with India to prevent them being overrun in any future conflict

    • analysts believe that there have already been attacks on facilities housing elements of Pakistan's nuclear programme, including one against a nuclear storage facility in Sargodha in November 2007 and another, in August 2008, against the access points to the Wah cantonment, considered to be one of Pakistan's main nuclear weapons assembly sites

    • despite elaborate efforts to screen personnel involved in the nuclear programme and the security force that guards it, there is always the danger of infiltration by people with extremist views

    • some analysts even question the long-term reliability of key elements of the Pakistan military.
    For those who worry about the security of Pakistan's nuclear installations, the attack on the naval air station in Karachi is yet one more reminder that the militants inside the country are getting ever bolder.
  3. Sikh_warrior

    Sikh_warrior Defence Professionals Defence Professionals

    May 18, 2010
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    Yes they are safe till rouge elements of the army or the jehadis dont take over.
  4. Blackwater

    Blackwater Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Jan 9, 2012
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    Akhand Bharat
    Sir, jehadis already infiltrate there army as officers. There are people who have soft corners for jihadis in pak army. So threat is within not from outside. world should take shed pak from its nukes. This kid don't deserve this toy.
  5. plugwater

    plugwater Elite Member Elite Member

    Nov 25, 2009
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    Pakistan nuclear security ‘of concern’: Nato

    KABUL: The head of Nato said Tuesday he was confident Pakistan’s nuclear weapons were safe, but admitted it was a matter of concern, the day after the worst assault on a Pakistani military base in two years.
    Anders Fogh Rasmussen was in Afghanistan on a one-day visit and met President Hamid Karzai to discuss the transition of security from Nato-led troops to Afghan security forces, which is due to begin in July.
    Rasmussen was asked if Nato was concerned about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons after it took Pakistani forces 17 hours to reclaim control of a naval air base from Taliban attackers and following the death of Osama bin Laden.
    “I feel confident that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is safe and well protected,” said Rasmussen. “But of course it is a matter of concern and we follow the situation closely.”
    The attack in Karachi, the worst on a base since the army headquarters was besieged in October 2009, piled further embarrassment on Pakistan three weeks after the al Qaeda leader was found living in the city of Abbottabad, close to the country’s military academy.
    Rasmussen was scheduled to wind up his Afghan visit on Tuesday after spending a night and a full day in Afghanistan.

    Pakistan nuclear security ‘of concern’: Nato | Pakistan | DAWN.COM
  6. nrj

    nrj Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

    Nov 16, 2009
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    Analysis: Is Pakistan attack a blueprint for nuclear base raid?

    A group of highly-trained militants with night-vision goggles and the collusion of sympathetic Islamist military officials storm a heavily-guarded navy base situated only a few miles from where a unstable Pakistan stores some of its nuclear weapons.

    That is the scary way of looking at the attack on the navy base in Karachi on Sunday night that destroyed two U.S.-built aircraft and killed 10 military personnel, fuelling worries about the safety of the world's fastest-growing nuclear arsenal.

    The consensus remains that Pakistan's 70-100 nuclear weapons are safe. Security at installations is reportedly much higher. It is almost impossible for a rogue team to launch any missiles and the vetting of staff at these bases is extremely rigorous.

    But each attack in Pakistan seems to up the ante, surprising analysts and military alike about how far militants can reach into the heart of the powerful military establishment -- perhaps one day doing enough to steal nuclear material for a "dirty" bomb or successfully penetrating a nuclear facility.

    In Sunday's attack, attackers scaled walls with ladders to enter PNS Mehran, one of Pakistan's most heavily guarded bases, and held off the military for nearly 17 hours.

    "It reinforces the fear that terrorists have now developed a range of tactics - foreknowledge, use of uniforms, simultaneous attacks on different entry points, etc - which enable them to penetrate high-security bases and, crucially, hold space within them for hours," Professor Shaun Gregory, director of the Pakistan Security Research Unit at Bradford University, wrote in an email.

    "This is a blueprint for an attack on a nuclear facility."

    The attack took place only 15 miles away from a suspected Pakistan nuclear weapons storage site at Masroor air base, a sign of how close the nuclear arsenal is to the growing violence from the Pakistan Taliban and other militant groups.

    Even in some of Pakistan's more nationalistic media, which for years has dismissed criticism of the safety of the nuclear arsenal as foreign-inspired propaganda, doubts have surfaced.

    "This easy action by the terrorists has rightly raised concerns among the nation that neither any part of the country nor our nuclear installations are safe," Urdu newspaper Nawa-i-Waqt said in its editorial on Tuesday.

    Some commentators said it was possible that the attack could only have happened with help of insiders within the base - perhaps disaffected and low-level military personnel angry at increasingly open U.S. operations on its soil.

    The fear is these kind of insiders could assist an assault on a nuclear base. Even an unsuccessful attack could sow panic in the military and spark more pressure from Washington.

    The Taliban hinted at local help, but remained coy to whether there were inside the base.

    "Our 'local friends' from Karachi helped us in yesterday's operation but I would not say whether we had friends on the base or not," Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told Reuters from an undisclosed location.


    The attack comes after the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. forces sparked suspicion the al Qaeda leader may have been helped for years by sympathizers within Pakistan's intelligence services.

    Nor was this the first attack at the heart of Pakistan's military. There was an attack at the army general headquarters in Rawalpindi in 2009. Later investigations found low ranking soldiers and officers were involved in planning the attacks.

    U.S. diplomatic cables from 2006 published in local media showed then Deputy Chief of Air Staff for Operations, Air Vice Marshal Khalid Chaudhry as reporting of small scale sabotage from low ranking Islamist officials to stop aircraft being deployed in security operations along the Afghan border.

    This all may lead to a nightmare scenario for the West of a small group of officials managing to steal nuclear material, load it up with conventional explosives, and set it off.

    "(The) major concern is not having an Islamic militant steal an entire weapon but rather the chance someone working in government of Pakistan facilities could gradually smuggle enough material out to eventually make a weapon," U.S. ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson said in a 2009 cable released by WikiLeaks, according to media reports.

    U.S. officials have said that they do not know everything about the size and location of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, but have publicly voiced confidence in Pakistan's ability to secure its weapons.

    There are some 10,000 soldiers guarding the facilities and only 5 percent of individuals pass strict screening tests for staff at the facilities, according to a report by Shashank Joshi of the U.K.-based Royal United Services Institute think-tank.

    Experts say nuclear weapons are stored separately from delivery systems - meaning any militants ability to launch weapons is almost impossible.

    But analysts point to weakness in the system.

    "Separate storage may provide a layer of protection against accidental launch or prevent theft of an assembled weapon, it may be easier for unauthorized people to remove a weapon's fissile material core if it is not assembled," The U.S. Congressional Research Service said in a report in January.

    There are also concerns that any future stand-off with nuclear foe India could lead to a chaotic situation with nuclear weapons dispersed around the country, straining Pakistan's military command structure.

    Pakistan's move to develop short range tactical nuclear weapons may also make them more vulnerable to theft or a mutiny by a group of military officers.

    "If they are designed for battlefield use, they could present an easier target for terrorists to seize and use themselves," wrote Ben Rhode, research associate for non-proliferation and disarmament at The International Institute for Strategic Studies, in an email to Reuters.

    Analysis: Is Pakistan attack a blueprint for nuclear base raid? | Reuters

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