Nuclear Security In Pakistan—What to Worry About


Tihar Jail
Oct 2, 2009
Pakistan, the country with the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world, knows it has a nuclear weapons security problem. In February 2000, it created the Strategic Plans Division of its National Command Authority to protect Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and the infrastructure that produces them from hostile efforts to steal a bomb.

The SPD has some 10,000 soldiers at its command to defend nuclear sites, it conducts extensive screenings to ensure the most loyal personnel are guarding the facilities and it makes every effort to conceal the locations of sensitive infrastructure from all outsiders. Pakistani leaders quite rightly note that they take their responsibility to ensure the security of their arsenal seriously.

But Pakistan also faces unprecedented levels of political violence today, much of it coming from the militant jihadist Frankenstein that has incubated in the country over the last three decades. A Pakistani think tank reports that 25,000 Pakistani civilians were killed or wounded in terrorism related violence last year, 5000 in suicide bombings. The Pakistani army reports 10,000 of its troops were killed or wounded last year fighting the Taliban extremists, 74 of the dead were officers of the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI).

Ironically, the greatest threat to Pakistan’s nuclear security comes from the one part of the Frankenstein Pakistan is not fighting, the terror group Lashkar e Tayyiba that attacked the Indian city of Mumbai in November 2008 just after Barack Obama’s election victory. In the months since, Mumbai LeT has continued to flourish in Pakistan. What makes it so dangerous is that, unlike the mostly Pashtun Taliban, it recruits its followers in the Punjab, the same place where the Pakistani army recruits its officer corps. As one senior Pakistani general once told me, the relationship between the army and the LeT is a family affair. That gives the LeT the possibility of access to the arsenal through insider connections that other terror groups lack.

LeT demonstrated at Mumbai that its goal is mass casualty terror. Detonating a stolen nuclear device planted in an India city would be a triumph for the groups’ goal of terrorizing India like no other attack. If it provoked war between India and Pakistan, that’s all the better in the twisted logic of LeT.

The Mumbai attack also showed the LeT has bought the argument of al Qaeda that the Islamic world’s enemies are a conspiracy of Crusaders, Zionists and Hindus, all of whom were targeted in November 2008. Last month an American, David Headley, pleaded guilty to the charge that he scouted the targets for LeT in Mumbai over the course of five visits to the city between 2005 and 2008. He also revealed that LeT and al Qaeda were closely cooperating on a plan to attack Copenhagen Denmark last fall.

Pakistan has taken serious measures to protect the crown jewels of its national security but it lives in a perilous time. If there is a nightmare nuclear security scenario in Pakistan today it is probably an inside the family job that ends up in a nuclear Armageddon in India. When President Obama meets again with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani at the nuclear summit in Washington (they met once before during the 2008 campaign) he should press for Pakistan to break up the LeT for good even if it disrupts family harmony.

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