News The nuclear threat from Pakistan

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SOURCE: NATIONAL HERALD

Pakistan’s testing of nuclear bombs in 1998 rendered transparent what was already suspected in intelligence circles. It, in effect, erected a deterrent to India employing its superior conventional strength beyond a point. That remains the state of play till date.

After 2002, though, when the Indian Army laboured for two month to mobilize troops on the Pakistan border for a tense stand-off known as Operation Parakram, a “Cold Start” doctrine – that of a rapid deployment of forces on the western front – apparently came into being. Pakistan claimed this was the case, the United States suspected it to be so, but India denied it, until in the new bombastic culture of New Delhi, a loquacious Chief of Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat, reportedly boasted about it last year.

One doesn’t know what kind of an environment one lives in today, but India, despite testing a nuclear device as far back as 1974, has historically and widely been recognised as a responsible nation in this sphere; whereas Pakistan, with an unabashed first strike policy, has not been placed in such a category by the international community. In fact, in addition to being dubiously the world’s fastest assembler of nuclear weapons in the past two decades, it has developed what it calls tactical nukes to counter India’s Cold Start thinking.

Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy, a respected, MIT-educated Pakistani nuclear physicist who was in London to speak at a seminar organised by The Democracy Forum, explained a tactical nuke is 1-2 kilotons or at most 10% in explosive power to the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki by the US in 1945. But while the latter were burst in the air, the Pakistani prototypes are intended to explode on the ground. And they would be delivered by missiles with a range of around 50 miles.

In other words, the weapons would need to be released from near the Indian border in order to reach a point within India. Therefore, the radioactive fumes generated by the strike would spread back into Pakistan, thereby exposing its own population to consequent health hazards.

The fact is, as Hoodbhoy expanded, while the George W Bush US administration provided Pakistan with technology to safeguard its nuclear installations from sabotage and theft after 9/11, it wasn’t given access to such facilities. So, the Pentagon does not seem to be in a position to shackle Pakistan’s nuclear programme. The Americans, though, could possess the ability to remotely disable an aircraft supplied to Pakistan, if it embarks on a mission carrying nuclear weapons.

Hoodbhoy in his book Confronting the Bomb stressed on the threat to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is from within its army, where insiders in collusion with external Islamic groups could be plotting to appropriate nuclear assets, unknown to authorities reposed with the task of protecting these.

The country’s nuclear command includes a strategic plans division (SPD), why is entrusted with the physical custody of the weapons. “Whatever the procedures and equipment Pakistan may adopt, they can only be as good as the men who operate them. Mind-sets and intentions matter more than anything else.”

The nuclear command’s recruitment methods, according to Hoodbhoy, are quite rigorous. Among the questions asked of applicants are: Are you Shia or Sunni? Are you religious? How often do you pray? Who is the mullah you go to? The purpose is ostensibly to weed out elements inclined towards faith. But there is no knowing if successful candidates later get influenced by jihadi tendencies.

There have been no attacks on military bases in Pakistan housing weapons since 2014. In other words, there is no evidence of extremists overtly attempting to lay their hands on sensitive material for four years. Yet, Hoodbhoy has argued: “Those wearing the cloak of religion freely walk in and out of top security nuclear installations every day.” He added: “The fear of the insider is ubiquitous and well-founded” and described the Pakistani army as “a heavily Islamicised rank-and-file brimming with seditious thoughts”. And went to the extent of saying: “It is difficult to find another example where the defence apparatus of a modern state has been rendered so vulnerable by the threat posed by military insiders.”
 
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