Brigadier Syed Mushtaq Ahmed (Retd) has extensive experience in areas of national security, intelligence and strategic issues. He has worked as a Senior Research Analyst in a strategic organisation and has a niche for writing research articles and analytical assessments, specializing in counterintelligence, counter-terrorism and nuclear security.
The ubiquitous concern over the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure over the years has become the common cry and a tendency to resort to Pakistan bashing, particularly by India, about its nuclear assets’ security and apprehensions of these falling into the terrorists’ hands with such neurotic impunity that one either becomes weary of such absurdities or tends to fall for these unfounded lamentations.
Normally one would have ignored such a diatribe, but the volume and space that these have occupied in the public domain appear as something more than meets the eye. There are countless conspiracy theses by self-acclaimed Indian intellectuals whose perhaps favourite vocation is of cooking up vitriolic invectives against Pakistan, which belies their strategic sense and judgement.
The paranoiac obsession of such pseudo-analysts about Pakistan’s nuclear assets makes their assessments and conclusions rather subjective and bigoted. Well, what are they really up to? Do they taste blood and sense the opportunity to take fatal potshots at Pakistan? Why have they remained so zippy and in overdrive mode?
Perhaps, owing to its international recognition as an important arbiter in regional security calculus, India is ranting incessantly to get Pakistan framed as a failing/weak state besieged by militant outfits with an existential threat to its nuclear assets, especially when Pakistan is going through a turbulent politico-economic period.
The recent Indian swipe by its Minister for External Affairs at the UN on Pakistan as the epicentre of terrorism having fingerprints over a lot of activities in the region and beyond is just another of India’s relentless rant to negatively spotlight Pakistan at the international fora. However, much to India’s chagrin, Pakistan not only exited FATF’s grey list in October last year for implementing safeguards over terror financing but also continues to exhibit its unflinching resolve to fight terror—the recent clearing operation against the TTP terrorists at CTD centre in Bannu is yet another manifestation, which was also acknowledged by US Foreign Secretary Mr. Antony Blinken.
While questioning the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear assets, a doomsday scenario and a looming nuclear Armageddon endangering regional/international security are cast to demonise and vilify Pakistan to an extent that the international community is impelled to defang and emasculate Pakistan’s unconventional capability. Such postulates make perfect sense within the framework of cynical “security-based” realpolitik where objectivity and honesty count for little, as do morality and diplomatic norms.
Terrorism and Nuclear Security Hyphenation
This slanderous propaganda adds more gasoline to the anti-Pakistan charged environment and gains wider currency, especially among the US policymakers, taking on a life of its own, unless demolished right away in earnest. “US remains concerned about Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile falling into terrorist hands”, contends Marvin Kalb, non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings.
As part of a policy continuum, the US over the years have been banning Pakistani firms for missile proliferation and nuclear activity, perhaps to parry Pakistan’s ambitions to join the coveted Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
US President Joe Biden’s recent assertions crown such paranoiac concerns: “Pakistan may be one of the most dangerous nations in the World, as the country has nuclear weapons without cohesion.” However, the State Department issued a quick qualifying statement to placate Pakistan’s indignation, “The US is confident of Pakistan’s commitment and its ability to secure weapons”.
Well, be that as it may, let there be no doubt that Pakistan is a responsible nuclear state and its assets have safeguards as per IAEA standards.
Fact File: Pakistan
Contrary to the general perception, “….nuclear installations in Pakistan are islands of stability and security in the midst of a generally chaotic security and political environment.“ Much of this had become possible due to close Pak-US cooperation in solidifying the current nuclear security regime.
Since 2001, Pakistan, cognizant of the terrorist danger, has taken a number of steps to improve the command and control system as well as screening and training its employees in its nuclear enterprise. Given such robust measures, ever since the inception of the nuclear programme, there has not been a single incident of security breach and this too when the terrorist activities continued unabated throughout the country on civilian and security installations alike, particularly in the last two decades.
IAEA has acknowledged Pakistan’s efforts on nuclear security and the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), in its 2020 report, also highlighted Pakistan’s progress, declaring Pakistan as “the most improved country in the theft ranking for countries with nuclear materials, improving its overall score by 7 points.” Endorsing this viewpoint, research analyst Samran Ali at the Centre for International Strategic studies also observed, “Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities are the safest and most secure in the world, with zero incidents of any theft or missing nuclear materials like its eastern neighbour, India, where such incidents are often reported.”
The insider threat, however, remains an abiding concern. Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, citing the alleged collaboration of Khan Network with Iran, Libya and North Korea, views that Pakistani authorities have a dismal track record in thwarting insider threats. The Khan nuclear proliferation saga has continued to reverberate, sullying our nuclear credentials for mainstreaming into the nuclear world.
Our alleged in-competence, complicity or complacency (3Cs) often brands us as an irresponsible nuclear state with weak dispensation and regulatory controls. Nonetheless, despite the AQ Khan saga, Pakistan has come a long way in solidifying its internal check and mechanism to rule out the repeat of such incidents. This is also evident by the report published by King’s College London refuting Indian allegations that Pakistan entities have supplied goods to North Korea’s nuclear programme in violation of UNSC sanctions: “no evidence was found that Pakistan is involved in onward proliferation to DPRK or elsewhere.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry also ‘denied complicity in Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programme, stating that it has world-class catch-all control system to curb proliferation of proscribed technologies.’
While Pakistan remained in the eye of the storm as regards nuclear insecurity and proliferation, the world almost turned a blind eye to irregular proliferation and nuclear insecurity activities in India and the West, especially the US. The relentless malicious reports, particularly in the Indian media, hence seem to be a desperate attempt by the Indian intellectual community to hoodwink and condition the thinking among the US policymakers about Pakistan. Additionally, negative media coverage is also employed to smokescreen its own horrendous epic of misdeeds on all counts; be it terrorism, extremism, nuclear safeguards and proliferation or its losing central writ that risks implosion from the raging insurgencies.
While the Indians might get carried away by their regal status with a beaming face of shining India, its iconic soft image and an aura of a progressive, tolerant society, behind this illusory facade is a bewailing ethnic jungle, infested with famished teeming millions, distraught by raging poverty, disease and escalating crime which the corrupt, inept and weak politicians and state governments have shown little ability to handle.
Fact File: India
“India is one of the most terror prone countries with death toll only second to Iraq”, according to a report published by Counterterrorism Centre in Washington. Wikipedia alone chronicles 2002 terrorist incidents in India over the last five decades. Isn’t it rather surreal that 10 terrorists evading all the security melted into the Mumbai metropolis on that ill-fated day of November 26, 2008 to not only let lose a despicable killing spree but also kept the elite commandos of the world’s mightiest Army at bay for nearly 60 hours?
According to RAND’s report, “The focus on Pakistan should not obscure the fact that the terrorists likely had local assistance…Unless India can improve the quality and functioning of its entire internal security apparatus, it will remain acutely vulnerable to further terrorist penetration and attacks.” The story on December 13, 2001, was no different, when the foolish bravado of a handful of Kashmiri insurgents, out of sheer desperation of Indian brutalities in Kashmir, made a symbolic yet suicidal attack in broad daylight on the Indian Parliament.
The Indians again out of sheer habit put the blame on none other than Pakistan, while completely neglecting the total intelligence failure that nearly caused utter embarrassment and terrified the 200 trapped politicians inside the Parliament. B Raman wrote that “the lack of accurate intelligence contributed to the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE in 1991, the Mumbai blasts in March 1993 and the Coimbatore blasts in February 1998…and the attack on Parliament House in New Delhi on December 13, 2001 are notable examples of security failures..”
Fast forward, the litany of Indian homegrown terrorist activities/incidents has continued to grow without relenting. The devastating bomb explosions by Indian Mujahedeen (IM) in a metropolitan centre in New Delhi on September 13, 2008, the Mumbai attack in November 2008, the Uri attack in September 2016, and the Pulwama attack in February 2019 are to name just a few.
The Safety of Indian Nukes
One would shudder to think of the possibility of Indian nukes being at risk, given the ease that the terrorists/insurgents can target and fish around for anything they like. What, however, makes it more sinister is the corresponding pathetic security structure’s chronic systemic inability to wrest this terrorist continuum. The 95,000-strong paramilitary Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) under civilian control entrusted with nuclear installations’ security and safety is understaffed, ill-equipped and undertrained.
According to an Indian parliamentary report, 147 mishaps or safety-related unusual occurrences were reported between 1995 and 1998 in Indian atomic energy plants.”20 Shireen Mazari and Maria Sultan also chronicle innumerable incidents of nuclear theft, hinting at the possibility of a lucrative underground market for potential terrorists. The study also raises serious concerns about the state of Indian nuclear facilities as they seem to be vulnerable to a high probability of terrorist attacks, thefts and accidents.
According to a timeline issued by the South Asia Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI), 18 incidents of theft and loss of nuclear material were reported in India from 1994 to 2021 involving over 200 kg of nuclear material. With such a history of mishandling/mismanagement, Indian nuclear facilities are ticking timebombs amid a highly inflammable, charged and agitated society incensed with raging insurgencies of all colours and shades, that count for more than half of Indian Union territories.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh once termed the Maoist insurgency the country’s biggest internal security challenge, and then the icing on the cake is the ferocious terror unleashed by the Saffron Brigade, which takes the shape of ethnic cleansing and minorities’ pogroms incessantly to the peril of the hapless Christians, Muslims and the Hindu Dalits.
The world ought to see behind the glittering Bollywood image of India—its real convoluted dark side that presents a real and existential threat to the region and world security.
While Pakistan has had an impeccable record in ensuring the safety and security of its nuclear assets, successfully staving off the dangers of a lurking direct threat to the nuclear infrastructure, what it needs to be mindful of is the insidious ‘Plan B’ i.e. the indirect threat engendered by the ongoing political unrest, economic insolvency qualms, and resurging terrorism.
The above would be enough of an alibi for the imperialist powers to use the indirect approach to neutralise the country’s nuclear capability through a combination of restrictive measures, leading to perhaps eventual custodial controls. The only recourse to fend off such an eventuality is a strong and stable national government. A display of astute diplomacy and national resolve can conjure up a befitting response, which given the lack of capacity, capability and ineptitude are way too difficult to handle by the present political dispensation.
It’s about time therefore that the miltablishment remove its apolitical cloak yet again to usher in some semblance of stability. Ironic, it may seem, but perhaps necessary to affect the inevitable course correction. In the first place, the politico-economic turbulence was set in place from the day the military decided to remain neutral. Although a catch-22 situation, as much as the establishment would like to keep away from the prevailing political fracas, it somehow simply cannot.
Any recourse however to institute a prolonged technocratic government in Pakistan, amounts to contravening the constitution and reliving the doctrine of necessity—a non-starter and a dream that inevitably goes sour. Let’s hope this realisation does not come too late. Such a setup if enacted would not only further malign the military but invariably will be a look-alike martial law, plunging the military more into the undesirable political business.
The only hope then is in respecting people’s will, reflected through an adult franchise, the sooner, the better. This may also help in redeeming the establishment’s image and yet again establish that the armed forces have always played a larger-than-life role in taking the nation out of the woods—always and every time.
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