August 16, 2009

Jihadis can grab Pakistani N-arms

Kanchan Gupta

The world's darkest fear, that jihadis will one day get to lay their hands on Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, is not entirely unfounded. Loud claims by Pakistan's effete `civilian Government' and jihad-inspired Army that its stockpile of `Islamic Bombs' is in safe custody need not be taken seriously. Nor should we be persuaded by the Obama Administration's strenuous insistence that the nuclear weapons of America's most-favoured terror-sponsoring country are in no imminent danger of becoming part of Jihad Inc's arsenal. Much of both could be wishful thinking.

Prof Shaun Gregory, director of the `Pakistan Security Research Unit' at the University of Bradford in Britain, has made public the details of three attacks on Pakistani facilities where nuclear weapons are stored, exposing just how vulnerable they are to being grabbed by jihadis looking for something more potent than Kalashnikovs, shoulder-fired missiles and explosives-strapped suicide bombers looking for a short cut to the welcoming arms of houris in heaven.

"The risk of the transfer of nuclear weapons, weapons components or nuclear expertise to terrorists in Pakistan is genuine," Prof Gregory says in an article, `The terrorist threat to Pakistan's nuclear weapons', published in the latest issue of CTC Sentinel, the monthly journal of the Combating Terrorism Centre at West Point, the well-known military college in the US. Pakistan, says Prof Gregory, screens those selected to guard its nuclear facilities to ensure jihad sympathisers are kept out. Also, warhead cores and detonators are stored separately in underground sites. Citing Pakistani and French officials, he says 8,000 to 10,000 members of the Pakistani Army's Strategic Plans Division and other intelligence agencies are deployed to protect that country's weapons of mass destruction. However, "despite these elaborate safeguards, empirical evidence points to a clear set of weaknesses and vulnerabilities in Pakistan's nuclear safety and security arrangements", Prof Gregory says.

"When Pakistan was developing its nuclear weapons infrastructure in the 1970s and 1980s, its principal concern was the risk that India would overrun its nuclear weapons facilities in an armoured offensive if the facilities were placed close to the long Pakistan-India border," Prof Gregory writes. "As a result, Pakistan, with a few exceptions, chose to locate much of its nuclear weapons infrastructure to the north and west of the country and to the region around Islamabad and Rawalpindi — sites such as Wah, Fatehjang, Golra Sharif, Kahuta, Sihala, Isa Khel Charma, Tarwanah, and Taxila. The concern, however, is that most of Pakistan's nuclear sites are close to or even within areas dominated by Pakistani Taliban militants and home to Al Qaeda."

It is now an established fact that the Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda "are more than capable of launching terrorist attacks in these areas, including within Islamabad and Rawalpindi". As Prof Gregory points out, "They have also proved that they have good intelligence about the movement of security personnel, including Army, ISI and police forces, all of whom have been routinely targeted." And then comes the revealing shocker: "A series of attacks on nuclear weapons facilities has also occurred. These have included an attack on the nuclear missile storage facility at Sargodha on November 1, 2007, an attack on Pakistan's nuclear air base at Kamra by a suicide bomber on December 10, 2007, and perhaps most significantly the August 20, 2008 attack when Pakistani Taliban suicide bombers blew up several entry points to one of the armament complexes at the Wah cantonment, considered one of Pakistan's main nuclear weapons assembly sites."

That's not all. "Civilian nuclear weapons sites — those sites where Pakistan's nuclear weapons are manufactured, assembled or taken for refurbishment — are typically less protected than military sites where nuclear weapons are stored, deployed and operated," he writes, adding, "The attacks at the Wah cantonment highlight the vulnerability of nuclear weapons infrastructure sites to at least three forms of terrorist assault: a) an attack to cause a fire at a nuclear weapons facility, which would create a radiological hazard; b) an attack to cause an explosion at a nuclear weapons facility involving a nuclear weapon or components, which would create a radiological hazard; or c) an attack with the objective of seizing control of nuclear weapons components or possibly a nuclear weapon. On the latter point, Pakistan's usual separation of nuclear weapons components is compromised to a degree by the need to assemble weapons at certain points in the manufacture and refurbishment cycle at civilian sites, and by the requirement for co-location of the separate components at military sites so that they can be mated quickly if necessary in crises."

A spokesman of the Pakistani Army, Maj-Gen Athar Abbas, has predictably rubbished Prof Gregory's claims as "factually incorrect" and part of "Western propaganda campaign to malign Pakistan and its nuclear facilities". This allegation is met by Prof Gregory stoutly, "The risk of the Pakistani Taliban or Al Qaeda gaining access to nuclear weapons, components or technical knowledge takes on an even graver dimension once the possibility of collusion is introduced. It is widely accepted that there is a strong element within the Pakistan Army and within the lead intelligence agency, the ISI, that is anti-Western, particularly anti-US, and that there also exists an overlapping pro-Islamist strand... No screening programme will ever be able to weed out all Islamist sympathisers or anti-Westerners among Pakistan's military or among civilians with nuclear weapons expertise."

That the possibility of Pakistani nuclear weapons falling into the hands of jihadis has been discussed in the official journal of an American military college does not appear to have fazed the US establishment. Responding to the revelations, the Pentagon has merely pointed out that the US Defence Secretary and Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen are "comfortable with the security measures the Pakistani Government, the Pakistani military have in place to ensure that their nuclear arsenal is safeguarded". Curiously, a senior American intelligence official has confirmed to Fox News that Prof Gregory is not off the mark in his assessment. However, there seems to be no apparent concern in Washington, DC.

Pakistan is believed to have stockpiled between 580 and 800 kg of highly enriched uranium, sufficient amounts to build 30 to 50 fission bombs. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists estimated in 2007 that the Pakistani arsenal comprised about 60 warheads.

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1 comment:

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