Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Hole in Pakistani Nukes

This changed Pakistan, but for how long will it stay with us?

Ever since Pakistan has expressed its intention to have its own nuclear technology, Pakistan has been up to its neck with enemies trying desperately to sabotage Pakistan's plans. And if that didn't work for the world, they went about the business by demonising the Pakistani state and its assets as possibly the greatest threat to mankind in history. Nonsense! At times we think, the whole world is against us but as a matter of fact, we have enough within ourselves that can easily do what our enemies wanted to do.

The first name that springs to our mind is Asif Ali Zardari, and quite rightly so. However, we mustn't forget that almost all leaders in power in Pakistan have in one way or the other caused damage to Pakistan, so Zardari is no different in that respect. The point is, causing the most damage to Pakistan internally, so subtly that people remember you for entirely opposite reasons, like Pervez Musharraf. One can't write or say enough of the damage former President of Pakistan has caused to Pakistan and more so to the nuclear capability of Pakistan, which is an asset beyond imagination for the survival of Pakistan.

A lot has been written and proved with evidences that Pakistan is way ahead in terms of its nuclear capabilities than most, both in security as well as delivery. However, loud characters like Musharraf and sneaky ones like Hussain Haqqani have made sure that both these capabilities are impaired.

Lets go back in time to help better understand how Musharraf has made our nuclear weapons less useful, if not completely useless.

In 2007, when Musharraf re-elected himself as a President of Pakistan for a term of 5-years, he imposed an emergency in the state as well. But along with all that, he also, for the first time at that stage, assumed control of what is known as National Command Authority (NCA) which is the heart of our nuclear weapons. In doing so, it allowed him for the first time in his 8-years of rule to control the nuclear assets for reasons only known to him back then, but now it is in the fore for everyone to know.

The competency of Pakistan's mode of deterrence was always touted as the best nuclear system present in the world. It was said that, in case of a nuclear face-off, Pakistan would hardly take minutes to trigger its nuclear missiles as the chain-of-command is short and quick. Furthermore, the acute precision of Pakistan's missiles are also second to none with pinpoint accuracy, resulting in maximum damage. Although these facts still very much hold true, but a few tinkering by the former President meant that it isn't as effective now as they use to be.

In 2007, former COAS Pervez Musharraf imposed emergency in the country as he wanted to make few behind-the-scene changes in the set up of Pakistan's nuclear. He did what was never conceived by any one, as he went about disassembling all of the warheads from the trigger and delivery system. At that stage he gave an explanation for such a change by citing a danger of terrorist taking control of the bombs, which frankly is like speaking the same language as our US does. In Pakistan, especially within the army-circle as well as nuclear scientists know it very well that the chances of nuclear bombs falling into the hands of the terrorist is as remote a chance as snowfall in Karachi. Even then, Gen Musharraf carried on with disassembling of the nuclear assets, to which he himself has admitted.

The point being that in a situation where Pakistan has to enter into a war with its adversaries, it will also have to assemble its nuclear warheads with the delivery system that may in all likelihood have to be air-lifted to make it a complete warhead. The head of Strategic Plans Division (SPD), Lt-Gen Khalid Kidwai has admitted to the fact that the warheads are in disassembled state, where all necessary components are stored in secret locations across the country. This means two things; Pakistan would lack the promptness in an event of a war and secondly, there are more chances of accidents and mishaps while carrying to assemble the warheads, which would result in loss of precious time as well as loss of some lives.

Gen Musharraf also admitted to the claim that some information was passed onto the US related to Pakistan's nuclear programme, though nothing can be said with certainty as to what level have those information been shared with an ally that has done enough to make it our enemy. But this would give us a fair idea of how much of the information has been passed on as Seth Jones, a political scientists had been to Pakistan on number of research-related work and has revealed that “dozens” of nuclear weapons have dispersed in or near major cities throughout the country. He says that his visits to nuclear facilities in Pakistan suggest the country's weapons are still in disassembled state.

“I've visited a number of nuclear facilities (in Pakistan) and I'm fairly confident that security procedures are actually pretty good.” Jones says. “The ones I've visited have included sites that hold fissile material and also that hold ballistic-missile technology – where one could put nuclear weapons on and (that) would give Pakistan a range to countries like India if there was an exchange.”

Clearly, what Mr Jones has to reveal doesn't exactly categorise as “some information” as he has personally visited facilities and sites that were always deemed to be inaccessible for anyone other than the Armed Forces. This is a matter of grave concern for Pakistan.

Though the precedent had been set by allowing the US personnel way back in 2003 to settle around one of the most sensitive as well as prime nuclear facility of Pakistan, Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) in Kahuta. The repercussions of allowing US into Pakistani nuclear circle was the news in 2004 that embarrassed the father of our nuclear technology, Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, in front of the entire world. However, since 2008 General Election the present government have given suspicious US spies in the garb of trainers, private security personnel and even embassy personnel special lee-way where they have even installed radiation detection devices primarily to monitor activities at the nuclear facility. A few years back such western diplomats were caught hiking in prohibited areas of Kahuta, who were related to US private contractors – DynCorp – which later became one of the reason for ousting the training personnel residing in Sihala Police Academy, nine kilometers off Kahuta.

Nonetheless, it didn't stop the unwanted cases of infiltration and encroachment as last year in January, Pakistan authorities apprehended US Embassy Personnel spying on the nuclear facility in Kahuta only to be facilitated later by the Interior Ministry to let go the spies without any charges. Also later in the year, a day before the OBL-drama commenced, again four western diplomats were caught trespassing around the restrictive surroundings of Kahuta. The diplomats included a US national and three Briton, carrying with themselves electronic devices, like cameras and laptops. Unsurprisingly, all of them were released without any charges booked against them.

The free-hand given to foreigners in a sovereign country by the last two regimes - one under a dictator and the other under an elected-government - has caused the maximum damage to Pakistan. But in such complicated and thin situation, the attitude of the Military Establishment has become increasingly questionable for Pakistan. While our political leadership has pursued their agenda which clearly favours US interest and pushing the country towards a client-state model, it is Army that has always stepped in to stop, or so we thought, perhaps.

The nuclear weapons that the nation prides in to the extent where they blindly trust their Army to protect the assets, come what may, it is also becoming clearer to many that Pakistan may be that much closer now to lose its weapons than it has ever been. The unprovoked strike on Salala base in Pakistan was one of the way to gauge Pakistan's tolerance level as the US looks to push the limits within Pakistan with their strong presence in various capacity which is questioned by the entire nation, only not to be questioned by the civilian government and the top military brass. One more example of US games against Pakistan is making news where the US House of Representatives have passed a resolution in the Senate in favour of a free and independent Balochistan. The worry is not passing of the resolution as US has a habit of shamelessly brandishing its might in the world for all the wrong reasons. The real worry is, US has managed to play games with a nuclear state at a time when the relationship between the two countries are at its lowest ebb in the history.

According to some scholars and experts, Pakistan is just around the corner in losing its strategic assets for which they have worked day and night to develop it as an example for other countries and it doesn't surprise us an iota because US has stepped up its aggressive behaviour against Pakistan, which casts enough question, not on US but rather on the status of our nuclear weapons. Are they safe enough, more precisely from US? Has US got the hint that Pakistan is too inept and paralyzed a state to respond to any of US's aggression? Are we really going to be denuclearised one day?  We don't want to be too critical of the army leadership though Pakistanis have taken some of the most bitter pills from its most revered Army, yet almost all Pakistanis have been magnanimous enough to forgive and forget the pains and betrayals of its Army. But a question both of them would be asking among themselves, and that is “for how long?” Perhaps, losing the nuclear one day may just become the reason of a fall-out between two entities that have shared the same passion for Pakistan, albeit in contrasting views; views that has steadily widen gaps between them.

Read more on Saif’s Den’s Live Wire here.

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