India would be particularly vulnerable to nuclear terrorism if the lunatic fringe of Pakistan's jihadi forces were to lay their hands on nuclear warheads, While the threat to the US from nuclear terrorism is no doubt real, that to India is much greater because of India's contiguity with Pakistan and porous borders and the ISl-sponsored ongoing proxy war. If the jihadis do take over Pakistan, they will probably have to fight the army guards to the bitter end before they can lay their hands on the nuclear warheads, At the same time sabotage by jihadi supporters in the Pakistan is quite possible that if a jihadi dominated fundamentalist regime overthrows Musharraf, the US may attack nuclear storage sites in Pakistan with cruise missiles and fighter-bombers to destroy maximum warheads and launchers.
For some time now, there have been apprehensions the world over that Pakistan’s nuclear warheads may be made available to international terrorists by renegade ISI officers or that dissident nuclear scientists may help terrorists to assemble crude nuclear devices. The recent attempts to assassinate President Musharraf have further highlighted the extent to which hard core Islamist fundamentalists may have penetrated the inner circle of the Pakistani ruling elite. However, policy planners in India must carefully weigh the facts before arriving at conclusions and considering policy options with far-reaching consequences for the people of the Indian sub-continent.
Reports of joint US-Israel plans to seize control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons if General Musharraf is overthrown in a coup by jihadi forces made headlines the world over soon after Pakistan came under the jackboot again. Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh wrote in New Yorker magazine in October 2001 that commandos of Israel’s elite unit 262 and nuclear-specialist US special forces unit had been rehearsing a contingency plan to ensure that Pakistan’s nuclear warheads do not fall in the hands of Islamist fundamentalists within and outside the Pakistan army in case Musharraf is overthrown in a widely anticipated coup by hardliners. Hersh sci-fi scenario envisioned an attempt by some fundamentalist elements in the Pakistan army to seize one or more nuclear warheads.
Many analysts have expressed grave concern about the possibility that dissident ISI officers with access to nuclear storage sites may “steal” some warheads and pass them on to their Al Qaeda contacts. About 20 Pakistani army officers are known to have been arrested in mid 2003 for their alleged links with the Al-Qaeda. The disappearance of some Pakistani nuclear scientists with confirmed links with Osama bin Laden clearly established a jihadi bomb trail and further fuelled suspicions. There have been persistent reports from the international arms bazaar that bin Laden and his cohorts are in the market for nuclear as well as chemical and biological weapons. Pakistan is seen as a natural first-preference source of such weapons of mass destruction (WMD) for the Al-Qaeda and its many sister organisations. Such a development would pose a grave danger to international security. India would be particularly vulnerable to nuclear terrorism if the lunatic fringe of Pakistan’s jihadi forces were to lay their hands on nuclear warheads, While the threat to the US from nuclear terrorism is no doubt real, that to India is much greater because of India’s contiguity with Pakistan and porous borders and the ISl-sponsored ongoing proxy war.
However, as Defence Minister George Fernandes has stated, nuclear weapons in Pakistan are known to be firmly in the army’s control. These are unlikely to fall “accidentally” into jihadi hands. Pakistan has a National Command Authority (NCA) chaired by the head of government. The NCA is responsible for policy formulation and exercises employment and development control over all nuclear forces and strategic organisations. The NCA comprises the Employment Control Committee and the Development Control Committee (DCC). A new strategic Plans Division, headed by a Lieutenant General, has been established at the Joint services Headquarters to provide secretariat support for the NCA and its committees.
The ECC is the apex body for nuclear decision making and is chaired by General Musharraf Since the swearing-in of a nominal Prime Minister after controlled elections to the National Assembly, the committee now has him as a member. Other members include the Defence, Foreign and Interior ministers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC), the three Chiefs of Staff, Director General Strategic Plans Division and representatives from Pakistan’s Strategic organisations. The DCC supervises the actual development, not just of the nuclear and missile forces, but also of the auxiliary command, control, communications, and intelligence systems. The DCC is also chaired by the head of state and has the CJCSC as its Deputy Chairman. Pakistan’s National Command Post is at Faisalabad. with an alternative site at the Pakistan Air Force base at Chaklala.
It is quite likely that the actual custody of Pakistan’s two dozen nuclear warheads has been entrusted to specially selected elite units of the Pakistan army. Personnel connected with the safety and security of nuclear weapons are likely to have been thoroughly screened and would be constantly under watch. Military regimes have very strong survival instincts and the Musharraf regime is bound to have ensured that jihadi hardliners are ruthlessly weeded out from the nuclear security detail. Also, it could be assumed that the fissionable nuclear core of each warhead, comprising highly enriched uranium, would be stored separately from the high explosive trigger assembly to guard against accidents and unauthorised use. The delivery systems, such as Chinese supplied M-11 and M-9 nuclear-capable surface-to-surface missiles and their launchers would also be based at separate locations.
These storage sites would be well dispersed so that at least some of the warheads survive a conventional air attack. The would also be well defended against possible commando raids. Hence, a joint US-Israel commando operation to destroy or “take out” Pakistan’s nuclear warheads in the event of a jihadi coup appears to be a far-fetched idea that is unlikely to succeed if launched. If the jihadis do take over Pakistan, they will probably have to fight the army guards to the bitter end before they can lay their hands on the nuclear warheads, At the same time sabotage by jihadi supporters in the Pakistan is quite possible that if a jihadi dominated fundamentalist regime overthrows Musharraf, the US may attack nuclear storage sites in Pakistan with cruise missiles and fighter-bombers to destroy maximum warheads and launchers. If it is not carefully orchestrated, such a course of action will in itself have disastrous consequences due to the long-term impact of radiation from the stored nuclear cores that may be destroyed.