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The Prospect of Nuclear Jihad in South Asia

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By Musa Khan Jalalzai *

During the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the al Qaeda sought nuclear weapons assistance from Pakistan

The availability of nuclear materials in black market, specifically in Pakistan’s tribal regions, has put the country’s nuclear weapons facilities under threat. There is concern that TTP, Punjabi Taliban or its allies may possibly attack Pakistan’s nuclear facilities by detonating a small, crude nuclear weapon. In 1990s, Pakistan was deeply involved in nuclear smuggling; therefore, some nuclear and military experts understand that Pakistan is simply a state that cannot be trusted. Director General of Strategic Planning Division Lt General Kidwai once said that more than 70,000 experts are working in 15 atomic plants across the country, including 8,000 well trained scientists, of which more than 2,000 scientists have sensitive knowledge.

Nuclear power plants, research reactors and uranium enrichment plants of the country may, at any time come under potential attack from the TTP and its allies as they have already established a strong network within the headquarters of the armed forces. The possibility of a nuclear attack might be of several types — a commando type attack that might cause widespread dispersal of radioactivity, aircraft crash into an atomic reactor and cyber attack. All would be disastrous. After several incidents of terror attacks on Pakistan nuclear facilities (Wah, Kamra, Dera Ghazi Khan, Sargodha) it became clear that the TTP and other extremist groups can gain access to nuclear facilities with the help of their radicalised allies in the armed forces. In December 2011, an article in Atlantic Magazine labelled Pakistan as the “ally from hell.” The article warned that Pakistan was transferring its nuclear weapons from one place to another in very low security vans to hide them from CIA. The inability of Pakistani armed forces was evident from the fact that instead of transferring nuclear weapons in armoured vehicles, they were shifting them in unsafe vans.

Policy makers and military experts have longstanding worries about the purported radicalisation of Pakistan army, fearing that some extremist elements within the army might support the TTP and other groups to attack nuclear installations. Talibanisation, extremism and marketing of terrorism in the country remain one of the most likely sources of instability in Afghanistan. Commando style attacks of these groups on Pakistan naval base in Karachi, Wah Ordinance Factory in Rawalpindi, Dera Ghazi Khan nuclear base, Sargodha and Aeronautical Complex in Kamra, highlighted once again the poor security infrastructure of the country and the undetected infiltration of extremists into the ranks of armed forces. Indian military experts said these terror attacks were made possible by elements inside the armed forces.

On June 22, 2011, Brigadier Ali Khan was arrested on the charges that he consorted with extremist organisations. His wife confirmed to journalists that Mr Khan was against the killing of Osama bin Laden and drone attacks in Waziristan. Former Director General Inter Services Press Relations (ISPR) Major General Athar Abbas warned in an interview that the trend of jihadism in army and its links with terrorist groups could be harmful for armed forces. The investigation report of the Abbottabad Commission criticised the ISI for its inconsideration policy and regretted that after 2005, it had closed the file of bin Laden and was no longer actively pursuing him. Former ISI Chief Ahmad Shuja Pasha, while recording his statement before the commission vowed that Pakistan was a failing state.

During the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the al Qaeda sought nuclear weapons assistance from Pakistan. Pakistani scientists who helped Taliban and al Qaeda groups were Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, a retired officer of Atomic Commission and Choudhry Abdul Majeed. They met bin Laden in August 2001 and discussed with him a nuclear weapons infrastructure in Afghanistan. In 1999, General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf turned to extremist forces to undermine Nawaz Sharif and he also used these forces in the Kargil war. The army’s close links with extremists and Taliban is evident from the fact that in the Kargil war more than 200 Afghan Taliban fighters sacrificed their lives for Pakistani armed forces.

Recent events in Pakistan and its war on terror, extrajudicial killings in Swat Valley and the killings of Pashtuns in Waziristan and FATA regions has seriously raised questions that now trained terrorists and extremist elements or their colleagues within the army may well resort to nuclear, biological, radiological or chemical weapons. On September 4, 2013, one of Pakistan’s leading newspapers reported a 178-page summary of the United States intelligence community about the US intelligence surveillance of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Pentagon and CIA have focused on Pakistan’s nuclear facilities that might come under attack by TTP and other extremist groups.

However, on August 9, 2013, The New York Times reported Pakistan’s armed forces were abruptly ordered to be on high alert for a possible Taliban attack on the country’s military installations. Taliban and their allies had a plan to sabotage the country nuclear facilities and use a dirty bomb. On September 7, 2012, Pakistan army deployed commando force at one of the country’s biggest nuclear site in Dera Ghazi Khan District of Southern Punjab after an intelligence report warned of a possible Taliban attack. Even a minor attack on Pakistan’s nuclear facilities would change the face of the country. A study (2010) of the Befer Centre for Science and International affairs has warned that Pakistan’s stockpile face a greater threat from Islamic extremists groups. In 2011, far example, a terrorist groups attacked Minhas air base some 25 miles a way from Islamabad, where more than 100 nuclear warheads were stored. In that battle, one soldier and eight militants killed.

A recent report of The Washington Post also warned that extremist groups could seize components of the stockpile or trigger a war with India. There are reports from the US intelligence agencies that during the Kargil war, Pakistan readied its nuclear weapons without the knowledge of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Known Pakistani scientist, Dr Parvez Hoodbhoy also warned that his country’s nuclear weapons could be hijacked by extremists, as a result of increasing radicalisation within the army barracks. “If Pakistan did not have nuclear weapons, Kargil would not have happened. My intention is that it was the first instance that nuclear weapons actually caused a war,” Hoodbhoy said.

A Pakistani civil servant and columnist, Orya Maqbool Jan has recently warned in a TV debate that jihad against India is mandatory on every Pakistani Muslim. The fear of India is genuine. On May 16, 2009, an Israeli website, Debka reported Indian Prime Minister Singh warned President Barck Obama that nuclear sites in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province are “already partly” in the hands of Islamic extremists. Before this statement, in 2005, Mr Singh told CNN that his government was worried about the security of Pakistan nuclear assets after Musharaf. Seven years after this statement, in 2012, Indian government arrested a group of terrorists planning an attack on its nuclear facilities. They were linked to Pakistan based extremist groups, Harakat-ul-Jihad Islami and Lashkar-e-Toiba.

* The writer is author of Punjabi Taliban and can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

[Source: The Daily Times]

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