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The Danger of Nuclear Terrorism in South Asia

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The terrorist attack on Karachi airport showed that Pakistan’s intelligence had badly failed to provide true information about terrorist networks in Karachi.

By Musa Khan Jalazi *

During the last 16 years, Pakistan and India have doubled the number of their nuclear warheads, making them the fastest growing nuclear weapons states in the world. However, India has deployed a nuclear triad of bombers, missiles and a submarine capable of firing nuclear weapons. Pakistan has also developed a network of nuclear weapons factories, plutonium reactors and nuclear missiles. India has invested a lot on spy satellites, aircraft, drones and early warning radar, while Pakistan has developed spy and modern warning systems.

At present, both the states hold a massive nuclear stockpile and the size of this stockpile has doubled since 1998. Both states have developed cruise missiles and are seeking nuclear submarines. China’s tacit support to Pakistan for boosting the country’s nuclear weapons is considered to have strategic implications for India. All these weapons and strategic developments in both the states mean that confidence-building measures remain only on paper with no one wanting to extend the hand of cooperation.

This day-to-day militarisation of potential conflict, the withdrawal of NATO and US forces from Afghanistan, and civil wars in the Middle East have all intensified the war of interests between the two states. In the presence of all these weapons, the danger of nuclear terrorism, the potential spread of nuclear materials in the black market and the recent threatened control of nuclear materials by Sunni terrorist groups (ISIS) in Iraq, has raised serious questions about the safety and security of nuclear weapons in South Asia. Pakistan faces a series of threats to its national security. These threats come from the Taliban and the likely potential use of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) devices by domestic terrorist and extremist groups. The international task force on the prevention of nuclear terrorism has also warned that the “possibility of nuclear terrorism is increasing” because of a number of factors including “the conventional forms of terrorism” and the vulnerability of nuclear power and research reactors to sabotage and of weapons-usable nuclear materials to theft.

Before entering a deep debate, I want to clear my position: by writing this article, I have no intention to either unnecessarily criticise Pakistan’s nuclear weapons or enter a controversial debate. In this article, I want to repeat my fear of the threat of nuclear terrorism in South Asia. Terrorists may possibly retrieve nuclear materials from India or Pakistan and use them against civilian and military installations. Another development that has also worried nuclear scientists is cyber attacks during nuclear crisis management. Cyber warfare has the potential to attack or disrupt successful nuclear crisis management. India and Pakistan have developed strong networks of cyber armies and have often attacked each other’s sensitive computers in the past.

Cyber attacks can muddy signals being sent from one side to the other during a nuclear crisis. Cyber warriors can disrupt and destroy communication channels needed for successful crisis management. Nuclear weapons are under threat from violent cyber terrorists operating across borders. The main threat to Pakistan’s nuclear installations might also come from a virus or worm activated within the computer. The issue is very complicated. Though the US has assisted Pakistan in improving nuclear security, there are speculations that the Strategic Plans Division (SPD) might be subjected to pressure by the elected government to appoint its favourite individuals within the SPD security infrastructure, as the tussle between civilian and military leaders over the control of nuclear weapons has intensified.

On June 9, 2014, when terrorists attacked Karachi airport and killed two military officers of the Pakistan army, the government stepped up security around nuclear installations across the country — what I had warned on October 3, 2013 became a reality. This was a fresh warning from terrorists and radicalised elements and those whose relatives have been killed or tortured in the military operations in Balochistan, FATA and Waziristan during the last 10 years.

The terrorist attack on Karachi airport showed that Pakistan’s intelligence had badly failed to provide true information about terrorist networks in Karachi. This attack also highlighted the military capability of the Taliban and exposed the gap in the country’s security apparatus. After this attack, Pakistanis are apprehensive about possible daring attacks against the country’s nuclear installations. The terrorists yet again exposed the failure of the security agencies. This is a clear challenge for the SPD of the armed forces, which has deployed 25,000 nuclear forces around nuclear facilities.

In the past, terrorists attacked Pakistan’s nuclear installations. In 2007, terrorists attacked two air force facilities in Sargodha, associated with nuclear installations. On August 21, 2008, terrorists attacked the Ordnance factories in Wah. In July 2009, a suicide bomber struck a bus that may have been carrying A Q Khan Research Laboratory scientists, injuring 30 people. Moreover, two attacks by Baloch militants on suspected Atomic Energy Commission facilities in Dera Ghazi Khan have also drawn international attention to the security of the country’s nuclear installations. On October 10, 2009, nine terrorists, dressed in army uniform, attacked the GHQ. In June 2014, two suicide bombers killed high ranking military officers linked to Pakistan’s nuclear programme in Fateh Jang. This is not a biased analysis and it does not intend to create controversies about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. I just want to draw the attention of Pakistan’s military establishment to the possibility of abrupt attack on our nuclear installations. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan terrorists may possibly attack the country’s nuclear installations as the fire of terrorism touches the walls of the GHQ.

* Musa Khan Jalazi is the 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: Daily Times]

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