Food For Thought

Firmly Secure

Islamabad’s transparent policy about its NCA, SPD, PNRA, NEMS and SECDIV; its practical initiatives to carryout international obligations under the UNSC Resolution 1540, CSI and GICNT; its relative openness in explaining its command and control structures that goes beyond the practice adopted by other nuclear capable states; its commendable Export Control Act 2004; its constructive participation in the three Nuclear Security Summits; and establishment a state-of-the-art Centre of Excellence vindicate that Pakistan’s Nuclear Security is unquestionable.

Pakistan’s nuclear programme has prejudicially been portrayed in the international media since 1970s. Ironically, many security analysts deliberately conceal the reality and twist the facts to generate sensation about the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear programme. The anti-Pakistan nuclear programme lobby, especially in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, has been frequently pronouncing detrimental judgments against the safety and security of the programme in both print and electronic media. Its primary objective is to persuade the international community about the inability of the Pakistani nuclear establishment to protect its nuclear infrastructure from the transnational terrorist groups. Instead of critically examining the safety and security apparatus of country’s nuclear facilities, nuclear arsenal and nuclear related institutional arrangements for the sake of objective analysis; the anti-Pakistan lobby is merely relying on the baseless concocted stories and fictitious hypothesis. Without realizing that a nation which develops its indigenous nuclear fuel cycle and successfully manufactures and tests nuclear weapons is capable enough to secure its nuclear facilities and arsenal from terrorist groups’ attacks as well as from external powers’ incursions into the country’s nuclear weapons’ locations. Though this subjective maligning campaign has failed to cap the progressive trajectory of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, yet it has fashioned negative caveats about the country’s nuclear infrastructures’ safety and security.


The nature of subjective criticism; conspiracy theories hatched against Pakistan’s nuclear civil and military programmes; and above all the fear of nuclear/radiological terrorist attacks necessitate serious analysis of the subject, i.e. safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. It seems appropriate to critically examine the measures that Pakistani nuclear establishment has taken over the past more than one decade to ensure safety and security of its nuclear assets. Therefore, the following discussion is an attempt to present briefly the realistic-cum-objective account of the puzzle to keep the record straight. Indeed, the following deliberation on Pakistan’s nuclear safety and security programme would be useful to provide an overview of Pakistan’s efforts in the field of nuclear security that have been recognized by the international community and various international agencies, including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – a global nuclear watchdog that looks after issues related to the peaceful use of nuclear technology.


Importantly, the Pakistani nuclear establishment has institutionalized highly secured systems, which have been improved gradually to thwart internal and external security challenges to its nuclear infrastructure and arsenal since the very beginning of the nuclear weapon programme. Immediately, after the nuclear weapons’ tests in May 1998, the Government of Pakistan announced its National Command Authority (NCA) which comprises the Employment Control Committee, the Development Control Committee and Strategic Plans Division (SPD) — the secretariat of the Authority. The periodic meetings of the NCA, and briefings organized by the SPD reveal that a range of overt and covert measures were adopted to guard country’s nuclear programme. A few of explicit measures are spelled out in the following paragraphs.


First, the nuclear assets — both civilian and military — safety and security are ensured by the NCA through its secretariat, SPD. Notably, the SPD works on behalf of the NCA, which increases its role in the nuclear decision-making. It is headed by a serving Lt General of Pakistan Army — Director General of SPD — who is the focal person to ensure the safety and security of both civilian and military components of the country’s nuclear programme. Precisely, the SPD is a custodian of Pakistan’s nuclear programme. In addition, separate strategic forces commands have been raised in all the three services. The services retain training, technical and administrative control over their strategic forces. These arrangements institutionalized the safety and security mechanism of the country’s nuclear weapons.


Second, the custodian’s of the weapon programme had established a ‘Security Division’ that today has more than 25,000 trained personnel at its disposal to guard the nuclear assets. The division is solely responsible for the security of all nuclear assets in Pakistan, and has specially trained combat troops to handle various kinds of contingencies. It also has its own academy to provide specialized training to the newly inducted troops. These trained soldiers are far superior to terrorists and certainly capable to guard both nuclear weapons and sensitive nuclear facilities from terrorists’ attempt and external powers’ incursions into the nuclear weapons’ locations. Thus, presently, Pakistan has not only a robust command and control system in place; but also has trained personnel to protect its nuclear assets from diversion, theft and accidental misuse.


Third, the NCA decided that nuclear weapons would not be stored at one place and very few people know about their exact locations. One can count these people on fingers who exactly know about the location of nuclear arsenals. The SPD introduced a very rigorous vetting process for the nuclear establishment, i.e. personal reliability programme for military personals and human reliability programme for the civilians as well as scientists to prevent insiders’ link with the terrorist groups. The officers, who are trusted with the weapons’ location information, ought to be under continuous surveillance by the intelligence agency, which is directly reporting to the high-ups of the secretariat. This methodology, certainly, conceals the locations of the nuclear arsenals and also ensures the integrity of the employs.


Fourth, the critics of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals safety apparatus have failed to comprehend that the country’s nukes are not maintained on a hair-trigger alert. Thereby, in times of peace its nuclear warheads are maintained separately from their non-nuclear assemblies. This approach prevents accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons. In addition, the SPD has developed a fool proof security system such as Permissive Action Link System that is modeled on one used by the United States nuclear establishment. The Permissive Action Link electronically locks nuclear weapons. The SPD also relies on a range of other measures including dual-key system. To prevent any possibility of inadvertent or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons, physical safety mechanisms and firewalls have been developed in the weapon systems themselves and in the chain of command. No single individual can operate a weapon system, nor can one individual issue the command for nuclear weapons use. The evolution of the NCA ensures that no unauthorized use of nuclear weapons could ever take place, yet the weapon can be operationally ready on short notice.


Fifth, Pakistan’s Parliament Legislated an Act in September 2004 – the Export Control on Goods, Technologies, Material and Equipment related to Nuclear and Biological Weapons and their Delivery Systems Act. It was a practical attempt by the government of Pakistan to fulfil international obligations envisaged by the UNSC Resolution 1540 in April 2004. The purpose of the Export Control Act was to further strengthen controls on the export of sensitive technologies, particularly related to nuclear and biological weapons and their means of delivery. Pakistan also established a Strategic Export Control Division (SECDIV) in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in April 2007. The purpose of the SECDIV is to further tighten controls over exports, by monitoring and implementing the Export Control Act of 2004.


Sixth, to prevent the possibility of theft and sabotage during the transportation of sensitive nuclear materials, effective measures have been instituted to fulfil international obligations under the UNSC Resolution 1540. Along with other measures taken in this regard, it has been ensured that specialist vehicles and tamper proof containers are provided for transit of nuclear materials, and escorted by military personnel. It was reported that as part of its international obligations, Pakistan has submitted four reports pursuant to UNSC Resolution 1540, providing details of its national legislative measures to prevent non-state actors from acquiring nuclear weapons or related material, till the writing of these lines.


Seventh, Islamabad is very attentive and actively participating in the international arrangements to prevent nuclear/radiological terrorism. For instance, Pakistan was amongst the very first countries that submitted a report to the United Nations to fulfil its obligations under UNSC Resolution 1540. It joined US sponsored Container Security Initiative (CSI) in March 2006 and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT) in 2007. In addition, Pakistan is also part of the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) process – an initiative by President Obama that had led to three successful Nuclear Security Summits in 2010, 2012, and 2014 held at Washington D.C. Seoul, and The Hague, respectively. Pakistan participated in these three Summits at the Prime Minister level and made significant contributions in support of the global efforts towards nuclear safety and security. Eighth, Islamabad has established a state-of-the-art Centre of Excellence that provides specialized courses in nuclear security, physical protection, material control and accounting, transport security and personnel reliability. The Center of Excellence acts as a regional and international hub to train the people. Pakistan also deployed Special Nuclear Material Portals on key exit and entry points to counter the illicit trafficking of nuclear and radioactive materials. During the Nuclear Security Summits, Pakistan also called attention to its endeavours to cooperate with other states to improve their nuclear safety and security system.


Ninth, since 2001, Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) has been guarantying physical protection of nuclear materials and facilities, nuclear material control and accounting, transport security, border controls, the prevention of illicit trafficking and radiological emergencies. Tenth, the Nuclear Emergency Management System (NEMS) has been established by the government to deal with all nuclear and radiological emergencies. For instance, “dedicated Quick Reaction Forces (QRF) and Special Response Forces (SRF) equipped with the latest equipment and technology, including airborne assets, to handle various nuclear safety and security contingencies.”


The national consensus on Pakistan’s nuclear programme and the institutionalized structure of the NCA and its secretariat constituted vigilant custodians of the country’s nuclear programme. The physical-protection apparatus and custodial safeguards’ arrangements make Pakistani nuclear assets both civilian and military inaccessible to the unauthorized outsiders. Consequently, there has been no recorded incident of the sabotage or theft of the Pakistani nuclear material to-date. On March 23, 2015, Lt. General (retired) Khalid Kidwai, the former Director General of SPD stated categorically at the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference 2015 (CINPC 2015) held at Washington D.C United States that: “I would like to conclude by holding out an assurance to this audience on something I know worries the international community all the time: the safety and security of Pakistani nuclear weapons in the disturbed security environment of our region. For the last 15 years Pakistan has taken its nuclear security obligations seriously. We understand the consequences of complacency, there is no complacency. We have invested heavily in terms of money, manpower, equipment, weapons, training, preparedness and smart site security solutions.” He added, “I say with full responsibility that nuclear security in Pakistan is a non-issue. You have all your national tactical means to verify, but you might also take my solemn words for it. Our nuclear weapons are safe, secure and under complete institutional and professional control.” Notably, during the question and answer session not even a single participant in CINPC 2015 conference asked a question to General Kidwai related to Pakistan’s nuclear security. This verifies that informed international community has confidence in Pakistan’s nuclear security apparatus.


To conclude, Islamabad’s transparent policy about its NCA, SPD, PNRA, NEMS and SECDIV; its practical initiatives to carryout international obligations under the UNSC Resolution 1540, CSI and GICNT; its relative openness in explaining its command and control structures that goes beyond the practice adopted by other nuclear capable states; its commendable Export Control Act 2004; its constructive participation in the three Nuclear Security Summits; and establishment a state-of-the-art Centre of Excellence vindicate that Pakistan’s Nuclear Security is unquestionable.

The writer is Director and Associate Professor at the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. He contributes for print and electronic media regularly.
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