Pakistan and the bomb
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Pakistan and the bomb

A shaky state is building nuclear weapons at a frightening rate, writes Asia Sentinel’s Bruce Riedel

Pakistan has the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world. The arsenal is well protected, concealed and dispersed. The Pakistani army makes every effort to deny information about the locations of its weapons out of fear of any falling into enemy hands, especially American hands.

The army is ready to use its nukes to defend their country, holding onto the national deterrent against any foreign threat. But the international community questions Pakistani control: Are the nukes safe from Pakistan’s own home-grown opponents?

The assassination of Salman Taseer – the governor of Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab – by his own bodyguard raises serious new questions about the process of vetting key employees in the Pakistani security infrastructure. And there’s compelling reports that Pakistan is prepared to share its weapons with its closest ally, Saudi Arabia, if Riyadh feels threatened by Iran.

The Pakistani nuclear button is in the control of the country’s military leaders. The democratically elected leadership has only nominal authority over them. If the country fell into the wrong hands, those of the militant Islamic jihadism and Al Qaeda, so would the arsenal. The United States and the rest of the world would face the worst security threat since the Cold War.

Pakistan is a unique nuclear weapons state. It’s been the recipient of proliferation technology transfers, by theft (from the Netherlands) and from others (China), and it’s been a supplier as well (North Korea, Iran, Libya). Pakistan has been a state sponsor of proliferation and tolerated private-sector proliferation as well. As a weapons state it has engaged in highly provocative behavior against its neighbor India, even initiating a limited war in 1999, and its intelligence service, the ISI, has sponsored terrorist groups that have engaged in mass-casualty terrorism inside India’s cities, most famously in Mumbai, November 2008.

Pakistan’s fourth military dictator, Pervez Musharraf, created a Strategic Plans Division (SPD) in the army to provide security for the arsenal. Its director, Lieutenant General Khalid Kidwai, has lectured across the world on the extensive security layers developed by the SPD, for facilities and personnel to prevent unauthorized activity by those overseeing protection of the weapons. The US has provided expertise to the SPD to help ensure security, but is kept at arms length from facilities and personnel. Pakistanis don’t trust Washington’s intentions.