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Security of Pakistan’s Nuclear Arsenal

A World Concern

For years, the Taliban, Al-Qaida and other militant Islamic fundamentalists have operated out of Pakistan’s mountain region that borders Afghanistan. From these base camps, attacks are launched on troops and civilians in both countries. Suicide bombings and attacks against Pakistani civilians, military and government have intensified over time, increasing international unease over the safety of Pakistan’s 80 to 100 nuclear warheads.

Pakistan’s borders (Iran, Afghanistan and India) are controlled by the Taliban and not the Pakistani government, according to U.S. security experts. From these regions, terrorists launch attacks on neighboring countries, such as last year’s attacks on Mumbai, India.

International concern heightened in early October when an extremist Islamic group held dozens of Pakistani civilians and members of the military hostage at Pakistan’s Pentagon, the military headquarters. A month later, someone detonated a truck filled with explosives at the headquarters of Pakistan’s CIA, Inter-Services Intelligence. The attacks against the military ask the question whether the Pakistani army can protect their nuclear arsenal from terrorists.

Concerned with the safety of Pakistan’s nukes, world leaders have offered economic and military aid to its government. These leaders fear that if either the Taliban or Al-Qaida gains control of even one nuclear warhead, world governments would be threatened with nuclear attack. However, in order to receive any military or economic aid, the Pakistani government must exert more anti-Taliban efforts and increase security measures of their nuclear facilities.

The attacks against the military ask the question whether the Pakistani army can protect their nuclear arsenal from terrorists.

The U.S. Kerry-Lugar bill, passed into law in October, requires that the Secretary of State certify that Pakistan’s security forces are working to prevent Al-Qaida and the Taliban from operating in the country before Congress approves any military assistance and arms transfers to Pakistan. However, this does not affect civilian aid, which was tripled to $7.5 billion over the next five years. In addition to the U.S., other countries allocating aid to Pakistan include the U.K., Israel, and most recently Japan, who has promised Pakistan $5 billion over the next five years.

Many Pakistani officials see the Kerry-Lugar bill as an infringement on their sovereignty, or right to conduct domestic policy without other countries interfering. Pakistani government critics say Pakistan has informed the U.S. of the exact locations and deployment procedures of the weapons, but Pakistani officials adamantly deny this claim, as the release of any information regarding their locations would weaken the security.

Pakistani government officials assert that the nuclear weapons are well-protected. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton visited Pakistan in late October, and told Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi that the U.S. has “confidence in the Pakistani government and military’s control over nuclear weapons.” However, as Clinton is the one to certify civilian aid under the conditions of the Kerry-Lugar bill, she was not well-received by all Pakistanis.

In order to receive any military or economic aid, the Pakistani government must exert more anti-Taliban efforts and increase security measures of their nuclear facilities.

In March, the New York Times reported that hostility towards the U.S. is increasing because of its air attacks on communities in the Pakistani provinces that border Afghanistan. In retaliation, terrorists attack Pakistani civilians in marketplaces and other public areas in the interior of the country.

In his article “Defending the Arsenal” in the New Yorker magazine, Seymour Hersh said he was more concerned that “extremists inside the Pakistani military” might take over the facility and threaten nuclear war. Hersh suggested U.S. forces are not only offering support to Pakistan, but are developing strategies to take over Pakistani nuclear facilities in the event of an emergency.

Pakistan is one of eight countries with nuclear weapons, and along with Israel, North Korea and India, has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The Washington Post recently reported that China gave Pakistan uranium for bombs to help develop their nuclear program in the early ’80s.

The world’s attention has focused on North Korea and Iran’s move toward nuclear power. Meanwhile, Pakistan – fighting to control Islamic extremist groups within its borders – has a nuclear arsenal at risk, making the country’s stability a worldwide priority.

By Claire Austin

Read “Defending the Arsenal” in New Yorker magazine by Seymour Hersh. Click here

Check out “Global Terrorism Strikes India” from OUTLOUD’s December 2008 issue. Click here

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