Since Pakistan acquired the nuclear capability in May 1998 by denoting six nuclear devices in response to India’s five nuclear tests, Western media has been the most ardent critics of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal due to domestic instability in Pakistan. Also, Abdul Qadir Khan’s illicit nuclear proliferation episode has added fuel to the fire because of which Western media and authors started doubting Pakistani scientists and engineers. The two retired Pakistani scientists meeting with Osama Bin Laden in Kandahar is the best evidence provided by the Western authors in this regard. The most controversial discourses by Western scholars often described Pakistan’s nuclear weapon as the ‘Islamic Bomb’ as a threat to Middle East. For instance, Al. J Venters’ Allah’s Bomb: The Islamic Quest for Nuclear Weapons, Steve Weissman and Herbert Krosney’s Pakistan’s Islamic Bomb: Nuclear Threat to Israel and the Middle East, aBBC documentary on the same title was telecasted in 1980, and the biography titled Dr. A. Q. Khan and the Islamic Bomb of Dr. A. Q. Khan, written by Pakistani journalist Zahid Malik.
The impetus to accuse Pakistan’s nuclear weapon as the Islamic bomb to Western media was provided by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s historic speech on the Islamic bomb. Later, Zia ul Haq also claimed that Pakistan would be the first Muslim nuclear state. Israel was the first state which was worried about the Islamic bomb as it was assumed that Pakistan might provide a nuclear security to Muslim states. There is no strong evidence to prove this hypothesis. However, Pakistani Jamaat-e-Islami senator Khurshid Ahmad is in favour of providing extended deterrence to Muslim states.
Another interesting episode in the history of Pakistan’s nuclear development was the threat posed by extremists or terrorists that might seize the nuclear assets in Pakistan. Terrorists attacked the nuclear weapons facilities including a nuclear missile storage facility in Sargodha, a nuclear air base at Kamra, and a Taliban suicide attack on entry point to one of the armament factories at the Wah Cantonment in Pakistan.
Nuclear expert, Shaun Gregory’s study entitled ‘Terrorists Tactics in Pakistan Threaten Nuclear Weapons Safety’ cannot be ignored in this regard. He argued that Pakistan nuclear sites are located near the borders where Taliban and Al-Qaida are dominated. The security personals with access to the nuclear weapons cycle might be willing to collude with terrorists. Also, the terrorists might get hold of fissile material and nukes in Pakistan. Surprisingly, Gregory argued that the ISI exists with strong anti-West sentiments and there is possibility of connection between security forces and Islamists in Pakistan. Additionally, Philip Bobbit’s study Terror and Consent states that Pakistan army might decide to transfer nukes to terrorists.
The western and few Pakistani analysts’ observation on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons safety and security resulted into the debates within Pakistan, the main mission was how to secure the nuclear warheads from terrorists. Also, Seymour Hersh’s puzzling report increased the anxieties to Pakistan. Hersh argued that at least two occasions the US Special Forces have prepared plans to take control of Pakistani nuclear assets in case they fall into the wrong hands. Pakistani military has already in their minds the pre-emptive strike threat to Pakistan’s nuclear facilities from India and Israel, the Hersh’s report has alerted Pakistan about the possible US attack.
Hersh’s report has not seriously taken by Pakistan, however, safety of nukes is now the paramount responsibility of Nuclear Command Authority (NCA)and Strategic Plans Division (SPD)of Pakistan. The new discourses on Pakistan nuclear programme, for instance, Feroz Hussan Khan’s Eating Grass and Naeem Salik’s Learning to Live with the Bomb provided detailed study of Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine, command and control structure. In Hans Born, Bates Gill, and Heiner Hanggi’s edited book Governing the Bomb, Zafar Iqbal Cheema argued that due to the Export Control Act of 2004, there is no possibility of any illegal nuclear exports from Pakistan. Also, with the help of United States, best practices related to protecting fixed installations, convoys transportation, sensitive nuclear materials, material production control &accounting, export and border controls, and personal reliability programme has been shared with Pakistan by the US. The US is confident about the safety of nuclear assets in Pakistan. The former US President Barack Obama to the US military officials have vehemently supported the nuclear control and command structure of Pakistan. Similarly, former British politician David Miliband and French military official Erard Corbin de Mangoux have praised Pakistan’s nuclear control and command structure. Also, some Indian nuclear strategists have openly acknowledged Pakistan’s NCA, SPD, and nuclear control and command system, for instance, Bharat Karnad and M. K. Narayanan.
However, some experts like Scott Sagan is still worried due to operational control of nuclear arsenals in the hands of military in Pakistan.Hassan Abbas’s book Pakistan’s Nuclear Bomb clearly displayed that Abdul Qadir Khan’s illicit nuclear episode was supported by politicians and military in Pakistan. Also, Hussain Haqqani in his piece Reimaging Pakistan argued that there is a nexus between the politicians, Islamists and army in Pakistan. The followers of Maududi’s version of Islam (Jamaat-e-Islamia) which talks about the political revolution are within the military, scientists, judiciary, academic, and media in Pakistan. Also, Haqqani argued that although Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons, it is still scared of India.
There is a possibility that that radical Islamist type personals might join the security forces particularly who are trained for security of nuclear installations in Pakistan. Also, there might be sympathisers of Islamists within the nuclear establishments. One employee dealing with nuclear installations was caught for distributing the religious pamphlets among his colleagues in Pakistan. Naeem Salik argues that Pakistan has developed a mechanism to identify an extremist person. However, it is difficult to figure out who is extremist and who is not. The facial expressions can hardly help Pakistani officials dealing with nuclear control and command system to identify an extremist person. The great source of alarm is that there is possibility that the officials dealing with recruiting the persons for security installations might be themselves the followers of extremism. Also, the sympathiser of terrorists can easily join the security forces for nuclear installations in Pakistan.
Undoubtedly, Pakistan managed to satisfy some Western nuclear strategists and politicians regarding the nuke security with the help of its NCA, SPD and control and command structure. Also, Pakistan had actively participated in many nuclear summits (Washington DC in 2010 and Seoul in 2012) to gain experience and knowledge to secure its nuclear assets from falling into wrong hands. Additionally, Pakistan has supported the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. Interesting, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative’s Nuclear Materials Security Index of 2014, Pakistan has won the seat in updating nuclear security regulations, to implement best practices and has overtaken India. However, Scott Sagan, Shaun Gregory, Philip Bobbit, Bruce Riedel, David Sanger, Joby Warrick, and Seymour Hersh are worried about the nuke security in Pakistan.
I am also worried due to the domestic instability and the religious-political-army nexus in Pakistan. The Islamists might prefer religion (violent Jihad) than army security during the crisis situations in Pakistan. For some Muslims, violent Jihad is part of their faith to fight against the enemies of Islam. Since Pakistan military has killed terrorists in Pakistan, in response, terrorists started attacking the military units and schools in Pakistan. Also, Ahmadiyya Muslims were forcibly declared non-Muslims in 1974, since then, the persecuted minority community have been seen as anti-Pakistan and anti-Islam. Ahmadi scientists and engineers who were busy in helping the nuclear development of Pakistan were forcibly removed during the Zia rule on the baseless charge of threat to Pakistan’s security. Astonishingly, Pakistan did not acknowledge the Nobel laureate, Dr. Abdul Salam’s role in nuclear development of Pakistan. Also, Islamists forced Pakistani government to remove the renowned economist, Dr. Atif Mian’s name in the Economic Advisory Council due to his Ahmadiyya faith. The minority community is also struggling to save their lives and property in Pakistan because for some Muslims it is part of Jihad/Islam to kill the blasphemers.
Recently, Pakistan’s supreme court has acquitted Asia Bibi (a Christian) after accepting her 2015 appeal against her sentence. She was arrested on the blasphemy charges. The supreme court’s verdict regarding Asia Bibi has resulted into protests supported by Islamists in Pakistan. The Dawn newspaper reported that ‘the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan called for ‘mutiny’ against the army’s top brass and the assassination of the top court’s justices.’ In response, Director General of Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), Major General Ghafoor advised the religious-political parties to refrain from dragging army into the matter and legal actions would be taken in case of any violation. Also, prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan warned the protestors to refrain from clashing with the state. As expected, the weak Pakistani government was forced to accept the demand of agitators to put Asia Bibi on exit control list. Also, Asia Bibi’s lawyer Saiful Mulook left Pakistan due to threats to his life by Islamists. The killings in Pakistan is not difficult as in other states. Politician Salmaan Taseer was killed in 2011 by his body guard due to Taseer’s personal views on blasphemy laws in Pakistan.
The Islamists are powerful and there is a strong evidence that they enjoy a popular support from the public as well as a minor support from the civil and military officials in Pakistan. Former military official, Feroz Hassan Khan has admitted the power of Islamists and their threat to Pakistan’s nukes. Pakistani government can secure nukes from extremists as long as there is a peace between military and Jihadi organizations. Hussain Haqqani’s book Reimagining Pakistan have narrated about the new Jihad so-called ‘Ghazwa-e-Hind’ (Battle of India) that inspired the Jihadi groups in Pakistan to lunch the terrorist attacks across the border. The Jihadists also want the implementation of Sharia in Pakistan and to retaliate the deaths of famous Jihadists at the hands of Pakistani military. Haqqani states that there is possibility of future tussle between the Jihadists in Pakistan due to different interpretations of the Ghazwa-e-Hind. Thus, not only nukes but Pakistan as a whole is in great danger because some Jihadists have claimed Pakistan as part of the Ghazwa-e-Hind, too. Naeem Salik, however, is not confident about the total breakdown of the state structure as well as the complete meltdown of military in Pakistan that might led to an imminent takeover of power in Pakistan by religious extremists. Also, moderate mainstream religious political parties have never won more than five to seven percent of the votes in any national election.
Nevertheless, the historical experience is a valid evidence that Pakistan might fall into the hands of extremists. The extremist ideology is not confined to religious people only, people involved in media, military, judiciary, bureaucracy, and academics are also influenced by radicalism in Pakistan, Haqqani stated. The former president of Pakistan Zia ul Haq was the follower of Jamaat-e-Islamia. Zia implemented the blasphemy laws that resulted into persecution of minorities in Pakistan. The minority communities especially the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community were isolated in their own country. The Jihad policy was also introduced during Zia’s rule. Thus, this is not a distant dream when extremists might rule Pakistan and hopefully, Islamists would prefer to provide extended nuclear deterrence to Muslim states as senator of Jamaat-e-Islamia Khurshid Ahmad have stated. Khuram Iqbal in his piece The Making of Pakistani Human Bomb argued that suicide bombers (young, rural, and semi-literate) are the deadliest in the world and suicide terrorism is caused by religious fundamentalism. In case terrorists got access of some nukes in future in Pakistan, there is a possibility they might prefer suicide nuke bombings, too.