Nuclear terrorism is already here

And Pakistan is at the centre of it

The world’s strategic analysts worry about the how the “intersection of international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction” poses the biggest threat to international security. [See these reports]

The truth is that the intersection has already occurred. In Pakistan.

Much of the discourse linking terrorists and nuclear weapons revolves around the question of preventing weapons of mass destruction from falling into terrorists’ hands. A terrorist organisation can use a nuclear weapon for compellence—to force governments and people to yield to their demands—with or without actually using it first. Mercifully, by all accounts, this scenario is not upon us yet.

But terrorist organisations are already using nuclear weapons for deterrence—exploiting the nuclear umbrella to carry out attacks without the fear of punitive action by its adversaries. That nuclear umbrella is provided by Pakistan’s arsenal, which today protects both Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda leadership and the likes of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. And here’s the rub: the terrorists need not own it or even have their fingers on the trigger. There is enough to suggest that the September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States and the November 26th attacks on Mumbai were both conducted with the knowledge and connivance of the Pakistani military establishment. But even if the Pakistani Army were less complicit, its provision of nuclear cover for terrorist organisation makes it part of the world’s terrorists-with-nukes problem. Why would it extend them protection were it not for the fact that such protection promotes its interests?

The Zardari government, as indeed the Pakistani people who elected it, must contemplate on whether they too wish to be part of the same problem. Antagonism against India and national pride are fine, but they should spare a care for their own future. It is impossible for the Pakistani people to escape the consequences of allowing the military-jihadi complex to engage in international nuclear blackmail in their name.

The world’s great powers have already seen how the military-jihadi complex turned against the United States, its former ally. So Pakistan’s current allies won’t, therefore, rest easy merely on the basis of the military-jihadi complex’s current, non-threatening intentions. It is the capability and the willingness to use that they will be concerned about.

On what is ironic

Further adventures of the moderate Mirwaiz

Speaking from atop his wooden throne in Srinagar’s Jama Masjid earlier this month, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq delivered a stinging attack on politicians who will contest the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections next month.

“I want to ask the Prime Minister of India,” the cleric and secessionist politician said in his October 10 sermon, “whether it serves any purpose to hold discussions with leaders who do not dare move among the masses unless they are protected by a cordon of guards.”

Mirwaiz Farooq’s fighting words would have had a great moral force had it not been for one uncomfortable fact: he is among the ranks of politicians he railed against. Like his secessionist colleagues Sajjad Gani Lone, Bilal Gani Lone, Abdul Gani Butt and Aga Syed Hassan, the Mirwaiz is protected by the Jammu and Kashmir police. In addition, the Mirwaiz—whose father was assassinated by jihadists — has invested in a bullet-proof car. [The Hindu]

Alas, Praveen Swami reports that the ‘moderate’ Mirwaiz has hardened his position, even to the extent of signing a secret deal with the not-at-all-moderate Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Mr Swami’s restates the simple old point—the Hurriyat hungers for power, not dialogue; and that instead of a dalliance with them, India should seriously involve the democratically elected politicians in finding a solution to the problems in Jammu & Kashmir.

What Zardari told the Wall Street Journal

In his own voice

There was controversy and there were denials and there were clarifications. “But since the question of what exactly the president did or did not say is of intense interest to our media colleagues in India and Pakistan,” the Wall Street Journal says “we are posting audio clips of some of Mr. Zardari’s on-the-record remarks so that our readers can form their own opinions about exactly what the president intended to say.

Meantime, six of us heard Mr. Zardari’s remarks the same way, and we congratulate him for seeking good and peaceful relations with all of Pakistan’s neighbors.”

Listen to the three audio clips: on mujahideen, terrorists and wolf packs; on India not being a threat to Pakistan; and on the understanding with the US on attacks across the Durand line.

Terrorists attack Jammu

Infiltration, cross-border firing, hostage-taking, killing…the same old stuff

Terrorists have escalated the crisis in Jammu & Kashmir:

Three people, inclhuding an army officer, were killed and at least five others injured in Jammu on Wednesday by militants who had infiltrated into the Indian territory from across the border under the cover of firing from the Pakistani side.

The three militants, who had sneaked into Jammu through Kanachak border on Tuesday, are currently holed up in a house at Chinore, official sources said, adding that the area has been cordoned off by the security forces.

One woman and three children are being held hostage by the militants, they said. [IE]

There can be no doubt about the intent—to deepen the differences between “Kashmiri and non-Kashmiri on the one hand, and Muslim and non-Muslim on the other.”

This should nail the canard that the separatists had become “peaceful protesters”. It will be interesting to see if the leading lights of the Kashmiri separatist firmament denounce this act of violence. Don’t hold your breath, because “on August 22, Kashmiri separatist leader Yasin Malik and (Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Mohammed) Saeed had agreed to cooperate on the Kashmir issue.”

Update: Look who’s been using satellite phones to address jihadi conferences in Pakistan—the ‘moderate’ Mirwaiz, and Shabbir Shah.

Offence is the best defence

But who says Americans can’t learn about nuclear security from the Pakistanis?

The Pakistani Army’s Brigadier Atta M. Iqhman and Colonel Bom Zhalot are not the ones to take questions from uppity Western journalists lying down. In the Bulletin Online, Hugh Gusterson reports that they were concerned about the custodial security of nuclear weapons. America’s.

“The United States needs to develop new protocols for storing and loading nuclear weapons, and it needs to do a better job of recruiting and training the personnel who handle them,” Iqhman said.

Iqhman added the Pakistani government would be willing to offer technical advice and assistance to the United States on improving its nuclear weapons handling procedures. Speaking anonymously because of the issue’s sensitivity, senior Pentagon officials said it is Washington’s role to give, not receive, advice on nuclear weapons safety and surety issues.

(Col Zhalot said), “We also worry that the U.S. commander-in-chief has confessed to having been an alcoholic. Here in Pakistan, alcohol is ‘haram,’ so this isn’t a problem for us. Studies have also found that one-fifth of U.S. military personnel are heavy drinkers. How many of those have responsibility for nuclear weapons?”[Bulletin Online]

The good reader (“BOK”) who drew attention to this suggested that it is good material for the Sunday Levity series. That it is.

But isn’t it rather rich of those anonymous Pentagon officials to declare that their role is only to give advice. Scary.

Concerns about the crown jewels

Regarding custodial security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons

In the wake of international concerns over the safety of its nuclear weapons (not least during Pervez Musharraf’s trip to Europe), the Pakistani army went out of its way to brief journalists and diplomats on their security arrangements. Gordon Corera writes:

Pakistan has begun to reveal some of the measures it takes:
* The weapons are kept in parts, with the fissile material and the delivery system (the missile) separate from the rest of the weapon
* The exact location of those facilities is kept secret and they are well guarded by a Strategic Forces Command consisting of thousands of soldiers
* The weapons themselves can only be launched by someone who has access to electronic codes

These codes are a Pakistani version of Permissive Action Links (PALs), used by the US and other countries.

“Pakistan has developed its own PAL systems which obviously ensures that even if an unauthorised person gets hold of a weapon he cannot activate it unless he also has access to electronic codes,” explains retired Brig Gen Naeem Salid. [‘BBC’]

As Mr Corera’s article goes on to show, not everyone is reassured by this. But there is a degree of inconsistency even among these three measures: that’s because keeping weapons in a de-mated state, and using PALs to prevent unauthorised use are usually mutually exclusive.

The logic of using PALs is that the entire weapon becomes unusable (or even destroyed) if a wrong password is keyed in. A system safeguarded by PALs requires warhead and the delivery system to be mated. Proponents of PALs argue that such a system is more secure compared to simply keeping the pieces separate. Now, Pakistan may well have developed its own PAL systems (they’ve got to say this, because the arms control regime does not allow the United States to share this technology with Pakistan) but claiming that its nuclear weapons are both de-mated and secured with PALs raises some questions on the security framework used.

It may well be that this is a deliberate obfuscation aimed at impressing the general public. But it is also possible that some weapons are kept in a de-mated state (eg aircraft-mountable ones) and others are secured by PALs (missile-mounted ones). In fact, we should expect this to be the case: for the Pakistanis are unlikely to completely trust the United States enough to completely allow a piece of American technology to govern their trigger. This also means that there are at least some warheads that are at a greater risk of unauthorised use, even if they are locked up in secret solid steel cupboards the keys to which are locked in other secret solid steel cupboards. The risk remains.