[OPE-L:5980] war

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Fri Sep 21 2001 - 13:46:23 EDT


The nuclear threat 

Pakistan could lose control of its arsenal 


West's worst scenario 

A LEADING authority on Pakistan’s nuclear programme has given warning of 
a “nightmare scenario” in which a destabilised Pakistan lost control of 
its nuclear weapons to supporters of the Taleban. 
Any military action against Muslim terrorists within Afghanistan will 
have to take account of that, said George Perkovich, a nuclear weapons 
expert at the W. Alton Jones Foundation in Charlottesville, Virginia, who 
has specialised in the nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan. 
He dismissed any prospect that the present Government of Pakistan would 
use its nuclear armoury, but said that questions about the security of 
the weapons should be high on the agenda of the military planners. 
“My guess would be that the US and the UK are thinking about that now,” 
Mr Perkovich said. “If things go wrong, what do we do? Do we send 
commandos in to get the weapons and take them out in helicopters, like 
the last days in Saigon? Has this even been discussed with the 
Pakistanis?” Militarily, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are its “crown 
jewels”, but valuable as they may be for asserting national pride in the 
rivalry with India, they are of little use in the awkward diplomatic 
situation the Pakistani Government now faces. 
Mr Perkovich said that Pakistan has about two to three dozen potential 
nuclear weapons, all based on highly enriched uranium. Tests carried out 
in 1998 demonstrated that they work. Pakistan also has medium-range 
missiles capable of reaching targets in India, if no farther afield. 
“In normal times, they keep the warheads separate from the missiles,” he 
said, “and the fissile uranium — the core of the weapon — is not kept in 
the warhead, which consists of electronics and high explosives, but 
doesn’t have the fissile core in it. It’s all dressed up and nowhere to 
Assuming this is still true, it would make it much harder for those 
unfamiliar with the system to assemble the weapon and make it work. 
The fissile core, about the size of a melon and weighing up to 66lb, can 
be sub-divided into segments that can be stored separately. So the entire 
weapon can be split into components that in themselves are innocuous. 
“So what we have are a range of different components, with different 
groups controlling them,” he said. “Each part is well guarded and they 
have taken great care to assess the reliability and security of the 
In addition to having the weapons disassembled and safely stored, he said 
that the Pakistanis will have given thought to how they would be 
evacuated in an emergency. 
“The most worrisome thing is the fissile core. That’s easily moveable, 
which is both good and bad. It’s bad because Saddam Hussein could make a 
bid for it, good because it means it could be put on a helicopter and 
taken out of harm’s way.” 
He believes that changes in organisation this year make it clear that 
“grown-ups” in Pakistan are trying to make the whole system orderly and 
under control. The integration of two competing teams, “both run by 
egomaniacs”, into a single organisation, he says, is a good sign. 
Until then, both and missile development were split between the A. Q. 
Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) — named after Abdul Qadeer Khan, 
self-proclaimed father of the Pakistani bomb — and the Pakistan Atomic 
Energy Organisation (PAEC), led by Asfad Ahmad Khan. 
When both were retired in March, the move was attacked by Narwaz Sharif, 
the former Prime Minister, as a hideous conspiracy designed to roll back 
the nuclear programme and weaken the country. He called on people to rise 
up and thwart the conspiracy. In fact, there was little public reaction. 
On Tuesday Dr Khan went out of his way to reassure people about the 
weapons’ security. “Thousands of people are involved in the supervision 
who discharge their duty as a sacred mission and the masses should not 
worry about the security of the nuclear installation,” he told reporters 
after assuming the duties of “patron-in-chief” of his old laboratory. 
While rivalry existed between the two men and their respective 
laboratories, Pakistan had an internal “arms race”, which accelerated its 
acquisition of nuclear weapons and delivery systems, though at enormous 
By retiring both men, President Musharraf demonstrated his intention to 
control nuclear development more tightly, but there are others in the 
Pakistani military who are closer to the fundamentalists, and the danger 
of overstretching Pakistani goodwill is that it will hand the initiative 
to them. 
For General Musharraf, the opportunity to help the Americans carries 
opportunities as well as dangers. He may be able to use it to reduce or 
remove the sanctions Washington imposed after the nuclear tests. 
“The United States is going to have to show the people in Pakistan that 
it’s good to be in a good relationship with the United States,” Senator 
Sam Brownback, a Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations 
Committee, said. 
The last time that was true was in the 1980s, when Pakistani help was 
vital in helping the Afghans to evict the Russians from their country. 
Now the wheel has turned and American aid could start flowing towards 
Islamabad again. 

Copyright 2001 Times Newspapers Ltd. This service is provided on Times 
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reproduce material from The Times, visit the Syndication website. 

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