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How Secure is Pakistan’s Nuclear Arsenal from a Commando-Style Attack?

First Published in the International Terrorism Monitor – Paper No. 502 

How secure is Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal from a commando-style attack by jihadi terrorists operating from sanctuaries inside Pakistan? 

2. That is the question which should be worrying security experts all over the world as they learn with horror—-based on visual evidence from closed circuit TV (CCTV) cameras and oral evidence from members of the Sri Lankan cricket team and the British match umpires and referees— how the 12 or so terrorists who attacked the SL cricket team had the Liberty Square of Lahore at their disposal for about 30 minutes and walked away after the attack without the least fear of being chased and caught either by the security forces or the public. 

3. It was as if they were walking away from a golf green after a game of golf—unhurried, unconcerned and totally relaxed.. 

4. Seven police officers, who were in the escort party of the convoy, died in the exchange of fire. Their bravery must be acknowledged and saluted. But how about the dozens of other police officers, who were supposed to be on route security to prevent an ambush of the convoy? The British match officials have said that not a policeman was to be seen on the road. This, despite the Presidential-scale security reportedly promised by President Asif Ali Zardari to the SL team. 

5. How about the staff of the police station located near the Square? Why didn’t they rush out and confront the terrorists? How about the police vehicles, which were supposed to be on patrol along the route to look out for suspicious movements and characters? How about the rapid response commando teams, which were supposed to be there in the stadium and at the LIberty Square, which was known as a vulnerable point since all vehicular movements had to slow down there? 

6. They just disappeared or were not posted at all. In all the CCTV footage, the only sign of police one sees is a police vehicle crossing a terrorist and not taking any action as if it was crossing a normal pedestrian. 

7. How about the road blocks all over Lahore which were supposed to have been put up after a terrorist strike to prevent the terrorists from getting away? 

8. Many compelling questions arise as one gets details of what happened and what did not happen in Lahore on March 3,2009? Were there insiders in the security establishment, who had played a role in the conspiracy? Were there accomplices or jihadi sympathisers in the security establishment, who facilitated the terrorist strike? Do the political and military leaders of Pakistan realise the total security vacuum in their country, which has made it a safehaven to jihadi terrorists from all over the world, who are able to operate at will without any fear of the consequences? 

9. It has become a cliche to say that the Pakistani leaders are in a denial mode. So was former President Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia till the Bali terrorist strike of October,2002. Thereafter, she realised the gravity of the situation and made amends for her past negligence. So was former President Begum Khalida Zia of Bangladesh till the the nearly 400 synchronised explosions organised by the Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen (JUM) in August, 2005. Thereafter, she realised the gravity of the situation and acted against the JUM. 

10.Pakistan has been the scene of repeated terrorist strikes and the spawning ground of jihadi terrorism of various hues directed against other countries since 1981. Till today, neither the political nor the military leaders of Pakistan are prepared to admit this. After the Lahore attack on the SL team, Ilyas Khan, of the Islamabad Bureau of the British Broadcasting Corporation, reported as follows the same day: “Militant attacks in all parts of the world have been investigated and solved, but Pakistan is yet to solve even one out of the hundreds of attacks it has suffered since the 1980s.” 

11. In every major terrorist strike of Pakistan, there was evidence of insider involvement. Some junior officers of the Pakistani Air Force were found to have been involved in the conspiracy to kill former President Pervez Musharraf at Rawalpindi in December,2003. The investigation brought out the startling fact that the conspirators had met in the staff quarters of one of the PAF officers in a PAF complex in the Islamabad-Rawalpindi area to finalise their attack. 

12. Before and after the unsuccessful terrorist strike on her at Karachi on October 18,2007, Benazir Bhutto had alleged that Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the Amir of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), and some serving and retired officers of the Pakistan Intelligence Bureau and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) were involved in the conspiracy to kill her. Saifullah was detained for some weeks for interrogation, but thereafter released without any action being taken against him. No action was taken against the officers named by her. Not even a formal enquiry. 

13. After addressing a public meeting at Rawalpindi on December 27,2007, she left for her home in her car. Neither the police escort party nor Rehman Malik, the present Internal Security Adviser, who was at that time the co-ordinator of her physical security, followed her. They left for home by a different route after the meeting was over. Benazir was shot dead as her car came out of the ground. Malik and other officers came to know only after they reached home that she had been shot dead. 

14. One can go on giving such instances, which show a total lack of control over the security establishment, which has become a law unto itself and disturbing indicators of the extent and depth of penetration of the security set-up by the jihadi terrorists. Many countries in the world, including India, are badly affected by terrorism. In many countries of the world, including India, there are inefficiencies and inadequacies in the counter-terrorism apparatus. But in no country of the world is the security establishment so badly penetrated by the jihadi terrorists as it is in Pakistan. 

15. The Pakistani leaders not only refuse to admit this. Even more alarming, they live in a world of self-delusion which makes them think that all these realities are the figments of imagination of others ill-disposed towards them. 

16. If this is the real state of affairs, one has very valid reasons to worry about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Pakistani political and military leaders repeatedly assure the international community that their nuclear arsenal has tight physical security and that no terrorist can penetrate it and get hold of nuclear weapons or material. After seeing what has happened in Lahore, the international community cannot afford to accept the Pakistani assurances at their face value. It must subject the physical security of the arsenal to greater scrutiny by independent outside experts. Even if this is done, a 100 per cent security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal cannot be assured so long as the terrorist safehavens and infrastructure in Pakistan are not removed. Pakistan must be forced to do so through international pressure.

*The writer is Additional Secretary (ret.), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For topical Studies, Chennai.