Pakistan’s security is adequate to deal with the recent attacks on its military installations, including a Sept. 5 threat to the Dera Ghazi Khan nuclear complex, according to former Pakistani and U.S. officials.
Naeem Salik, former director of arms control and disarmament for Pakistan’s Nuclear Command Authority, told Arms Control Today in a Sept. 16 e-mail that Pakistan’s nuclear facilities are “very well protected” and security arrangements at sites such as the Dera Ghazi Khan complex are “adequate” to deal with threats such as the one last month. He said that nuclear weapons are not stored at that complex or Minhas air base, which was attacked on Aug. 16. (See ACT, September 2012.)
According to The Express Tribune, a Pakistani newspaper, the threat to the Dera Ghazi Khan complex was discovered when Pakistani intelligence services intercepted a Sept. 5 phone call between two suspected members of the Pakistani branch of the Taliban, known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban. Pakistani newspapers quoted a military officer as characterizing the plans for this attack as the “first-ever serious security threat” to the Dera Ghazi Khan military facilities.
According to Salik, the Dera Ghazi Khan complex includes facilities for uranium mining and processing and for the fabrication of fuel elements for civilian power plants, but contains “no fissile materials or weapons related facilities.”
Pakistani newspapers reported that suicide bombers were planning to gain access to the complex using three or four vehicles. The government responded by deploying forces from the Pakistani army and the local Punjab police. No actual attack on the facility was reported. If such an attack had occurred, it would have caused “more of an embarrassment than any real damage,” given the nature of the nuclear facilities and the remote location of the complex, Salik said.
In a Sept. 21 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Christopher Clary, who worked on South Asia issues in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, said the record of such incidents over the past two years “does not suggest any dramatic worsening in Pakistan’s stability.” He said that Pakistan’s “remarkable ability to muddle through” is “often missed by outsiders.”
Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Stimson Center and director of its South Asia program, agreed that Pakistani security forces have been “up to the task” of defending against both of the “primary patterns of attack”: attacking “soft targets, like buses, near military installations” and entering “sensitive sites.” In a Sept. 21 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Krepon said the security forces must take into account the possibilities of “more attacks, and attacks by larger numbers.”
The Obama administration also voiced its confidence in Pakistan’s ability to secure its nuclear arsenal after the attack on Minhas air base. In an Aug. 16 press briefing, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States and Pakistan have been discussing nuclear security issues “for quite a long, long time” and that Washington has “confidence” that Islamabad is “well aware” of the threats to its nuclear weapons and has “secured its nuclear arsenal accordingly.”
Clary said that concerns over the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, however, are “understandable and appropriate” because it is difficult for nuclear weapons security in any state to “function perfectly all the time.” Such concerns are even more acute in the case of Pakistan, where the militant and terrorist threat makes the situation “more dangerous” than in any of the other countries that possess nuclear weapons, he said.
At an Aug. 14 press briefing, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that if terrorism is not controlled in Pakistan, the country’s nuclear weapons could be at risk.
Clary expressed greater concern over Pakistan’s decision to pursue battlefield nuclear weapons and the country’s “rapid production” of fissile material. He said that the battlefield weapons are the “most worrisome” and if deployed during a conflict would increase risks in several ways.
During a war, they are more likely to be used, he said. Also, he said, “in the event of a war or a crisis, they are more likely to be assembled, mated, and dispersed, increasing the risk of accidents, unauthorized use, or loss of control.”