Nuclear fear in Pakistan

Pakistan's atomic weapons are secure, Muhammad Khurshid Khan, deputy director of Islamabad's Strategic Plans Division, told a meeting of nuclear counter-terrorism specialists in Edinburgh Nov. 20. "There's nothing to worry about the safety and security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons," Khan told the meeting sponsored by the IAEA, emphasizing that the people guarding the weapons "are not the fundamentalists." (Bloomberg, Nov. 20)

The New York Times reported Nov. 18 that the US is helping Pakistan secure its nuclear weapons in a top-secret program that has cost Washington almost $100 million since 9-11—but Pakistan still refuses to allow US experts into its nuclear sites. The newspaper revealed information it first obtained three years ago but had withheld from the public at White House request. The report came as US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte warned Musharraf in Islamabad that Washington will review military aid to his regime unless he lifts the emergency ahead of elections.

The Times, citing unidentified senior officials, said that the US has provided equipment and trained Pakistani personnel to ensure that security remains tight. "I am confident of two things," former CIA deputy director John McLaughlin told the paper, "that the Pakistanis are very serious about securing this material, but also that someone in Pakistan is very intent on getting their hands on it."

However, the Times was more forthcoming about what didn't happen. The US declined to share "one of the crown jewels of American nuclear protection technology," known as "permissive action links," or PALS—which keep a weapon from detonating without authorization codes. The Pakistanis themselves were apparently suspicious that any US technology in their warheads could include a secret "kill switch," enabling the Americans to turn off their weapons. (AFP, Nov. 19; NYT, Nov. 18)

Hundreds more political activists were arrested over the weekend across Pakistan for protesting against the emergency rule. In Gujranwala, police used tear gas and arrested over 200 Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) followers. More than 100 Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) supporters were arrested outside mosques in Karachi—detentions which were ominously denied by the authorities. In Peshawar, police arrested four Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) leaders and three Awami National Party (ANP) activists from separate rallies. (ANI, Nov. 17)

However, despite the ban on public gatherings, the Islamist organization Tabligh Jamaat held its annual gathering in Raiwnd over the weekend, attended by thousands. The US charges that such high-profile terrorism suspects as John Walker Lindh, Richard Reid and Jose Padilla have all passed through the group. (NYT, Nov. 19)

The New York Times, citing classified documents, reports Nov. 19 the US Special Operations Command is considering a plan to arm the Frontier Corps and tribes in Pakistan's Tribal Areas as a paramilitary force against al-Qaeda, mirroring the strategy used in Anbar, Iraq. (NYT, Nov. 19)

See our last posts on the Pakistan and nuclear fear.