The nuclear threat: Pakistan could lose control of its arsenal (from The London Times)
farmelantj at juno.com
Fri Sep 21 09:44:13 MDT 2001
THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 20 2001
The nuclear threat
Pakistan could lose control of its arsenal
BY NIGEL HAWKES
West's worst scenario
A LEADING authority on Pakistans 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
take account of that,
said George Perkovich, a nuclear weapons expert at the W. Alton Jones
in Charlottesville, Virginia, who has specialised in the nuclear arms
between India and Pakistan.
He dismissed any prospect that the present Government of Pakistan would
nuclear armoury, but said that questions about the security of the
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, Pakistans nuclear weapons are its
but valuable as they may be for asserting national pride in the rivalry
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
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,
of electronics and high explosives, but doesnt have the fissile core in
it. Its all dressed
up and nowhere to go.
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
into segments that can be stored separately. So the entire weapon can be
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 storage.
In addition to having the weapons disassembled and safely stored, he said
Pakistanis will have given thought to how they would be evacuated in an
The most worrisome thing is the fissile core. Thats easily moveable,
which is both g
ood and bad. Its 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 harms way.
He believes that changes in organisation this year make it clear that
Pakistan are trying to make the whole system orderly and under control.
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.
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
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
security. Thousands of people are involved in the supervision who
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
of his old laboratory.
While rivalry existed between the two men and their respective
Pakistan had an internal arms race, which accelerated its acquisition
weapons and delivery systems, though at enormous cost.
By retiring both men, President Musharraf demonstrated his intention to
nuclear development more tightly, but there are others in the Pakistani
who are closer to the fundamentalists, and the danger of overstretching
oodwill is that it will hand the initiative to them.
For General Musharraf, the opportunity to help the Americans carries
as well as dangers. He may be able to use it to reduce or remove the
Washington imposed after the nuclear tests.
The United States is going to have to show the people in Pakistan that
its 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
American aid could start flowing towards Islamabad again.
Copyright 2001 Times Newspapers Ltd. This service is provided on Times
Newspapers' standard terms and conditions. To inquire about a licence to
reproduce material from The Times, visit the Syndication website.
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