The nuclear threat: Pakistan could lose control of its arsenal (from The London Times)

Jim Farmelant farmelantj at
Fri Sep 21 09:44:13 MDT 2001

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
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
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 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
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 storage.” 

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

“The most worrisome thing is the fissile core. That’s easily moveable,
which is both g
ood 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
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
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
of his old laboratory. 

While rivalry existed between the two men and their respective
Pakistan had an internal “arms race”, which accelerated its acquisition
of nuclear 
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
Pakistani g
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
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
Newspapers' standard terms and conditions. To inquire about a licence to
reproduce material from The Times, visit the Syndication website.  
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