Friday, May 29, 2009

Pakistan enhances second strike N-capability: US report

WASHINGTON: Pakistan has addressed issues of survivability in a possible nuclear conflict through second strike capability, says a US congressional report.

The first part of the report, published on Friday, deals with Islamabad’s efforts to develop new weapons, while the second part studies its strategy for surviving a nuclear war.

According to the report, Pakistan has built hard and deeply buried storage and launch facilities to retain a second strike capability in a nuclear war.

It also has built road-mobile missiles, air defences around strategic sites, and concealment measures.

The report prepared by the Congressional Research Service recalls that as the United States prepared to launch an attack on the Afghan Taliban after September 11, 2001, former military dictator Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf ordered that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal be redeployed to ‘at least six secret new locations.’ This action came at a time of uncertainly about the future of the region, including the direction of US-Pakistan relations. Islamabad’s leadership was uncertain whether the US would decide to conduct military strikes against Pakistan’s nuclear assets if Islamabad did not assist the United States against the Taliban. Indeed, Musharraf cited protection of Pakistan’s nuclear and missile assets as one of the reasons for Islamabad’s dramatic policy shift.

The CRS points out that these events, in combination with the 1999 Kargil crisis, the 2002 conflict with India at the Line of Control, and revelations about the A.Q. Khan proliferation network, inspired a variety of reforms to secure the nuclear complex. Risk of nuclear war in South Asia ran high in the 1999 Kargil crisis, when the Pakistani military is believed to have begun preparing nuclear-tipped missiles.

The report, however, notes that even at the high alert levels of 2001 and 2002, there were no reports of Pakistan mating the warheads with delivery systems.

The CRS refers to a Nov 5, 2007 statement by former prime minister Benazir Bhutto who said that while Musharraf claimed he had firm control of the nuclear arsenal, she was afraid this control could weaken due to instability in the country.

The report then quotes Michael Krepon of the Henry L. Stimson Centre, Washington, as arguing that ‘a prolonged period of turbulence and infighting among the country’s president, prime minister, and army chief’ could jeopardise the army’s unity of command, which ‘is essential for nuclear security.’

During that period between late 2007 and early 2008, US military officials also expressed concern about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed ElBaradei also said he feared that a radical regime could take power in Pakistan, and thereby acquire nuclear weapons.

Experts also worried that while nuclear weapons were currently under firm control, with warheads disassembled, technology could be sold off by insiders during a worsened crisis.

Since then, however, US intelligence officials have expressed greater confidence regarding the security of Islamabad’s nuclear weapons.

The Pakistani military’s control of the country’s nuclear weapons is ‘a good thing because that’s an institution in Pakistan that has, in fact, withstood many of the political changes over the years,’ says Donald Kerr, Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence.

Washington has ‘no reason at this point to have any concern with regard to the security’ of Islamabad’s nuclear arsenal, argues a Pentagon spokesperson.

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