Nuclear Control in Pakistan

By H Khan  

Pakistan’s nuclear program remains central to the country’s security. The nuclear capability is considered a deterrent to ward off an attack on the country that could jeopardize its security. India established the Atomic Energy Commission in 1948, while Pakistan established the PAEC (Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission) in 1956. India tested a nuclear device in 1974, while Pakistan became nuclear capable around 1984. Pakistan was compelled to test its nuclear weapon and did so 17 days after India began a series of nuclear tests in May 1998. Pakistan was ready to conduct the tests years before 1998 but refrained from doing so.

Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are very closely guarded and are under strict control. There isn’t the remotest of possibility of their falling into unauthorized hands. At times when the weapons and nuclear materials are moved around into different locations, this poses a significant extra stress on the security system, requiring tight control of multiple locations and means of transportation. Hence security may differ in ordinary times and in times of crisis. No one exactly knows the number of warheads in possession of Pakistan. But it can safely be assumed that Pakistan has a number sufficient to address the conventional balance vis-a-vis India that has an Army three times as big as Pakistan, an Air Force five times and a Navy six times. Pakistan’s bombs are known to be in a disassembled state i.e. the fission core is kept separately from the non-nuclear components, but the bombs can be assembled very quickly.

Safe control of nuclear weapons is guaranteed by a “3-men rule”, namely any procedure involving nuclear weapons requires the concurrent decision by 3 persons. This is contrasted to the 2 men rule that apparently exists in various US nuclear operations. In the US though, multiple devices to prevent unauthorized use are ubiquitous and most of them quite sophisticated. In February 2000 the Strategic Planning Division (SPD) was established in order to improve the control of nuclear operations. The SPD acts as a Secretariat for the National Command Authority (NCA) headed by the head of the government that deals with all aspects of nuclear weapons. More precisely the NCA is a “military-political-scientific forum”, assisting the head of government in all nuclear matters.

The NCA is divided into two committees; The Employment Control Committee (that supervises the employment policy and the possible actual use of nuclear weapons) whose Deputy Chair is the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Development Control Committee that supervises the nuclear development program, whose Deputy Chair is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC). In both Committees it is understood that the Chairman is the head of the Government. Besides the Chairman and the Deputy Chair, the members of the Employment Control Committee are the Minister of Defense, the Minister of Interior, the CJCSC, the Services Chiefs and the Director of SPD who has the role of Secretary of the Committee. Other people can be invited according to specific needs. Practically 99% of nuclear decisions pertain to the head of Government and there is no delegation of authority. After 1998, the management of nuclear weapons with the establishment of NCA and SPD became a “transparent institutionalized capability.” This has also the purpose of “reassuring the world “that everything is under control.”

A delicate question in any organization dealing with nuclear weapons and fissile material concerns the reliability and the trustworthiness of scientists, technicians and military people that have the responsibility of handling such equipment. Before 1998, Pakistan’s nuclear program was initiated and handled by few people at the top level. After Pakistan’s nuclear capability was made public in 1998, the need of creating a controlled and transparent structure became apparent. After 1998 key personnel are screened and controlled by various security agencies. This screening was non-existent prior to 1998. Top-level people (including scientists) are controlled by their organizations and not psychologically screened. In this sense there is no such a thing in Pakistan as an American PRP (Personal Reliability Program).

Since the year 2000, establishment of the NCA has ensured institution of additional measures to ensure that no proliferation takes place. Since then the security of the nuclear program has become impregnable. The admission by Dr A Q Khan of being involved in proliferation has shocked the nation. But this happened prior to 1998 when Pakistan did not have an efficient mechanism to avoid proliferation, as at that time the nuclear program was in developmental stage with few checks and balances. Presently, each and every country pursuing an active developmental nuclear program is closely linked to the underworld for supply of critical parts. Pakistan, India, the United States and a host of European countries are investigating the underworld involved in the shady deals to put an end to nuclear proliferation.