The US army is training a crack unit to seal off and snatch back Pakistani nuclear weapons in the event that militants, possibly from inside the country’s security apparatus, get their hands on a nuclear device or materials that could make one.
The specialised unit would be charged with recovering the nuclear materials and securing them.
The move follows growing anti-Americanism in Pakistan’s military, a series of attacks on sensitive installations over the past two years, several of which housed nuclear facilities, and rising tension that has seen a series of official complaints by US authorities to Islamabad in the past fortnight.
“What you have in Pakistan is nuclear weapons mixed with the highest density of extremists in the world, so we have a right to be concerned,” said Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a former CIA officer who used to run the US energy department’s intelligence unit.
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Richard has put together some ideas and analysis from a day of media and public events he organized on the Iranian nuclear crisis. I’m excerpting this part that echoes my own thinking on Iran’s very rational reasons to be considering acquiring an atomic bomb.
If Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons is it to destroy Israel? In a word, no. Aside from the three-sided net the U.S. has sewn around Iran, several Iranian neighbors like Pakistan and Russia have nuclear weapons. Not to mention Israel’s warheads which could strike it as well. And one fact that is insufficiently understood is that Iran is deeply worried about the instability of the former. Within Pakistan, there is deep hatred of Shiism, the dominant form of Iranian Islam. Pakistan is rumored to have funded and founded an anti-Iranian terror group, Jundallah that is active inside Iran along their joint border.
Iranians worry that an unstable Pakistan could fall to the Taliban or other radical Islamist forces who will look to Iran as a mortal enemy and feel free to use its nuclear arsenal as political blackmail. We must recognize that Iran does have legitimate national security concerns to preserve its territorial integrity and social stability. If we address these concerns and treat them as legitimate then we may be able to resolve the impasse.
I suspect the Iranians are worried about worse things than “political blackmail.”
The case for the Iranian bomb.
Iran should be left alone to develop nuclear weapons without any interference from the West.
The Iranians have every bit as much right of self-defense against genicide and religicide as Israel. Iran is bordered by two unstable countries overtaken with violent mass religious movements that have an eliminationist doctrine toward Shiites, groups that operate in geographical close proximity to Pakistani nuclear weapons and therefore – at least theoretically – are at risk of gaining control of nuclear weapons that could be turned on Iran. Leaders among the loosely federated militant groups have stated that one of their goals is to obtain nuclear weapons.
In both Afghanistan and Pakistan, there have been massacres of Shiites. Were nuclear weapons to fall into the hands of these groups, Iran would be at great risk of attack. A Shiite nation defended with nuclear weapons would be an undesirable target because of the risk of retaliation. The doctrine of MAD, or mutual assured destruction, could be a shield.
Salafi, Wahabbi and Deobandi extremists have shown in their sectarian massacres of defenseless and undefended Shiite civilians that they are provoked by vulnerability, and so a non-nuclear Iran would be a much more likely and attractive target than India.
Iran, in its foreign policy history, has always been a rational actor, and despite bombastic comments coming from Amediniejad to score points with his constituencies, I do not believe based on the historical evidence that Iran would commit national suicide by attempting a nuclear attack on Israel, and so this is not a serious threat.
Some of the anti-nuclear Iran proponents in the West believe in oil imperialism, and would like to keep “all options open” for a US invasion of Iran at some point in the future, a position that all well-meaning people of any nationality should find reprehensible.
In an unstable Pakistan, can nuclear warheads be kept safe?
America’s dealings with Pakistan may be increasing the risk of radicalization.
In the tumultuous days leading up to the Pakistan Army’s ground offensive in the tribal area of South Waziristan, which began on October 17th, the Pakistani Taliban attacked what should have been some of the country’s best-guarded targets. In the most brazen strike, ten gunmen penetrated the Army’s main headquarters, in Rawalpindi, instigating a twenty-two-hour standoff that left twenty-three dead and the military thoroughly embarrassed. The terrorists had been dressed in Army uniforms. There were also attacks on police installations in Peshawar and Lahore, and, once the offensive began, an Army general was shot dead by gunmen on motorcycles on the streets of Islamabad, the capital. The assassins clearly had advance knowledge of the general’s route, indicating that they had contacts and allies inside the security forces.
‘No talks have ever taken place on the issue of the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal with US officials,’ a spokesman said in a statement issued on Sunday in response to assertions made in an article in The New Yorker magazine.
Hersh stands by his reporting.
Seymour Hersh, who won the Pulitzer prize for exposing the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War, writes in The New Yorker that the greatest fear about Pakistani nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists comes not from the Taliban but from the likelihood of a mutiny in the Pakistani military by Islamic extremist officers.
The success of the latest attacks raised an obvious question: Are the bombs safe? Asked this question the day after the Rawalpindi raid, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “We have confidence in the Pakistani government and the military’s control over nuclear weapons.” Clinton—whose own visit to Pakistan, two weeks later, would be disrupted by more terrorist bombs—added that, despite the attacks by the Taliban, “we see no evidence that they are going to take over the state.”
Clinton’s words sounded reassuring, and several current and former officials also said in interviews that the Pakistan Army was in full control of the nuclear arsenal. But the Taliban overrunning Islamabad is not the only, or even the greatest, concern. The principal fear is mutiny—that extremists inside the Pakistani military might stage a coup, take control of some nuclear assets, or even divert a warhead.
No conversation about such a mutiny is complete without a discussion of Hizb ut-Tahrir, and despite the dismissive approach of some of my fellow TI front-pagers, the US government is worried enough about the group that it has been discussed at top levels of the Obama administration.
A senior Obama Administration official brought up Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a Sunni organization whose goal is to establish the Caliphate. “They’ve penetrated the Pakistani military and now have cells in the Army,” he said. (The Pakistan Army denies this.) In one case, according to the official, Hizb ut-Tahrir had recruited members of a junior officer group, from the most élite Pakistani military academy, who had been sent to England for additional training.
“Where do these guys get socialized and exposed to Islamic evangelism and the fundamentalism narrative?” the Obama Administration official asked. “In services every Friday for Army officers, and at corps and unit meetings where they are addressed by senior commanders and clerics.”
For more about Hizb-ut-Tahrir, check the history of posts on the group here at Talk Islam.
Quilliam’s Maajid Nawaz rather dramatically recounts his journey to Pakistan as a young Hizb-ut-Tahrir activist to set up an indigenous branch there in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn.
…it is important to remember that the seeds of this current malaise were sown much earlier than today — I know this because I am living testimony to it.
The news of this ‘Islamic [nuclear] bomb’ was what drew me from Britain to Lahore in the summer of 1999, not yet 22 years old. Spurred on by revolutionary zeal and dreams of erecting an Islamist caliphate, I arrived as part of a vanguard to set up a Pakistani branch of the global Islamist group Hizb ut Tahrir (HT). The plan was to radicalise the country and foment a military coup against the democratically elected ‘client’ ruler Nawaz Sharif, so that our future caliphate could go nuclear. I was determined not to let anything get in my way, and nothing really did.
In the current climate of “hyper-paranoia” about extremist violence in Pakistan, this article is inflammatory in the extreme against HT.
Pakistan’s nuclear weapons facilities were attacked three times in 2007 and 2008 by extremists, a recently published report says. The incidents highlight how difficult it is to keep the weapons safe.