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Are Pakistan's nuclear weapons safe?

Monday’s spectacular terrorist strike on a naval base in Karachi has raised concerns about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

Are they really safe? In an interview with CNBC-TV18’s Karan Thapar, Senior Fellow from the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, Rahul Roy Chaudhury; former Pakistan army general and former secretary of defense production Talat Masood; professor at the centre for Policy and Research, Bharat Karnad and the well known strategic analyst, Commodore Uday Bhaskar, discuss.

Below is a verbatim transcript. Also watch the accompanying videos.

Q: Rahul Roy Chaudhury, you have been quoted by the Times of India to say that the attack on the naval base in Karachi raises serious questions over the security of Pakistan’s nuclear assets. What are the main reasons for your concern?

Chaudhury: The main reason is that this attack at Mehran naval base took place at a time when Pakistan is at its highest status of alert following the killing Osama bin Laden and concerns over revenge attacks by Pakistani militant groups. The very fact that this attack took place raises concerns over the security of Pakistani nuclear installations and assets. Not so much in terms of the storage sites of nuclear weapons, which remain fairly secret, but in terms of nuclear fuel cycle plants, research reactors and the like that could create considerable concern not only for Pakistan, but in the region, if there were attack that took place.

Q: To build on that point professor Karnad many people would argue that because Pakistan’s nuclear plants and research facilities are well known in terms of their locations, they are more vulnerable, would you agree with that point?

Karnad: No, I wouldn’t at all because unlike in India and most of the countries, the entire nuclear programme in Pakistan is under the strategic plans division, GHQ, Rawalpindi. In other words, it’s entirely under army’s provision. So far as I can make out, I have been at a briefing by major general Ausaf Ali, who is the director general, plans and operations, so the man in the SPD and the way he described it you have the kind of surveillance that atleast is not there in India.

Q: In other words, their surveillance is better than India?

Karnad: It’s far stricter, their surveillance is more extensive, it is what he call cradle-to-grave surveillance and for everybody in the programme. So, I don’t think you simply cannot have the kind of possibility of people accessing nuclear materials or facilities and so on without authorization. And that’s unlikely to come, if SPD is in charge, which it is.

Q: Commodore Uday Bhaskar, what about the possibility of Jihadi elements getting access to fissile material, which could then be used to make a dirty bomb?

Bhaskar: Yes, I think that is a possibility. My own take on this is that today the Pakistani military has egg on its face because of Abbottabad and the way in which Osama bin Laden was handled and now with PNS Mehran. In both cases, it’s a combination of inaptitude and turpitude meaning that there is some complicity. It is possible even the Interior Minister Rehman Malik gave the suggestion that perhaps there were some people inside in the base who may have assisted and enabled this terrorist group.

Q: So, a leak of fissile material leading to a dirty bomb is a possibility?

Bhaskar: It is a possibility as oppose to the nuclear weapon, which is actually a very remote possibility, whereas the dirty bomb is something that I would be concerned about because of complicity.

Tags: Pakistan, Karachi, nuclear weapons, Karan Thapar, Rahul Roy Chaudhury, Talat Masood, Bharat Karnad, Uday Bhaskar


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