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Whose finger on Pakistan’s nuclear trigger?

Nov 17, 2011
Whose finger on Pakistan’s nuclear trigger?
By Amir Mir

ISLAMABAD – While the United States has officially refuted recent international media reports questioning Pakistan’s nuclear safety mechanisms, saying that its security measures are state-of-the-art, it is the country’s all-powerful army leaders who will have the final say in the use of nuclear weapons if it ever came to that.

This is despite the fact that in theory the prime minister’s finger should be on the nuclear trigger as chairman of the Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) that handles the command and control of strategic nuclear forces and organizations.

Fresh controversy over the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons was set off with an article in the December 2011 issue of a leading US magazine, The Atlantic. Titled “The Alley from Hell”, the report described Pakistan as an unstable and violent country located at the epicenter of global jihadism, which might not be the safest place on earth to warehouse 100-plus nuclear weapons.

Tagging Pakistan as an obvious place for a jihadi organization to seek a nuclear weapon or fissile material, the article said the Pakistani military and security services were infiltrated by an unknown number of jihadi sympathizers.

The Atlantic pointed out three key threats to Pakistan’s nuclear program: a terrorist theft of a nuclear weapon, a transfer of a nuclear weapon to another state like Iran, and a takeover of nuclear weapons by a militant group during a period of instability. The magazine claimed:

In a country that is home to the harshest variants of Muslim fundamentalism, and to the headquarters of the organizations that espouse these extremist ideologies, including al-Qaeda, the Haqqani network, and Lashkar-e-Toiba, nuclear bombs capable of destroying entire cities are transported in delivery vans on congested and dangerous roads.

And Pakistani and American sources say that since the raid on Abbottabad [in May this year to kill Osama bin Laden], the Pakistanis have provoked anxiety inside the Pentagon by increasing the pace of these movements. In other words, the Pakistani government is willing to make its nuclear weapons more vulnerable to theft by jihadis simply [in a bid] to hide them from the United States, the country that funds much of its military budget

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