Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.

– George Stephanopolous
Host of ABC's This Week
January 1, 2005

Challenges for Pakistan’s Nuclear Security

Naeem Salik and Kenneth N. Luongo

The attack last August against the Kamra military air base in Pakistan reignited concerns about the threat that terrorists could pose to the security of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal. There is no doubt that recent attacks on military targets in Pakistan have increased in number and boldness. So far, however, the targets of the attacks have not been military installations that contain nuclear weapons or components.

Yet, the confluence of increased terrorist activity in Pakistan, the country’s ongoing political instability, and the growing size of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal is increasing the challenge to Pakistan’s nuclear security. The number of facilities and people that produce and use sensitive nuclear materials and technologies in Pakistan is increasing, raising the bar for personnel screening and infrastructure protection. Last summer, there was a reported threat by the Taliban to attack the nuclear complex at Dera Ghazi Khan, a remote town in southern Punjab, but the attack failed to materialize.

Since 2001, Pakistan, cognizant of the terrorist danger, has taken a number of steps to improve the command and control system for its nuclear assets and the screening and training of employees in its nuclear enterprise. As with all security systems, constant vigilance and a culture of continuous improvement are important to deter and, if necessary, respond to threats.

The U.S. government has put forth a message of reassurance regarding Pakistan’s nuclear security. President Barack Obama and top administration officials have consistently said since 2009 that they have confidence that Pakistan takes its security mission seriously and that its physical protection and training are adequate and improving.[1] This is in part a result of collaboration between the Pakistani and U.S. governments on best practices for the security of Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure. These interactions have led to better training and equipment.

Despite these assurances, a number of specialists around the world remain skeptical of the security steps that Pakistan has taken. There are several explanations for this perspective. One is that foreign experts and journalists have highlighted the danger when reporting on Pakistan’s nuclear program.[2] Also, within the country, the media, politicians, and anti-nuclear activists raised a number of questions about the ability of the Pakistani nuclear security establishment to protect and defend its nuclear assets against an intruding force in the wake of the Osama bin Laden raid at Abbottabad by U.S. special forces in May 2011.[3]

In an article written after a 2009 visit to Pakistan, former U.S. Department of Defense official Lawrence J. Korb recounted various doomsday scenarios for Pakistan and argued that “given the strategic location of Pakistan and the fact that it has nuclear weapons, it’s easy to see why some might embrace a worst-case scenario. But based on my visit, I don’t buy it at this time.”[4] Although made four years ago, his point is still valid; the situation on ground is not as bad as it may appear to distant observers.

Yet, there is much that the U.S. and other governments do not know about the Pakistani nuclear arsenal, despite closer cooperation, especially between the United States and Pakistan, over the past decade. The overarching reason for the recurring concerns is the prevailing internal security situation in Pakistan. The nightmare scenario is that, in the event of a political collapse in Pakistan, things could spiral out of control and even the best training and equipment could not be relied on to keep terrorists away from Pakistan’s weapons.

Understandably, distant observers will find it difficult to accept the notion that the nuclear installations in Pakistan are islands of stability and security in the midst of a generally chaotic security and political environment, especially when so little information on Pakistan’s nuclear security regime is available. This is a major reason why the recent attacks on military bases have raised alarm about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure.

The Kamra Air Base Attack

The Taliban attack in August 2012 on the Pakistani air force base at Kamra, northwest of Islamabad, made headlines in the international media and renewed concerns about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.[5] Many news reports speculated about the presence of at least a part of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal being at the base.[6] Despite the reporting, the Kamra base does not have nuclear weapons. A Pakistani government spokesman denied that any nuclear weapons were stored at the base, and U.S. military and diplomatic officials ruled out the possibility that the attack on the base posed any threat to nuclear weapons.[7]

The August attack was the third on the Kamra base and the most threatening so far. The target of the first attack, in December 2007, was a school bus carrying children of base employees on a public highway outside the base. In the second attack, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the main entrance to the base.

The August attack was carried out by nine militants who breached the perimeter fence but could not penetrate much farther due to timely response by the security forces. All of the attackers were killed during the ensuing shoot-out.

The base houses a major aeronautical complex with facilities for production of avionics equipment and the overhaul and assembly of aircraft, including jet trainers and the JF-17 Thunder, which China and Pakistan jointly developed. At the time of the August attack, some aircraft with airborne warning and control systems were parked on a tarmac that suffered some damage from rocket-propelled grenades fired by the militants.

A recent attack by Afghan Taliban on Camp Bastion, a British military base in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, has proven that even a facility located in a desolate area and protected with some of the most sophisticated sensors can be penetrated. The attackers destroyed five aircraft worth millions of dollars at a base that some have described as the safest place on earth.

Pakistani air bases cover a large area protected by barbed wire fences, which are not too difficult for an organized and determined attacker to breach. The aircraft parked on the runway are soft targets that can be observed from a distance and hit with relatively unsophisticated weapons. In addition, it should be kept in mind that the objective of the suicide bombers is to cause maximum damage, not to seize equipment or materials.

Pursuing Nuclear Security

In an address at the United Nations last September, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said that her country takes nuclear security “very seriously.”[8] Islamabad’s efforts in the 15 years since its 1998 nuclear tests give some support to that claim.

In February 2000, Pakistan announced the establishment of a National Command Authority (NCA), with the Strategic Plans Division (SPD) as its permanent secretariat. The responsibilities of the NCA include deploying and employing the nuclear force, coordinating Pakistan’s strategic organizations, dealing with arms control and disarmament issues, and overseeing implementation of export controls and the safety and security of nuclear installations and materials.

The NCA has a three-tiered structure with two committees. The Employment Control Committee and the Developmental Control Committee constitute the first tier, the SPD the second tier, and the three services’ strategic force commands the third tier. The SPD is responsible for the daily management of Pakistan’s strategic assets, coordinating with all strategic organizations and overseeing the budgetary and administrative aspects of these organizations. The primary responsibility of the services’ strategic force commands is to exercise technical, training, and administrative control over the strategic delivery systems. Operational control, however, rests with the NCA.

Islamabad also established the autonomous Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) in January 2001. In 2004, comprehensive export control legislation was promulgated, with control lists meeting the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Missile Technology Control Regime, and Australia Group, which covers exports that are potentially relevant to biological or chemical weapons. Since then, rules and regulations and administrative structures have been developed for the effective implementation of the export control law.[9]

In late 2007, an NCA ordinance was issued to regulate the functioning of strategic organizations such as the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and the Khan Research Laboratories, which have played a central role in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. The ordinance also specified criminal activities and the legal powers and procedures to deal with any infringements of the law. The ordinance was passed as an act of parliament in 2010.

From the perspective of nuclear security, however, the most significant organization is the security division of the NCA. The organization has grown exponentially over the years from a very modest beginning and is headed by a two-star general, who currently has 20,000 personnel under his command. This strength is projected to reach a total of 28,000 men in the next few years. The division is responsible for the physical security of all sensitive nuclear sites through a layered system of defense with inner and outer perimeters augmented by electronic sensors and counterintelligence teams. It screens all personnel inducted into any component of the strategic program in concert with other intelligence agencies in the country. It also administers an improved and rigorous Personnel Reliability Programme.

It is useful to recount some of the most significant developments of the NCA Security Division. Initially, the division’s security force comprised mostly retired military personnel. More recently, however, it set up a state-of-the-art training academy in Kalar Kahar, comparable to the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration’s academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The new Pakistani academy provides specially selected Pakistani recruits with training similar to that given to the special forces. These recruits have become the backbone of the nuclear security force and gradually will replace most of the retired military personnel. Through field exercises and war games, Pakistan regularly tests the capabilities of the upgraded security force.

The SPD training academy also is going to house a mock nuclear facility that is being designed and built in collaboration with the PNRA. This will become a “center of excellence” for security forces training and, under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), will offer training facilities to other countries.[10]

The security division also has constituted an elite response force and an emergency response center at its headquarters in Rawalpindi to deal with an emergency at any nuclear facility. It has installed radiation detection monitors at various entry and exit points. These portal monitors are in addition to the ones installed by the PNRA.[11]

Pakistan also has taken steps to improve nuclear safety. In his address to the annual IAEA General Conference in Vienna last September, PAEC Chairman Ansar Parvez said Pakistan had been “actively engaged in absorbing lessons” from the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima nuclear reactor complex in Japan. The PAEC has “identified a comprehensive set of safety retrofits” that are “in various stages of implementation,” he said.[12]

The PNRA has set up the School for Radiation and Nuclear Safety, where it holds regular courses, workshops, and tabletop exercises to train first responders in handling a radiation emergency. It includes the customs service and other border control agencies. The PNRA also has established a National Radiation Emergency Coordination Center at its headquarters in Islamabad and has put in place the national Nuclear Safety Action Plan to guide the organizations acting as first responders to a nuclear or radiological emergency.

The Pakistan Institute of Engineering and Applied Sciences has introduced master’s degree-level courses with a specialization in nuclear safety, mainly, to train new PNRA personnel. Pakistan also has benefited from cooperation and exchanges of information on best practices with friendly countries, including the United States, and has maintained a vibrant, cooperative relationship with the IAEA.

Participation in Global Efforts

Despite an impressive inventory of actions, Pakistani efforts to provide information about all these developments domestically and internationally have not been adequate. This has contributed to the continued skepticism about Islamabad’s ability to protect its nuclear assets.

Yet, one avenue through which Pakistan has been able to play an active role in advocating for and taking action on global nuclear security issues is the nuclear security summit process, in which Pakistan is one of the more than 50 countries that have participated. There have been two nuclear summits, in Washington in 2010 and in Seoul in 2012. A third is planned for The Hague in 2014.

Participants at the summits endorsed a number of important steps, including President Barack Obama’s goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear material in four years. The national leaders who attended the summits underscored the importance of maintaining effective security over all nuclear materials on their territory; encouraged the conversion of reactors that use highly enriched uranium (HEU) to low-enriched uranium; and recognized the importance of the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism and the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and its 2005 amendment. (The amendment would extend protection requirements beyond the original agreement, which covers nuclear material while in international transport, by expanding the coverage to apply to nuclear facilities and to materials in peaceful domestic use and storage.) Pakistan has acceded to the convention on physical protection but not to the 2005 amendment or the nuclear terrorism convention.[13]

Summit participants also supported full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires all countries to enact legislation to prevent the proliferation of nonconventional weapons and their means of delivery, and recognized the continuing importance of the IAEA and its nuclear material security guidelines and activities. The participants also supported the actions of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT). Other ambitious objectives of the summits included the removal and disposal of nuclear materials no longer needed for operational activities and the minimization of the civilian use of HEU. The participants also agreed to consider plans to consolidate nuclear material at fewer national storage sites.

Pakistan has submitted four reports to the UN committee overseeing the implementation of Resolution 1540, thus meeting an international nuclear nonproliferation and security obligation that a number of countries have not met. Islamabad is an active participant in the GICNT, especially on issues related to nuclear forensics and efforts to upgrade the international community’s ability to detect nuclear and other radioactive materials in order to prevent nuclear trafficking.

At the Washington and Seoul summits, individual countries made commitments to improving domestic regimes for nuclear security. Approximately 80 percent of these national commitments were fulfilled between 2010 and 2012.[14] Pakistan did not make any unilateral commitments at the 2010 summit, but it did at the summit in 2012, when it pledged to open a nuclear security training center and signed the Joint Statement on Nuclear Security Training and Support Centers. The center is intended to serve as a regional and international hub for training in nuclear security; in the joint statement, Pakistan joined with 22 other countries in forming what will amount to an international network on that issue.

In Seoul, Pakistan also agreed to continue deploying portal monitors to detect special nuclear material as a means of impeding the illicit trafficking of nuclear and radioactive materials. In addition, it offered to provide nuclear safety and security assistance under IAEA auspices to interested states.

In its progress report at the Seoul summit, Pakistan noted its steps to improve export controls, secure radiological sources, and prevent nuclear smuggling. In these areas, it revised its national export control lists and operates mobile laboratories for technical assistance to law enforcement and first responders. Pakistan also reported that, under its renewed Nuclear Security Action Plan, originally established in 2006, it is upgrading the physical security at its 11 nuclear medical centers. Medical facilities utilize high-intensity radioactive sources that can be used in a “dirty bomb.”

Pakistan has taken a number of actions related to nuclear security and safety beyond those it pledged at the summits. It has intensified collaboration with the IAEA by joining “collaborating centers,” which are designed to standardize technology, disseminate information, and facilitate research and learning on a range of issues related to IAEA activities, including nuclear safety and security. It also is participating in the development of the IAEA Nuclear Safety Action Plan.

It has incorporated some of the lessons of the Fukushima accident, including holding an international seminar on nuclear safety and security and developing a radiation emergency response mechanism and a Nuclear Security Emergency Coordination Center. It also is considering a program for upgrading physical protection of civilian nuclear power plants.

It is not yet clear how the Pakistani steps on nuclear security and safety should be seen. On one hand, if they represent the limits of Pakistan’s movement toward transparency and cooperation, they are disappointing. On the other hand, they represent an evolution from Pakistan’s previous opaqueness, and that may lead to further progress.


Pakistan is located in a very dangerous neighborhood; it has a history of political instability; and terrorist activity in and around the country remains significant. Control of the nuclear program resides primarily with military authorities, which are not very transparent about nuclear security and weapons operations. There is only modest civilian oversight.

These distinguishing features make the security of the Pakistani nuclear weapons program and its infrastructure a global concern, which is unlikely to diminish anytime soon. As a result, all acts of terrorism in the country, especially those directed at military targets, are going to raise concerns and invite scrutiny and skepticism of official assurances of control.

Pakistan has taken its responsibility for nuclear security seriously. It has collaborated with the United States on best practices, training, and personnel screening. It is participating in international forums devoted to preventing nuclear terrorism and improving nuclear security. It has made strides domestically to improve the legal and regulatory system for preventing proliferation of sensitive materials and technologies. Not least, the authorities in Pakistan, the first Islamic country to possess a nuclear weapon, recognize that the nuclear weapons program is deeply intertwined with national identity and that security of its nuclear infrastructure is a top priority. Domestically or internationally, it cannot afford a loss of control. Yet, there is more that Pakistan can and should do to provide confidence to the international community that its nuclear program employs the highest level of safety and security.

First, there is the need to accept all international instruments that underpin the current nuclear security regime, including the nuclear terrorism convention and the 2005 amendment to the convention on physical protection. Also, as the Fukushima nuclear accident highlighted, the decision by any country, developed or developing, to remain insular and opaque on matters of nuclear safety and security can be harmful to that country and its neighbors.

Although the sovereign control of nuclear assets remains the dominant model at present, there is an increasing recognition that countries have an international responsibility to prevent the unauthorized release of radiation or the theft of materials from their facilities. Both dangers directly affect other countries. These concepts of sovereignty and international responsibility should not be in competition. Both are important and need to be balanced.

There should be a commitment to the highest levels of nuclear security at home and a willingness to provide nonsensitive information on these actions to the global community. This process could begin with the actions listed above, first as a voluntary activity and then evolving into a codified requirement for all countries over time. These steps offer the best combination of assurances and can improve international confidence in Pakistan’s nuclear security.

Naeem Salik, a retired general in the Pakistani army, served as director of arms control and disarmament affairs at the Strategic Plans Division of Pakistan’s National Command Authority from 2001 to 2005. He currently is a Ph.D. candidate in political science and international relations at the University of Western Australia. Kenneth N. Luongo is president of the Partnership for Global Security and a former senior adviser on nonproliferation policy to the U.S. secretary of energy.


1. Lawrence J. Korb, “The Security of Pakistan’s Nuclear Arsenal,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May 19, 2009, http://www.thebulletin.org/web-edition/features/the-security-of-pakistans-nuclear-arsenal. See “President Obama’s 100th-Day Press Briefing,” The New York Times, April 29, 2009; General David H. Petraeus, interview with Chris Wallace, Fox News Sunday, Fox, May 10, 2009, http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2009/05/10/fox_news_sunday_david_petraeus_96429.html; “Pak Nukes Safely Guarded, Says Narayanan,” Press Trust of India, December 16, 2007, http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/Pak+nukes+safely+guarded,+says+Narayanan/1/2524.html.

2. Michael Krepon, “Sy Hersh and Pakistan’s Nukes,” Arms Control Wonk, November 19, 2009, http://krepon.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/2539/sy-hersh-and-pakistans-nukes; Ejaz Haider, “Leave Us Alone and Worry About Yourself!” Daily Times (Pakistan), January 13, 2009. See Joby Warrick, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Security Questioned,” The Washington Post, November 11, 2007; David E. Sanger, “Trust Us: So, What About Those Nukes?” The New York Times, November 11, 2007.

3. Jane Perlez, “Pakistan Army Under Scrutiny After U.S. Raid,” The New York Times, May 5, 2011; Zahid Hussain, Matthew Rosenberg, and Jeremy Page, “After Raid, Confused Response,” The Wall Street Journal, May 9, 2011.

4. Korb, “The Security of Pakistan’s Nuclear Arsenal.”

5. Declan Walsh, “Pakistani Air Force Base With Nuclear Ties Is Attacked,” The New York Times, August 15, 2012. See Shaiq Hussain, “Militants Storm Pakistan Air Base,” The Washington Post, August 16, 2012; Kelsey Davenport, “Militants Attack Pakistani Base,” Arms Control Today, September 2012.

6. An example is Walsh, “Pakistani Air Force Base With Nuclear Ties Is Attacked.”

7. Davenport, “Militants Attack Pakistani Base”; Kelsey Davenport and Marcus Taylor, “Pakistani Security Called Adequate,” Arms Control Today, October 2012.

8. “Pakistan Security Brief,” AEI Critical Threats, October 1, 2012, http://www.criticalthreats.org/pakistan-security-brief/pakistan-security-brief-october-1-2012-0; “Pakistani Minister Insists Nuclear Weapons Are Under Tightest Protections,” Global Security Newswire, October 2, 2012, http://www.nti.org/gsn/article/pakistani-minister-insists-nuclear-weapons-are-under-tightest-protections/. See “Pakistan’s Nuclear Programme Fully Secure: FM Khar,” Associated Press of Pakistan, September 29, 2012.

9. For details of the National Command Authority (NCA) and the salient points about the export control law, see Kenneth N. Luongo and Naeem Salik, “Building Confidence in Pakistan’s Nuclear Security,” Arms Control Today, December 2007.

10. Strategic Plans Division officials, conversations with Naeem Salik, Kalar Kahar, Pakistan, August 8, 2012.

11. NCA Security Division senior officials, interview with Naeem Salik, Rawalpindi, August 6, 2012.

12. “Purchase of Safety-Related Nuclear Equipment: Pakistan Slams Curbs by Some Countries,” Dawn, September 19, 2012, http://dawn.com/2012/09/19/purchase-of-safety-related-nuclear-equipment-pakistan-slams-curbs-by-some-countries/.

13. Among states with nuclear weapons, France, Israel, North Korea, and the United States also have not ratified the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism or the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material.

14. Michelle Cann, “2010 Nuclear Security Summit National Commitment Implementation,” U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS, March 2012, http://uskoreainstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/USKI_NSS2012_Cann.pdf.

The attack last August against the Kamra military air base in Pakistan reignited concerns about the threat that terrorists could pose to the security of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal. There is no doubt that recent attacks on military targets in Pakistan have increased in number and boldness. So far, however, the targets of the attacks have not been military installations that contain nuclear weapons or components.


Nuclear North Korea: the View from Seoul

Robert Gallucci, former U.S. negotiator with North Korea at the 2013 Asan Nuclear Forum. By Kelsey Davenport ( Seoul, Republic of Korea )—North Korea's third nuclear test on Feb. 12 sparked concern in the international community about possible qualitative and quantitative improvements to Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal. But concerns about an increasing number of nuclear weapons on the Peninsula should not solely be limited to the North. Recent polling data collected by the Asan Institute indicates that the majority of South Korean favor acquiring their own nuclear arsenal. A public opinion poll...

Pakistani Security Called Adequate

Kelsey Davenport and Marcus Taylor

Pakistan’s security is adequate to deal with the recent attacks on its military installations, including a Sept. 5 threat to the Dera Ghazi Khan nuclear complex, according to former Pakistani and U.S. officials.

Naeem Salik, former director of arms control and disarmament for Pakistan’s Nuclear Command Authority, told Arms Control Today in a Sept. 16 e-mail that Pakistan’s nuclear facilities are “very well protected” and security arrangements at sites such as the Dera Ghazi Khan complex are “adequate” to deal with threats such as the one last month. He said that nuclear weapons are not stored at that complex or Minhas air base, which was attacked on Aug. 16. (See ACT, September 2012.)

According to The Express Tribune, a Pakistani newspaper, the threat to the Dera Ghazi Khan complex was discovered when Pakistani intelligence services intercepted a Sept. 5 phone call between two suspected members of the Pakistani branch of the Taliban, known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban. Pakistani newspapers quoted a military officer as characterizing the plans for this attack as the “first-ever serious security threat” to the Dera Ghazi Khan military facilities.

According to Salik, the Dera Ghazi Khan complex includes facilities for uranium mining and processing and for the fabrication of fuel elements for civilian power plants, but contains “no fissile materials or weapons related facilities.”

Pakistani newspapers reported that suicide bombers were planning to gain access to the complex using three or four vehicles. The government responded by deploying forces from the Pakistani army and the local Punjab police. No actual attack on the facility was reported. If such an attack had occurred, it would have caused “more of an embarrassment than any real damage,” given the nature of the nuclear facilities and the remote location of the complex, Salik said.

In a Sept. 21 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Christopher Clary, who worked on South Asia issues in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, said the record of such incidents over the past two years “does not suggest any dramatic worsening in Pakistan’s stability.” He said that Pakistan’s “remarkable ability to muddle through” is “often missed by outsiders.”

Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Stimson Center and director of its South Asia program, agreed that Pakistani security forces have been “up to the task” of defending against both of the “primary patterns of attack”: attacking “soft targets, like buses, near military installations” and entering “sensitive sites.” In a Sept. 21 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Krepon said the security forces must take into account the possibilities of “more attacks, and attacks by larger numbers.”

The Obama administration also voiced its confidence in Pakistan’s ability to secure its nuclear arsenal after the attack on Minhas air base. In an Aug. 16 press briefing, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States and Pakistan have been discussing nuclear security issues “for quite a long, long time” and that Washington has “confidence” that Islamabad is “well aware” of the threats to its nuclear weapons and has “secured its nuclear arsenal accordingly.”

Clary said that concerns over the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, however, are “understandable and appropriate” because it is difficult for nuclear weapons security in any state to “function perfectly all the time.” Such concerns are even more acute in the case of Pakistan, where the militant and terrorist threat makes the situation “more dangerous” than in any of the other countries that possess nuclear weapons, he said.

At an Aug. 14 press briefing, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that if terrorism is not controlled in Pakistan, the country’s nuclear weapons could be at risk.

Clary expressed greater concern over Pakistan’s decision to pursue battlefield nuclear weapons and the country’s “rapid production” of fissile material. He said that the battlefield weapons are the “most worrisome” and if deployed during a conflict would increase risks in several ways.

During a war, they are more likely to be used, he said. Also, he said, “in the event of a war or a crisis, they are more likely to be assembled, mated, and dispersed, increasing the risk of accidents, unauthorized use, or loss of control.”

Pakistan’s security is adequate to deal with the recent attacks on its military installations, including a Sept. 5 threat to the Dera Ghazi Khan nuclear complex, according to former Pakistani and U.S. officials.

Militants Attack Pakistani Base

Kelsey Davenport

An Aug. 16 attack on a Pakistani military base by militants has raised concerns about the security of the country’s nuclear weapons, although Pakistani officials denied that nuclear weapons are stored at the base.

Located northwest of Islamabad in Kamra, the Minhas air base includes facilities for manufacturing various weapons systems, including the assembly plant for the Mirage and JF-17 fighter jets. According to U.S. experts, the Mirage may be nuclear capable, and nuclear weapons might be stored at the facility.

A spokesperson for Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said Aug. 16 that the country’s “strategic assets are safe” and that “all measures” are in place to ensure the “safety and security of our nuclear assets.” U.S. Defense Department Spokesman George Little said during a press conference the same day that there was no indication that the attack had “endangered the Pakistani nuclear stockpile.”

The Pakistani Taliban claimed to have been behind the attack, which lasted approximately two hours and resulted in the deaths of nine militants and one base official. According to base officials, the aircraft storage hangars were the primary target of the attack, and one aircraft was damaged by the militants. This is the fourth attack on the Minhas base since 2007. During the prior three attempts, however, the militants did not enter the facility.

A former brigadier general in the Pakistani army told The Washington Post on Aug. 16 that nuclear weapons are not being kept in the “known places, such as the air or naval bases.” Known nuclear facilities, however, are located near the Minhas base, including a uranium-enrichment plant and plutonium-production reactors.

In an Aug. 16 press briefing, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that, “at this moment,” the U.S. government does not have “any information” that would “contradict” Pakistan’s statement saying that there are no nuclear weapons or materials at the base and that there was no reason for concern over the security of the arsenal.

The attack came two days after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons could “fall into the wrong hands” if “terrorism is not controlled.” He described this threat as the “great danger we’ve always feared.”

Over the past several years, the United States has provided Islamabad with assistance in securing its nuclear arsenal. In April 2009, as the Taliban expanded its presence in western regions of the country, Pakistani government officials shared information on their nuclear program with the United States and other Western countries to allay concerns about the security of the nuclear arsenal. Pakistan is believed to possess approximately 90 to 110 nuclear warheads, deliverable by missiles and nuclear-capable aircraft.

The Minhas base attack is the third on a major Pakistani military base in the past three years.

In May 2011, Taliban militants attacked Mehran naval base near Karachi and destroyed two U.S. surveillance aircraft. They remained inside the base for approximately 18 hours. In 2009 a Pakistani army facility was attacked and hostages were held in a compound at the facility’s headquarters for 22 hours before a military raid ended the crisis.

An Aug. 16 attack on a Pakistani military base by militants has raised concerns about the security of the country’s nuclear weapons, although Pakistani officials denied that nuclear weapons are stored at the base.

Pakistan Blocks CD Agenda Again

Farrah Zughni

Pakistan blocked the consensus needed to establish a program of work for the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament (CD) on March 15, continuing the negotiating body’s 16-year stalemate. For the past several years, Islamabad has been the only country blocking agreement to begin negotiations on a treaty banning the production of nuclear materials for weapons. The CD is the sole multilateral negotiating body on disarmament.

The proposed program of work called for the establishment of four working groups, one of which would explore elements of negotiating a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT).

Zamir Akram, Pakistan’s ambassador to the CD, said March 13 he could not accept FMCT negotiations that do not “clearly include the reduction of [existing] stocks of fissile materials for nuclear weapons.” For years, Pakistan has voiced concern over its fissile material gap with India and has said it would not sign an FMCT that would lock the disparity in place.

Akram has said that giving Pakistan a Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) waiver similar to the one granted to India might address this concern. In 2008, India was exempted from NSG requirements that nuclear-export recipients place all their nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

In a Jan. 24 address to the CD, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the forum’s consensus rule was currently being used “as a de facto veto power to stall every attempt to break the impasse.”

A number of countries, including the United States, have raised the possibility of negotiating an FMCT outside the CD if delays continue. (See ACT, October 2011.)

Pakistan blocked the consensus needed to establish a program of work for the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament (CD) on March 15, continuing the negotiating body’s 16-year stalemate. For the past several years, Islamabad has been the only country blocking agreement to begin negotiations on a treaty banning the production of nuclear materials for weapons. The CD is the sole multilateral negotiating body on disarmament.

Swiss Indict Family for Nuclear Smuggling

Peter Crail

Swiss federal prosecutors indicted three members of the Tinner family Dec. 13 for violating that country’s export control laws and aiding Libya’s nuclear weapons program as part of a major nuclear smuggling ring, following a prolonged investigation that has severely divided the Swiss government.

Friedrich Tinner and his sons Urs and Marco have been accused of providing gas centrifuge components for the nuclear trafficking network led by former Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan. Khan’s network was initially used to provide Pakistan with nuclear weapons, but later was aimed at assisting the nuclear weapons programs of several other countries, including Iran, Libya, and North Korea.

Gas centrifuges are used to enrich uranium, a process that can produce weapons-grade enriched uranium.

The Tinner case has suffered from major political complications stemming from the family’s suspected assistance to the CIA in shutting down the Khan network in 2003. Although Swiss law prohibits such cooperation with a foreign intelligence agency, in 2007 the Swiss Federal Council, the country’s highest executive body, canceled an investigation into the Tinners’ work with the CIA. Also in 2007, the council destroyed key evidence related to the Tinners’ participation in the Khan network, ostensibly to prevent the further spread of sensitive nuclear weapons-related information. (See ACT, July/August 2008.) In 2009 the Swiss parliament published a report describing U.S. pressure on the Swiss government to destroy the documentation, which included nuclear warhead designs.

According to prosecutors, the Tinners have agreed to plead guilty to the smuggling charges as part of an expedited legal procedure that would avoid publicly airing sensitive evidence, the Associated Press reported Dec. 13. The procedure, however, cannot result in a prison term of more than five years. The Tinners all have served several years in prison awaiting trial.

Swiss federal prosecutors indicted three members of the Tinner family Dec. 13 for violating that country’s export control laws and aiding Libya’s nuclear weapons program as part of a major nuclear smuggling ring, following a prolonged investigation that has severely divided the Swiss government.

Letter to the Editor: Pakistan’s Conditions for an FMCT

Zamir Akram’s comments in his interview with Arms Control Today (“The South Asian Nuclear Balance: An Interview With Pakistani Ambassador to the CD Zamir Akram,” December 2011) signal a potentially important shift in Pakistan’s position on allowing negotiations leading to a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT).

For many years, Pakistan has prevented the consensus decision required to start these talks at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva, citing its concerns that the mandate for the FMCT talks did not explicitly address asymmetries in existing stockpiles of fissile materials and emphasizing that India had a larger stockpile than Pakistan. In 2008, Pakistan added to its list of objections the decision by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to exempt India from NSG restrictions on the sale of nuclear technology and material to countries outside the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Pakistan also had argued that instead of focusing just on an FMCT, the CD needed to take up other long-standing important issues such as treaties on negative security assurances, prevention of an arms race in outer space, and nuclear disarmament obligations under Article VI of the NPT.

In the interview, Akram made clear that the NSG waiver is now the most important issue preventing Pakistan from letting FMCT talks begin. Asked directly “if Pakistan had an NSG waiver like India, Pakistan would be willing to enter negotiations on an FMCT?” Akram said, simply, “Yes.” If this indeed is now the sole condition for Pakistan to stop obstructing FMCT negotiations, Islamabad has put a very high price on its cooperation. The negotiations are then likely to remain stalled for quite some time.

On the other hand, the interview does not suggest that an NSG waiver for Pakistan will be a sufficient inducement for Pakistan to limit or end its fissile material production during FMCT talks. Akram said, “In the time that we can, we need to enhance our own capabilities so that we have sufficient fissile material for what we would then feel is a credible second-strike capability, or credible deterrence capability.” This could mean Pakistan will seek to slow down any FMCT talks to give itself as much time as possible to build its fissile materials stocks and might not even sign an FMCT whenever it is agreed.

Pakistan’s new position of setting an NSG waiver as the price for letting FMCT talks begin may have unintended consequences. Until now, Pakistan has enjoyed the quiet support of a number of countries that also believed that an FMCT needs to include provisions on accounting for and reducing fissile material stocks and wanted the CD to take up discussions on negative security assurances, preventing an arms race in outer space, and nuclear disarmament. After declaring that its opposition to FMCT negotiations would melt away if it is given an NSG waiver, Pakistan may lose the broad support it has enjoyed until now and may find itself completely isolated in the CD.


A. H. Nayyar is a visiting professor of physics at the Lahore University of Management Sciences in Pakistan and a member of the International Panel on Fissile Materials.

Zamir Akram’s comments in his interview with Arms Control Today (“The South Asian Nuclear Balance: An Interview With Pakistani Ambassador to the CD Zamir Akram,” December 2011) signal a potentially important shift in Pakistan’s position on allowing negotiations leading to a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT).

The South Asian Nuclear Balance: An Interview With Pakistani Ambassador to the CD Zamir Akram

As the Pakistani permanent representative to the UN Office at Geneva, Zamir Akram serves as Islamabad’s ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament (CD). He has been a member of the Pakistan Foreign Service since 1978. From 2007 to 2008, he was additional foreign secretary for disarmament and arms control in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Arms Control Today spoke with Akram on October 18 at the Stimson Center in Washington after Akram’s presentation,  “Deterrence and Regional Stability in South Asia.” (In the interview, there are several references to that presentation.) The interview focused on the stalled negotiations at the CD on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) and Pakistan’s position that it lags behind India in fissile material production and cannot agree to a production halt until it has closed the gap.

The interview was transcribed by Xiaodon Liang. It has been edited for clarity.

ACT: Pakistan has expressed its opposition to fissile material cutoff talks at the CD. Pakistan’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Raza Bashir Tarar, said in an October 11 speech at the UN that an FMCT “should deal clearly and comprehensively with the issue of asymmetry of existing fissile material stocks.” However, independent estimates suggest that India and Pakistan currently have roughly similar stockpiles of weapons-usable fissile material.

Can you be more specific about how Pakistan views the fissile material balance and how Pakistan believes the issue can be “clearly and comprehensively addressed” in an FMCT?

Akram: An FMCT as currently being envisaged is a treaty that will only ban future production and not existing stocks. Now whatever the count may be—and the count varies as to how much fissile material Pakistan has or India has or other countries have—the game changer in this environment has been the NSG [Nuclear Suppliers Group] waiver for India, which was spearheaded by the United States.[1]

As a result of this NSG waiver, India has signed several nuclear cooperation agreements, with the United States, Russia, France, Britain, Canada, and several other countries. Through these agreements, India will be receiving an unknown but obviously high quantity of fissile material, ostensibly for its civilian nuclear program. This would mean that its existing stocks of fissile material, its indigenous stocks, can be quite easily converted to weapons use because it will have the imported material to use in the civilian facilities. At the moment, what India has to do is to divide it up, between civilian and weapons programs. So it will give India a free hand to enhance its weapons capabilities.

That is what we have to look for.

ACT: If Pakistan believes that India has a greater fissile material production potential today, why is it not in Pakistan’s interest to freeze the size of current stockpiles of weapons-usable fissile material by agreeing to a halt in the further production of fissile material for weapons purposes?

Akram: In the time that we can, we need to enhance our own capabilities so that we have sufficient fissile material for what we would then feel is a credible second-strike capability, or credible deterrence capability. So that’s one reason—that if we were to conclude such an agreement, that would deny us the possibility of ensuring that there is no gap between us and India. That’s the first thing.

The other thing is that, with these agreements that have been signed under the NSG with India and with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency], the monitoring of civilian nuclear cooperation and the use of civilian nuclear fuel, or fuel meant for civilian purposes, by India is not adequate. There is no real guarantee that material from this particular area will not be diverted for weapons use.

These are some of the factors that cause concern for us that an FMCT concluded now would leave us vulnerable because there would be ways of getting around an FMCT through the civilian nuclear track.

ACT: Accepting for the sake of argument that India is somewhat ahead of Pakistan at this point­—because India’s civilian program is significantly bigger than Pakistan’s and if your concern is the implications of the civil nuclear deal, wouldn’t that mean the gap between the two countries would get larger and larger? Even if there’s a relatively small gap now, wouldn’t it be strategically in your interest to hold that gap as it is rather than allow it to expand as it could if this scenario you’re describing materializes?

Akram: No, as I said, with the program that we have, we are working toward ensuring that we have sufficient fissile material that would give us a more credible assurance of deterrence. So we need to build up to a point that we are assured of that number. Now, what the number is, I can’t tell you because we don’t know how many and what the Indians will be doing. Even if we have an idea where both of us are today, with the fact that they will now get access to very large amounts of fissile material, and how they will use that fissile material, we need to compensate for that now. We need to start working on that possibility now so that even if there is a gap, it’s not a huge, big gap, and that despite the gap, our second-strike, or our deterrence, capability is credible.

ACT: As you said in your [Stimson Center] talk, if a minimum credible deterrent depends to a certain extent on what the other side has, that number is only going to go up in the future as both sides continue to build. As India’s goes up, if it takes advantage of this situation that you’re describing, then yours will have to go up as well, will it not?

Akram: As I said, there are two things. One is potential: their potential for increasing their stocks will go up as a result of the NSG agreements. That’s number one. Number two, we cannot discount the possibility of diversion from civilian to military. So taking these into account, we have to build our own capacity to a point where we feel comfortable with our deterrent.

ACT: Why can’t the issue of existing stocks be addressed once negotiations on an FMCT are under way at the CD? Even if Pakistan itself would not be prepared to join an FMCT in the coming years, once the treaty is negotiated, why prevent other countries from reaching agreement on such an accord by blocking consensus on the agenda?

Akram: Those are two questions. As for the second one, we’re not blocking—okay, we’re blocking in the CD, but they can take it out and negotiate it outside if they want to. The countries that have already declared a moratorium on production of fissile material for weapons, they can convert that moratorium into an international treaty among themselves—the five nuclear-weapon states, or if the Indians want to join them, so much the better. Fine.

As for the other question, we are concerned that the negotiations that are being envisaged right now will be concluded in a way that the major powers want. The major powers have themselves, in informal meetings, very clearly stated, “We are not ready to include stocks.” If you permit me to say, this so-called Shannon mandate is an eyewash. It’s basically what we call constructive ambiguity in the UN. It’s a means of getting around a difficult issue and fudging the problem. That’s what constructive ambiguity is.

That’s not good enough for us at this point. In 1998, 1999, when this issue of an FMCT came up and the Canadians came up with this idea of what was then being called the Shannon mandate, that could work then. But now you have—as I say, the NSG waiver is a game changer. At least for us, it has made a big difference. So now we can’t deal with ambiguity. If we’re going to deal with stocks, it has to be up front. It has to be accepted that, yes, we’re going to negotiate reductions of stocks and a ban on future production. That’s our position.

ACT: Why not start that process, where you can make those points, rather than prevent the process from moving ahead?

Akram: As I say, this process will not take long to complete because they are ready with their commitments. They are ready with what they want. I don’t see this going to be a long, drawn-out process.

But anyway, what you’re saying is, why can’t we talk about it, right? Fine, in the CD they can talk about it. We don’t have to say we are negotiating it, but we can talk about it. And we’ve done this for many years, talked about different things. We talked for several years about chemical weapons before we actually negotiated the Chemical Weapons Convention.

ACT: Some countries have suggested that if the CD cannot begin talks on an FMCT soon, they will seek action in the UN General Assembly on an FMCT. Others, including the P5 [the five permanent members of the UN Security Council— China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States], are holding discussions outside the CD to help sort through the issues that are blocking negotiation of an FMCT. What is Pakistan’s view of any role for the General Assembly in negotiating such a treaty? Why wouldn’t Pakistan welcome the chance to discuss its views on fissile material with the P5 and other states, including possibly India?

Akram: As for our position on the UN’s role, of course, the UN can set up a group of governmental experts to negotiate anything. There’s no way we can oppose that; that’s fine. But it’s not mandatory for anyone to be there, so whoever wants to be there can be there. Fine. On the role of the UN, there is no problem, they can do what they want; the UN can take a decision on this.

As regards the participation by some of these countries in informal talks, like the scientific- and technical-level talks, I was all for scientific- and technical-level talks if they are in the CD, to elaborate ideas about verification, about scope, about definition, all those things. We can talk about these in the CD, we never opposed it. In fact, I told Japan and Australia, the two of them who were spearheading this, that it’s better to do it in the CD than outside the CD. If you’re doing it outside the CD, the CD is not bound by it, so what is the value addition?

As for the P5-plus, the problem is on several levels. First of all, the P5 is not a recognized group in the CD. The P5 can have its own say on whatever it wants to say. But the idea that the five nuclear-weapon states and the three new nuclear-weapon states[2] can get together and decide this issue for the rest of the world is something which we find is a bit presumptuous. This is not the way that we need to proceed with an international treaty. You can’t have five or eight countries decide and basically come and tell [the other countries], “This is it; sign onto it.” That’s not the right kind of approach. If we want to have a discussion on what the issues are, we’re ready for that. We do engage with all of them in an informal setting in the CD itself or outside the CD; we do that. But to have a process called a P5-plus-N3 process on an FMCT, I don’t think the nuclear- weapon states have the authority to do this.

ACT: Given Pakistan’s concern about the further expansion of India’s fissile material stockpiles, has Islamabad raised the issue directly with New Delhi? Is it possible for the two countries to engage in bilateral arms control efforts to slow the current arms race?

Akram: I mentioned in the talk today what we call the “strategic restraint regime.” The strategic restraint regime had three parts—has three parts, because it’s still on the table. One is strategic: that deals with a bilateral commitment not to test nuclear weapons, a commitment not to deploy new technologies such as ballistic missile defense systems or submarine launch systems, those kinds of destabilizing things. On the conventional side, we’ve offered discussions on balanced reduction of forces, conventional forces. And on the third, political side, we’ve advocated dialogue to resolve outstanding issues like Kashmir.

So, there is a comprehensive proposal out there. So far, what we have succeeded in is identifying and agreeing on some confidence-building measures such as early warning about missile tests, prior warning about military exercises, these kinds of small things. But we have not ventured into the critical areas.

This proposal was made in 1998-1999; now we’re more than 10 years after. In that time, a major shift has taken place, what I call the game changer. As a result of this U.S.-Indian nuclear deal and as a result of the NSG waiver and India’s arrangements, agreements with the United States, with Israel, with Russia on conventional arms buildup, plus transfer of ballistic missile technology, transfer of space technology, which can help build intercontinental ballistic missiles, and which also involves now leased Russian nuclear-powered submarines with submarine-launched missiles—all these are developments that have radically altered the strategic environment in South Asia and, at least from our perspective, encouraged a greater degree of belligerence on the part of the Indians.

[In the Stimson Center talk,] I mentioned Cold Start.[3] This has obviously raised concerns in Pakistan about our security vis-à-vis India. We’ve had to respond. We’ve taken measures that would ensure that we continue to maintain a credible deterrent. But we’re ready to talk to the Indians as well.

Unfortunately, of course, the Indians look at this discussion on strategic issues as something that does not involve only Pakistan. They say that, well, Pakistan’s nuclear capability is India specific, which it is. But they say that our nuclear capability is not Pakistan specific.

ACT: “Our” being India’s?

Akram: India’s. The Indians say that Indian nuclear capabilities are not Pakistan specific, so we’re not going to discuss it only with you.

ACT: Meaning it’s also China specific?

Akram: They don’t say that, but they imply it.

So now here too, I’m going back in time, in the early 1990s, before either side had tested in 1998, in the early 1990s when we were making all kinds of efforts to make progress on these things, we had actually convinced China to become a part of the 5-plus-2 discussion, which included the P5 plus India and Pakistan, in a dialogue to address these issues of nuclear buildup and security. That again was not acceptable to the Indians. So these things have been tried. Effort has been made for a dialogue, but you need a partner.

ACT: Some analysts have expressed concern that Pakistan’s development of smaller nuclear weapons for use on the battlefield, potentially in response to an Indian conventional attack, raises the risk of a nuclear war in South Asia. What proposals, if any, has your country recently discussed with or offered to India to reduce the risk of a nuclear exchange?

Akram: I think the most important approach here is to find ways to resolve our differences and reduce the existing tensions. That’s the most effective way of progressing on this front.

As long as that is not something that has been achieved, we need to have efficient, reliable confidence-building systems and measures, like a hotline, which we have, like advance notification of flights and other things, that we have. These are processes that are there. We can improve them, fine-tune them, increase their reliability and all these things, but we also need to be able to use them. Sometimes, situations have arisen where the hotline has never been used. These are very important things that we need to do, but overall, deterrence has to be made credible. That’s the only real way of ensuring, in the absence of anything else, a credible deterrent, which is the only way that we can preserve stability, peace, and security. This is what I said in that five-point plan that I mentioned [in the Stimson Center talk]; it’s just the first thing.

ACT: Part of the concern here is that developing these kinds of weapons potentially lowers the threshold for nuclear use and that it makes it easier for a conflict to escalate to the nuclear level. How do you factor that into the equation?

Akram: It does. But then, you see, we have to look at it from an action-reaction kind of process. What is it that we are trying to do here? We are trying to ensure that our deterrent remains credible. Why are we doing this? Because the situation has changed dramatically over the last five to 10 years, especially as a result of the kind of agreements and understandings that have been reached between the United States and India and some other countries that I mentioned.

This has brought a lot of qualitative change. It’s not just the U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation agreement; the nuclear cooperation is just part of a broader strategic engagement that involves transfer of a huge amount of advanced technology including [ballistic missile defense] technology. It involves opportunities for India to purchase the latest versions of fighter aircraft and other kinds of military equipment from the United States, Russia, Israel, and others.

We have to deal with capabilities. Any country will look at its opponent’s capabilities and then will have to assess how it is going to respond to these capabilities in order to ensure that its security is not compromised. This is the way we find is the most cost-effective way to do it. We can’t afford to be involved in a race with India tank for tank, aircraft for aircraft, submarine for submarine. We can look at other ways of trying to find the same solutions.

Yes, it causes a dangerous environment. It does. But both sides have to recognize that there is a shared interest in avoiding such a situation. That’s why I said that confidence-building measures—the best confidence building, of course, is to resolve your problems, so you don’t have any reason to be concerned. But short of that, you need to find ways to ensure that both sides are assured that nothing is happening that can cause alarm, and that requires effective confidence-building measures.

ACT: You already mentioned Pakistan’s and India’s nuclear tests in 1998. Subsequently, each country pledged not to be the first to resume testing. Has your government discussed how this mutual test moratorium might evolve into a legally binding, verifiable ban on nuclear test explosions? For instance, is Islamabad willing to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty if New Delhi does so?

Akram: Yes, we have said so. If India does, we will too.

ACT:  Is there any discussion about moving that ahead?

Akram: Between India and Pakistan? No, unfortunately we have not had a discussion on this, whether or not to move forward, on how to move forward. I think there is no real incentive for the Indians to move forward, actually. If you have been reading some of the work that’s coming out, George Perkovich [of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace] actually wrote that, with the kind of deal that’s been given to it, the NSG and the other things, the incentive for India to move toward the CTBT is even less.

ACT: What kind of incentives would be required, do you think, to move India to that position?

Akram: Not giving them more fissile material through preferential treatment. What more can I say? Our position is very clear.

ACT: Pakistan has linked its position on FMCT negotiations to its receipt of a waiver from the NSG so it can participate in global nuclear commerce, as India now can. How would the waiver address Pakistan’s concerns about the fissile material imbalance it sees?

Akram: It would give us access to civilian-use fissile material that we would be able to use for our civilian technology and for producing energy and whatever we need it for. But more important than the nuts and bolts of it is the principle of it, that Pakistan needs to be treated as a country which has as much of a legitimate right as India does to have a nuclear capability.

ACT: So it’s not on the substance of the fissile material issue, because the issue of your concern is fissile material for weapons. This wouldn’t address that, certainly not directly. Even indirectly, as we discussed earlier, it wouldn’t help Pakistan in the same way it helps India because India has a much larger program, and I don’t think you have the same shortfall of uranium that India does. It wouldn’t seem that this would have the same impact on Pakistan’s ability to produce fissile material for weapons as it would, under your scenario, for India.

Akram: But it would place us on a par. More than that, it would give us access to civilian nuclear technology that is being denied to us under these restrictions, allow us to engage in nuclear cooperation with other countries, and there is a whole host of things. If that requires us to be able to be a part of these negotiations on an FMCT, we are willing to pay the price to start these negotiations. There has to be some kind of a trade-off. We’ve been cut out of this whole business, even though Pakistan was not the one that started this nuclear race in South Asia in the first place.

So we are ready to be a part of this process if we are given equivalence, if we are treated on par with India.

ACT:  Just to clarify, if Pakistan had an NSG waiver like India, Pakistan would be willing to enter negotiations on an FMCT?

Akram: Yes.

ACT: Even with ambiguity about the mandate?

Akram: Yes. I mean, we would like to have a clearer mandate, but with the kind of situation that exists now, I don’t think that is something that is likely to happen.

ACT: How much support is there, do you think, within the NSG for such a Pakistan waiver?

Akram: I think there are very few countries—the thing is that it just takes one country to block in the NSG, because it’s by consensus. We feel that a case needs to be made in Pakistan’s favor just as a case was made by the United States in India’s favor. The argument that India has a better nonproliferation record than Pakistan was one of the issues that was cited. But I can show you statement after statement after statement, and sanctions after sanctions imposed on India by the United States itself for nonproliferation misdemeanors.

That’s not the argument. One of these Indian journalists was saying, “Well, what about [Abdul Qadeer] Khan?” I said the issue of A.Q. Khan is something which has been used again and again to deny us this kind of status. There are several examples of proliferation activities by India which were basically brushed under the carpet when it was decided to give the Indians this deal. So that is what is needed; you need basically a political decision that we have to move on and we have to change the game now. That’s what is required.

ACT: Is there a country in the NSG that is willing to do for Pakistan what the United States did for India? Do you have someone who is willing to make the case for you within the NSG?

Akram: I can’t speak for any other country. All I will say is that we have civilian nuclear cooperation with China. And that’s under IAEA safeguards; these nuclear reactors at Chashma, Chashma-1 and -2, are in operation; now we are working on [Chashma-]3 and -4. We do have nuclear cooperation. This is under a grandfather clause that the Chinese used when they joined the NSG.[4]

But we need to move beyond this. There are three countries that are not parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty but have nuclear capability. You’ve given only one of them a special dispensation. There needs to be a criteria-based approach that would make all three eligible, if they want to engage in this thing. This is something that you can’t roll back. It’s like toothpaste out of a tube. What can you do? You have to deal with this reality.

ACT: Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much; we appreciate it.



1. In 2008, the NSG agreed to exempt India from the group’s general rules by allowing India to receive nuclear exports from NSG members although New Delhi does not apply so-called full-scope safeguards, that is, does not open all its nuclear facilities to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. See Wade Boese, “NSG, Congress Approve Nuclear Trade With India,” Arms Control Today, October 2008.


2. The five countries recognized by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as nuclear-weapon states are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. (Because those are the same countries that make up the P5, the term “P5” often is used to refer to those countries in their role as NPT nuclear-weapon states.) Three additional countries—India, Israel, and Pakistan—have never joined the NPT and operate nuclear programs that are unsafeguarded.

3. “Cold Start” is an Indian military doctrine that involves quick, limited strikes in Pakistani territory in response to incursions from Pakistan into India.

4. When China joined the NSG in 2004, the other members of the group agreed that certain Chinese projects in Pakistan could be “grandfathered,” that is, China could continue with those existing projects although Pakistan does not accept full-scope safeguards. China reportedly has argued that Chashma-3 and -4 are covered by that agreement. See “The NSG in a Time of Change: An Interview With NSG Chairman Piet de Klerk,” Arms Control Today, October 2011; Daniel Horner, “China, Pakistan Set Reactor Deal,” Arms Control Today, June 2010.

As the Pakistani permanent representative to the UN Office at Geneva, Zamir Akram serves as Islamabad’s ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament (CD). He has been a member of the Pakistan Foreign Service since 1978. From 2007 to 2008, he was additional foreign secretary for disarmament and arms control in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

P5 Struggles to Unblock FMCT Talks

Tom Z. Collina

Fulfilling a commitment made at the United Nations in July, the world’s five recognized nuclear-weapon states met in Geneva on Aug. 30 to discuss ways to break the logjam at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) on a proposed treaty to ban the production of fissile materials for weapons. However, the states, known as the P5 because they also are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, did not agree to pursue negotiations outside the CD, where Pakistan remains opposed to treaty talks.

The P5 position to keep the fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) talks in the CD means that because of the forum’s consensus rule for decision-making, Pakistan’s concerns eventually will have to be addressed if the CD is going to make progress. Negotiations on an FMCT have been held up for years by Islamabad, which is blocking the needed consensus. (See ACT, September 2011.) As one CD representative put it in a recent interview, “Pakistan needs more time to produce more material, and they are happy to wait.”

Zamir Akram, the Pakistani ambassador to the CD, said in an Aug. 30 interview that Islamabad has a “growing window of vulnerability” in relation to India on fissile material stockpiles and that the window “needs to be closed.” According to Akram, the 2008 U.S.-Indian nuclear deal changed the strategic dynamics in South Asia by allowing New Delhi to divert its domestic fissile material production to weapons. (See ACT, July/August 2011.)

Akram said that Pakistan is open to dialogue and wants a “level playing field.” One way to achieve that, he said, is by giving Pakistan a Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) waiver like the one India received in 2008, exempting it from the group’s general policy of requiring that recipients of member states’ nuclear exports place all their nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. (See ACT, October 2008.)

Another approach, Akram said, is to address New Delhi’s fissile material stockpiles in FMCT negotiations. The P5 members are opposed to reducing existing stocks through FMCT talks, however, saying they support the so-called Shannon mandate, which would leave that issue to be resolved during the negotiations.

Pakistan wants clarity and cannot accept “ambiguity” in the talks, Akram said. He has said that Pakistan is “ready to stand in splendid isolation” at the CD.

It is not clear how much support exists in the NSG for a Pakistani waiver. Pakistan also is reportedly seeking a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama to Islamabad later this year. An earlier trip had been planned, but U.S.-Pakistani relations took a dive after al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was killed in a covert raid by the U.S. military in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2.

Among the five nuclear-weapon states, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States all have publicly renounced fissile material production for weapons. China is believed to have stopped such production.

India, Israel, and Pakistan, the three countries that never have joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), are the only states other than the P5 not legally prohibited from producing fissile materials (plutonium and highly enriched uranium) for nuclear weapons. Only India and Pakistan are believed to be currently producing such materials.

After their meeting, the P5 issued a joint statement supporting the negotiation of an FMCT “at the earliest possible date in the CD” and declaring that it would meet again “with other relevant parties” during the UN General Assembly First Committee’s session in October.

In recent interviews, representatives in Geneva said the statement’s phrase “in the CD” was a concession by the United States, which wants to pursue treaty negotiations outside the 65-nation body to avoid Pakistan’s veto. The Obama administration has said repeatedly over the last year that if the CD could not start negotiations, then “other options” would need to be considered. China and Russia, on the other hand, want the talks to stay in the CD and do not support other venues, in which the consensus rule might not apply.

The P5 did agree to discuss strategy for moving the talks forward in the CD. Such discussions may also include “other relevant parties” such as India, Israel, and Pakistan, which could be asked to join, according to officials.

Other countries, such as Canada and Mexico, are seeking to start FMCT negotiations in the UN General Assembly, according to the Geneva representatives. These delegations say that the rule of consensus in the CD is outdated and needs to be changed. If there is no consensus, they say, the issue should be brought to the UN where nations can take a vote. Canada, along with others, said in a Sept. 21 statement that it would introduce a resolution along these lines at the UN General Assembly in October.

Fulfilling a commitment made at the United Nations in July, the world’s five recognized nuclear-weapon states met in Geneva on Aug. 30 to discuss ways to break the logjam at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) on a proposed treaty to ban the production of fissile materials for weapons. However, the states, known as the P5 because they also are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, did not agree to pursue negotiations outside the CD, where Pakistan remains opposed to treaty talks.

India, Pakistan Resume Security Dialogue

Kristina Popova

The foreign ministers of nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan met July 27 in New Delhi, resuming their high-level dialogue on security and confidence-building measures for the first time since the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. A key focus of the discussions was the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir.

The bilateral relationship “should not be held hostage to the past,” said Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. “It is our desire to make the dialogue process uninterrupted and uninterruptible,” she said.

Khar’s Indian counterpart, S.M. Krishna, expressed confidence that relations between the two countries are “on the right track,” but he cautioned that “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” A joint statement, released after the official talks, characterized the atmosphere as “candid, cordial and constructive” and announced that the two sides had agreed on new arrangements to increase travel and trade across the disputed Line of Control.

The ministers also committed to convening meetings of expert groups in Islamabad in September on confidence-building measures relating to nuclear and conventional weapons, which would constitute the first information-sharing initiative in years on nuclear issues between the two states. The most recent development in this field was a 2005 agreement on prenotification of ballistic missile tests.

The bilateral discussions have taken on a new urgency in the wake of Pakistan’s efforts to expand the production of fissile material for weapons. Islamabad’s current arsenal is estimated to include between 90 and 110 warheads. India is believed to have enough separated fissile material for an arsenal of more than 100 nuclear warheads. In April, Pakistan tested the Hatf-9 short-range, nuclear-capable ballistic missile. (See ACT, May 2011.)

The foreign ministers of nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan met July 27 in New Delhi, resuming their high-level dialogue on security and confidence-building measures for the first time since the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.


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