Being a geostrategic fulcrum of world power, Pakistan’s nuclear program occupies the center stage in all the strategic headquarters around the world. Furthermore, Pakistan’s nuclear capability strengthens its geopolitical muscles to recalibrate its strategic trajectory and rebalance its priorities between the Great Power competitions. Besides, India’s nefarious designs to emerge as a regional hegemon and dismantle the territorial integrity of Pakistan are also thwarted due to the nuclear bulwark Pakistan has walled up against its arch-rival India.
Therefore, disarming Pakistan with its nuclear weapons is the only way forward to bend Pakistan to the preferred course of geopolitical ambitions, which will always remain an elusive dream of vested interests. Nevertheless, in the information age, it seems a plausible stratagem to spotlight Pakistan’s nuclear security and safety protocols as vulnerable to terrorist bids to obtain nuclear weapons or gain access to nuclear material. Particularly, the recent uptick in terrorist attacks since the Taliban takeover in 2021 provided an opportunity to peddle global concern over Pakistan’s ability to safeguard its nuclear arsenals.
For this purpose, a well-calculated propaganda campaign is orchestrated to build a narrative in order to blemish and malign Pakistan’s nuclear security system as weak and fragile. For instance, during DG IAEA’s visit to Pakistan, the rumor mills started churning out politically motivated insinuations based on unnecessary controversy, alleging that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons capability is falling victim to some concessions by the government to foreign powers.
Additionally, the narrative of Pakistan’s strategic irrelevance after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is also deployed to reinforce the impression that the nukes would fall into the hands of extremists. Such narratives could be deployed successfully to achieve political mileage, but a strong case can never be built against Pakistan by presenting a flawed and extremely distorted landscape of Pakistan’s robust and comprehensive nuclear security regime. The flurry of such misleading statements compelled Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to issue a strong rebuff, stating in a tweet, “the misleading speculations about Pakistan’s nuclear and missile program are unfortunate, adding that the stringent, fool-proof and multi-layered security safeguards, duly testified by IAEA, are in place. The Prime Minister said our nuclear program represents the unwavering consensus of the nation and is for deterrence.”
Pakistan is a strategic player and will remain a strategic player in the region, irrespective of the likes and dislikes of its rivals. Furthermore, Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities are the safest and most secure in the world.
The geopolitical minds and strategic pundits forgot that Pakistan’s nuclear security culture is crowned to have achieved international recognition for putting in place comprehensive nuclear security measures and elaborate arrangements for radioactive material protection. The recent statement of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi is one such glaring manifestation of how Pakistan’s nuclear power is comprehensively protected and secured which led the IAEA Chief to declare that the future of Pakistan’s nuclear power is promising as the country has a world-class and impeccable nuclear safety record. Dismissing all the rumors and insinuations about Pakistan’s nuclear program, DG IAEA further observed that there is strong political support for new nuclear power plants in Pakistan, adding that the country has technical and engineering capacity for new NPP, including small modular reactors.
Pakistan shall invest in nuclear energy to achieve Sustainable Development Goals and can protect the climate by reducing oil, coal and gas import bills. Furthermore, US General poses confidence in Pakistan’s nuclear security.
General Michael Kurilla said he has a great relationship with army chief General Asim Munir. “I am confident in their nuclear security procedures,” says Commander of US CENTCOM Gen. Michael E. Kurilla during a testimony before the Senate Arms Services Committee in the US, expressing confidence in the command & control structure of Pakistan’s nuclear prog. Apart from it, The US non-proliferation watchdog Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), generally referred to as a nonpartisan, nonprofit international security organization, has put Pakistan atop India in its ability to ensure the safety, security, and protective measures of its nuclear assets with the more uncompromising and sturdy approach. By the yardstick of the NTI Nuclear Security Index, Pakistan enhanced its overall score by 7 points, climbing to the aggregate position of 19 in its 2020 assessment, leaving behind India with a wide margin of 9 points.
Primarily focused on preventing nuclear and biological threats endangering mankind, the US foreign policy think-tank Nuclear Threat Initiative NTI graded Pakistan as the ‘most improved country’ in terms of its nuclear capabilities after having carried out a study on worldwide nuclear materials security for 2020. The measures were strict and so were the standards upon which the stance, covers, and approaches of republicans were gauged: “A state is solely responsible for guaranteeing the security of all nuclear and other radioactive materials, associated infrastructure, and activities that fall within its purview. This is known as the sine qua non of nuclear security. Therefore, a robust nuclear security regime goes much beyond its physical components. Former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn created NTI in 2001 to transform global security by bringing up systemic solutions to nuclear and biological dangers putting humanity at risk. Furthermore, the Nuclear Security Index recognized that Pakistan made remarkable headway in adopting “new on-site physical protection and cyber security regulations and improving insider threat protection measures” at a time when it concluded that the advancement in international security has held up to a great extent in other parts of the world. Indeed a well-earned recognition Pakistan achieved.
Pakistan’s nuclear security superstructure is supported by a network of organizational frameworks and rooted in internationally defined practices. These security measures and practices are embedded in the national legislative, regulatory, and administrative frameworks, turning it into a broad and well-developed nuclear infrastructure in the world.
The NTI Index has duly noted these improvements on new regulations which in turn provide ‘sustainable security benefits’. Thus, Pakistan is distinguished to have evolved a remarkable and robust nuclear security regime and culture to protect its nuclear installations and secure its nuclear weapons where no incidents of theft or sabotage, or stolen nuclear material are reported. But, its eastern neighbor appears to be improving on the illicit Uranium market where in February, eight people including two Indian Nationals were arrested in Nepal for being involved in the illegal trade of ‘uranium like substance.’ It was widely reported that radioactive substance was trafficked from India. Again, India’s nuclear security enclave came under serious criticism for its failure to prevent the theft and illegal sale of nuclear and highly radioactive uranium of 7 kilograms, worth 210 million Indian rupees, earlier in May 2021. For the last two decades, more than 200 kilograms of radioactive and nuclear material has been stolen from Indian nuclear installations. The recurring phenomenon of theft and illicit trade of nuclear and radioactive material eloquently testifies to the failure of India’s nuclear security system.
By contrast, Pakistan, unwaveringly, is dedicated to advancing the goal of nuclear security and has taken the initiative to work with other nations to advance nuclear safety and security. It has made sure that all nuclear and radioactive materials, as well as any infrastructure connected to them, are safeguarded everywhere. Pakistan’s national legislative, regulatory, and administrative structure serves as the foundation for its nuclear security regime. It goes without saying that Pakistan has a sizable and well-developed nuclear infrastructure that has received systematic support from the US, Europe, and—most importantly—China.
Furthermore, Pakistan’s nuclear architecture and security enclave is designed in line with the IAEA Nuclear Security Culture Implementing Guide—Nuclear Security Series No. 7 (2008) because IAEA Fundamental Principle A of INFCIRC/Rev-5 guides that the prime national responsibility for the “establishment, implementation and maintenance of a physical protection regime” rests entirely with the state. In this regard, Pakistan’s strong nuclear security culture featured autonomous regulatory bodies empowered with legal authority to fulfill their defined nuclear security responsibilities. These institutions include the National Command Authority (NCA), Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA), and Strategic Export Control Division. Furthermore, Pakistan is ardently committed to the Amended 2005 Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) and has ratified “Regulations on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Installations PAK/925.” These international legal devices strengthen security culture, reinforcing the physical protection of nuclear material and facilities. Pakistan’s Nuclear Emergency Management System (NEMS) is meant to deal with possible radiological emergencies. Inside Pakistan’s nuclear structure, the NCA – SPD is entrusted with the foremost responsibility to reform the mindsets of individuals and to maintain enhanced oversight over nuclear facilities. Pakistan’s Strategic Export Control Act 2004 outlines a set of controls, enabling the government to monitor and supervise the export, re-export, transit of goods, and trans-shipment, of materials, technologies, and equipment that could result in the development, production, stockpiling maintenance, designing, or use of nuclear and biological weapons, coupled with their delivery mechanisms. According to a report, Pakistan has deployed a highly trained, well-equipped, highly skilled force numbering over 25000 troops to guard Pakistan’s nuclear stocks and facilities the Strategic Plans Division (SPD). Pakistan’s national detection architecture comprises specialized radiation detection equipment at multiple entries and exit points with a bid to block all attempts at illicit trafficking of nuclear and radioactive materials. Moreover, as part of its capacity building and human resource development, the significant institutions of Pakistan’s Centre of Excellence on Nuclear Security (PCENS), the National Institute of Safety and Security (NISAS), and the Pakistan Institute of Engineering and Applied Sciences (PIEAS) were founded with the international cooperation, particularly the US through IAEA.
Looking at the multilateral engagements, Pakistan has shared six reports to the UNSCR 1540 Committee sufficiently validating its nuclear infrastructure capability for safety and controlling the exchange of sensitive materials and technologies.
Pakistan effectively maintained close liaison with the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT) for the development of its guidelines.
Additionally, Pakistan strictly adhered to several global legal instruments such as the amended Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM), the International Convention on Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (ICSANT), and the IAEA Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources and its two Supplementary Guidance documents.
In the category of Security and Control Measures, Pakistan continued to improve its grading over time as it introduced new regulations, increasing its score by +8 in 2014, +2 in 2016, and +6 in 2018. The set of new regulations is comprised of on-site physical protection in 2014, a cyber security regime in 2016, and insider threat protection in 2018. Pakistan remained ahead of other countries in Security and Control Measures ranking by +25 whereas its arch-rival India demonstrated poor performance remaining at the lowest rank of 28th in overall security.
In this scenario, President Biden’s uncalled-for remarks, terming Pakistan “may be one of the most dangerous” in the world possessing “nuclear weapons without any cohesion” can only be described as ill-advised and surfaced owing to ignorance of the POTUS. Later, the State Department Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel stated with an obvious bid to do damage control of Biden’s remarks, that “the United States is confident of Pakistan’s commitment and its ability to secure its nuclear assets.”
Thus, the global concern over the so-called failed security of Pakistan’s atomic weapons is one such account advanced for subterraneous reasons. In spite of the fact that Pakistan has been answering great to it, the flawed narratives always seem to drive uphill with morality standards nose-diving!
Fahad Ahmed Misson is a broadcast journalist at PTV World. He covers Defense and Diplomacy in Pakistan as well as global affairs.