Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Pakistani Nuclear Threat





Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Pakistani Nuclear Threat

...the possibility of a current "Islamic Bomb" scenario, triggered by the
loss of Pakistani control over its nuclear weapons arsenal and the fall of
such weapons into the hands of extremist Islamic elements, should not be

The Pakistani Nuclear Threat
Not just Iran: Pakistan has been building up its nuclear weapons arsenal at
an accelerated rate - weapons that could fall into the wrong hands. A
special analysis by Dr. Rafael Ofek

Dr. Rafael Ofek 19/7/2013

The Pakistani Nuclear Threat All eyes are looking to the direction of Iran,
but in the meantime, Pakistan has accelerated the build-up of its nuclear
weapons arsenal, and has been hard at work fitting these weapons onto
short-range ballistic missiles. Pakistan's nuclear arsenal already amounts
to more than a hundred bombs.

In the past, the world tended to accept the Pakistani nuclear arsenal,
treating it as a merely regional issue of the Indian subcontinent. However,
during the first few years of the new millennium, reality struck
policymakers in the face when the immediate dangers became clear: the
proliferation of sensitive technologies to other countries aspiring for
nuclear weapons, and the seizure of Pakistani nuclear weapons by extremist
Islamic elements.

Although Pakistan does not directly threaten it, the US is not interested in
the eruption of a war between India and Pakistan in general, and is not
interested in such a war escalating to nuclear warfare in particular.
Furthermore, the US will not tolerate the possibility of terrorist
organizations taking possession of nuclear weapons. Despite denials by
official Pakistani authorities of having any foreknowledge as to the
whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden's hiding place inside Pakistan, severe
criticism was leveled against Pakistan around the world, and suspicions were
raised that it had actually assisted in the master terrorist's hiding.

Apparently, Al-Qaeda had struck roots into the Pakistani establishment, and
especially within the Pakistani intelligence community, which is currently
as perforated as a termite-ridden tree. Admittedly, the Pakistani government
is sensitive to the US apprehension of an extremist policy on Islamabad's
part, especially with regard to nuclear weapons. However, decision-making on
national security issues in the country is dictated, first and foremost, by
the military, which is incapable of (and probably not interested in)
operating forcefully against terrorism.

"The Islamic Bomb"

Pakistan turned toward nuclear weapons in India's footsteps. The architect
of its nuclear program was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who stated in 1965, as
foreign secretary: "…If India builds the bomb… (Pakistan) will eat grass…
even go hungry, but we will get one of our own." The realization of Bhutto's
vision only began after about 6 years, when he was elected president,
against the background of the Pakistani Army's defeat in the war against the
Indian Army.

Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan is regarded as "the father of the Pakistani nuclear
bomb" from the technical point of view. In the mid-1970s, he was engaged in
the development of centrifuges in the Netherlands, and later smuggled this
technology to Pakistan.

Upon his return to Pakistan, he was granted autonomy in the advancement of
the centrifuge project, and proved his abilities when the uranium enrichment
plant materialized and began enriching uranium to a military grade level in
1986. The jewel in the crown of the Pakistani nuclear program was the series
of nuclear tests conducted in May 1998, in response to the Indian tests. In
those tests, Pakistan demonstrated that it had mastered the technology of
nuclear weapons.

During the 1970s, Bhutto presented his country's nuclear weapons project as
the development of an "Islamic Bomb". This slogan was aimed at the rich Arab
countries, with the intention of obtaining financing for the program.
Indeed, Libya, followed by Saudi Arabia, both of whom were very hostile to
Israel in those days, assisted in the financing of this program, owing to
their aspirations to reap some of the fruit of the Pakistani effort, once it

In those days, Israel also regarded Pakistan's nuclear ambitions as intended
to produce an "Islamic Bomb", and the issue was conceived by the Western
world as follows: Pakistan would physically deliver several nuclear bombs to
its allies, or at least provide them with a "nuclear umbrella". In
retrospect, it turned out that regarding the Pakistani nuclear bomb as an
"Islamic Bomb" was a false alarm.

Falling to the Hands of Islamic Countries

The above notwithstanding, the threat of nuclear weapon technologies from
Pakistan falling into the hands of other Islamic countries was a more
realistic danger. Dr. Khan was exposed in 2003 as the head of an
international network that sold nuclear weapon technology to other
countries. This became known to the Western intelligence agencies only in
the early 2000s, when the containers of a ship seized by US authorities in
October 2003, en route from Dubai to Libya, were found to contain about
1,000 centrifuge components, manufactured by a plant in Malaysia according
to blueprints provided by Dr. Khan.

Owing to their fear of the response of the US and with the toppling of the
Saddam Hussein regime in the background, Libya was forced to reveal the
elements of its own nuclear program to the US and the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA). US intelligence investigators even found blueprints of
a nuclear explosive device in Libya, provided to Libya by Dr. Khan's
network. The findings compelled Muammar Al-Gaddafi to cooperate with the US
and the IAEA – not just in the dismantling of Libya's nuclear
infrastructure, but in exposing Dr. Khan's activity as well.

The revelations of the Libyan aspect of Dr. Khan's network acted as a
'domino effect' and led to the exposure of Khan's close relations with Iran.
Pakistan had been suspected in the past of having passed the centrifuge
technology to Iran, but solid proof was only found when Dr. Khan's network
had been exposed.

The Bomb and Jihad

Pursuant to the atrocities of September 11, 2001, scientists who had led
Pakistan's military nuclear program in the past and maintained connections
with Al-Qaeda were spotted. Apparently, they aspired to aid Al-Qaeda in
developing nuclear weapons, under the guise of the 'charitable society' UTN
(Ummah Tameer-e-Nau) that had been established in 2000.

One of the most prominent activists among those scientists was Sultan
Bashiruddin Mahmoud, who had headed Pakistan's plutonium producing heavy
water reactor. He was an Islamic fanatic who resigned his senior position in
1999 in protest of the Pakistani government's signing of the Comprehensive
Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) that banned nuclear weapon tests.

Mahmoud's close colleague was Chaudhry Abdul Majeed, the first director of
Pakistan's plutonium separation laboratories. But the professional
credentials and past senior positions of these gentlemen notwithstanding, it
is doubtful whether they possessed the technical know-how required in order
to develop a nuclear explosive device specifically, and whether they could
actually contribute to Al-Qaeda by doing so. Moreover, George Tenet, former
head of the CIA, claimed that the people of UTN established contact with the
Libyan authorities with the intent of providing Libya with weapons of mass

Admittedly, pursuant to the exposure of Dr. Khan's network, the probability
of the "Islamic Bomb" scenario, of the leakage of nuclear technology from
Pakistan to other Arab of Islamic countries, diminished. Western
intelligence agencies drew numerous lessons since the First Gulf War, from
the exposure of Iraq's efforts to develop unconventional weapons to the
exposure of Dr. Khan's activities. Apparently, they have learnt how to cope
more effectively with the dangers associated with the proliferation of
technologies of weapons of mass destruction. However, Western intelligence
agencies still encounter difficulties in coming to collect intelligence
about extremist Islamic organizations around the globe.

Israel and in the West are now intensively addressing the issue of Iranian
nuclear weapons. However, the possibility of a current "Islamic Bomb"
scenario, triggered by the loss of Pakistani control over its nuclear
weapons arsenal and the fall of such weapons into the hands of extremist
Islamic elements, should not be ignored.

Lt. Col. (Res.) Dr. Rafael Ofek is an expert in the physics and technology
of nuclear power. He had served in the Israeli intelligence community as a
senior researcher and analyst.


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