Foreign visitors look at the Pakistani nuclear-capable ballistic-missile Shaheen on display during a defense show in 2006. Pakistan's Strategic Plans Division, which oversees its nuclear capability, has a new leader. (Asif Hassan / AFP/Getty Images)
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division (SPD), which oversees all aspects of its nuclear deterrent, has a new director general after long-serving Lt. Gen.Khalid Ahmed Kidwai retired and was replaced by Lt. Gen. Zubair Mahmood Hayat.
The SPD oversees all aspects of the development and production of warheads and delivery systems that make up the national deterrent as well as Pakistan’s space programs.
It is part of the larger National Command Authority, the civilian-led body that oversees all command-and-control aspects of Pakistan’s strategic nuclear forces and organizations. The SPD functions as the secretariat of the National Command Authority.
Kidwai had been at the head of the organization since 2000.
The change in command is being viewed positively by analysts as it will help increase confidence in the country’s nuclear management under a civilian authority, and the confidence to make critical decisions under trying circumstances.
Brian Cloughley, former Australian defense attache to Islamabad, said Kidwai had been in the position “far too long,” but there was seemingly little appetite to replace him.
He said Hayat seems quite competent and “did well at staff college in the UK.”
“I don’t see any changes happening in SPD because of him, but there’s no doubt it’s in good, steady hands,” he added.
Mansoor Ahmed, from Quaid-e-Azam University’s Department of Defence and Strategic Studies and who specializes in Pakistan’s national deterrent and delivery program, believes the change goes beyond a mere change of the top man.
“It is a sign that the system has matured to the point that it can function independent of personalities who come and go ... the institution itself acquires a self-sustaining momentum that is required of a robust command and control structure.
“It augurs well for the future of institutional growth and is a positive trend in the nuclear learning trajectory of Pakistan,” he added.
He said Kidwai steered the SPD through some tough times.
“Kidwai had the privilege of presiding over the most challenging period post-1998 tests, and uncharted territory had to be covered with no prior experience, especially establishing the command-and-control structure for the nuclear program and the strategic forces, with an emphasis on establishing a safety and security architecture that has earned the respect of the international community; dealing with the 2002 and 2008 crises and India’s cold-start doctrine, managing international nuclear diplomacy while maintaining Pakistan’s strategic interests; dealing with the A.Q. Khan episode of illicit nuclear proliferation; and expansion of the civilian nuclear energy base with Chinese assistance.”
As things stand, however, Ahmed believes Kidwai’s achievements are readily seen in SPD, with steady progress being made to establish a more robust deterrent capability.
“The SPD under Kidwai has come a long way, starting from scratch to operationalizing the deterrent in terms of the doctrine, policy, strategy and security. Pakistan now has nine different types of missile systems, is enhancing its plutonium production capability whose infrastructure was operationalized during Kidwai’s time, and is moving towards a second strike capability,” he said.
The mainstay of Pakistan’s first-strike capability is believed to be based on the Shaheen/Falcon, Nasr, Ghaznavi, and perhaps Abdali range of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles.
An air-launched cruise missile, the Ra’ad/Thunder, is also capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
Pakistan’s fledgling second-strike capability is thought to comprise submarine-launched HATF-VII/Vengeance-VII Babur cruise missiles. ■