Pakistan's Khushab heavy water plant is about 240 kilometers southwest of Islamabad. A report has cited improvements in the country's overall nuclear safety. (Agence France-Presse)
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan is the most improved nuclear weapon state when it comes to securing its nuclear assets, according to the 2014 Nuclear Threat Initiative Nuclear Materials Security Index. Analysts credit this to Pakistan’s efforts to safeguard nuclear facilities and material, as well as to increase transparency, though there is room for improvement.
The report puts Pakistan in the top 10 of improved states out of a total of 25 surveyed, but the most improved of the nine nuclear weapon states.
The report states Pakistan “demonstrated the largest improvement of any nuclear-armed state. Pakistan is taking steps to update its nuclear security regulations and to implement nuclear security best practices.”
“Pakistan has been very transparent about its obligations and the steps taken to meet its international commitments, being a party to international conventions related to safety and security,” said Mansoor Ahmed of Quaid-i-Azam University’s Department of Defence and Strategic Studies, who specializes in Pakistan’s national deterrent and delivery program. “Pakistan’s safety and security architecture and procedures are internationally recognized and appreciated in spite of the unusually microscopic spotlight on the country’s nuclear program.”
These consist of “human and personnel reliability programs, multilayered physical security of various nuclear facilities and assets, safety oversight and compliance through the autonomous [Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority] nuclear material accounting and control procedures.”
In terms of physical security, Ahmed highlights the establishment of a specially trained 25,000 strong nuclear security force “to enhance physical security of fixed sites.”
Pakistan’s profile with the Nuclear Threat Index states that efforts to improve the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear assets added nine points in the “security and control measures” criteria.
“Pakistan’s improvement is primarily due to an increased score for on-site physical protection resulting from new laws and regulations requiring licensees to provide physical protection to nuclear sites and on-site reviews of security,” the report states.
The physical security of nuclear facilities was reviewed by the Army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, during a Jan. 10 visit to the Strategic Planning Division (SPD).
The SPD oversees all aspects of the civil and military applications of atomic energy in addition to the development, security, storage, deployment and employment of warheads, delivery systems and strategic forces, as well as Pakistan’s space programs.
Former Australian defense attaché to Islamabad, Brian Cloughley, whose recent fourth edition of his “History of the Pakistan Army” includes a new chapter covering Pakistan’s nuclear assets and surrounding issues, said the nuclear facilities are safe and secure from attack.
He even highlights that the US leadership and Indian military leadership have expressed similar opinions in the past, and attributes much of this to the force tasked with ensuring the physical security of the nuclear assets.
“The protection force is well-trained and effective, so I consider that while there should, of course, be no relaxation in security measures, there is no reason to be concerned that there will be acquisition of nuclear material by terrorists,” Cloughley said.
“One area where improvement might be needed is emergency preparedness and response in case of a nuclear accident, where both India and Pakistan lack institutional capacity as it requires specialized medical facilities, logistics and post-disaster management and rehabilitation capabilities,” Ahmed said. “This is an area which is of a nonsensitive nature, and both countries have signed an Agreement to Reduce the Risk of Nuclear Accidents in 2007 and reaffirmed it for another five years in 2012, but no publicly known practical measures are believed to have been taken by either side on a cooperative or unilateral basis.”
The report states Pakistan could improve by “strengthening its laws and regulations for physical security of material during transport to reflect the latest [International Atomic Energy Agency] nuclear security guidelines, and for mitigating the insider threat” through personnel reporting “suspicious behavior and requiring constant surveillance of areas of facilities where nuclear material is located.”
Analysts agree, however, that the danger from a physical attack on Pakistan’s nuclear assets often quoted in Western media is exaggerated. ■