Tuesday, August 11, 2009

But the Taliban Might Try to Get Pakistan's Nukes! Oh Wait... UPDATED

...they have tried already. Via the Times of India:
Pakistan's nuclear facilities have already been attacked at least thrice by its home-grown extremists and terrorists in little reported incidents over the last two years, even as the world remains divided over the safety and security of the nuclear weapons in the troubled country, according to western analysts.

The incidents, tracked by Shaun Gregory, a professor at Bradford University in UK, include an attack on the nuclear missile storage facility at Sargodha on November 1, 2007, an attack on Pakistan's nuclear airbase at Kamra by a suicide bomber on December 10, 2007, and perhaps most significantly the August 20, 2008 attack when Pakistani Taliban suicide bombers blew up several entry points to one of the armament complexes at the Wah cantonment, considered one of Pakistan's main nuclear weapons assembly.
Well thank goodness the attacks were ineffectual. So it seems that extremists know where Pakistan's nuclear weapons are and have attempted to at least disrupt activities at those locations, if not failed utterly in actually absconding with a device. It is slightly reassuring that the Pakistani Army was able to keep the weapons safe and appear to maintain fairly robust security measures.

Granted, these attacks all occurred prior to the late winter offensives by the Pakistani Taliban, but the reality is the Taliban threat to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is way overblown. Pakistan sports one of the largest armies in the world that is becoming increasingly modern (thanks to the infusion of U.S. money and training). To suggest that the Taliban will come out of the mountains to defeat the Pakistani Army to obtain nuclear weapons seems absolutely preposterous to me.

I would even argue that such an attempt by the Taliban would be a grave strategic misstep by them. Without Pakistan viewing them as an existential threat (which they are not), the Pakistani government will not attempt to eradicate them. If a substantial effort is made to obtain weapons, that could very well change the government's calculus on who is a greater threat: extremists or India.

I don't believe that the Taliban will mount a serious attempt to obtain a nuclear weapon nor will they ever be a serious threat to the existence of Pakistan. That just leaves us to worry about a coup in which the ownership of the devices is left in question. But don't bet on the Taliban making that happen. There are a whole lot of other groups that want to get their hands on those weapons whose agendas are much more aligned with the ISI's.

H/T to SNLII for passing on the article.

UPDATE: Jari points out that the footnotes from the CTC Sentinel suggest that the sites that had been attacked were not likely nuclear facilities and that the attacks were overstated. I'd say much like the Taliban threat to the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons.


  1. Yeah, I saw this article, too.

    A lot of the desi blogs I read kind of make fun of TOI, so I initially kind of blew it off. So you all think the article is reasonable?

  2. I think so. The security measures seem normal from what I understand of the subject. And let's face it: Pakistan is not going to advertise that their nuclear weapon's storage facilities were attacked. For a number of reasons.

    Even the Washington Times gets a nugget or two.

  3. "That just leaves us to worry about a coup in which the ownership of the devices is left in question."

    Is there a term that accurately conveys Pakistan's state of perpetual almost-coup-ness ?

  4. I'm not sure the data fits the hypothesis, though. There's a big difference between attacks on Pakistani military installations in general, and attacks specifically designed to abscond with a nuclear device or material. From the brief description provided, it sounds like these were the former, not the latter.

    More to the point, I don't think the fears of the TTP gaining access to Pakistani nuclear weapons or materials are based on forcible seizure from an intact Pakistani Army, but rather that the Pakistani government itself falls first, possibly as a result of the Pakistani Army refusing to defend it. I'd imagine the TTP would have to team up with Punjabi and Sindhi extremist groups to achieve that goal (Hizbut Tahrir? LET?)

    I don't know how likely that scenario is, but I think that's the scenario that has to be refuted, not direct seizure from an intact Pakistani military.