By Mark Memmott
"Empirical evidence points to a clear set of weaknesses and vulnerabilities in Pakistan's nuclear safety and security arrangements" and militants have already tried to attack that nation's nuclear facilities, says a new paper published by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
The paper's author also warns that there is a "genuine" threat of Pakistan's nuclear weapons falling into terrorists' hands.
The report, which is online here, also states that:
Most of Pakistan's nuclear sites are close to or even within areas dominated by Pakistani Taliban militants and home to al-Qaida. The Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaida are more than capable of launching terrorist attacks in these areas, including within Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
They have also proved that they have good intelligence about the movement of security personnel, including army, ISI (intelligence services) and police forces, all of whom have been routinely targeted. A series of attacks on nuclear weapons facilities has also occurred.
The report's author is professor Shaun Gregory, director of the Pakistan Security Research Unit at the University of Bradford in the U.K. He reaches this conclusion:
The risk of the transfer of nuclear weapons, weapons components or nuclear expertise to terrorists in Pakistan is genuine. Moreover, knowledge that such a transfer has occurred may not become evident until the aftermath of a nuclear 9/11 in Pakistan or elsewhere in the world.
It remains imperative that Pakistan is pressured and supported, above all by the United States, to continue to improve the safety and security of its nuclear weapons and to ensure the fidelity of those civilian and military personnel with access to, or knowledge of, nuclear weapons.
The challenge to Pakistan's nuclear weapons from Pakistani Taliban groups and from al-Qaida constitutes a real and present danger, and the recent assaults by the Pakistan Army on some of these groups in FATA (Federally Adminstered Tribal Areas) and in the NWFP (North-West Frontier Province) is a welcome development. Nevertheless, more steps must be taken before the threat is neutralized and Pakistan's nuclear weapons no longer pose an existential danger to the rest of the world.