Expert Weighs In On Pakistan And Nuclear Weapons
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
President Obama's nuclear summit wrapped up yesterday with assurances from several countries to eliminate their stockpiles of highly-enriched uranium. But the country that poses perhaps the greatest threat when it comes to nuclear material falling into the wrong hands would not make any such commitment. That country is Pakistan. Still, President Obama says he feels confident that Pakistan has secured its nuclear weapons.
Earlier this week, I spoke with Joseph Cirincione, an expert on nuclear proliferation, who feels differently.
Professor JOSEPH CIRINCIONE (President, Ploughshares Fund): For my money, Pakistan is the most dangerous country on Earth. It is a much bigger threat to us than either North Korea or Iran. And we have to focus our attention more on where Al-Qaida would likely get the material to attack us. It's not Iran, they don't have it. It's not North Korea. It's Pakistan.
SIEGEL: Well, to sort this out, we turn now to Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy, who is one of Pakistan's most respected nuclear physicists and the head of the physics department at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad. Welcome to the program.
Professor PERVEZ HOODBHOY (Chairman, Quaid-i-Azam University): Thank you.
SIEGEL: Is Pakistan more of a threat to global security than North Korea or Iran?
Prof. HOODBHOY: I think wherever there are nuclear weapons there's a threat to humanity. Wherever there are nuclear materials present there's a possibility of their being stolen. And yes, Pakistan is very much in the news today. And I am not comfortable with its nuclear program because of the fact that there is an ongoing insurgency within Pakistan.
It is a fact that there are rogue elements within the military, within the intelligence services, and this does not allow me to sleep easy.
Prof. HOODBHOY: Because there are instances where innermost elements of the security establishment have been attacked, in particular the general headquarters and three ISI buildings - headquarters.
SIEGEL: The ISI is the intelligence service in Pakistan.
Prof. HOODBHOY: Thats correct. That could not have happened without insiders having penetrated the establishment.
SIEGEL: Well, this isnt very reassuring so far. But one conceivable solution would be for Pakistan to abandon its nuclear arsenal. What chance do you give that?
Prof. HOODBHOY: Pretty close to zero, given the rate at which India is arming itself. They're buying an aircraft carrier, nuclear submarines. They're equipping their submarines with nuclear-tipped missiles that can be launched from below the sea. And that sort of armament is very frightening to the Pakistanis.
SIEGEL: This situation, the south Asian arms race that youve described and the political challenges to Pakistan, create a very difficult situation. Many people in this country and elsewhere would hope that no matter what happens to Pakistan, someone secures the nuclear arsenal and make sure that it doesnt fall into the wrong hands.
That means that many people are willing to countenance various kinds of authoritarian governments in your country, so long as they can provide that one guarantee to the world, that nothing will go wrong with the nuclear weapons. That must be an awful constraint to live under.
Prof. HOODBHOY: People look at it slightly differently in Pakistan. They see the threat to Pakistan's nuclear weapons as coming primarily from the United States. That it is set to seize our nuclear weapons and, therefore, there's a lot of fear and you could say paranoia. Now, the fact is...
SIEGEL: You mean U.S. forces could actually go in, in the event of civil strife in Pakistan, and secure those bases. Thats the fear that people would have there?
Prof. HOODBHOY: You could call it secure. But the way it would be told over there is that our nuclear weapons would be stolen by the Americans.
Prof. HOODBHOY: In fact, that has fed into what I would I say paranoia. The paranoia comes about because people think that the suicide bombings are being done actually by the Americans so that they can foment instability within the country, so as to create a situation that then calls for the Americans to intervene and then theyll come and steal our nukes. Now, of course, this...
SIEGEL: This is stuff you say that some people believe in Pakistan. You're not crediting it right now, are you?
Prof. HOODBHOY: I'd say probably more than half the people would think that way. And this is very bad because it distracts us from fighting our real enemy, our real enemy being the religious extremists. So in a very curious way, nuclear weapons have got mixed up with our own internal security dilemmas.
SIEGEL: Do you come away from this week in Washington, from the conference, at all encouraged about these concerns of nuclear security or more worried?
Prof. HOODBHOY: I think the purpose of this conference was to raise alarm and to talk about what could be possible solutions. But as one looks at the problem, one is appalled by the magnitude. The fact is that there are hundreds of tons of uranium which can be processed into bombs without too much time and effort, and Pakistan is only a small bit of that total problem.
The world is in an extraordinarily dangerous situation. And yes, this conference was important, good to have. But it only defines the problems, it doesn't solve any.
SIEGEL: Professor Hoodbhoy, thank you very much for talking with us.
Prof. HOODBHOY: Certainly.
SIEGEL: That's Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy, physicist, head of the physics department at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad. He was in Washington for this week's conference accompanying the summit on nuclear safety.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.