Report Gives 'Measure of Assurance' on Pakistan

Here's a bit of good news about Pakistan amid recent chaos: An American Arms Control Association report concludes that there is little reason to worry about Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Pakistan's streets were quieter today after days of deadly riots sparked by the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

And tomorrow, the country's election commission is due to announce a delay in the upcoming national election. It's currently slated for the 8th of January, but the commission has indicated that will change. The main opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, does not want a delay. He's threatening to organize street protests if the election is postponed.

Amid all the chaos, NPR's Daniel Schorr turned up some less noticed and more positive news about Pakistan. It came just before the Bhutto assassination.

DANIEL SCHORR: On New Year's Eve, could you stand a smidgen of good news about Pakistan? The assassination of Benazir Bhutto sparks fears of turmoil that could allow Pakistan's nuclear arsenal to fall into the wrong hands.

By happenstance, the Arms Control Association, a nuclear watchdog, is just out with the results of a nine-month study of Pakistan's nuclear security. It concluded that while Pakistan may not have achieved total custodial control, as claimed by President Pervez Musharraf, there is still a measure of assurance that reforms instituted in the past decade are working.

Essential command and control system has been established. It is said to be now impossible for an average scientist like A.Q. Khan to sell nuclear know-how to Iran or Libya.

Some time ago, two physicists were ascertained to have talked to Osama bin Laden. They denied discussing sensitive information. With tightened security clearance, that should no longer be possible. There are both physical and operational safeguards for the nukes. Warheads are separated from the lever systems. A double parameter surrounds every nuclear site.

Operationally, there is a system called permissive action links, a process that requires two, sometimes three, different people with knowledge of a code to agree before the weapon could be launched. One concern, the report says, is about possible disaffection within the army.

But soldiers appeared to have been professionally trained and the military has so far displayed cohesiveness in the current crisis. Another fear is what might happen after an assassination attempt. This was referring to attempts on the life of Musharraf.

The report says that 10 senior officials are fully competent to take responsibility for the nuclear sites. The report concludes that nuclear facilities have been secure throughout the crisis providing a measure of assurance that the system is working, a measure of assurance.

Well, happy New Year.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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