By Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain
There is no dearth of allegations in the Western media that Pakistan’s nuclear assets are exposed to extremist control or are ‘vulnerable’ and that political instability in Pakistan is exposing the world to a disaster. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Such fears are misguided and are either the result of lack of information or vested interests determined to destabilise Pakistan. With President Musharraf taking charge of governance in 1999, and Pakistan Muslim League subsequently at the helm of governance, the nuclear assets’ institutionalisation was set as a key priority and in due course successfully accomplished. Recently the Carnegie Institute has confirmed that, “the security of these assets has improved dramatically as a result of the protective measures put in place since the late 1990s”. This is no doubt an important recognition for Pakistan.
It is important for all to fully comprehend how the military and political leadership joined hands and implemented the institutionalisation. Today Pakistan’s command & control of its nuclear assets is based on the following well-planned tiers: The National Command Authority (NCA) as Tier 1, the Strategic Plans Division (SPD) as Tier 2, and the Strategic Forces Commands (SFC) as Tier 3. Seeing the need to give legal cover to the NCA, the president promulgated the National Command Authority Ordinance 2007 last month.
Firstly, the NCA as Tier 1 comprises of the top ten political and military decision-makers in Pakistan. Its objective as an apex decision-making body is to formulate policy and centrally control all aspects of Pakistan’s nuclear capability including deployment. Its chairman is the president, duly elected by parliament, and the prime minister is vice-chairman, directly elected by the people of Pakistan. Under the NCA come two committees. The Employment Control Committee (ECC) with its Deputy Chairman being the foreign minister and members being minister for defence, interior and finance on the political side; and the Joint Chief of all the services (CJCSC), the Army (COAS), Navy (CNS), Air Chief (CAS) on the military side. This balance between top military officers and elected representatives is critical for the NCA’s smooth functioning and credibility. The other committee is the Development Control Committee with the CJCSC being its Deputy Chairman and members being the COAS, CNS, CAS and heads of strategic scientific organisations. The SPD serves as secretariat for both.
Whilst the Employment Control Committee reviews latest information on threats, decides on appropriate response, gives policy directions, it also has the authority to order, control, and direct use of tri-services strategic forces during war. The Development Control Committee as a subordinate committee of the NCA oversees the implementation of the decision of the ECC and exercises day to day technical, financial and administrative control over the strategic organisations. A quick glance through their members will confirm that extremist forces cannot enter this decision-making grid at any point in Pakistan’s history. They are individuals who have been either elected or have risen up the ranks of military organisations. Extremists can definitely not enter this grid through elections, as they have no representation within parliament as history shows. Pakistan’s voters have never allowed them any representation and religious parties who have been given representation by the people of Pakistan have dissociated themselves from such extremist elements.
Tier 2 is the Strategic Plans Division (SPD), which is the secretariat and the eyes and ears of the NCA. In this capacity it develops, manages all dimensions including operational planning, weapons development, arms control and disarmament affairs, command and control, storage, safety, security, budgets. The SPD functions directly under the president, the prime minister and the chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. The SPD has its own intelligence network, which adds to the checks and balances of the system other than taking input from the main intelligence organisations. It has a special directorate for training and for monitoring the activities, the psychological well being, and the political affiliations of all the staff that have anything to do with the nuclear assets. The Security Division is by far the most intricate operation with its tentacles firmly grounded into maintaining an air-tight secure, accident safe environment.
Tier 3, which is the Strategic Force Command at each service (Army, Navy, Air), maintains a strict military chain of command and hierarchy over the handling and operation of the nuclear weapons. The services retain training, technical, and administrative control over their Strategic Forces. With a specialized team within the armed forces dedicated for nuclear assets, the security is even tighter.
It is important to comment on the misperceptions about Pakistan’s armed forces that they can be infiltrated by extremist forces. The armed forces are a nearly 1 million force to be reckoned with: 620,000 regulars and 302,000 FC/Rangers. With their rich traditions of Muslim and British history, their professionalism, education, international exposure, they are above provincialism, sectarianism and politics. The strict discipline (through court martialing if need be), constant monitoring and checks & balances ensure that extremist forces cannot manage any infiltration even remotely close to the nuclear assets.
Specifically on the monitoring activities of the nuclear related military personnel, the over-watch over the scientific community is very strict: with all visits and activities being tightly tracked. Retention of retiring staff for security and experience is another trend, which works to their advantage. Daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, reviews and inspections add to the intelligence systems, which monitor for security, safety in terms of accidents, and potential pilferage, theft or loss.
In short, the SPD’s Personnel and Human Reliability Programmes ensure ‘cradle to grave’ management of their staff. The Sensitive Material Control & Accounting has been designed in such a way that it meets best international practices. Needless to say that transportation security and specialist vehicles for assets is equally well managed and monitored. In terms of the famous Two Man Rule and Permissive Action Links, it is clear that Pakistan’s physical safety mechanisms and firewalls are well equipped to deal with unauthorised usage attempts. And whilst many have commented on physical security of the assets, it is worth noting that the physical security concept is based on the principles of multiple layers, ‘defence in depth’ and an inherent ability to detect and defeat both insider and outsider threat. Through the use of surveillance tactics, the reserve quick reaction force forms an important barrier for the nuclear emergency support team.
Regulation is equally important and in terms of institutionalization, there is an organisation called the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority, which overseas the safety of civilian nuclear facilities against radiation risks. The export of goods, technologies, material and equipment related to nuclear, biological weapons and their delivery systems, is well regulated under the Export Control Act of 2004. Since Pakistan, unlike the developed countries, does not have a nuclear industry in the private sector, the controls are all within the public sector, which is an added advantage.
What is interesting to note about the Pakistan’s nuclear assets management is not just their professional institutionalisation but also the fact that this information has recently been shared with local and foreign intelligentsia. Needless to say that this is due to the heavy media attention that the subject has received. However, it is worth noting that such transparency of information sharing is lacking in other nuclear states. Political leadership through parliamentary defence committee forum was one of the first to be briefed. This type of coordination between military and political parliamentary forces is a welcome step in the balance required between the two.
Nuclear asset management is a national priority and the pride of all Pakistanis. Its integrity and safety is a subject that unites all of Pakistan’s 160 million people without an iota of doubt. This unity is unanimous across the different provinces, religious sects, political parties, and socio-economic groups. This is not a subject which divides. Our strength as a developing nation derives from many socio-economic, political empowerment and military power indicators. Whilst some indicators like economic, judicial, media, and natural resource management, are likely to arouse vibrant debate depending on the political affiliations of an individual, nuclear management is hopefully free from all divisive insinuations. The reason is simple – the implications of the allegations against our nuclear programme’s safe management are not lost on any Pakistani who values our territorial and sovereign integrity beyond everything. Pakistan Muslim League takes the lead in inviting all political forces to understand this reality and to work with the armed forces to support this institutionalisation.
Chaudhary Shujaat is President Pakistan Muslim League, ex-Chairman of the Standing Committee on Defence in the National Assembly, and ex-Prime Minister of Pakistan.