It has been three short months since Pakistani Taliban fighters stood at the doorstep of that nation's capital, Islamabad. At that point, the once remote scenario of a sovereign state falling to Islamist militants was beginning to look inevitable. Media outlets were in a whirlwind, reporting with a sense of urgency the rapid advance of the Taliban through the Swat and Buner districts and the threats that were stifling the once bustling city. A primary concern during all of this was the ability of the deficient government of Asif Ali Zardari to effectively protect the country's stockpile of nuclear warheads. Unfazed by the threat that the Taliban posed to his government's stability, Zardari struck back at critics by assuring "the world that the nuclear capability of Pakistan is under safe hands…"
But was it really? Or were Zardari's reassurances nothing more than wishful thinking or face-saving PR?
A story released Tuesday by the Times of India details how Pakistan's nuclear facilities had long been vulnerable to domestic terror attacks, even in the months and years prior to the most recent standoff with the Taliban. The story documents the findings of Bradford University (UK) professor Shaun Gregory, first published in the July issue of West Point's Combating Terrorism Center Sentinel.
According to the report, incidents included "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."
Gregory notes that these attacks occurred despite government attempts to install some safeguards. In fact, various measures have been put into place to secure the nation's arms stockpile. However, "empirical evidence points to a clear set of weaknesses and vulnerabilities in Pakistan's nuclear safety and security arrangements."
One thing is painfully clear: if Pakistan wants to be a member of the nuclear arms-possessing community, it has a responsibility to get its act together in securing its stockpile from insurgents. Rather than waging a PR war against those who are critical of its attempts at security – as it did in January 2008 when criticized by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei – Pakistan must focus on being critical of those that wage war on it.