Pakistan Lost Its Nuclear Weapons?
statements from the Pakistani dictator and his media indicate a major change in
the strategic balance of the Indian subcontinent - a change which goes well
beyond what can be explained by the known events of the past two months. This
paper examines the implications, and advances a speculative hypothesis – that
Pakistan no longer possesses what General Musharraf described as recently as
September 2001 as the “strategic assets” of Pakistan. This paper is
organized as follows. First, the perception of threats and constraints in the US
regarding the Pakistani nuclear program is summarized as of October 2001. The
relevance of subsequent events to the threat perception is analyzed. The rise
and ebb of the fear of nuclear war threats in the Indian subcontinent is then
considered – ending with the unusual statements which motivated the present
hypothesis. The implications of these events are then discussed, with arguments
for and against the hypothesis, and the conclusions are presented.
Pakistani Nuclear Threat
Perceptions of Threat and Constraints – October 2001
nuclear weapons have understandably caused nightmares to western observers.
These nightmares were amplified in the aftermath of the massive terrorist
attacks of September 11, 2001. The threat perceptions from US mainstream
publications [1-8] as of October 2001 may be summarized as:
war in South Asia.
material from Pakistani nuclear facilities falling into terrorist hands
due to inadequate safeguards
deposing Dictator General Musharraf and installing an even more extreme
second threat listed above was very real, in view of the close connection
between the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence organization (the ISI) and
various Pakistani-sponsored terrorist groups . In an October 2001 paper 
David Albright set out four constraints faced by the US in “helping”
Pakistan “secure” its nuclear weapons: Such
assistance should not ...
violate U.S. commitments or
objectives under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT),
harm U.S. relations with
contribute to advances in
Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, or
the threat of a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan.
field of nuclear weapons development and control is inevitably clouded with
uncertainty and speculation. All public domain writings on this subject must be
assumed colored with the bias and purpose of the authors. Technical discourse in
the United States on such subjects is remarkable for its innocent adherence to
prevailing political models. For instance,  and its list of references ignore
the most important influence in the development of the Pakistani nuclear program
– the People’s Republic of China . This renders the discussion of the
secrecy of locations and independence of the Pakistani nuclear weapons
establishment quite meaningless. Given the level of public discourse in this
area, the current author presents his hypothesis with little fear of
under-shooting the standards of this field.
least by Fall 2001, concerns were thus developing about Pakistani weapons,
fissile material or technology being used against American interests - concerns
deep enough to warrant consideration of aerial bombardment to destroy nuclear
facilities . In this context, Ref.  does mention the possibility of the US
seeking Chinese cooperation to accept Pakistani weapons for safekeeping. We now
examine subsequent events, considering whether the stated thresholds for US
pre-emptive action have indeed been exceeded since October 2001.
Posture: Spatial Strategic Depth
Afghanistan was Pakistan's "spatial strategic depth" – safe from
Indian aerial or naval attack, and beyond range of Prithvi missiles. Pakistan
Army personnel formed 70% of the Taliban’s military forces . Thus in 1998,
as planning for the Kargil invasion went into top gear, Pakistan may have
shifted some of their "assets" to their bases in Afghanistan.
Strategic doctrine depended on this spatial depth for a survivable deterrent –
enabling Pakistan to reject a no-first-use policy, unlike India. As recently as
June 26, 2002, reference  defends the first use option as crucial to
Pakistan’s ability to support cross-border terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir
without fear of Indian retaliation.
and First-Use Considerations – A Synopsis
Taliban control of Afghanistan was consolidated by 1996, Pakistan expected quid
pro quo: to turn the full might of the Mujaheddin, victors over the Soviet
Red Army, on Kashmir. Surprisingly, this massive “jehad” failed to
materialize. Kashmiris looked with fear on the Afghan/ Pathan outsiders who were
taking over Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), and resented the takeover of the lucrative “Kashmiri Freedom”
racket by Pakistani Punjabi and Pathan mercenaries – these terrorists
brutalized and killed far more Muslim Kashmiri Indian civilians than
anyone else . Outfits such as the “JKLF” renounced violence and
assimilated into Indian society; militant leaders such as Abdul Ghani Lone
(assassinated by terrorists in May 2002) renounced violence altogether and
entered the Indian political
system. By 1997, democracy took hold in J&K, and the economy
improved. Sensing the imminent failure of their policy, Pakistan’s military commanders embarked on
a scheme to
occupy the heights above Kargil town inside Indian territory. Such a move
enabled them to cut National Highway 1,
the lifeline of the Indian army units in the Siachen region. The Pakistani
Generals hoped that this would force the Indian units to surrender, thereby
giving them victory need to motivate the people of J&K to support an
invasion of J&K using divisions of Islamist irregulars based on the Deosai
Plateau in POK.
Pakistanis felt their new-found nuclear status prevented India from launching
armored ripostes south of Kashmir, or air strikes. Thus the conquest of J&K
appeared feasible as “fait accompli” provided the occupation of the
Kargil heights starved the Siachen forces into surrender. This thinking was set
back in May 1999 when India ordered air and artillery strikes, and Indian
infantry succeeded against murderous odds in recapturing the Kargil heights. World
opinion rejected the attempt to pass off the Pakistan Army occupiers of the
heights as “indigenous Kashmiri freedom fighters”. After the Kargil debacle
(“The entire Northern Light Infantry used for the Kargil Intrusion was wiped out”  according to
then- Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif), Pakistan went back to sending terrorists across the Line
of Control under artillery cover. Terrorist camps operated in full view across
the Line of Control (LOC), secured from Indian “hot pursuit” operations by
the threat of nuclear war.
forestall attacks on terrorist camps, Pakistan had to simply threaten the first use of
nuclear weapons. That is, the threshold of defeat in conventional war or even
economic warfare (such as a naval blockade or a cutoff of Indus river
water), which would trigger a Pakistani nuclear strike on Indian cities, was to
be decided by Pakistan’s rulers alone. Why Indian cities, not military bases?
Because Pakistani missile accuracy was poor, and only cities formed large-enough
by democratic decision processes, Pakistan’s dictator could decide to
sacrifice millions of his subjects if his throne seemed shaky. Thirty years ago,
members of the present Pakistani junta were the junior officer corps who
conducted the genocide of 3 million East Pakistanis  Unlike the Nazis, Khmer
Rouge, and the Rwandan Hutus, they have never had to answer for this genocide.
They supervised the crushing of popular movements in Baluchistan in 1974 and
Gilgit-Baltistan in the 1980s , watched the decimation of their Northern
Light Infantry in 1999 , thousands of their terrorist mercenaries in
J&K, and the huge Pakistani-Taliban forces and young jehad fans who were
lost in Afghanistan. There is no reason to believe that they would hesitate to
kill a few hundred thousand more Indians or Americans. The only credible
deterrence of the Pakistani nuclear threat was the assured retaliation from
India. Conversely, the only protection that Pakistan enjoyed for its pursuit
of terrorism was the threat of first use of its “strategic assets”.
of Events Relevant to Denuclearization
11 and its Aftermath: The Closing of Islamabad Airport
events of September 11, 2001 changed the prospects of the Pakistani military
establishment and their dreams of running a Pan-Islam empire. On September 12
(9/13 in Pakistan), less than 24 hours after the WTC/ Pentagon attacks,
Islamabad and other airports were shut down for several hours to all civilian
traffic [15, 16]. Heavy military air traffic was observed. At the time,
speculation was rife that:
Pakistani officers and valuable equipment on loan to the Taliban were being airlifted back from
weapons were being moved through the airport for safekeeping.
the first scenario above, one wonders about the need for secrecy. Senior
officers could just as well have returned on civil airliners dressed in the
“burkhas” which the Pakistan Army are reputed to wear when they are visible
to the Indian gunners across the LOC. This airlift appears to have been arranged
at impossibly short notice. The Taliban was under a total UN embargo in
September 2001, and this may have driven the urgency of exit. But Afghanistan
never facilitated high-speed land travel between cities – nor had it a good
air transport system. Unless all of the airlifted people and equipment came from
one location, fairly close to major airfields, such an airlift is rather
implausible. If this was an airlift of senior personnel, when was the airlift
planned, and how long did it take to gather the personnel and their belongings
from all over Afghanistan? What this implies about the Musharraf junta’s
foreknowledge of the Sep. 11 events is a subject for a different speculation.
other explanation was that the "strategic assets" were being returned
home from the "strategic depths". These would presumably have been
located for quick airlift access. Where did the "assets" go next? If
India watched the airport closing, so presumably did US agents around Islamabad
- and the US, Russian and Indian satellites. Thus the location of at least some
of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons was well known to US authorities in Pakistan as
of Sep.12. When General Musharraf lectured on Pakistan TV about the need to
accept the "lesser of the two evils" (i.e., the American side, as
compared to the American threat to “prepare to live in the Stone Age” )
in order to save the strategic assets, was he referring to assets which were
already gone, but which he hoped to recover through good behavior? More on this
later, but in view of his subsequent bluster and bravado, it is unlikely that all
of his “crown jewels” were removed from his control at that time – or the
level of control imposed was not as total as it became in May-June 2002.
Kunduz Airlift [17-20] continues to be one of the great mysteries of the Afghan
War of 2001. At least one aircraft every night is known to have landed and taken
off at the Kunduz airstrip on each of the last nights of the Northern Alliance
siege of Kunduz. The defenders were reputed to be the worst of the Al Qaeda –
they even killed Afghan Taliban comrades who wanted to surrender. Given American
control of airspace, the airlift raised questions – stonewalled by the US
administration. The issue here is: “What
was vital enough to American interests to tolerate airlifts of the worst
criminals of Al Qaeda, and then to risk censure by denying it? What was so
secret that there have been no media leaks on what was airlifted?” One
speculation is that senior officers and their families were evacuated as quid
pro quo for “co-operation” in handing over the ` Strategic Assets'. Another
is that it was Chinese men being evacuated at the request of the PRC. The report
of the last plane arriving on the 12th night of the airlift – and
turning back because the airport had already fallen – suggests that the planes
came from far enough away that the battle situation changed since takeoff. In
either case, one wonders what the US exacted as a price for allowing this
airlift. A recent article  claims that the Kunduz airlifts brought out all
but 800 of the 5000-odd Pakistani personnel in Kunduz using 35- 40 missions over
5 nights – and that the airlift was approved by USA General Tommy Franks after
Pakistani General Aziz threatened to end cooperation and wage war against the US
in Pakistan. There is no reason to believe this theory of American Generals
being cowed by Pakistani threats of attack – unless there was a far worse
threat attached. Was it that of Al Qaeda rendering Kunduz radioactive in a
final act of defiance? It is understandable that if Aziz informed the US of
nuclear weapons trapped in Kunduz, the US would have covered their evacuation to
Pakistan – and US control. The escape of some Al Qaeda would have been
incidental to resolving that hostage situation – though the US is paying a
steep price now, with Al Qaeda regrouping in Pakistan. Only Pakistan could
guarantee that all the weapons were accounted for.
The Kabul House - Interrogation and Escape of Pakistani Nuclear Scientists
the liberation of Kabul in early November 2001, Allied forces reported finding
an Al Qaeda house in Kabul. Inside was an improvised classroom/ planning room. A
blackboard showed sketches apparently of terrorist weapons – an F-16, an
atmospheric explosion or a balloon carrying what might be anthrax spores, and
plans for other exotic devices. The house was owned by a top official in the
Pakistani nuclear establishment. On October 24 (“in the early hours” ),
Pakistani nuclear experts Sultan Bashir Mahmood (Chairman of the Pakistan Atomic
Energy Commission), Dr. A. Majeed — and 6 other colleagues from Islamabad and
Lahore were detained  and “interviewed” by American intelligence. All
belonged to Ummah Tameer Nao (“Muslim Nation’s Reconstruction” ) —
which had been working in Afghanistan. One of them suffered a heart attack
following repeated interrogation. In a reshuffle of the Pakistani nuclear
establishment, its “founder”, Dr. Abdul Quadeer Khan (irreverently called
“Abdul Xerox Khan” by Indians), went into sudden retirement. A further
setback came when Abu Zubeidah, one of bin Laden’s aides, was removed from
Faisalabad, Pakistan to the Guantanamo Bay US interrogation center. US
authorities cited him as the source (this may well be disinformation) leading to
the May 1 arrest of Jose Padilla on arrival from Pakistan, accused of plotting
to set off radioactive “dirty bombs” in US population centers. The April
2002 suicide-bombing of a Tunisian synagogue (killing 14 Germans) using an
explosive-packed tanker truck, led investigators to Canada and to a link to a
plot to bomb Los Angeles and other airports. All trails led back to Al Qaeda
terror camps in “Afghanistan”  which by now is understood to be a
pseudonym for “Pakistan”. Curiously, two more senior nuclear experts are
reported to have “retired” and moved to Myanmar with Musharraf’s blessings
. Myanmar’s regime has no extradition treaty with the US, but has
excellent relations with the PRC. One may speculate about the role of these
Pakistanis in any Myanmarese ambitions to acquire Chinese-supplied “strategic
The December 13 Attack; Trial Balloon in January 2002
attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001 led to the first nuclear
war scare since 1999. India’s rapid buildup of strike forces, and the
destruction of dozens of Pakistani border posts which covered terrorist
infiltration, led to Pakistani threats of first use of nuclear weapons. For the
first time, this threat failed to impress the Indian public. In December 2001,
there was far more concern in India for the safety and security of the United
States and its people, than there was about nuclear attack from Pakistan. In
other words, the Pakistani First Use Doctrine did not deter India’s
determination to hit back at the terrorists, and to take out their camps across
the Line of Control.
crisis and the failure of the Pakistani nuclear blackmail of December 2001 may
have triggered new thinking on the part of the US, PRC or both. It may also have
triggered action to secure the nuclear weapons. In January 2002, General
Musharraf was quoted as saying, for the first time, that “denuclearization
of South Asia is an essential step for peace” .
At the time, this statement was so out of tune with the strategic
doctrines, and the MAD equation, that it was hardly noticed even in the
Pakistani press. It was certainly ignored by India amongst several nuclear
threats veiled as “reviews of strategic doctrine” or “plans to upgrade
forces” [24-31]. Pre-publication summaries of White House aide Bruce
Reidel’s Policy Paper describing the Pakistani nuclear deployment in 1999, and
US President Clinton’s tough stance against Pakistani aggression  also
reinforced Indian views of the hawkish Pakistani nuclear stance. In retrospect,
the Musharraf statement gives the first clue to the timing of the change.
Kaluchak Attack and Nuclear Blackmail
April 2002, another sensational terror attack targeted families of Indian
soldiers. Pictures of 2-year-olds machine-gunned at point-blank range fueled
unprecedented outrage. India moved determinedly towards a war to stop
infiltration and remove the terrorist camps across the Line of Control.
May 2002, Pakistan still claimed to be going full speed towards developing a
full Strategic Triad – land, air and submarine-launched nuclear weapons. Refs.
[29-31] discuss their ambitions for nuclear-armed submarines threatening the
West and East coasts of India – a capability lost with East Pakistan and the
sinking of the “Ghazi” off Vishakapatnam in 1971. Ballistic missile
development was supposedly in full swing. Three diesel-powered,
nuclear-missile-capable quiet submarines were being built by Agosta of France at
Karachi. Pakistani Admirals spoke fondly of plans to equip surface warships with
nuclear missiles - and to finally be able to deter the Indian capability to deny
Pakistan access to the sea.
the Indian buildup proceeded, the Pakistani threats became increasingly
strident. Musharraf’ junta “Ministers” in charge of the Railways and
Foreign Policy, and their new UN Ambassador, made threats to launch nuclear
strikes on India even in response to economic pressure [28; 33-34]. In addition
to the Reidel Policy Paper , ref.  describes a warning from US
authorities to India about Pakistani nuclear warheads having been deployed on
missiles again, and the inability to predict the threshold at which Pakistan
would launch nuclear weapons. The coolness of the Indian response indicated
readiness of the Indian nuclear deterrent - or the first hint of knowledge that
the Pakistani threats were hollow.
Missile Tests and Bluster - The Chinese Role
discussed in [8,36], there is no doubt that the Pakistani missile and nuclear
weapon programs received major assistance from the PRC. Some missiles might have
arrived from North Korea – but were still Chinese designs, while others were
direct Chinese imports. The signatures of Pakistan’s May 1998 nuclear
explosions bore strong resemblance to Chinese tactical nuclear weapon tests.
Nair  writes that after Sep. 11, 2001 the PRC, anticipating upheavals,
pressed Pakistan to return “traceable” weapons to China for safekeeping.
Pakistan refused – and thousands of PLA personnel arrived in Pakistan to help
secure weapons. The influx of American military power and influence must have
caused serious concern in Beijing. Chinese self-interest in supporting
Pakistan’s agenda must have undergone review.
concern about Islamic terrorism is glimpsed in a report attributed to Indian
intelligence. This occurred after the late-2000 blasts (with official reports of
over a hundred deaths) in the capital of majority-Muslim Xinjiang province,
which is plagued with an anti-Beijing Uighur guerrilla campaign. The report
spoke of a few dozen Uighur trainees being taken, at Chinese behest, out of a
terrorist training camp run by the Pakistan Army in POK – and executed.
Reports from Afghanistan have often mentioned “Chinese” among the Al Qaeda
forces. The PRC supplied new F-7 fighter planes to Pakistan recently – and
newspapers reported that a Chinese cash donation helped the PAF obtain spare
parts in the summer of 2001. However, official Chinese reaction to the
India-Pakistan standoff has been noticeably lacking in the fierce rhetoric
characteristic of PRC statements on issues of importance (e.g. Taiwan or the
EP-3 incident). The impression conveyed is that the Chinese would very much like
not to be associated with the global terrorist movement, or with the potential
for nuclear war. There were also reports of Sino-Russo-American discussions
about the India-Pakistan situation, suggesting that some working arrangement was
major hint at the growing desperation of the Pakistani leadership is in the
missile tests of May-June 2002. In January, India conducted a test of the Agni-II
– a version modified for shorter range, heavier payload and quicker launching.
Pakistan promised a “counter-test”, but none was forthcoming. This was
initially attributed to “new thinking on the part of the Chief Executive”
, and later to technical problems. In May-June 2002, in an intensifying
crisis, Pakistan announced tests of several missiles [37-39]. With remarkable
promptness, videos purportedly of these tests were played on international
media. Clearly the tests were intended less for weapon validation than for
conveying something to the international community – public release of launch
videotapes showing new weapons at close range is quite unusual anywhere. What
was even more remarkable was the content of these videos. The tests appeared to
be failures. Reports indicated that the missiles had gone off course and landed
on populated Pakistani territory. A Pakistani Lt. General was reported visiting
China on an urgent mission. A mysterious convoy whose heavy guard guaranteed
curiosity came down the Karakoram Highway from the PRC to Pakistan, traveling by
night and hiding by day . Movements of the several thousand PLA personnel
inside Pakistan, especially in the Hunza region were reported . The
better-informed portions of the western media noted that the missile test videos
left no room for doubt that these were Chinese and North Korean missiles. These
leave the big question: Why were the tests conducted? Were they
intended to pressure India (the Indian reaction  was official laughter), or
China, showing the world that their missiles were duds – and demanding
replenishment and upgrades?
The New Threat Perception
back to the threat thresholds envisaged in October 2001, it is clear that more
than one of these thresholds was exceeded by June 2002. The desperation and
instability of the Pakistani regime was patent. The MAD equation had changed
considerably. Indian retaliation to Pakistani First Use appeared more credible
than ever, and anger inside India was at levels where a national consensus to
risk all-out nuclear war was apparent. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s dictator faced a
dilemma: Accept Indian demands and stop his terrorists – and risk
losing his throne – or keep rejecting Indian demands and trigger a
conventional war which would ensure loss of his throne and his
terrorists. With both courses of action likely to remove Musharraf from his
throne, the logical threshold for a Pakistani dictator to push the nuclear
button had been exceeded. The Kunduz/Kabul events showed that Pakistani
weapons would fall into terrorist hands at any time even without any coup in
had America invested inside Pakistan at this time? Official reports speak of
several airbases along the Baluchistan coast, taken over by American forces.
Dozens of terrorist suspects were being arrested all over Pakistan with American
direction  – revealing a massive grassroots-level penetration by US
agents. Reports from Karachi spoke of Pakistanis not being allowed to approach
hotels near the larger airports – all occupied by Americans. FBI officers were
reported to be standing near Pakistan immigration/customs officials at all
international airports and monitoring every passenger. Special Forces were
operating along the western border of Pakistan – and preparing for operations
in the Northwest Frontier Province and Waziristan. Airborne divisions were
reportedly prepared for operations against Al Qaeda terrorists in POK. Recent
reports speak of any Pakistani using a satellite phone and speaking other than
local dialects, finding himself under arrest with the phone still in his hands
– under American direction. The level of US human and technological presence
in Pakistan needed to accomplish this feat is best left to the imagination.
Reports of recent overseas operations such as the Somalia mission indicate that
the ratio of combatants to logistics people in American “combat unit
deployments” is on the order of 1 to 10. These considerations appear to
vindicate the “unnamed Pakistani official” who claimed that some 64,000
American personnel were inside Pakistan, besides the 60,000-plus Americans in
tourist, official and business dealings in India.
missile tests would have raised fears in both China and the US, and spurred
American action, for another powerful reason. In their enthusiasm, the
Pakistanis bragged that the new Ghauri missile had “a range of over 3500
km”, and how Egyptian taxi-drivers saw Pakistan’s atom bomb and missiles as
the great hope for Islam against the Israelis. The missile’s range and payload
offered attractive options for those in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia
who have funded Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programs. Suddenly, one more
of the hated “Y3 (Yankee-Yehudi-Yindoo) Axis” had come under the
shadow of the Islamic Bomb. The missile also put many of PRC’s population
centers within range. Unlike India, Israel cannot survive a massive nuclear
Options Available to the American Administration
most days in May-June 2002, the US administration faced the prospect of over
50,000 American dead within the next 48 hours – dwarfing the 9/11 tragedies.
That they considered and acted on most of the options available to them is a
matter of public record. Let us examine these options:
evacuation of non-essential personnel. This was done, but it takes weeks to
evacuate so many people. Also, evacuating the military from Pakistan would have
meant losing the grip on Al Qaeda.
“simulation reports” showing millions of deaths resulting from Indo-Pak
nuclear war. Done.
the idea that a conventional war must inevitably go nuclear, in order to
pressure India to de-escalate. Done [33,35].
economic pressure on India. The “travel advisories” are still in place for
Pakistani terrorist /military establishments in POK. This would end the US-Pak
Pakistani control over nuclear weapons and threaten to announce the fact unless
the Pakistanis took action to stop terrorism and remove the terror camps
the many other facets of the nuclear threat facing the US, only Option #6 would
have contributed to American security – and Option #6 would indeed have solved
many of the problems.
Feasibility and Opportunity for Solution
2002, the United States enjoys unprecedented freedom of action around the Indian
subcontinent. Three aircraft carrier groups cover the Arabian Sea approaches to
Pakistan (and to the Indian West Coast). Fleets of long-range heavy bombers
operate out of Diego Garcia, and fighter-bombers from Kuwait and UAE. Army
divisions are based in the Central Asian Republics, Afghanistan, and probably
inside Pakistan. Several Pakistani air force bases are in US hands. The airspace
is probably controlled by American controllers either from Pakistan or from the
carriers. Thousands of US agents have infiltrated Pakistan, and military
officers work with the ISI and the Pakistan military HQ. The nuclear
establishment must have become transparent to the US following the interrogation
of the senior Pakistani nuclear officials. The dictator of Pakistan is basically
dependent on American support for day-to-day survival, both political and
personal, with reports that even his bodyguards include FBI-trained personnel.
With the Taliban already decimated and a new government in power in Afghanistan,
the Pakistani dictator’s bargaining power is greatly reduced from his
September 2001 levels. With the US intensely interested in events in Pakistan,
the PRC was staying well away. US influence is really the Pakistanis’ only
hope of preventing Indian retaliation across the LOC. Thus, in May-June 2002, the
US enjoyed truly unprecedented freedom of action in Pakistan. It is worth
remembering that General Musharraf’s January 12, 2002 speech to the nation was
widely reported to have been cleared, if not composed, by the US State
nature of the Pakistani nuclear command-and-control structure may be inferred
from the nature of the government. Unlike any nuclear power in history,
Pakistan is a one-man dictatorship. Unlike democracies and Communist states,
there is no reason to expect a committee in Pakistan to decide on the
disposition of nuclear forces. This means that orders from the dictator
constitute a “necessary and sufficient” authorization for any forces
guarding nuclear assets to act. Thus a US military team, armed with a written
order from General Musharraf, would be in a position to drive up to most
Pakistani nuclear facilities and take control of their assets with no need for
violence – and to move them out to US bases and then onto the aircraft
carriers offshore. Alternatively, entire facilities could have been taken over
in the name of “securing” them.
plausible scenario is that joint Sino-US plans were executed, where the Chinese
took control of the warheads and the guidance systems of the nuclear-capable
missiles. This would explain the curious tests of wobbly missiles conducted by
Musharraf, and the supplies of fighter planes and the mysterious convoy, perhaps
to placate Musharraf – especially since the convoy came after tensions
had begun coming down. Then again, the convoy might simply have been to
misinform – conveying the idea of strategic weapons moving the wrong way along
the Karakoram highway.
Indications of Change
there evidence that any of this actually occurred? An article by R. Singh in
“American Prospect”  looked at pointers available as early as January
2002. Among the points cited by Singh were:
by Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar. Sattar, on Oct. 30, announced
“Pakistan’s strategic assets are under foolproof custodial controls” On
November 1 he disclosed that “Pakistani experts would be apprised of security
measures being applied by the United States.” And further that Pakistan had
accepted Secretary Of State Colin Powell’s offer to train Pakistanis “for
security and protection of nuclear assets”. This sequence suggests that the
nukes were already under US control, but Pakistanis might be trained to take
over some tasks then being done by Americans.
comment by Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes during the Indian buildup
after the attack on Parliament that: “those concerned with Pakistan’s
nuclear program are responsible people” without mentioning whom he
considered “responsible and safe” – (Author’s note: surely not General
Musharraf who ordered the Kargil misadventure, and controls the terrorists
in DAWN, Dec. 6, 2001, about Italian scientists assessing Pakistani nuclear
security on deputation from the Italian government, and their questions
“raising concerns in the security establishment” of Pakistan. Singh’s
curiosity was about the rationale behind letting such a visit occur and the
journalist Imtiaz Alam  provides glimpses of the realities in Pakistan in
his OpEd on May 13. Excerpts: “The question to be pondered about by the GHQ
is that a scenario post-Operation Gibralter may once again be evolving, despite
our deterrence now closely watched by the US who even knew in which streets and
houses of Faisalabad and Lahore had 50 al-Qaeda activists taken refuge.” (Author’s
note: “Operation Gibraltar” was the invasion of India ordered in 1965 by
Pakistan dictator #1, Field Marshal Ayub Khan, which ended with the Field
Marshal starting a new life as a London bar owner.)
columnist Seymour Hersh claimed in  that US and Israeli covert nuclear
facilities destruction teams had started training together soon after Sep. 11,
2001, and in October US covert teams had “explored plans for an operation
inside Pakistan”. A senior military officer was quoted as “confirming
that intense planning for the possible "exfiltration" of Pakistani
warheads was under way, said that he had been concerned not about a military
coup but about a localized insurrection by a clique of I.S.I. officers in the
field who had access to a nuclear storage facility.
most visible indicator of change is the sudden decision by Pakistani dictator
General Musharraf to stop the terrorist infiltration into India, and to close
down the terrorist camps. This was announced by US Undersecretary of State
Richard Armitage following his visit with General Musharraf . Whatever
assurances Armitage carried with him from Islamabad were sufficient to cause an
overnight mood change in New Delhi, with top Ministers citing “the word of the
world powers” to assure them that Pakistan was indeed stopping terrorism. Did
Indian leaders, burned by their willingness to meet Pakistanis at the Lahore
summit of 1999 and the Agra summit of 2001, become satisfied with just a verbal
commitment from the initiator of the Kargil War? Or did the Americans bring far
more convincing arguments showing that the fundamental MAD equation in the
subcontinent had changed in such a way that Pakistan would no longer be able to
sustain terrorism? Did Armitage or Rumsfeld assure India that there was no real
rush to attack POK any more? From the Indian government point of view, this is
the best and really the only meaningful assurance that there has to be a
withdrawal of the terrorists - Pakistan can no longer afford a major incident,
whether ordered by Musharraf or locally initiated. Any major terrorist
escalation by Pakistan within the next few months will make the Indian
government look rather silly for believing these assurances. This further
strengthens the hypothesis that there must be more than just promises
rationalizing the new-found optimism in New Delhi.
the Pakistani dictator’s heart was not in the assurances given to Armitage, is
very clear from his subsequent interviews to BBC and Newsweek . He tried
reneging on his words, stating that he had not agreed to any permanent
arrangement to stop terrorism. However, this was roundly rejected by the world
powers, and a telephone call from Sec. Powell to Musharraf was publicized,
completing the public spanking of the dictator. Japan is reported (in the
Pakistani press) to have told the Pakistani Foreign Minister in “blunt and
harsh terms” to stop terrorism. Britain accepted the reality of the source of
trouble in J&K, calling it Pakistani “terrorism”, not “Kashmiri
freedom fighters”. Russia called for Pakistan to cease terrorism. Germany
reacted angrily to Musharraf’s nuclear rhetoric. China remained silent. The
dictator was well and truly isolated.
in the reports of these angry interviews was an astonishing statement, reported
by Times of India thus: “Musharraf also .. expanded the scope of his
demands for keeping peace. ..The new demands include a denuclearised South Asia
and for the west to ensure a conventional deterrence --i.e arm Pakistan --
"so that war never takes place in the sub-continent" .
call for “denuclearized South Asia” marks a dramatic change from all
previous Pakistani policy. On its face, it is an offer to abandon the ambitious
nuclear program started by Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto, the only Pakistani Chief
Executive to be hanged to-date. Bhutto promised to develop nuclear weapons
“even if Pakistanis have to eat grass to pay for it”. And indications are
that they have indeed had to suffer a lot to pay for this program, and it
appears not to have resulted in any technological spin-offs or economic
multipliers inside Pakistan – another sign that it was mostly imported with
hard cash. With nuclear weapons gone, Pakistan would be in no position to
challenge India or conduct cross-border terrorism – effectively rendering the
Pakistani military irrelevant in the 21st century. Arming Pakistan
enough for “conventional deterrence” is a pipedream – it did not work even
in 1965. From the tone of the interviews, this demand may be taken as a tantrum
thrown in protest of Pakistan being forced to “give in to Indian pressure”
to stop terrorism. However, other statements indicate that there is more to the
a speech to Pakistani nuclear scientists a couple of days later , General
Musharraf surprised observers as much by what he did not say, as by what he
said. He declared that Pakistan’s nuclear and missile potential was
“essentially defensive in nature”. Other key excerpts (emphasis added by
commended the dedication, commitment, capacity and success of scientists that
made Pakistan a nuclear state and helped manage indigenous missile capability.
He said scientists of Pakistan have made their countrymen proud due to their
achievements in nuclear and other fields. The president expressed his confidence
that Pakistani scientists would do equally well in peaceful uses of nuclear
technology. He said they must make more efforts to show Pakistan on the map of
leading countries in science and technology, in the peaceful uses of nuclear
energy and application of science in economic development…” However, the
president said the capability in the nuclear and missile fields needed to
support all possible efforts towards promotion and application of nuclear
technology for peaceful ends. In this connection, he referred to the
achievements made by Pakistani scientists in agriculture, industry, health and
Notably missing was any sense of thanks for providing the
deterrent which saved Pakistan from Indian attack, nor any sense that the
deterrent needed to be further developed. Essentially, the General spoke of the
nuclear and missile development efforts in the past tense, focusing entirely on
“peaceful uses of nuclear energy” for the future.
earlier, Indian observers had wondered about the disposition of Pakistani
nuclear weapons. In a May 25 article in The Times of India , Indian defence
expert K. Subrahmanyam asked: “Has US seized Pak N-arms?” He
suggested that the Pakistani missile tests could indicate that the Americans had
taken charge of the country’s nuclear warheads. He pointed out that the tests
were superfluous since the missiles were already tested and proven Chinese and
North Korean missiles, and the fact that they were being tested over land and
inhabited areas proved the point further. He further commented that the
Americans could not afford to trust the Pakistanis with both missiles and
nuclear warheads, given the well-known Pakistani hatred for the Americans.
Another surprising indication came from the Pakistani Ambassador to the United
Nations, Munir Akram :"India should not have the license to kill
with conventional weapons while our hands are tied". This was in the
context of stating that Islamabad had never ruled out first use, and was
interpreted as adding to tensions, with the audience described as “shocked and
refusing to comment”. Other interpretations may explain his rage better.
further indication of American action came in a blunt response from US President
George Bush to General Musharraf’s plea to the US to release F-16 fighters for
shipment to Pakistan – reported on US TV on June 11. The President rejected
this request, stating that such a transfer of sophisticated weaponry would
“needlessly anger people in the region”. Further, he announced that the F-16
aircraft in question were being given to a US Navy unit. This statement is
interesting for several reasons. Given the sudden tests of Pakistani missiles,
and their reported lack of success, it appears that the Pakistanis were
desperately trying to demonstrate a credible threat from missile-carried nuclear
warheads. The primary nuclear-weapon delivery vehicles available to the
Pakistanis were believed to be their 1980s-vintage fleet of 28 single-seater and
12 dual-trainer F-16 aircraft. According to unofficial Indian estimates, fewer
than 12 of these 40 remain flight worthy. Thus it is possible that a further
infusion of F-16s would be the best way to project a Pakistani nuclear threat
– a point noted and rejected by the Americans. It is also interesting that
F-16s suitable for delivery to Pakistan should be given to the US Navy – which
does not deploy F-16s. The obvious use of F-16s for the US Navy is to equip
“aggressor” squadrons to train US Navy pilots to fight against F-16s. The
only nation whose F-16s might fly against US Navy pilots is, of course, Pakistan.
This point could not have gone unnoticed in Pakistan Air Force headquarters.
This fits with recent Pakistani reports that during June, French Rafale fighters
and airborne control stations maintained combat air patrols across the probable
path of fighters flying between Karachi and Mumbai – probably to stop surprise
attacks on Indian nuclear facilities near Mumbai.
surprising were three editorial / opinion pieces which appeared in leading
Pakistani newspapers in the past week. The first was an Op-Ed in “Jang”
, arguing that the money spent on nuclear weapons was a gross waste, because
they did not win any wars for Pakistan. Excerpts:
thought no one could stop us from seeking "strategic depth" into
Afghanistan because we have the bomb. We thought we could be on the offensive
because we have the bomb to defend us. We thought that we could take the
offensive into the Indian side of Kargil because we have the bomb to defend us.
We also thought that we could continue "bleeding the Indian Army" in
Kashmir and no one would dare block our "low cost" offensive because
we have the bomb to defend us. Just look how all our policies were stumped; the
bomb being largely irrelevant...Between December of last year and May of this
year, all the nuclear threats that we coated the world with were mere attempts
to gain world attention. .... Right after September 11, American policy-makers
discovered that Pakistan could be made to do almost anything by threatening to
destroy her bomb... they have been vindicated ... the bomb has actually become a
liability not an asset. .. Data .. suggests that Pakistan must have spent an
average of $300 million to $400 million a year over the past two decades to get
to where we are today. ....The fifty million Pakistanis for whom life has been
made a penalty because of trying to survive below the poverty level. The one
hundred million Pakistanis who have been kept illiterate and three-quarters of
all Pakistanis who don't even have access to safe drinking water. ... It will be
a mistake to conclude that our bomb deterred India from undertaking strikes into
is an astonishing contention in a censored newspaper. Lacking nuclear weapons,
Pakistan would probably have suffered a shattering conventional retaliation
during the Kargil war (of course the General may not have attempted his
misadventure then..), and the Bomb had indeed prevented Indian hot-pursuit
operations against terror camps in POK since 1990. The second was an opinion
piece, which argued that Pakistan should “Ban the Bomb”  because they
had no nuclear deterrent any more – and advising Pakistanis to emulate the
French Resistance of WWII when the invading Indian armies reached their towns
and villages. Hard on the heels of this came a “prediction” by a top (Islamist)
Pakistani politician, reported in “DAWN”  that the government would
“sell out” on Pakistan’s Kashmir policy and its “strategic assets, just
as it had done on its Afghanistan policy.
above pieces are remarkable, not for being authoritative, but for their very
appearance in the leading Pakistani English-language media. The editorial
decision to publish  in particular, must make readers wonder at its purpose.
Over the past decades, the Pakistani nuclear program has seldom been discussed
in a context other than praise, pride and indispensability. The sudden arguments
for denuclearization suggest that this idea is being encouraged for publication
from influential quarters in this military-ruled country with its censorship and
mediaeval repressive laws against free expression. A satirical piece in a
US-based Pakistani Internet news outlet followed , casting the mythical
“General Flathead” as stating in reply to “Where are the strategic
assets?" - "Strategic assets are with those who funded them.
And we all know who funded them. But it doesn’t matter. We have become wiser.
“ This article is cited not as evidence of inside knowledge (though that
is entirely possible, given the rumored identity of the author of this piece)
but of Pakistanis/ Pakistani-Americans experienced in interpreting official
statements from military rulers, drawing the same inference from events as the
present author has done.
View from America
terrorist attacks of 2001 drove home the realization that the enemies of America
had once again managed to recruit and train suicide combatants – humans who
would go on missions where success by definition had to include their own death.
This threat grew with the list of suicide bombings in Israel – over 70
reported by mid-June. Two suicide attacks in Karachi – one against a bus
carrying French submarine technicians, and the other against the US Consulate
– emphasized the large number of suicide volunteers available to Al Qaeda.
There is thus no room for doubt that should Al Qaeda acquire nuclear weapons or
fissile material, Americans would be targeted. What we have seen so far is that:
thresholds of danger from the Pakistani nuclear program, which the American
academia and think-tanks anticipated in Fall 2001, have been crossed in the
connection and indeed the identity between the Afghan and Pakistani components
of the terrorist enterprise has been established beyond all doubt. That the Al
Qaeda is alive and well in Pakistan after the destruction of Afghanistan, is
obvious and has been acknowledged at the highest levels of the US
Pakistani nuclear establishment has been tightly linked at its highest levels to
Al Qaeda planners.
in September 2001 (Islamabad airport closing) and November 2001 (Kunduz airlift)
raise strong suspicions that Pakistan had part of its nuclear assets stored in
Afghanistan – and that their subsequent location was compromised to US
stability of the deterrence equation in the Indian subcontinent has been called
into question twice within 4 months – and Pakistani willingness to make
nuclear blackmail threats has been demonstrated clearly.
Shoe Bomber and the Dirty Bomber plots have both been traced to Pakistan. The
shoe bomb packaging showed the handiwork of a nuclear-weapon specialist. With
the Shoe Bomber trained and controlled from Pakistan, the links to the Pakistani
nuclear establishment are not far to seek.
Al Qaeda threats in recent months indicate confidence (or bluff) that they still
hope to attack Americans with weapons of mass destruction.
is clear evidence that the nuclear-capable missiles in the possession of
Pakistan are of Chinese and North Korean origin.
latest version of Ghauri missile in Pakistani hands is enough to put Israel
within range of nuclear annihilation by any of its enemies – who paid for the
May-June 2002, the American administration faced the threat of over 120,000
American citizens being exposed to imminent, all-out nuclear war. The core of
this problem was the Pakistani sponsorship of international terrorism, backed by
the Pakistani nuclear weapons.
Shoe Bomber and Dirty Bomber incidents merit closer examination in the context
of this paper. As terrorist plots go, both conveyed awful threats, but each
suffered from incredibly poor execution. In the former, Mr. Reid is said to have
obtained a new passport after putting his old one through a washing machine to
remove suspicious Pakistan/ Afghanistan stamps, then been stopped and denied
boarding at Paris airport, then having e-mailed Pakistan in a 4-hour internet
session, and been ordered to proceed again the next day! . He appears to
have struck a match to his shoelaces with a flight attendant fairly close behind
him – and failed to light incendiary laces after repeated attempts. What was
really terrifying was that the explosives showed expertise in shaping charges
for precise timing – a hallmark of the nuclear bomb development community. Why
were such people incapable of executing a terror plot any better, or finding
someone more competent than Mr. Reid? It appears quite probable that Mr.
Reid’s jehad was not to commit suicide in blowing up the airliner, but
to sacrifice by conveying a terror message more effective than an airliner crash
of ambiguous cause. A similar theory can be presented for the Dirty Bomber.
Again, this plot appears to have gone awry because the plotters could not lay
hands on nuclear material. Both plots indicate that the terrorists have access
to theory and experience from nuclear weapon development establishments – but
no more access to nuclear materials.
seen above, China also had strong reason to be gravely concerned with the
instability of the “assets” supplied to Pakistan. Indian nuclear doctrine
 makes it clear that the states which supplied the nuclear weapons used in
an attack on India must be held accountable and targeted in a retaliatory
strike. In any event, in an India-Pakistan nuclear exchange, China would be a
big loser, being painted worldwide as the source of the cataclysm. There would
be no way to hide the Chinese origin of the missiles, aircraft or warheads used.
The possibility of anti-Communist Islamic fundamentalists getting control of
these weapons has also been rising sharply, and China knows that dissident
Islamic Uighur guerrillas have been training and fighting shoulder-to-shoulder
with the rest of the terrorists controlled by the Pakistan Army. American and
other western non-proliferation pressure would have linked Chinese influence on
Pakistan to trade considerations – making it profitable for China to help
“secure” Pakistan’s missile guidance and warhead capabilities. Thus the
PRC had very strong reasons to disarm Pakistan in May-June 2002. History
suggests that the PRC acts very quickly when it sees that quick action is
feasible and in its interest. The PRC certainly had enough forces and influence
inside Pakistan to pull off a denuclearization operation swiftly. These
arguments are consistent with the observed missile tests conducted by Musharraf.
Removing the guidance systems and the warheads may have been the most effective
ways to assure the Indians that the danger of a Pakistani nuclear attack had
1 presents a timeline of events. Table 2 presents key pointers, with
interpretations that lend to and subtract from the hypothesis of this paper.
From these arguments, two points may be stated: (1) The pointers towards a
denuclearization of Pakistan are circumstantial, and lean on what would have
been logical for the US and PRC to do, as well as the strange behavior and
statements from Musharraf. These statements indicate attempts to swing public
opinion away from placing value on the nuclear deterrent and to prepare them to
be told of its loss. (2) The arguments against the hypothesis depend on the
world’s two superpowers - US and PRC - not having any ability to link events,
nor any coherent plan or the ability to translate their congruent national
imperatives, influence and on-site power into decisive action – and thus being
passive spectators in a situation fraught with peril for their own interests.
Table 1: Timeline of Events
1998 nuclear tests
- Summer 1999 Kargil invasion
strategic doctrine articles cite First Use option
threatens to use nukes if India crosses border to defeat Kargil intrusion.
activates nukes; backs down when India wipes out NLI and US threatens to
go public about Pak terrorism.
for nuclear-armed navy announced.
US demands Pak cooperation to attack Taliban Islamabad airport traffic
indicates urgent nuke movement. China reported to have offered nuke
takeover; Pak refuses; PLA forces deputed to help secure nukes.
Public concerns about Pak nukes falling into Al Qaeda; contingency plans
for removing Pak nukes.
Taliban falls. Kunduz airlift. Kabul house ties Paki nuke experts to Al
Qaeda. Scientists interrogated; two flee to Myanmar. Quadir Khan retires.
Pak press cites pervasive US security presence in Pak; wonders about nuke
secrecy and control.
Attack on Parliament. India demands end to terrorism. Pak threatens nuke
2002: Pak editorials and think tank articles espouse first-strike
doctrine. China provides F-7 fighters.
– April: continued standoff.
2002: Kaluchak terrorist attack. India goes to high alert, moves strike
forces to border, demands cessation of terrorist infiltration and
demolition of terrorist camps.
2002: Pak publishes videos of flawed tests; missiles identified as
PRC-N.Korean. Pak dictator and aides visit PRC. PRC convoy spotted moving
declares Pakistan’s “Kashmir Policy” to be terrorism.
2002: US orders evacuation of personnel. Terror attacks in Karachi target
westerners. US informs India that Pak has readied nuke weapons; threshold
unpredictable. India does not stand down.
2002: G-8 pressure on India to be patient; on Pak to stop terrorism. Pak
ministers and UN ambassador repeat threats of first use. Pak ambassador
cites “tying Pakistan’s hands”.
2002: Armitage and Rumsfeld visits reassure India, leave Pak furious.
India cites reduction of terrorism.
denies agreeing to pull back terrorists. Refuted in public by US; Powell
calls Musharraf. Musharraf retracts denial.
cites need to denuclearize South Asia; tells scientists to turn to
peaceful uses of nukes. Editorials and Op-Eds call for banning nukes, cite
waste of resources and ineffectiveness of nukes. Need for “New
thinking” cited in strategic doctrine. Op-Eds ask Pakistanis to prepare
for street resistance to Indian invasion. Politicians “predict”
sell-out of nuclear assets.
2: Pointers to Denuclearization and Alternative Explanations
levels of desperation evident in the dictator's statements.
devotion to "denuclearized South Asia" from a dictator whose
only hope of sustaining terrorism is the Islamic Bomb
"missile tests" conducted in haste – tapes released of obvious
technical deliberation in Oct. 2001 declaring thresholds for US to de-nuke
120,000 US citizens were in imminent danger unless Pakistan was
"U-turn" in the dictator's nuclear threats in the past month.
report of warhead installation on Pak missiles in late May - warheads
tracked from storage.
Evidence that the US has penetrated and is in control of Pak airspace,
airports, telephone networks, sea-lanes, airbases, can dictate movements
of their police and armed forces, and arrest and export terrorist suspects
at will - even top-level nuclear scientists. Eight top-level Paki nuclear
establishment managers/ scientists have undergone repeated US
interrogation as early as Oct. 2001. Two more top Paki nuclear scientists
in refuge in Myanmar.
Reports of heightened PRC movement of personnel and equipment to and from
TSP along the Karakoram highway.
A report from a top-level Indian nuclear expert
inferring that Pakistan was
Arguments based on the above that the nuclear "tests" of May
1998 used Chinese devices intended purely to convey a deterrent - hence
Pakistan never has developed anything more dangerous than radioactive
Logical decision-making would have led the US and the PRC to de-nuke the
may believe war is imminent.
was part of a 3-point statement which included a demand for stable
conventional deterrence – rendering nukes superfluous..
are a signal to international community. May be due to domestic pressure
to match Agni 1 test.
distinction between public statements by non-officials and official
of 60,000 Americans in Pakistan not adequately proven.
threats were not working, causing international anxiety. Hence a policy
availability in late May negates hypothesis of earlier removal of weapons.
has to get their permission to work with them on the Afghan border, and US
press reports dissatisfaction with that cooperation. Clear from these
reports that Pakistan worked to cooperate with the US (after some initial
stonewalling), and to demonstrate to the US that this is not the
"norm" - again implying that this level of US involvement in
Pakistani nuclear affairs may be the exception rather than the rule.
during a period of heightened military threat. Began in late Dec./early
January, Including deliveries of F-7s.
is op-ed and interpretation, not an intelligence assessment. Lacks
anything beyond circumstantial evidence.
blew up something nuclear in May 1998. Publicly available analysis
suggests that the weapons might be part of a much larger, more
sophisticated Pakistani nuclear weapons program that is largely
self-sustaining at this point.
is logical need not be feasible.
paper has explored a radical hypothesis: that for the first time in history, a
declared nuclear-weapon state has been denuclearized against its will through
external intervention – and without outright hostilities. What we can state
from the evidence is the following:
the United States and the People’s Republic of China had congruent national
interests and an unprecedented opportunity to neutralize a grave threat – and
the resources, motivation and imperative to do so – within the period from
September 11, 2001 to June 16, 2002.
is no longer any reason to believe, from an examination of available
information, that the Islamic Republic of Pakistan possesses the capability to
deploy or use nuclear weapons.
author gratefully acknowledges the invaluable discussions conducted on this and
related issues on the Bharat-Rakshak Forum, http://www.bharat-rakshak.com,
and the enthusiastic contributions of the many participants.
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