Targeting Pak Nukes !

Farooq Hameed Khan  

Pak- Iran relations may not be at their very best, yet Iranian President  Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s startling disclosure that  Iran has precise information  about American plans to sabotage Pakistan’s nuclear installations, should be an eye opener for Pakistan’s security establishment . The Iranian President further warned that the United States would then use the UN Security Council  and other international agencies as levers to prepare the grounds for a massive presence ( in Pakistan)  to weaken Pakistan’s sovereignty.

President Ahmedenijad must surely have credible evidence of the US conspiracy . His remarks  reinforced  Pakistani  fears  that targeting Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal  remains the ultimate objective of US policy. For Iran, the horrifying scenario of a ‘denuclearized and weakened Pakistan under US domination’ , would  heighten  Iran’s insecurity and make its nuclear program more vulnerable to US and Israeli aggression.

The US has made deliberate efforts to gain intelligence  and access to our nuclear program under various pretexts.  Intelligence gathering, monitoring and surveillance of  Pakistani nuclear sites , missile test firings and  movement of  launch platforms,   through  spy or commercial satellites is routinely resorted to, though senior US Defence  officials admitted that complete information of our strategic installations is yet not available.

During Gen Musharraf’s rule, the US was reportedly engaged in a US $ 30 million project to  streamline  nuclear  safety , command and control procedures.  Better sense prevailed at our Strategic Plans Division  and  the US role was restricted to training our experts in USA,  the program was non intrusive and was  based on  our right to ‘pick and choose’ from the US offered checklist of cooperation.

In 2007, then Member Science and Technology  of the Planning Commission of Pakistan recalled  rejecting a US offer for aerial mapping including application of ‘magnetic  anomaly techniques’ for supposedly sub surface mineral survey in Pakistan. Suspicions were raised when it transpired that out of 100 US personnel in this program, only around five  were technical experts, remaining being US marines. Moreover the US side declined to share the original raw data and offered to provide the processed results instead which was unacceptable to us.

However the  biggest US  breakthrough  may have  been made through the  CIA intelligence network created  in Pakistan  in the last few years under cover of  anti terrorism training and  tracking militants in our towns . With the help of well paid local recruits, vital intelligence about the location and security  arrangements  around our strategic installations may have been acquired.

Many will recall the transfer of a US  training team from Police Training College Sihala, that is located few kilometers from Kahuta nuclear facility, near Islamabad, after the establishment’s Commandant reported undesirable activities of these foreigners.

Western  media  reports have repeatedly suggested in the past that  United States has contingency plans to send in Special Forces to help ‘secure the Pakistani nuclear arsenal’. On 31 December 2007, ‘The Herald’, UK reported that US Special Forces snatch squads were on standby including neighboring Afghanistan to seize or disable Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal in the event of a collapse of government authority or the outbreak of civil war following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.  These troops, augmented by volunteer scientists from America’s Nuclear Emergency Search Team organization, were under orders to take control of an estimated 60 warheads dispersed around six to 10 high-security Pakistani military bases.

A ‘Sunday Telegraph’ report dated 15 May 2011 revealed  the Obama administration plans to deploy US troops in Pakistan in case the country’s nuclear installations come under threat from terrorists, who have warned to avenge the killing of  Osama bin Laden. The report adds that US President  Obama  would order troops to ‘parachute’ in to protect key nuclear missile sites- including the Pakistan Air Force’s Central Sargodha Headquarters, home base for nuclear-capable F-16 combat aircraft aircraft.

Pakistan should not also ignore the UAE government’s decision to hire  former  Blackwater Chief’s  new Company  ‘Reflex Responses’,  to set up an 800-member battalion of foreign troops for the United Arab Emirates to thwart internal revolt  and conduct ‘special operations’ . Like the Shamsi airbase that UAE handed over to US for drone/military operations, is this elite mercenary force a standby arrangement  for  any US misadventure in Pakistan?

Would the US  launch a pre emptive strike against our nuclear sites? The US is known to war game various contingencies to capture or cripple Pakistan’s nuclear weapons including a surprise air/missile strike from Arabian sea based aircraft carriers to neutralize  PAF  bases,  air defence, command and  communications network. This would be followed by  moving in Special forces like the top secret Task Force 373, a joint militarycommando unit based in Afghanistan involved  in clandestine operations,  to capture key nuclear installations.

Given the multi  tiered  all round security of our strategic installations, it  would be unwise for US to attempt  an Abbottabad style( Osama operation) strike  against  our  strategic sites. Unlike Abbottabad compound  that was  unprotected  and provided a free run to US Seals,  US troops would  have to overcome resistance by  almost 18000 Pakistani soldiers armed with light and heavy weapons, backed up by elaborate air defence network,  that  guard these sites . With Pakistan’s nuclear assets widely dispersed  , disassembled  and their mobile launch platforms ever on the move, the US should expect lot of surprises .

In my opinion the US  ‘Get Pak Nukes’ Strategy envisions   a ‘false flag’  attack by  CIA supported local militants  on  a nuclear installation including a  power plant.  Any such terrorist attack , even a failed one  would be sufficient to trigger an international uproar specially in the western and Indian media , calling for a UN backed  US led intervention to  takeover   Pakistan’s nuclear assets . Such a move at the UN  is not likely to succeed since  Chinese support  is highly unlikely.

An essential prerequisite of any US foreign intervention plan envisages deep  psychological operations against the target country.  The deliberate and well orchestrated campaign by the western and Indian media supported by vested domestic forces to malign , demoralize and weaken  Pak Army which is the custodian of the nuclear arsenal and create doubts about its ability to defend the strategic assets, is  becoming strikingly visible.

The international  media ‘s recent  hype terming  Pakistan’s nuclear weapons as the fastest  growing,   and   its arsenal increasing  to around 100, almost comparable to India’s nuclear strength, is noteworthy.  This coincided with Pakistan’s  latest test firing of a nuclear-capable, surface-to-surface missile “Nasr” that can hit targets at  60 kilometers and is Pakistan’s answer to India’s Cold Start Doctrine. ‘Nasr’ adds deterrence value to Pakistan’s strategic weapons development program at shorter ranges and demonstrates that Pakistan’s capability to deploy  low yield, tactical nuclear warheads.

Pakistani defence strategists   regularly war game  responses to  possible threat scenarios should the US  alone or in league with India decide to take advantage of Pakistan’s misperceived vulnerability, specially after Abbottabad  incursion by US Special Forces.  A massive Pakistani retaliation  remains  guaranteed , that could even spark  a nuclear conflict beyond anyone’s control in the region.

Pakistanis would rather pay heed to  the Iranian President’s warning, than  accepting  Senator Kerry’s  assurance  who vowed  to write with his blood that the US was not eyeing Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Make no mistake, targeting Pak nukes may be the mother of all blunders!

The writer is a retired Brigadier of Pakistan Army and a defence analyst.

NOTE :This is a cross post from THE NATION

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  • Nasim Hassan  On June 17, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    The US army always attacks a soft target. If there is a possibility of significant losses then they back away. Iraq was weakened by sanctions and first gulf war. Afghanistan armed forces was fighting with ancient weapons.

    They did not attack North Korea, Iran, Russia, China. They pulled out from Somalia.

    The question for all of us is whether Pakistan is a soft target???


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