`Real threat assessment of Pak nukes not yet made`

Pakistan`s nuclear assets may appear tempting targets for terrorists, but a noted American expert says the real threat assessment of this is yet to be made.

Updated: Nov 17, 2011, 13:42 PM IST

Washington: Pakistan`s nuclear assets may
appear tempting targets for terrorists, but a noted American
expert says the real threat assessment of this is yet to be
made.

In an article published in the latest issue of
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Charles P Blair, Deputy
Director of the Centre for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies,
maintains that the real threat assessment is yet to be made --
one that goes beyond merely considering assumed terrorist
capability and putative vulnerabilities.

"Pakistan`s nuclear assets may be tempting targets
for terrorists. Experts are split, however, on the actual
threat posed. Some assert that Pakistan`s nuclear assets are
on the verge of seizure by terrorists, while others contend
that the risk is minimal at best," Blair wrote in his paper.

"Because neither side develops robust or holistic
threat assessments, however, American decision makers, who
wisely include open sources when evaluating possible threats
emanating from Pakistan`s nuclear infrastructure, are not
adequately informed," Blair concluded.

In his article Blair notes that Pakistan has long
been considered a potential source of nuclear weapons for
terrorists, even before it had a full-fledged nuclear
programme and decades before it demonstrated a yield-bearing
nuclear explosive capability.

"Two groups of experts stand on opposite ends of the
risk spectrum -- these "optimists" and "pessimists" consider
valid variables but fail to evaluate all the critical factors
necessary for a methodologically robust and defensible threat
assessment of Pakistan`s nuclear assets, he wrote.

According to Blair, pessimists contend the risk has
grown and "the safety and security of nuclear weapons
materials in Pakistan may very well be compromised at some
point in the future."

Indeed, for almost a decade there have been calls
for US contingency plans to destroy, temporarily secure in
place, or "exfiltrate" Pakistani nuclear assets -- its nuclear
weapons and fissile materials -- in the event of widespread
civil unrest or a governmental coup empowering Islamist
forces, he said.

"In contrast, optimists maintain Pakistan`s nuclear
weapons infrastructure is secure and the threat posed by
terrorists is overblown. Optimists say perceptions of
vulnerability do not adequately consider the implementation of
various technical precautions and advances in Pakistan`s
personnel reliability programme," Blair noted.

"Based on unclassified information, neither the
optimists` nor the pessimists` positions are defensible -- in
fact, both positions only review assumed terrorist
capabilities and putative vulnerabilities of Pakistan`s
nuclear assets," Blair said.

PTI