Pakistan has begun moving its nuclear weapons in low-security vans on congested roads to hide them from US spy agencies, making the weapons more vulnerable to theft by militants, two US magazines reported on Friday.
The Atlantic and the National Journal, in a joint report citing unnamed sources, wrote that the US raid that killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in May at his compound in Abbottabad reinforced Islamabad’s long-standing fears that Washington could try to dismantle the country’s nuclear arsenal.
As a result, the head of the Strategic Plans Divisions (SPD), which is charged with safeguarding Pakistan’s atomic weapons, was ordered to take action to keep the location of nuclear weapons and components hidden from the US, the report said.
Khalid Kidwai, the retired general who leads the SPD, expanded his agency’s efforts to disperse components and sensitive materials to different facilities, it said.
But instead of transporting the nuclear parts in armored, well-defended convoys, the atomic bombs “capable of destroying entire cities are transported in delivery vans on congested and dangerous roads,” according to the report. The pace of the dispersal movements has increased, raising concerns at the Pentagon, it said.
The article quotes an unnamed official from the Inter-Services Intelligence agency saying: “Of all things in the world to worry about, the issue you should worry about the least is the safety of our nuclear program.”
The Pentagon declined to comment on the article but a senior US military official told reporters in Washington on Friday that the US remains confident Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are secure.
“I believe the Pakistan military arsenal is safe at this time, well guarded, well defended,” said the military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The article, based on dozens of interviews, said the US military has long had a contingency plan in place to disable Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in the event of a coup or other worst-case scenario.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 5th, 2011.