Pakistan and its nuclear weapons loom large over Obama administration

January 11, 2009

Pakistan and its nuclear weapons are back in the centre  of the U.S. foreign policy frame as a steady stream of reports from think tanks and newspapers build the case for President-elect Barack Obama to recognise and act urgently with regard to the potential threat from the troubled state.

The New York Times Magazine in an extensive article  headlined Obama’s Worst Pakistan Nighmare says the biggest fear is not Islamist militants taking control of the border regions. It’s what happens if the country’s nuclear arsenal falls into the wrong hands. And it then takes a trip to the Chaklala garrison where the headquarters of Strategic Plans Division, the branch of the Pakistani government charged with protecting its growing arsenal of nuclear weapons, are located and led  by Khalid Kidwai, a former army general.

“In the second nuclear age, what happens or fails to happen in Kidwai’s modest compound may prove far  more likely to save or lose an American city than the billions of dollars the United States spends each year  maintaining a nuclear arsenal that will almost certainly never be used, or the thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars we have spent in Iraq and Afghanistan  to close down sanctuaries for terrorists,” writes David E. Sanger, author of a forthcoming book: “The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power”.

The article quotes a Bush administration official as saying there were two ways Pakistan’s weapons could fall into the wrong hands. One was when the Pakistani military was moving its tactical weapons closer to the frontlines when it could be much more vulnerable to seizure by militants. A time of heightened tensions with India, as is the situation now following the attacks in Mumbai, would be a top reason for Pakistan to begin moving its weapons.  Could that be one of the objectives of the Mumbai attacks, the New York Times asks.

A second route for al Qaeda would be to infiltrate Pakistan’s nuclear labs, put in sleeper cells and then squirrel away the material.

“It is relatively easy to teach Kidwai’s security personnel how to lock down warheads and store them separately from trigger devices and missiles, training that the United  States has conducted, largely in secret, at a cost of almost $100 million.”

“”It is a lot harder for the Americans to keep track of nuclear material being produced inside laboratories,  where it is easier for the Pakistanis to underreport how much nuclear material has been produced, how much is in storage or how much might be ‘stuck in the pipes’ during the laborious enrichment process.” And it would be nearly impossible to stop engineers from walking out the door with the knowledge of how to produce fuel and bomb designs.

Last month, the blue-ribbon Commission on Prevention of  Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism submitted its report, with its members making clear that for sheer scariness nothing could compete with what they heard in a series of top-level intelligence about the risk of Pakistan’s nuclear technology going awry.

“Were one to map terrorism and weapons of mass destruction today, all roads would intersect in Pakistan. It has nuclear weapons and a history of unstable governments, and parts of its territory are currently a safe haven for al Qaeda and other terrorists,”  the commission said. It added that it had singled out Pakistan because it believed it constituted a serious challenge to America’s short-term and medium-term security.

“Pakistan is an ally, but there is a grave danger it could also be an unwitting source of a terrorist attack on the United States — possibly with weapons of mass destruction,” it said, adding it must top the list of priorities for the next President and Congress.

Does this steady drumbeat of reports in the days leading up to Obama’s inauguration foreshadow an even more activist, muscular policy toward Pakistan? Reading through these reports -  there is another by Shuja Nawaz  urging the new administration to declare Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas as part of America’s Afghan war theatre because it is the most dangerous spot on earth -  you would think the India-Pakistan tensions of the past month are a sideshow.

For all of New Delhi’s fulminations against Pakistan and the sense of outrage over the Mumbai attacks,  the pressure it can bring to bear on its troubled neighbour is limited compared with America’s.

But is this all justified or is there a bit of hype here? 

The New York Times article quotes Kidwai, the former general with the keys to the nuclear arsenal, as saying that its security systems were foolproof. “Please grant to Pakistan that if we can make nuclear weapons, we can also make them safe,” he says.

And as he points out, should the United States really be giving  lectures on nuclear safety when the U.S. Air Force lost track of some of its own weapons in 2007 for 36 hours, flying them around unguarded to air bases and leaving them by the side of the tarmac?

Or how can you be so sure about U.S. intelligence establishment reports about Pakistan’s arsenal being at risk, when it was so wrong about Iraq’s nuclear weapons?

[Reuters Photos of Pakistan's nuclear test site of Chagai, nuclear capable Ra a'd missile and nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan]


Hi Vivek
My Comment : My question is still there why Pak is fighting in so called “War on Error”

Answer: Pak is fighting the war on error on pressure from its ally USA and to protect itself and india. Dont you think india would be safer coz of this.

Qestion 2: My Comment: Ideology of IMF is against ISLAM and as you said double standard too. “Rebbah ka Nizam” is religiously wrong according to holy Kuran, so leave US alone, why Pakistan is begging money from them.

Answer: Ideology of IMF is not against Islam.
IMF is dominated by US due to its funding and serves capitalist interests.
Pak is begging money to do US’s dirty work for them.
Why should third world country intiate wars if it needs to feed the poor first.
400 million below poverty line in india, i think which ever way war on error goes, their bellies are not filled by indian incomptent governments.

Qestion3:My Comment: Thats what I am saying Pakistan’s Nukes are not completely safe, thats why USA has to spend money. USA spend money for safety of nukes in Pakistan not in Russia , China or India. And who knows if they are still safe or not.

Answer: Since US trained the pakis and not indians, i have a feeling that indian nukes are more unsafe.
I mean indian could not even prevent Bhobal with 16000 gas leak deaths what do you expect from a complicated nuke facility. I be more worried about india.
India has never gotten its people any training on what to do in a nuke attack, it seems the govt wants them to die. same for pak.

Answer: you completely ignore the UN resolution, selective memory.

Question5:My Comment: You can’t divert a river by making a dam, yes you can lower the flow of water or say regulate it. But India has never violated any treaty on water with Bangladesh or anybody.

Answer: The fact is India made dam on ganges and diverted water away in 1975/1977. This was done until now. In 1996 a water treaty was made after 20 years of unfairness to Bangladesh. This treaty cannot bring back the food shortages and deaths that lack of water for irrigation causes for Bangladesh.

Posted by Zia | Report as abusive

You are getting better and little bit logical. Thanks.

Keep it up.

Posted by Nick | Report as abusive

Why unable to extradict Pakistani Nuclear Scientist Mr A.Q.Khan on charges of nuclear prolifination? Instead the USA helping the Pak regim both militarily and finacialy while the latter refuse to handover Mr. Khan.Is USA really serious about War against Terror?

Posted by SUBHASH | Report as abusive

JUST TO OPEN YOUR EYES:Former British Foreign Secretary: Al Qaeda is Not a Real Group, Just a U.S. Propaganda Campaign.
Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook says:The truth is, there is no Islamic army or terrorist group called Al Qaida. And any informed intelligence officer knows this. But there is a propaganda campaign to make the public believe in the presence of an identified entity representing the ‘devil’ only in order to drive the TV watcher to accept a unified international leadership for a war against terrorism. The country behind this propaganda is the US. Cook has previously written:Al-Qaida, literally “the database”, was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians. Cook is merely confirming what others have said. Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski told the Senate that the war on terror is “a mythical historical narrative”.

Posted by Peace | Report as abusive a23.cfm

and the C-U-R-R-E-N-T British Foreign Secy says:

“But he says the attacks clearly had links to the banned Islamic militant group, the Laskhar-e-Taiba, which is based in Pakistan, and called on Islamabad to root out the group, also known as LET”


Obama should use bone crushing presure to remove Pakistan’s nukes.

The IMF loan guarantee should include de-nuclearization of Pak. Any U.S. assistance of any kind should include denuclearization as a condition. Finally, China should be boycotted if it does not support denuclearization of Pakistan. We should quit buying Chinese goods, as China is supporting a now terrorist state.

China need not fear India, India is not going to attack China for any reason whatso ever and China need not fear some defenceless bald men in orange robes who pray all day.

If India can form an economic Pact with China, they can be unstoppable with regards to stability and security in the world and Pakistan can be leveraged very heavily to disarm.

Posted by Global Watcher | Report as abusive

This is what Churchill said about palestine and other colonised people, in 1937.

“I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have
lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that
right. I do not admit for instance that a great wrong
has been done to the red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place”.

Posted by zia | Report as abusive

If the world is afraid of Pakistan’s Atomic weapons falling into wrong hands then it should work to make Pakistan storng. India’s hatered for Pakistan and it’s desire to waken it should not interfear with the tremendous job Pakistan is doing to make this world a safer place.

Posted by Mo | Report as abusive

as a true idiot you have proved yourself, only extracted the lines which can be used with multiple meaning… however, what is before “but”, also extract that and show the world what he actually say about indian wranglerism in Kashmir, Gujrat, R&AW involvement in Karachi roits and also don’t forget to mention the lines in which he says “India should put evidences on table”.

Posted by Peace | Report as abusive

as a true idiot you have proved yourself, only extracted the lines which can be used with multiple meaning… however, what is before “but”, also extract that and show the world what he actually say about indian wranglerism in Kashmir, Gujrat, R&AW involvement in Karachi roits and also don’t forget to mention the lines in which he says “India should put evidences on table”.

Posted by Peace | Report as abusive

Zia _complex
—”Superiority complex refers to a subconscious neurotic mechanism of compensation developed by the individual as a result of feelings of inferiority.[1] The feelings of inferiority in this specific complex are often brought on by real or perceived social rejection. The term was coined by Alfred Adler (February 7, 1870 – May 28, 1937), as part of his School of Individual psychology.”

—Churchill during his younger days in India had developed an inferiority complex…

Posted by Anup | Report as abusive

Why unable to extradict Pakistani Nuclear Scientist Mr A.Q.Khan on charges of nuclear prolifination? Instead the USA helping the Pak regim both militarily and finacialy while the latter refuse to handover Mr. Khan.Is USA really serious about War against Terror?

Posted by Vicky | Report as abusive

I have migrated to USA from Pakistan.I read the comments of Mr.Subhash and Mr. Vicky.After coming out of Pakistan ,now I can freely say that any peace loving person can agree with these coments,”Why unable to extradict Pakistani Nuclear Scientist Mr A.Q.Khan on charges of nuclear prolifination? Instead the USA is helping the Pak regim both militarily and finacialy while the latter refuse to handover Mr. Khan.Is USA really serious about War against Terror?”Will the new US administration remove this impression?

Posted by RESHMA | Report as abusive

a chill goes down my spine every time i think of a nuke landing into d hands of islamic terrorists! i don think d terrorists will travel al d way to USA to blow up. but will attack d closer “Infedel” india.. as u know india is country with a billion population.. if any kind of nuke goes off in india then millions of lives will be lost!!!!
USA which has some leverage in pakistan should come forward n fix d problem!!!!( take out or force pakistan to roll back its nuclear arsenal! )

Posted by anoop | Report as abusive

The NYT article is, alas, a sad and inaccurate piece of flashy journalese.


“Just past a small traffic circle, a tan stone gateway is manned by a lone, bored-looking guard loosely holding a rusting rifle. The gateway marks the entry to Chaklala Garrison, an old British cantonment from the days when officers of the Raj escaped the heat of Delhi for the cooler hills on the approaches to Afghanistan.”

This is just so absurd that I can’t rebut it without laughing.

Chaklala, which I know well (I was there last in November 2008, calling at Joint Staff HQ, and have four friends who live in the entirely separate housing complexes, of which there are many; see below), is a well-guarded, large military base.

Did Mr Sanger inspect the “rusting” rifle? How did he know it was “rusting”. I tell you directly that no soldier in the Pakistan army has a rusty rifle. That is cheap, nasty and silly journalese at its most risible depths. It’s straight out of Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Scoop’. Funny as a parody; but pathetic and insulting as reportage.

The “officers of the Raj” didn’t go anywhere near Chaklala to escape the heat of Delhi. This is such an ignorant and absurd statement that it destroys the entire article. “The cooler hills” ? What hills in Chaklala? The highest point is some 250 feet above sea level (look at the map). And when Delhi is hot, Chaklala (a suburb of Rawalpindi, in the plains) is hot, too.

There are many serving and retired officers married quarters (MQs) at Chaklala, and certainly there are gateways into the main areas. Pity Mr Sanger doesn’t know them all. How could he, of course? And the MQs aren’t anywhere near the office complexes. Further, there are several areas called “Chaklala” (including the Pakistan Air Force base). And I tell you this, flatly : Sanger may have got to an office in which LtGen Kidwai was present, but that wasn’t General Kidwai’s office.

Thereafter the article goes downhill.

There is little fact and much hinting about nuclear matters, based on what General Kidwai may (or may not) have said to this amateur reporter. I know Kidwai, and I tell you this : he doesn’t tell anyone anything of importance.

Mind you, “the gleaming silver device, which is meant to spin at terrifying speed” is pretty good tabloid stuff. But do you think it’s really New York Times’ standard? Gleaming, spinning and terrifying?

This might be acceptable journalism for downmarket garbage dailies such as the Daily Express and the Sun in the UK. One doesn’t, however, expect this sort of tawdry nonsense in the New York Times.

But of course one has to remember that the NYT carried rubbish from a reporter called Judith Miller . . .

Posted by Brian Cloughley | Report as abusive

The threat of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into the hands of Islamic jiahdis are very real, the smug dismissal of such concerns by propagandists on their payroll notwithstanding!!!

Mr. Khan, one may recall, spent a good 15 years trafficking in nuclear secrets with Lybia, North Korea, Iran and, perhaps, al Qaeda, before confessing his guilt in early 2004.

Lashkar-e-Taiba ,the jihadist wing of the ISI has A.Q. Khan, has close links to A.Q Khan.

Large sections of Pak army establishment are sympathetic to jihad and suppport terrorism. The threat of nuclear jihad from Pakistan is very real.


The whole world knew the pakistan as a democratic country ,more an islamic country, and most specific a terrorist sanctuary. A series of histories , which can be reeled to many films and volumes of books for its unstable political policy and politics.Aswell a real threatener for the lives of people in world inparticular asia claiming itself as a decent ,democratic and good administrated country. Country is famous for histories old and new ones which go on created . even a good educated person is elected for top post , he/she will be war-craftic crying for wars n nuclear weapons. Surely the pakistan cannot defend its own territory for terrorists strike aswell engaging terror activities including training,raising more,weapon smuggle etc etc can it would defend its nuclear weapons. From the dramas of A .q khan nuclear network its well known for its nuclear sale and nuclear trafficking, its possible for the pakistanis to do anything destructful..from the kargil war everyone could learn that they use the terrorists n islamic jihadis as a shield wich no country will do..Snakes were raised by these people n they knew that it will one day bite them……Even british pm quoted that all of attacks in u.k has a pakistani background..
surely someone must do something constructive before it is too late….An appeal to pakistan: dear pakistanis we are not ur enemys..we are a brotherly nation tore into two for ur goodness,a seperate islamic nation.Allah tells not to kill people..dont do that being a islamic nation,raising terrors to kill innocent people.nearly half the people kiled in mumbai strike were islamic guys…everyone know that next to malaysia , india hosts world second largest islamic population.dont this kind of acts……if u wanna develop really like india,concentrate on education n uplifting people rather than funding n raising terrors….Indians were not people of revenging n attacking humankind except theres a need for it.dnt create it….first try to bring the army ,navy n airforce under the control of senior ruler of country rather than acting as a seperate agencies.military toppling pm goveernment,captures ,self rules,agin conducts a polls,self elects itself.put an end to dictatorship…the army major is under senior citizen or ruler.thats a decratic style………im stressing this becoz many army generalss took over the charge,coz of inefficient laws.make a stricter law..bring the country to developed path.leaving arms n nuclear race…….put end to terrorism

Posted by Rizwan Ahamed | Report as abusive

The US ‘War on Terror’ is turning out as a ‘War on Pakistani Nukes’. US terms Pakistan as its important ally in ‘War on terror’ but it does not trust Pakistan and it has good reasons for doing so (9/11). Currently the US stance on Pakistani nukes is soft because Washington is pre-occupied with the transition process but once Mr.Obama steps in he will definitely intensify his campaign against the Pakistani nukes. No matter how much US spends on training Pakistani authorities Obama will never sleep peacefully until he gets rid of Pakistani nukes . US’s primary objective ‘in disguise’ is getting rid of Pakistani nukes. No matter how much the US broadcasts its concern over Taliban or Al-Qaeda these terrorist groups are secondary objective when it comes down to Pakistani nukes.

Posted by Pritash Chaudry | Report as abusive

Dont worry Mr VICKY. Wait for ISI to catch hold of you. It is better not to come out of your home. You are now on the top list.

Posted by Zair | Report as abusive

Pakistan is known state harbouring trrorists.The rawmaterial for this comes from notion of Jehad.The poor youth of Pakistan who are also devote muslims take to terrorism quite naturally.They quite efficiently handled all kinds of weapons in Mumbai attacks.In their conversation ,latter intercepted by inteligence agencies, it was revealed that their masters in Pakistan were urging them to avoid where possible hurting muslims during their attack.With the same ease they are capable of taking nuclear weapons and use them against non mulims.The entire world must unitedly take action to remove the nuclear weapons in Pakistan as they may fall in the hands of these jehadi terrorists.

Posted by Carolin | Report as abusive

Pakistan’s nuclear assets and delivery system are permanent. The New York Times should reconcile itself to it.


Bhutto made all pakistanis to eat grass for 11 years to develop nuclear weapon, and now USA is talking about snatching the bomb from them.

Poor Pakistan.

Posted by punjabiyaar | Report as abusive

“Bhutto made all pakistanis to eat grass for 11 years to develop nuclear weapon…”
– And now a foreign sheep on the way to gaze them…. :-)

Can you please send Hamid Gul… I guess Vicky would be more interested to welcome him.

Posted by Blogger | Report as abusive

I am ready to welcome you as well.
Pakistan Zindabad…….

Posted by Zair | Report as abusive


—Pasha developed cold feet when Manmohan Singh ‘commanded’ he be sent to India…

Posted by Anup | Report as abusive

Here is what Mr. Zair has to say on my comments to extradictMr Khan.
“Dont worry Mr VICKY. Wait for ISI to catch hold of you. It is better not to come out of your home. You are now on the top list.

- Posted by Zair ”
If we have to believe him perhaps Paki ISI or jehadis may have reached here in USA to undertake their nefarious actvities.

Posted by Vicky | Report as abusive

To get more information about developments in Pakistan and in the region, please visit


The british empire created the palestine problem and the kashmir problems. Sadly, after hundred years of indian occupation a exit strategy from India was a disaster.
The re-maping of arab world by the british empire has its discontents.
May be Britain could take a more involved role in resolving issues humanly rather than rubber stamping religion based foreign policies of american governments.

Posted by Zia | Report as abusive

Wake up. Indian republic is only 62 years old. How does the Kashmir issue 100 years old?
And who told you that india is exiting out of Kashmir?

Posted by chirkut | Report as abusive

No problem Vicky. Perhaps USA is to far to be operated but you r in our next door. So u seems to be freezing hearing about that. Ha ha. Ur propaganda is getting wider popularity. Keep it up.

Posted by Zair | Report as abusive

I think you need to read sentences properly (may be the call centre is busy today).

So read again I think I am talking about how partition of india/pakistan if better handled could not created the Kashmir problem by the british.
So I am saying it was the british who were masters of indians for hundred years, and when they exited they divided the country in an illogical manner. There was bias towards Nehru and hence a bias partition which till today has problems.

Posted by Zia | Report as abusive

Call center or not, atleast i am not begging IMF and other nations for aid.

I accept that i mistook your comment. Having said that, India made a mockery of british when she decided to remain secular. Since then a lot has changed, there are more muslims in India than in Pakistan and then there is Bangladesh. So no longer Pakistan can call herself sole representative of muslims of indian subcontinent.

Posted by chirkut | Report as abusive

Death to India. Death to India. Death to India

Posted by Zair | Report as abusive

Hi Chirkut
You are factually wrong and your opinion based on wrong facts is thus a waste of time.
Firstly, muslims in india number 154 million. dia

The muslim population of pakistan is $173 million. Read the full article before you speak again. s_of_Pakistan

So please research before you say anything, otherwise you are talking non-sense.

For Zair, there is no need to day death to india, I am pakistani i dont want harm to indians.

Posted by Zia | Report as abusive

Perhaps some Indians don’t know that India still takes aid from the international community.


RE: Pakistan Now or Never (Nuclear Weapons):
Before we put silly scenarios about Pakistani Engineers walking with material & designs, lets dig our own backyard and analyze the following “Attacks” on our own soil:

1- Anthrax Attack by Bruce Ivins, a microbiologist at the US Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Maryland,US. 2001

2-ALMOST “Nuclear Attack”:: A US Air Force B-52 bomber was mistakenly armed with six nuclear warheads and flown for more than three hours across several US states last week (Sept. 2007), prompting an Air Force investigation and the firing of one commander, Pentagon officials.
“Nothing like this has ever been reported before and we have been assured for decades that it was impossible,” said Markey, D-Mass., co-chair of the House task force on nonproliferation. (violating US nuclear weapons handling policies that stretch back nearly 40 years)

3-Cyber Attack by Rajendrasinh B. Makwana, 35, of Glen Allen, Va. (citizen of India), designed to destroy all the data on the Fannie Mae’s 4,000 computer servers nationwide, according to federal prosecutors. 2009

4-he Oklahoma City bombing was a domestic terrorist attack on April 19, 1995 aimed at the U.S. government in which the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, an office complex in downtown Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was bombed. The attack claimed 168 lives and left over 800 people injured. Until the September 11, 2001 attacks, it was the deadliest act of terrorism on U.S. soil. (by 26-year-old Timothy McVeigh)

I hope you get the point !

Posted by Jeff White | Report as abusive

The danger to the world of Pakistani nuclear bombs is ratcheted up by the day. The terrorists, including the al Queda are getting ever closer to their quarry, (they are already in Swat) and once attained, these are not for use in the MAD balance of power of the cold war years. They are intended to be used against western powers, primarily, though it will land in Mumbai as well, and other such “enemy” ports. But the primary targets remain the US, the UK, Europe and other countries.

So in the interest of national security, and since there is not much time to spare, an alliance should be established in order to remove Pakistan’s nuclear bombs, its delivery sytstems, its rogue scientists for hire, and its ISI, its terrorist groups, and help this country build its economy. Please do not wait till a nuclear armed container ship slips into a western port. The name Pakistan may be “romantic”, but the al Queda and the LeT are not. Wake up people!

Posted by Narine Singh | Report as abusive

look any body, every non muslim states like to destroy the nukeds oa pak, so its clear nobody is our frend.
2nd. every nation non muslim knos pak respect saudia snd saudia to pak. they do’t like.
3rd pakistan nukes and missiles are very effective and coorect positions which india hv’t so they all try to decontroll pakistan army isi and people as physchological pressure. we should not take any pressure listen from one ear and out from another.


haseeb / 00971507256801

Posted by haseeb | Report as abusive

what is the structured agenda for at Washington between us and pak in the ensuing week

Posted by defanalysist1 | Report as abusive

what is the agenda for talks at washington dc between USA & PAK IN the ensuing week?

what role could ba assigned to gen parvez kayani in organising the agenda for talks ?

if the US pak civilian nuclear agreement comes through what willl be its security implication within PAK, in se asiaan count. particularly in india

Posted by defanalysist1 | Report as abusive


Posted by defanalysist1 | Report as abusive

is nuclear terrorism possible in the indian sub continent if so what p[reventive measures should ind govt take?

Posted by defanalysist1 | Report as abusive

It’s only a matter of time, not “If”, but “when” some of their nukes will be taken and used.

Posted by Factoidz | Report as abusive

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