Pakistan: Maybe Not the Best Country in Which to Store Nuclear Weapons

More

Here's the thing: If you were looking for a safe place to store nuclear weapons, would you choose a country that is the epicenter of global jihadism, and that sees its military bases, and even its military's general headquarters, attacked with some regularity, and some success? If you answered no, you are correct!  Once again this week, we see Pakistani radicals having some measure of success attacking a base at the heart of the country's military-nuclear complex. From The Times:

The attack on the Minhas air force base in Kamra, 25 miles northwest of the capital, Islamabad, was a stark reminder of the militants' determination to attack Pakistan's most sensitive installations despite ongoing military operations in their tribal hide-outs.

The sprawling air base, in the Attock district of Punjab, is believed to be one of the locations where elements of Pakistan's nuclear stockpile, estimated to include at least 100 warheads, is stored. It is also home to a variety of warplanes, including American-built F-16s, and contains a factory that makes JF-17 fighter jets in conjunction with China. 

No nuclear material went missing this time. It is, however, only a matter of time before a more serious breach is made, with enormous consequences. Last year, Marc Ambinder and I wrote about Pakistani nuclear security in our Atlantic cover story "The Ally From Hell," and we provided some detail about previous attacks on Pakistani nuclear sites. We also conveyed Pakistan's assertions that, hey, everything is fine, no worries:

In an interview this summer in Islamabad, a senior official of the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI), the Pakistani military's spy agency, told The Atlantic that American fears about the safety of Pakistan's nuclear weapons were entirely unfounded. "Of all the things in the world to worry about, the issue you should worry about the least is the safety of our nuclear program," the official said. "It is completely secure." He went on to say, "It is in our interest to keep our bases safe as well. You must trust us that we have maximum and impenetrable security. No one with ill intent can get near our strategic assets."

Like many statements made by Pakistan's current leaders, this one contained large elements of deceit. At least six facilities widely believed to be associated with Pakistan's nuclear program have already been targeted by militants. In November 2007, a suicide bomber attacked a bus carrying workers to the Sargodha air base, which is believed to house nuclear weapons; the following month, a school bus was attacked outside Kamra air base, which may also serve as a nuclear storage site; in August 2008, Pakistani Taliban suicide bombers attacked what experts believe to be the country's main nuclear-weapons-assembly depot in Wah cantonment. If jihadists are looking to raid a nuclear facility, they have a wide selection of targets: Pakistan is very secretive about the locations of its nuclear facilities, but satellite imagery and other sources suggest that there are at least 15 sites across Pakistan at which jihadists could find warheads or other nuclear materials.


UPDATE: I received this email from one Khawar Ayub in response to this post:

Dear sir,

why you are against pakistan so much.
why dont you write against the biggest terrorist of the world who used nuclear bombs against innocent humans if you have guts write truth.

Regards

Jump to comments
Presented by

Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. Author of the book Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror, Goldberg also writes the magazine's advice column. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. Previously, he served as a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward, and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

His book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. Goldberg rthe recipient of the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism. He is also the recipient of 2005's Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

The Time JFK Called the Air Force to Complain About a 'Silly Bastard'

51 years ago, President John F. Kennedy made a very angry phone call.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Global

From This Author

Just In