Today's date:
Spring 2004

Pakistan Nukes Are More Secure Than Ex-Soviet Nukes

Pervez Musharraf is the president of Pakistan. He spoke with NPQ editor Nathan Gardels in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 24.

NPQ | A great worry about Pakistan is not only that it has been a source of nuclear proliferation, but that in the event of a successful assassination attempt against you—there were two attempts in December—and the ensuing political turmoil, its nuclear arsenal may not be safe and could fall into the hands of extremists. How secure is Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal?

PERVEZ MUSHARRAF | Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is in extremely safe hands.

There are very strict custodial controls to account for and prevent unauthorized access to our nuclear weapons. We have a number of rings of security measures around those strict access controls. When I took over in 1999, I created the National Command Authority, which I chair, and which meets regularly to oversee Pakistan’s nuclear assets. After that is a Strategic Planning Directorate, which manages all aspects of our nuclear program—intelligence, security and development.

Believe me, we have left no stone unturned to ensure the security of all our assets. Look, the army is involved. And in our army, you cannot lose the bore of one rifle. Through a good regime of systematic checks left to us by the British, each rifle is accounted for at every base every day. If one is lost, it will be found by the next morning.

So, there is no way Pakistan’s assets will fall into anybody’s hands. I can assure you that our nuclear arsenal is far more secure than that of the ex-Soviet Union.

NPQ | If an assassination attempt against you were to be successful, are you confident those controls would hold and your weapons would not fall into the hands of extremists?

MUSHARRAF | You have to look at the social environment. Is it possible that, in the event of my elimination, extremists would come in and take over everything? I don’t think that is possible. Pakistan is a moderate Islamic country. If you come to Islamabad, do you see women walking around in the streets in public? Of course. And none of them are wearing headscarves. Do women and men mingle? There are 72 women sitting in our national assembly.

No religious party in Pakistan has ever won more than 5 percent of the vote.

In today’s Pakistan, the moderates are reasserting themselves.

Nobody is indispensable. If something happens to me, Pakistan’s assets will fall into the hands of a moderate society, not extremists.

NPQ | Who do you believe was behind the two recent assassination attempts against you?

MUSHARRAF | We’ve now roped in everyone who was involved in the planning and execution of these attacks. But the masterminds behind the plots are still to be seen. What we know for sure is they are Al Qaeda, executed through elements in Pakistan. That is definitive. What we don’t know is if these Pakistanis were directly recruited by some Al Qaeda chaps, or if there is another organization inside Pakistan that linked up with Al Qaeda.