Longtime antagonists India and Pakistan on Friday agreed to talks aimed at lowering worries associated with each side's nuclear weapons, Reuters reported (see GSN, June 24).
Following two days of dialogue in Islamabad, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir and his Indian equivalent, Nirupama Rao, agreed to explore new trust-promoting steps for each country's conventional and nuclear arsenals. An expert-level meeting is to be called to "consider additional measures ... to build trust and confidence and promote peace and security," the two secretaries said in a joint statement.
The nuclear-armed nations have gone to war three times since 1947. Islamabad and New Delhi earlier this year agreed to relaunch a frozen peace process meant to address such divisive issues as nuclear weapons, terrorism and the disputed Kashmir region. India left the composite dialogue following the 2008 attack on Mumbai, which killed more than 160 people and was orchestrated by Pakistani-based extremists.
Bashir and Rao did not provide many specifics on how they anticipated that nuclear trust would be built between the South Asian nations. The countries currently provide advance warning on ballistic missile launches and once a year swap lists of each side's atomic installations that are not to be attacked in the event of a new outbreak of hostilities.
Due to New Delhi's widening conventional weaponry edge and Islamabad's development of low-intensity nuclear warheads that could be used in the event of an Indian invasion, defense experts see the possibility of the nuclear threshold being crossed should there be another war.
"Negative thinking exists on both sides so there are chances that either one of them could misread or miscalculate the other's movement and begin assembling and loading nuclear weapons," Pakistani security expert Hassan Askari Rizvi said (Reuters/Daily Star, June 25).
India and Pakistan in their joint statement said they would "convene separate expert-level meetings on nuclear and conventional CBMs [confidence-building measures] to discuss implementation and strengthening of existing arrangement and to consider additional measures, which are mutually acceptable to, to build trust and confidence and promote peace and security," Kyodo News reported (Kyodo News/Breitbart.com, June 24).
The two sides last week exchanged ideas for building atomic trust. A Pakistani suggestion to add advance warning of cruise missile trial launches to the bilateral 2005 agreement on Prenotification of Flight Testing of Ballistic Missiles was rejected by India, informed insiders told the Asian Tribune.
Islamabad also suggested the two nations "exchange experiences and expertise" in the arena of atomic technology, particularly in the running of nuclear energy facilities and their safeguards, according to sources.
Highlighting the consequences of the ongoing Japan Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster, which has been blamed in part on inadequate safety mechanisms, the Pakistani negotiators suggested that the two countries collaborate on responding to nuclear safety worries, sources said.
No final understanding was reached on the various proposed CBM actions. The proposals are to be taken up at bilateral talks in the future (R. Vasudevan, Asian Tribune, July 25).
Meanwhile, a nuclear physics instructor at a state-managed university in Pakistan said the security establishment was incapable of protecting the nation's nuclear weapons, particularly as the arms are overseen by the Pakistani army, which is known to contain extremist sympathizers, the Indian Express reported on Sunday (see GSN, June 22).
"It doesn't matter whether Pakistan's chief of army staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani swears on the Koran that he will make sure that nuclear weapons will be safe," nuclear physics professor Pervez Hoodbhoy said. "The question is, does he have the power to do that?"
"It seems to me that the Pakistan army is playing with fire. It knows that these nuclear weapons are ultimately in the hands of their own people and their own people have been affected by decades of radicalization," the prominent nuclear expert said. "They may claim that they have personnel reliability tests, but I don’t believe that answering questions on a form may indicate his intentions."
Hoodbhoy rejected claims by Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik that the nation's nuclear weapons were "200 percent" safe.
“Now Rehman Malik must be a genius to have come up with the figure of 200 percent. How he arrives at that we have no idea, but that is what the Pakistan military wants us to believe and to unquestionably accept that the nuclear weapons have been provided security in Pakistan ... which, personally, I don’t believe," Hoodbhoy said.
"We have seen the infiltration of radicals into the ranks of the army," he continued. "Very recently, a brigadier and four majors have been arrested. And our brigadiers are in charge of missile regiments too. So where things could go, I don't know."
The Quaid-e-Azam University professor accused Pakistani leaders of being in a "state of denial" about the security of the nation's nuclear weapons, particularly after recent events including the successful U.S. commando raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad and the militant siege of a Karachi naval base have drawn attention to weaknesses within the Pakistani military.
He said the international community "obviously questions" Islamabad's repeated claims that its system of nuclear arsenal safeguards are invulnerable to infiltration or attack by terrorists. Regardless of the quality of technical defenses surrounding the weapons, what matters is the loyalty of the people tasked with guarding them, Hoodbhoy said (Shubhajit Roy, Indian Express, June 27).