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The Collapse of Pakistan
A situation threatening the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and collapse of its command and control could only be brought about by subversion from within the military. Were this to happen, it would signify the Islamists’ penetration of the last bastion of credible power in Pakistan.
Brigadier (Ret.) Arun Sahgal
United Service Institution 
Less than three months after assuming office, president Martin Simmons faces perhaps the greatest threat to America’s security since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. As Congress rushes to confirm the remaining members of the president’s national security team, the dramatic events of the past eight weeks, which began with the assassination of Pakistan’s president on February 24, are now coming to a head. Also emerging is a clear picture of the danger posed by Pakistan’s Islamist army faction and its militant Muslim allies, who hope to exploit that country’s growing civil disorder to seize power and create a radical Islamist state.
The crisis came suddenly. president rehman dhar was planning a trip to the United States. Islamist  officers in Pakistan’s shadowy intelligence service, the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), apparently leaked the planning details to a clique of Islamist army colonels. The purpose of Dhar’s trip, as we now know, was to request the deployment of American troops to Pakistan as the lead element of an international military force. The Pakistani president hoped to win U.S. backing and, ultimately, broad international support for his campaign to impose order on several provinces that are the center of a rapidly metastasizing militant Islamist insurrection. The Jihadist  sanctuaries located in these frontier areas have long provided support to terror campaigns in Afghanistan and India. More recently, they have extended their reach, claming responsibility for the “Stockholm Massacre” train bombings that killed more than two hundred, and the assassination of moderate Muslim leaders in Egypt and Morocco.
Armed with President Simmons’s support, President Dhar planned to address the United Nations General Assembly to request the world body’s backing for deploying an international peacekeeping force to his country. The purpose was to avoid a possible war with India, whose government had become increasingly anxious following last fall’s increase in Jihadist guerrilla and suicide attacks in Kashmir, which Dhar proved unable to suppress.
Whether Dhar could have succeeded in his mission will never be known. Pakistan’s president never made it to the airport. On February 24, 2013, his heavily armed motorcade was ambushed by renegade Pakistani Army units under the command of the Islamist faction, who were likely supported by Jihadist elements. In less than ten minutes the president and nearly all his forty-seven-man bodyguard were cut down.  A video of the massacre taken by the militant Islamists has been shown repeatedly by al-Jazeera and other Muslim media.  Reflecting their mastery on the “war of ideas” battlefield, Islamist military leaders and their cleric allies proclaimed the assassination the work of the Indians and Americans. This has produced large anti-American and anti-Indian public protests in Pakistan and parts of the Arab world. More than a million Pakistanis demonstrated both in Lahore and in Rawalpindi. At the same time public opinion polls revealed that these same people voice admiration for the Muslim radicals for ridding them of the pro-Western Dhar. 
“The Century’s Greatest Crisis”
The situation in pakistan continued deteriorating into mid-April, as the world’s second-largest Muslim state slipped toward open civil war. The military was divided between army Loyalists, who had ruled the country off and on for decades amid various ineffectual civilian governments, and the Islamist army faction, whose sympathies are with the militant Muslim groups. The Loyalist army leaders attempted to perform their traditional role of imposing order within the country. This time, however, they had to contend with Islamist elements within the armed forces, led by a clique of young colonels and a few junior generals, who command perhaps a third or more of the country’s military. The Islamist faction supports the formation of a “true” Islamic republic, to be ruled by the country’s radical Islamist parties in league with the army’s “young Paks,” and with the support of many of the nation’s Sunni religious leaders.
There has been a spate of reports, many confirmed, of minor clashes between these two army factions, even as the world remains hopeful that all-out civil warfare can be avoided.  Of greatest concern is the disposition of Pakistan’s arsenal of nuclear weapons, estimated to number 80 to 120, each of which is capable of causing greater destruction than the atomic bombs that destroyed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. These weapons are believed to be located at half a dozen or so sites around the country, most of which are currently controlled by Loyalist forces. At least one site, however, is controlled by Islamist units. Both U.S. and other national intelligence ser-vices have concluded that sympathetic elements of the ISI have provided Islamist officers leading the breakaway army units with the activation codes needed to arm the nuclear weapons under their control.  If so, there may be little to prevent these weapons from being used.
These events confirm the worst fears of many security experts, who have argued that once Pakistan began to slide toward anarchy, the nuclear command and control structure would soon collapse.  As one noted, “Pakistan tends to leak. It has leaked vital weapons information in the past, and it may now be leaking nuclear weapons themselves.” 
Fortunately, Pakistan’s ballistic missile units apparently remain under the control of Loyalist elements.  These missiles are the most effective means the Pakistanis have of delivering a nuclear warhead at long range. Two air bases with aircraft capable of delivering nuclear weapons are controlled by Islamist forces, but this danger pales in comparison to claims by two Jihadist groups that they have been provided with several nuclear weapons each and have begun moving them to “alternate locations” for safekeeping.  These claims have recently been confirmed by an Islamist colonel. Speculation is that the Islamist military elements intentionally transferred the weapons to gain leverage, not so much over their Loyalist rivals as with the international community, to preclude the intervention that Dhar had sought. The danger also exists that these weapons might be smuggled abroad for use against any states that side with the Loyalists to suppress the Islamist forces. The principal targets of such attacks would appear to be India and the United States. In an attempt to reassure an increasingly unnerved U.S. public, senior Defense Department officials have launched a mini–media blitz to point out the difficulties involved in transporting a nuclear weapon halfway around the world and positioning it in an American city. India’s leaders, given their country’s long border with Pakistan, are far less sanguine regarding this threat. They cite repeated statements by Pakistani opinion leaders advocating the use of nuclear weapons if need be to ensure the recovery of Kashmir, a long-disputed province lying between the two countries. For example, in an interview on the Waqt television channel that was published by the mainstream right-wing Urdu daily Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt, senior Pakistani newspaper editor Majeed Kaira discussed Kashmir’s importance to Pakistan, called it “the jugular vein” of Pakistan and added that Pakistan should not hesitate to use nuclear weapons to take it from India. Kaira, who is also editor in chief of the English daily The Nation, declared:
It is better to die fighting than to die from famine. Kashmir is our biggest issue, and showing flexibility on this matter is tantamount to treason. Anyone who shows flexibility on the issue, I will consider a traitor. 
Colonel Sajjad, one of the Islamist army leaders, has declared that, in addition to the nuclear bombs provided to the militant groups, other weapons, “at least twelve,” have been removed from storage and dispersed, to ensure that the Islamist army elements “retain a nuclear capability” should the storage sites be attacked by air strikes for the purpose of eliminating the weapons. The colonel has declared that “horrific consequences” would befall any foreign power that attempted to destroy the weapons by a preemptive attack. 
Despite their advantage in numbers—well over half of the army has remained loyal to the government in Islamabad—time is clearly not on the Loyalists’ side. Islamist army elements have fanned the flames of street demonstrations by calling for the civilian government and the army’s leadership to resign, citing the failure of both to provide for the country’s security and prosperity in over sixty years of rule. While radical Islamist demonstrations have previously been limited to Baluchistan and the Northwest Frontier Province, they have recently expanded to other parts of the country, to include Peshawar Province, long a source of recruits for the country’s military. Indeed, during the Pakistan Army’s episodic efforts to bring stability to the country’s ungoverned areas, increasing numbers of troops have defected to the radicals’ side rather than fight against their fellow tribesmen.
1. Rahul Bedi, “Who Is in Control of Pakistan’s Nuclear Arsenal?” London Daily Telegraph, December 29, 2007.
2. As used here the term Islamists refers to those elements in the Pakistani armed forces that are associated with the radical Muslim movement.
3. The term Jihadist refers to nonstate entities that are part of the global radical Muslim movement, as typified by organizations like al Qaeda.
4. Pakistan’s recent history has been marked by a number of attempted assassinations. In August 1988, President Muhammad Zia al-Haq was killed in a plane crash that some believe was planned, and not an accident as reported. During his time as president, General Pervez Musharraf survived several assassination attempts, including one in December 2003 which saw a powerful bomb detonated only minutes after the general’s car crossed a bridge in Rawalpindi. Less than two weeks later, a second attempt was made on Musharraf’s life by suicide car bombers, who killed over a dozen bystanders but failed to kill or injure the Pakistani president. In December 2007, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was killed in a gun and bomb attack while campaigning in Rawalpindi. Edward Jay Epstein, “Who Killed Zia?” Vanity Fair, September 1989, at http://www.edwardjayepstein.com/archived/zia.htm, accessed on September 16, 2008; Salman Masood, “Pakistani Leader Escapes Attempt at Assassination,” New York Times, December 26, 2003, at http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?sec=health&res=9807E6DD173EF935A15751C1A9659C8B63, accessed on September 16, 2008; and Matthew Moore and Emma Henry, “Benazir Bhutto Killed in Gun and Bomb Attack,” Telegraph: December 29, 2007, at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1573792/Benazir-Bhutto-killed-in-gun-and-bomb-attack.html, accessed on September 16, 2008.
5. Less graphic versions have been shown by the Western media. Those with strong constitutions may download the video at the al-Jazeera website, http://english.aljazeera.net.
6. The Muslim world’s ability to hold mutually incompatible views simultaneously was demonstrated in the period after the 9/11 attacks, when Muslims reveled in their ability to strike a blow at the world’s superpower, while also believing that the World Trade Center attacks were the work of the CIA or Israelis.
7. See William Dawson, “South Asia on Verge of War,” Los Angeles Times, April 14, 2013, p. 1; Joanne Szerbenny, “India, Pakistan Brace for War,” Boston Globe, April 13, 2013, p. 1; and Harry Oats, “Pak Radicals on Collision Path,” New York Times, April 13, 2013, p. 1.
8. While Pakistan has improved its control over its nuclear weapons in recent years, it is not clear if it has transitioned, either partially or fully, to requiring access codes to arm nuclear warheads. It does store its weapons disassembled, and key components are kept at different locations. However, the Islamist army factions have evidently managed to secure the key components required to completely arm a nuclear weapon. What is uncertain is whether access codes are needed, and if they are, whether the breakaway elements have them. Greg Miller, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Arsenal a U.S. Worry,” Los Angeles Times, November 8, 2007; Joby Warrick, “Pakistan Nuclear Security Questioned,” Washington Post, November 11, 2007, p. 1; and William Dawson, “Pak Nukes Armed and Ready,” Los Angeles Times, April 17, 2013, p. 1.
9. Bedi, “Who Is in Control?”
10. Miller, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Arsenal.”
11. Just as fortunate, all three hundred-plus U.S. military trainers and advisers in Pakistan have managed to make their way to Pakistani Loyalist bases. Had some of them been taken hostage by the radical Islamist army faction or by militant Muslim groups, an already difficult situation would have been greatly complicated. Evidently the Americans had planned for such a contingency and, following receipt of a coded message, rendezvoused at certain “rally points,” to be picked up by U.S. helicopters and transports guarded by Army Rangers. See Donald Faher, “U.S. Troops in Daring Escape,” Atlanta Constitution, March 12, 2013, p. 1.
12. John Sherman, “Pak Nukes on Loose?” Los Angeles Times, March 22, 2013, p. 1.
13. Kashmir is said to be Pakistan’s “jugular vein” because it provides much of the country’s water supply. Kaira said that U.S. think tanks are predicting that Pakistan will become “another Somalia” by the end of the decade, owing to growing problems with its water supply. Kaira went on to say that “the establishment of an Islamic welfare state in Pakistan is our objective, and to achieve this objective we will use any means at our disposal—including nuclear weapons.” The interview appeared in Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt, March 24, 2013, p. 1.
14. W. David Wallace, “Islamist Colonel Threatens Nuclear Destruction,” New York Times, March 28, 2013, p. A1.
From the Hardcover edition.