Small Wars Journal

Terrorist Threats to Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: A Clear and Present Danger

Mon, 01/30/2017 - 7:40pm

Terrorist Threats to Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: A Clear and Present Danger

Sajid Farid Shapoo

Pakistan has the world’s fastest growing nuclear stockpile.[i] Given the rate of plutonium and highly enriched uranium production, it may be able to produce another 200 nuclear warheads in the next 5 to 10 years, taking its arsenal close to 350. The production of such a staggering stockpile has been associated with an extremely worrisome trend; the majority of nuclear warheads produced by Pakistan in last decade are low yield tactical weapons. The rapid tacticalization of a strategic asset in the region considered to be a nuclear flashpoint, has raised a plethora of security and strategy related issues.

Pakistan is the epicenter of global jihadi terrorism. The country has faced some of the most devastating attacks on its defense establishments by the jihadist in the past decade or so. There have been repeated instances where some of these attacks were mounted with the help of insiders within the Pak military establishment. The unabated internal chaos coupled with a perpetual tension with its eastern neighbor, makes Pakistan a bit of a nuclear nightmare. Its willingness to use tactical nuclear weapons even against a limited conventional incursion by India further complicates the situation.  Pakistan, however, has repeatedly stated that its weapons are safe and it has a robust and stable security framework to safeguard its nuclear weapons.

This essay is an attempt to assess threats to Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs) and its nuclear security vulnerability.

Pakistan’s Nuclear Journey: From Strategic to Tactical

After the nuclear tests of May 1998 by both India and Pakistan, nuclear ambiguity became a thing of past. Pakistan was forced to take a fresh look at its doctrine and nuclear posturing, which could provide a dependable and more credible deterrence against its eastern neighbor. Pakistan faced a complex security situation; India with its conventional superiority continued to pose a perceived existential threat, but now with an overt nuclear capability, the threat perception increased several times over. To compound the situation, with the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan the U.S. geopolitical rationale to support Pakistan was removed. Pakistan realized that it had little choice but to adopt an aggressive nuclear escalation posture. This aggressive posture entailed integration of its nuclear weapons into its military structure to credibly and directly deter Indian conventional attacks. The unambiguous expression of overt nuclear threat after India’s nuclear test led Pakistan to adopt a doctrine where Pakistan could quickly respond to even non-existential threats, thus lowering the nuclear threshold. India’s vastly superior conventional capability coupled with the perceived Cold Start doctrine triggered Pakistan to adopt an aggressive nuclear posturing policy. Brig. Feroz Hassan Khan (retd.) writes:

With its relatively smaller conventional force, and lacking adequate technical means, especially in early warning and surveillance, Pakistan relies on a more proactive nuclear defensive policy[ii].

With limited battlefield early warning and surveillance capabilities, the Pakistan Army viewed the threshold for nuclear first use as relatively low in a conventional conflict with India— perhaps even preemptive first use.

Cold Start versus TNWs

The Kargil conflict of 1999 and Operation Parakaram of 2001 exposed India’s inability to rapidly mobilize its strike corps. India learned that its slow mobilization provided a wide window for Pakistan to strategize its response to an Indian military buildup. Experts believed that the Indian Army took a long time to mobilize on both occasions which gave Pakistan time to internationalize the conflict and to bring on international pressure for de-escalation. The mobilization of India’s strike corps during Op Parakaram lacked any element of surprise and Pakistan’s modest surveillance capabilities could easily detect their movements’[iii].

The Indian strategic think tank community advocated a complete overhauling of its military doctrine with the aim of developing a rapid strike capability on Pakistan. The thinking was to put in place those strategic capabilities which would enable India to swiftly launch a conventional strike against Pakistan. This new thinking was called Cold Start by the think tank community. The doctrine called for several division-size integrated battle groups to be on a standby alert at all times in order to surge deep into Pakistan across several theaters. This quick thrust would allow India to seize a portion of Pakistan territory, which could be then used to bargain with Pakistan. The strategic matrix entailed that Cold Start would also deter Pakistan from using its nuclear arsenals.

Notwithstanding its capability to execute Cold Start, the Indian Army had long resisted accepting it as a professed strategy of the armed forces. However, in spite of this ambiguity towards accepting Cold Start, Pakistan’s military leadership is convinced that Cold Start is India’s strategic doctrine post 2001. Pakistan, as a result, has shifted its doctrine from strategic deterrence to what it calls‘full spectrum deterrence’. It gives Pakistan the ability to respond to any kind of Indian aggression all along the tactical spectrum through Pakistan’s willingness to implement a nuclear first use policy in a tactical environment. The strategic calculus is narrowed down to deterring a conventionally stronger India. The key elements of ‘Full Spectrum Doctrine’ include forward stationing of short range missiles and tactical nuclear weapons and the ability to mate them quickly.

This posture is supposed to deter any full scale or limited conventional attack by India. The most credible way, Pakistan believes, to deter a conventional war against a nuclear India is to asymmetrically escalate a conflict by threatening first use of tactical nuclear weapons on advancing Indian forces once they cross the border into Pakistan thereby achieving deterrence by denial[iv]. This would, Pakistan believes, blunt India’s conventional assault and give India little justification for a disproportionate nuclear strike on Pakistan’s strategic centers - because Pakistan would not have targeted Indian cities. Lt. General Khalid Kidwai, former Director General of Strategic Planning Division (SPD) and advisor to National of Pakistan maintains that the Pakistan’s short range ‘shoot and scoot’ missile system is in response to India’s larger military conventional threat, adding that Pakistan would not risk retaliation with bigger nuclear weapons[v].

Dynamics of Tactilization: Command and Control Vulnerabilities

Pakistan’s Army appears to have procedures in place to operationalize an already offensively oriented posture, thereby ensuring that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are suitably deployed and are usable in a crisis situation. As Tim Hoyt writes:

“It is apparent that Pakistan’s Command and control procedures are delegative, lean heavily toward the always side of the ‘always/never’ divide, and probably include both devolution and possibly pre-delegation in order to ensure the use of weapons[vi].”

Such delegated command and control structure involves features that enable rapid assembly, accelerated movement, and assured delivery mechanism to maintain the credibility of a tactical first use or asymmetric escalation posture, particularly during crisis situations against India.

The credibility of employment of battlefield tactical weapons is predicated on these being in battle ready mode. However, TNWs by their very nature are more at risk in such a delegated command and control structure. Pakistan’s surge towards production of more tactical nukes makes them vulnerable by their very nature. The vulnerability also stems from their command and control mechanism and also a higher probability of falling into hands of a rouge element or a terrorist organization. As battlefield weapons they need to be under the control of theater commanders. While the decision to deploy them may still be under the National Command Authority, their actual use has to be left to the commander in the field.

Tactical battlefield weapons are short range weapons. Pakistan would typically want their components to be stored away from the Indian frontier, thus minimizing the chance of these falling into enemy hands. Although most of them can be kept disassembled, it is likely that some portion has to be kept in a ready state if they are to prove useful in stopping an Indian incursion and in order to make the deterrence by denial a credible instrument. This inter alia means that tactical weapons in a ready state would have to be stationed close to the frontline. It would be a challenge for the National Command Authority to exercise control on these ‘ready’ weapons which are deployed close to the border. In a chaotic crisis situation, the decision to ‘press nuke’ may rest with a mid-level theater commander with limited eyes on the battlefield. Brigadier General Khan (retd.) concedes that “[a] theater commander would probably [be able to] take matters into his own hands. Should a trade-off be required, battle effectiveness of the nuclear force will trump over centralized control[vii].

Such Command and Control procedures, a result of Pakistan’s heavy tilt towards using TNWs in a crisis situation, makes the entire structure vulnerable to rogue elements within its armed forces. A crisis situation also provides opportunity for non-state actors to take advantage of a fluid situation and try to get their hands on a TNW.

Threats to Pakistan Nuclear Security: Clear and Present

Speaking on the eve of 4th Nuclear Security Summit, President Obama expressed deep concern about the security risks that TNWs face. He feared that the “expanding nuclear arsenal in some countries, with more small nuclear weapons are at a greater risk of theft”.

The terrorist use of nuclear weapons with its tsunami-like global and regional consequences is any country’s worst security nightmare. Pakistan claims to have made significant improvement in nuclear security but there are no independent reports which can sufficiently verify these claims. Pakistan’s opacity in sharing any kind of details about its security procedures makes it impossible to ascertain the veracity of its security claims.

The gradual radicalization of Pakistan’s Army over the past three decades has posed a grave danger to Pakistan’s nuclear security in terms of insider threats. These insiders have time and again allied with various jihadi organizations to strike at the state itself. The gravest threat to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons is posed by this insider-jihadi collaboration and the possibility of these two potentially dangerous elements coming together and acquiring a nuclear weapon is perhaps one of the most underappreciated threats to international peace and security.

Insider-Jihadi Cocktail

The possible catastrophic scenario of the acquisition of a nuclear weapon by a terrorist organization with the active help of rogue insiders nearly played out when a group of navy officers attempted to high-jack a sophisticated Pakistan navy frigate. In Sept 2014, an audacious attack was led by serving and former Pak navy officers to take over the Pakistani Navy frigate PNS Zulfiqar. The alleged plan was to gain control of the vessel, steer it to open sea and then turn its guns on a U.S. naval vessel.[viii] The attack was thwarted by Pakistan navy commandos. Four persons were killed which included two serving officers and an ex-navy officer. All four were associated with Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). It appears the officers on-board were to be joined by other militants who were to arrive by boat and stow away onboard. The plan was to get close to U.S. ships on the high seas and then turn the shipboard weapon systems on the Americans[ix]. Among those killed was former Pakistan Navy Lt. Owais Jakhrani. He had been recently dismissed from the Navy for harboring extremist views. He was the son of a serving senior police official in Karachi and he reportedly played the key role in recruiting naval officers for Al Qaeda. The group was led by a ‘senior officer’ who was even saluted by a navy guard before other guards became suspicious of their presence in the dockyard and alerted commandos[x]. The attackers were armed with assault rifles, rocket launchers and hand grenades. These weapons were smuggled earlier into the dockyard by the attackers and were stored in dockyard lockers. What was more concerning is that these officers had a complete appreciation of on-board procedures and offshore deployment of defensive vessels. Before the operation they had given a presentation to Al Qaeda seniors on the operational details of the proposed attack. Al Qaeda in its media release said the “operation took place under the leadership of two brothers from AQIS, namely Owais Jakhrani (former Second Lieutenant in the Pakistan Navy) and Zeeshan Rafeeq (Second Lieutenant)”. AQIS also released the design sketch of the PNS Zulfiqar[xi]. Al Qaeda said its plan was to use the Zulfiqar to attack U.S. Navy vessels.

In the aftermath of the attack four serving mid-level lieutenant commanders from Karachi were also arrested in the western city of Quetta, allegedly trying to flee to Afghanistan two days after the attempted attack on the Zulfiqar. Nothing was known about these mid-level officers and who were their other colleagues in Navy were till recently. In April 2016 a Pakistan Navy tribunal sentenced five serving Navy officers to death for their role in the attack on the Zulfiqar[xii].  It appears there was a sufficiently large Al Qaeda module operating within the Pakistan Navy as middle level naval commanders. It would not be difficult to imagine that there could be more such modules operating within Pakistan’s Army and Air Force. Imagine a situation where, during a crisis with India, a few of such insiders would be tasked to transport battlefield tactical weapons to the frontline. Such a level of insider threat is what makes Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal extremely vulnerable, more so during a situation of impending crisis, when the arsenal is being moved from the storage station to battlefield deployment. The insider–terrorist cocktail is the most dangerous and credible threat to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

Insider Redux

The spectrum of insider threats range from defense personnel to Pakistan’s nuclear scientist community. In 2001 Bashiruddin Mahmood, the former head of Pakistan’s Khushab Plutonium Reactor, was arrested for links to Al-Qaeda. Mahmood confessed that he and other colleagues had met Osama Bin Laden and discussed the possibility of developing a nuclear weapon[xiii]. This startling revelation led Pakistan to adopt stringent security clearance processes and close monitoring of its nuclear science community. The intelligence about Mahmood’s activities was provided by the U.S. Pakistan was unaware of the activities of its top two nuclear scientists. The possibility of that some of Mahmood’s and remnants of AQ’s (Abdul Qadeer) network evading surveillance and monitoring and forging linkage with state and non-state actors remains clear and present. Al Qaeda has made several attempts to obtain nuclear weapons and nuclear material and for a long time Al Qaeda had a WMD division headed by Egyptian Abdel Aziz Al Masri. He was famously called the ‘nuclear CEO’. Al Masri is still active in Al Qaeda and would probably be scouting for such nuclear scientists or Pakistan Army officers who would provide access to a nuclear weapon. It was reported by CIA that, in 2002-2003, Al Qaeda attempted to buy 3 objects which it thought were nuclear weapons[xiv].

ISIS: The New Threat On The Block

ISIS in its May 2015 issue of ‘Dabiq‘, its online propaganda magazine, boasted about the ability to buy a nuclear weapon through links to corrupt officials in Pakistan. While this may be brushed off as a mere propaganda piece with no truth behind it, it does reveal ISIS interest in nuclear weapons and their appreciation that Pakistan is the likely place where they could obtain one.

Another unique dimension to this threat is the competition between ISIS and Al Qaeda for global jihadi dominance. Al Qaeda seems to have been lagging behind and some experts believe Al Qaeda may be looking to stage a spectacular attack to wrest the initiative from ISIS and reassert itself in the jihadi world. An attack with a nuclear weapon would be top on its list.  The Zulfiqar attack may have been an attempt for such an attack.

The Army Alumni Corps: Real and Insidious

In the past 5 years there have been at least a half dozen attacks on facilities that reportedly store Pakistan's nuclear weapons. The Kamra air base near Islamabad has been attacked three times by terrorists belonging to the Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP). The extent of terrorist infiltration into Pakistan’s nuclear armed military apparatus was again highlighted when terrorists with alleged intelligence from ‘insiders’ mounted an attack on one of Pakistan’s biggest Naval bases. In 2011, jihadists belonging to the 313 brigade of Illyas Kashmiri attacked the Mehran Naval Base near Karachi. Since 2005, the 313 brigade has acted as an armed extension of Al-Qaeda.

Al-Qaeda has a special unit which focuses on identifying radical elements within the armed forces. This unit is manned by former Pakistani Army officers who worked earlier with Illyas Kashmiri. Kashmiri had a strong contingent of Inter-Services Intelligence and Pakistan Army alumni as its advisors and members. This alumnus contingent was working under the banner of ‘Jund al -Fida’ (Army of Martyrs), a name suggested by Osama bin Laden. Major (Ret.) Abdur Rehman Hashim directed the operations of ‘Jund al Fida’ on behalf of Ilyas Kashmiri[xv]. He was reportedly detained by Pakistan in 2009 under U.S. pressure and has since been released. Major Hashim had instructed David Headley, one of the primaries accused of the Mumbai terror attacks, to conduct surveillance of the Bhabha Atomic Centre, near Mumbai in 2008[xvi]. Another Pakistan Army, Major Haroon Ashiq, was arrested for the murder of Major General Ameer Alvi in 2009. Major Haroon was the operational head of Jund al Fida. He is also said to have been released some time back. Haroon’s younger brother, Capt. (Ret.) Khurram Shehzad was killed fighting Canadian forces on behalf of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan in 2006[xvii]. With such a battery of ex-army officers at his disposal, it was not surprising that Illyas Kashmiri was able to get vital insider information about entry/exit, deployment of naval airplanes and other strategic information about Mehran Airbase. These army officers use their past contacts to spot radical elements within the forces and then try to get them aligned with Al Qaeda. These ‘insiders’ then provide critical information to groups like Al-Qaeda and TTP.


Responding to U.S. concern about Pakistan’s frenzied race to develop battlefield nuclear weapons, Lt. Gen. (retd.) Khalid Kidwai said that they were there to stay and Pakistan was not going to be apologetic about its TNWs[xviii]. TNWs are becoming cherished a subsystem within Pakistan’s nuclear system. Pakistan’s rapid march towards stockpiling TNWs has been a matter of concern. Even more concerning is its belief that TNWs are the most credible way of deterring an Indian conventional attack. This is in turn has lowered Pakistan’s nuclear threshold to an abysmally low level. The command and control of TNWs in a time of crisis would lie with the theater commander. With no real battlefield eyes, he may prematurely employ a TNW.

Given general acceptance that the Pakistan Army controls its nuclear arsenal, any proliferation or attempts of proliferation would seriously damage the Army’s credibility as guardian of its most prized asset. This possibility should in turn drive the Army to be always on a high alert to counter any threat to its nuclear weapons and installations. An insider attempt would raise serious questions over the Army’s ability to secure its assets. An adverse public opinion may not augur well for the Pakistan Army, which projects itself as the savior of the nation.

The insider rogue threat is very real and credible. Their collaboration with Jihadi elements makes the combination even more sinister. The attacks on Pakistan Navy bases and frigates exposed the vulnerability of Pakistan defenses to such threats.

End Notes

[i] Krepon, Toby Dalton and Michael. 2015. A Normal Nuclear Pakistan. Wsahington DC:

   Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

[ii]  Khan, Feroz. 2011. "Minimum Deterrence: Pakistan's Dilemma." The RUSI Journal 44-51.

[iii]  Ladwig, Walter C. 2008. "A Cold Start for Hot Wars." International security 158-190.

[iv] Khan, Feroz H. 2015. Going Tactical. September. www. ifri. org/sites/default /files/ atoms/ 


[v] Umar, Muhammad. 2016. "Nasr: A Product of Pakistan's Strategic Culture." Policy  

       Perspective." The Journal of the Institute of Policy Studies 153-164

[vi]  Hoyt, Timothy D. 2001. "Pakistani Nuclear Doctrine and the Dangers of Strategic Myopia."

       Asian Survey 956-977

[vii] Narang, Vipin. 2014. Nuclear Strategy in Modern era. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

[viii] Syed Shoaib Hasan, Saeed Shah and Sioban Gorman. 2014. "Al Qaeda Militants Tried

          toSeize Pakistan Navy Frigate. Septmeber16.


[ix]  Fahim Zaman, Naziha Syed Ali. 2014. Dockyard attackers planned to hijack Navy frigate.

         September 23.

[x]   Ibid

[xi]   Mahmood, Osama. 2014. "Operation against American Navy by the Mujahideen."
 September 16.


[xii]  AFP. 2016. PNS Zulfiqar attack: Five navy officers get death penalty. May 25. http:


[xiii]  Glanz, Dennis Overbye and James. 2001. A Nation Challenged: NuclearFears. November 2.


[xiv]  Benson, Pam. 2010. Official: Terrorists seek nuclear material, but lack ability to use it.    

         April 13.

[xv] 2011. CaseDocs

[xvi]    Ibid

[xvii]   Shazad, Saleem. 2011. Inside Al Qaaeda and Taliban. London: Pluto.

[xviii]     Dawn. 2016. Tactical N-weapons are here to stay, says adviser. March 26.http:// /1248033 .


About the Author(s)

Sajid Farid Shapoo is a highly decorated Indian Police Service officer at the rank of Inspector General (Two Star General) with 18 years of progressively senior experience in sensitive and high profile assignments across India. He has in-depth experience in law enforcement and counterterrorism, having supervised many important terror related investigations to include conspiracy in the Mumbai terror attacks, the Patna serial blasts, the Bodh Gaya serial blast, and many more.

He is among the rare officers who have been twice conferred with the Gallantry Medal, the highest bravery award, by the President of India. He is also a recipient of the Police Medal for Meritorious Services. Sajid Shapoo is also a recognized national resource person on Al Qaeda and Lashka-e-Tayeba.

He is currently pursuing his Masters in International Affairs at Columbia University , New York.



Thu, 11/18/2021 - 10:58am

I have followed the issue of Pakistani tactical nuclear weapons for some time.

Clearly, the deployment of Davy Crockett-type tactical nuclear weapons by an armed forces rife with corruption and jihadism is a major worry.

However, Pakistan clearly seems to be responding to India's improving conventional capabilities and new doctrine (Cold Start) intended to win a small war with Pakistan, without depending upon nuclear weapons.

Indeed, it was Soviet conventional superiority in Europe during the 1950s that prompted the United States to rely upon nuclear deterrence, including with tactical weapons.

Excluding the possibility of Pakistani TNWs falling into jihadist hands, Pakistan's countermeasure to Cold Start is entirely in line with American and Russian thinking when over-matched conventionally.

Unfortunately, nuclear weapons are "the great equalizer", and Islamabad has always considered India more of a threat than jihadis.

Because the United States has helped ensure that Pakistani strategic warheads and their delivery systems are separate and secure, TNWs would be the "first responders". In fact, India may be able to disarm Pakistan's strategic deterrent...

India and Pakistan need arms agreements similar to START and the CFET, recognizing of course, that India will require a minimum credible nuclear deterrent against China, and a significant conventional capability to deter China as well...


Mon, 02/13/2017 - 4:42am

A "lurker" has pointed to a 2013 article that examined this issue by Shashank Joshi, of RUSI:…

No sooner had I added the above item than another "lurker" pointed to a previously unseen French paper (in English) that examines the possibilities around a French nuclear test in the Sahara (Algeria now) in 1961. The author, Bruno Tetrais, explains why he has written the paper (29 pgs): 'The goal of this paper is to draw lessons for possible future contingencies where a
nuclear‐capable country is threatened from inside and the control nuclear
materials or weapons may be at risk. More broadly, the paper passes judgment
on whether or not this episode is worth giving as an example of the risk
of nuclear terrorism.' See:…


Sat, 02/11/2017 - 3:57pm

Like many Small Wars Journal readers I have watched with dismay the confrontation between India and Pakistan, which is now - alas - enhanced by both nations having nuclear destruction capabilities. Even without that they could both destroy each other in a vicious war without end.

Pakistan's acquisition of a nuclear capability has always had various rationales, each of which has led to an adverse reaction from other nations, not just India. For some context see:…?

One rationale is that a Pakistani nuclear deterrent and consequent capability to use such weapons is a dangerous attempt, even more so today than at the start, to respond to India's relative national success compared to Pakistan's relative decline - for everyone but the military and some politicians.

It is hard to understand today any sane political or military leader considering the actual USE of any nuclear weapon in South Asia. Everyone on both sides of the border would be damaged or destroyed for a very long time.

If Pakistan has considered national defence fully and actual USE of a nuclear weapon - is there any indication of preparing its military, let alone the civilian population, for combat in an irradiated environment? I have yet to see any such sign, for example air filters on military vehicles.

An Indian conventional attack across the border could be countered by a variety of non-nuclear defensive options, including civil resistance where there are people in numbers resident.

I watch India less, but from my reading the author rightly refers to 'the perceived Cold Start doctrine'. There are many who argue that Cold Start has NOT been accepted as an Indian national strategy, nor that its military are capable of such an action on the ground.


Sat, 02/11/2017 - 3:24am

The essay describes the means a non-state actor may employ in an attempt to execute a nuclear strike on India in the first instance and elsewhere in the second. It highlights the command and control realities posed by a forward-area deployed short-range tactical nuclear weapon (TNW) and the Brigade level launch authorizations and assumptions that shape the ‘use or lose’ decision-making dilemma. Essentially the same scenario faced by NATO Cold War TNW command and control.

The essay points out the vulnerability of nuclear warheads unattached to their parent delivery vehicles being stolen by non-state actors whilst being transported to their delivery systems. The essay suggests the warheads being stowed in a supposedly more secure facility away from their launch vehicles are at risk of being stolen in transit. However, what undermines the logic of the argument is any ground-based activity observed by enemy intelligence that suggests warheads are being removed from a secure facility to their designated delivery platforms (or anywhere else) would telegraph the possibility of an imminent nuclear strike.

In time of political tensions the activity may invite a pre-emptive nuclear strike by the intended victim or a SF assault in the manner heli-borne Soviet Spetsnaz intended to capture NATO TNW launch sites prior to a war in Europe.

It is my consideration that any invitation to initiate a pre-emptive nuclear strike, when you have conspired to de-nuke your own force, is counter-intuitive and contradicts the advantages of having a significant number of TNW launch sites fully bombed up and ready to go. A ready-state deployment posture dictates any non-state actor would have to assault a fully manned TNW position, overwhelm the defenders (who understandably believe they are fighting off an assault by Indian SF, ST6, Mossad etc. - cleverly disguised as Wahhabi Fruitcake) without damaging the launch system.

Upon wiping out the TNW defenders the rogue-actors would then have to either initiate launch or decouple the warhead from the delivery system and flee – and all of this would have to occur whilst the Indian Army (and others) passively admired the appalling spectacle.

I hazard to guess this to be highly unlikely.

Unhappily I find myself in agreement with the important message within this essay and I too believe a Made in Pakistan NIED poses the greatest threat of a nuclear strike carried out by non-state actors or any other nuclear strike for that matter. Obviously, the scenario described in this essay is plausible but IMHO the most likely source of a nuclear device that strikes an Indian city, or any other city, will not involve any regular formations of the Pakistan military – whether Land, Sea, or Air.

The inescapable reality driving this belief is that no matter how genuine, plausible, or blameless any explanation imparted by the Pakistan military as to the source of the NIED, the whole of Pakistan would be held accountable and subsequently destroyed in a full nuclear exchange.

Furthermore, the chances of a regular Pakistan military unit unknowingly losing a tactical nuclear warhead whilst carrying out routine procedures and that loss going unnoticed by every other Intelligence agency on the planet, is also prohibitively remote. The tangible evidence proving such a blunder, albeit unbeknownst to the Pakistani authorities, would still condemn Pakistan to an overwhelming and apocalyptic fate.

It is the desire to escape this Doomsday fait-accompli that the most likely rogue nuclear strike scenario owes its existence.

The absence of deniable plausibility encapsulated in this essay’s argument brings into play the Dead Ender (to use Rumsfeld-speak) or End of Days (to use Wahhabi Fruitcake-speak) scenario. Driven by an overwhelming logic that any nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India (or any other nation state/s convinced a Made in Pakistan NIED is responsible for their injury) the Pakistan Army must ensure a pre-emptive or retaliatory nuclear device must be deployed and delivered onto a point target without being traced back to Pakistan. The presence of an undetected NIED could be used as a deterrent, to strike on a massed conventional build-up or as a post-nuclear war vengeance weapon. The third option gives the scenario its name - the End of Days weapon.

Whether it be deterrence, first-strike, vengeance, false-flag, agent-provocateur or some other grim rationale, the tactical and operational consequence of placing an undetected NIED provides the path the non-state actors hope to travel in their quest for a nuclear weapon.

It is one thing to obtain a nuclear device but it is a much more difficult task to deliver the payload on target and undetected. Unhappily for all of us the critical capabilities needed to execute such a stealth mission have already been mastered and as fate would have it our would-be rogue actors are intimately familiar with all aspects of the delivery system.

If there are any doubts as to how capable this delivery system is you need to speak with a policeman on any street corner, in any city, in any country you are presently located. Ask him or her to rate the chances of an illegal package/payload made in Pakistan reaching they very spot you are standing on. You will be informed, with the utmost certainty, not only are the chances 100%, but it already happens every day, 365 days a year.

The heroin delivery system offers such stealth, integrity, and GPS precision that one could justify the military point of view that NOT utilizing the heroin delivery system, when matters of existential threat (real or imagined) are at stake, constitutes the gravest dereliction of patriotic duty. The delivery system is battle-proven, battle-hardened, flexible, fully manned, simple, and well-understood.

It should come as no surprise that the personnel who man such a capable delivery system are ruthless, determined, resourceful, cunning, and self-sufficient. Their numbers are drawn from every occupation, including every official government agency – with no exceptions and they have no qualms killing civilians and being the harbingers of untold misery. The solidity of the system and its prevalence at every level of society ensures it is recognized, respected, accepted and feared all the time, everywhere.

Perhaps the most insidious; and to me the most frightening feature of the End of Days scenario, is unbeknownst to the victims they will execute the Means, Ways and Ends of their own nuclear destruction with a singular bloodied-mindedness that has few equals.

The End of Days scenario envisages the payload beginning its journey from its source as a strictly Pakistani entity but at the earliest possible stage the citizenry of the intended target will soon take operational command of the nuclear strike whether they be Indian, American, Israeli, European, Australian, Korean whoever. Not long after ‘launch’ – and before the terminal phase - the journey to ground-zero will be a home-grown operation.

Because I am a gentle soul I have no doubt the hardened criminals manning the delivery system would be mortified if they knew they were facilitating the vaporization of their own neighborhood.

But who would be crazy enough to break open drums marked ‘Cooking Oil’ everyone knows belong to the Costa Nostra to check the package inside is indeed 100 kg of heroin and not a NIED?

Step forward the true believer in the End of Days.

It gets worse.

The proliferation and rapid rise in the number of individual warheads growing in Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, as noted in the essay, raises the possibility that the initial launch phase of the End of Days scenario may already be completed. Whether in a Bonded Import-Export facility in Dubai, Amsterdam, Singapore, Los Angeles, New York, Mumbai, Calcutta the ownership of the payload may have been handed over and merely awaits the drug-smugglers to request the package to be released for delivery to the target area.

It must be said, for the true-believer in the End of Days scenario, the Clauswitzian need to minimize critical vulnerabilities and maximize critical capabilities insists the package to already be at Ground – Zero. If that is the case, rather than the complex and convoluted scenario depicted in this essay, all the End of Days rogue-actor needs is a cell-phone number.

God help us,



Sat, 02/04/2017 - 4:11pm

I enjoyed this article as it examines a very challenging issue for the region: the spread of TNWs. Previously, it has been argued that TNGs are of greater concern than larger nuclear weapons given the increased likelihood they would actually be used both offensively and defensively, which Sajid clearly understands. Further, the thought of a TNG, given their short range and required proximity to the front, being at the hands of a mid-level officer should bring concern, especially during a time of crises. Stretching nuclear forces across the country to ensure their rapid employment and to ensure deterrence is an increasing security risk stemming from rogue elements within the Pakistan military and non-state actors. Sajid clearly brings these points to the forefront.

The topic isn't new to anyone, but Sajid has done a wonderful job articulating the facts and quantifying this opinion that most in the world would share. Based on the article, it is understandable, the fear of the unknown by the west due to incestuous relationship between the military, the fringe groups and the non-state actors operating with almost complete impunity in Pakistan. Well done Mr. Shapoo.

Comprehensive & well etched out; Sajid Shapoo’s writing presents an in-depth analysis of the real and quite possibly imminent threat to Pakistan’s nuclear security. He exposes India’s vulnerable and precarious position vis-a`-vis Pakistan by firstly bringing to the fore the increasingly aggressive nuclear stance adopted by Pakistan that is reflected in its ever growing arsenal of nuclear weapons, the control that rests with the Pakistani army, the low nuclear threshold, and the overt willingness to deploy these in case of an incursion. Secondly, and more worryingly is how Pakistan's nuclear security is itself at risk because of the easy access that the various terrorist outfits have to the country, and the presence of rogue elements within the establishment.

The unabated terrorist attacks on its military outfits assisted by those within the establishment undermines Pakistan’s claims of a 'robust security framework' to safeguard its nuclear weapons. This is an excellent write-up on a problem that cannot be looked at as a regional issue, or just a rhetoric.


Tue, 01/31/2017 - 10:23pm

Indeed an engrossing and fascinating piece of information and anlaysis that throws wide open the imminent, real and grave dangers that Pakistan's frenzied proliferation of tactical nuclear stockpiles (as battleground weapons) and vulnerabilities of its nuclear security establishment pose to the world in general and to its neighbour in the east, in particular.

Threats posed by radicalisation of sections of Pakistan's Defence forces and the insiduous designs being carried out by those sections in the past are clear and have been rearing their heads for long. Long trail of overt and covert dalliances of insiders within Pakistan Army with the jihadists and the terrorists cannot be ignored or be taken lightly, any further, in terms of the imminent danger to Pakistan's nuclear security.

Risks posed by infiltration of jihadists into Pakistan's nuclear armed military apparatus and the absolute vulnerabilities emanating from the possible TNWs falling into the hands of rogue elements and of non-state actors are nothing but real and are growing on a daily basis.

In the wake of Pakistan's military delegated command structure (with respect to TNWs as battleground weapons) where even a mid-level theatre commander on ground has the authority to decide the actual use of TNWs, the threat perception is credible and looms large.

Hope the free world - India, US, and others along with United Nations, take cognizance of these credible risks and dangers as highlighted in this insightful and riveting piece. The sooner, timely, appropriate and effective measures are taken by these powers to mitigate such potential risks and threats - emanating from Pakistan with its State policy of 'Full Spectrum Doctrine', the better it is.

Until this issue is addressed in earnest, a nuclear flashpoint will continue to be in the making in that region, with possible devastating consequences for that region and for the world.


Tue, 01/31/2017 - 12:31am

I agree with the explicit statement in the title and the piece's implicit conclusion: there are far too many rogue elements in Pakistan's armed forces, and elsewhere in the region, to stand idle. The risk of the insider threat is clear from the multiple attacks on Pakistan's nuclear forces. This is one dimension of regional and global security that demands more attention, and Mr. Shapoo does us all a favor by bringing this up at the present juncture. U.S. leadership on this issue has and should continue to be steadfast. The current administration's prioritization of counter-terrorism in its national security posture may be facilitative toward even more vigorous prosecution of the problem. However, If what we've seen so far from the White House is any indication of what is to come, we can anticipate an indelicate, un-nuanced approach to the process. It therefore, behoves U.S. leaders of the intelligence and defense policy communities to be proactive with the President and his close inner circle on the issue. India's leaders should also engage the new Commander in Chief to encourage use of precise political payloads, instead of massive incendiary strikes. This is a solid piece. Whether intended or not, it serves as a necessary warning shot across the bow of U.S. leadership.

A riveting article that covers multiple aspects of the Pakistan problem not only for India or the region but the world at large.
Pakistan can always claim to be a victim or an act of 'non state actors' if something were to go wrong with the use of TNWs. Time to publicize it's bluff and also question China's role in covert support to the Pakistan army as well as its advocacy of Pakistan's membership to NSG.
An extremely revealing contrast between the cold start doctrine and TNW strategies as well as the relevance of India's defence minister's statement about the unnecessity of India's 'no first use' policy.
Excellent read!