The Trump administration is worried that nuclear weapons and materials in Pakistan could land up in the hands of terror groups and the concerns are aggravated by the development of tactical weapons, a senior US official has said.
The senior Trump administration official said that during a compressive review, one of the major issues that continually came up for discussion and is very important to the US was the nuclear danger in the region.
That is a critical element of the South Asia strategy, the official told reporters during a conference call. The Trump administration is worried that nuclear weapons and materials in Pakistan might land up in the hands of terrorist groups or individuals, the senior administration official said, on condition of anonymity.
The South Asia strategy announced by US President Donald Trump on Monday notes that the “nuclear weapons or materials could fall” into the wrong hands, the official said. “It (South Asia policy) also prioritises the escalating tension between India and Pakistan, the two nuclear power countries, and looks for ways to de-escalate the tension between the two to avoid any potential military confrontation among them,” the official said.
“We are particularly concerned by the development of tactical nuclear weapons that are designed for use in battlefield. We believe that these systems are more susceptible to terrorist theft and increase the likelihood of nuclear exchange in the region,” the Trump administration official said.
The official said it was due to this that the strategy also focuses on confidence building measures between India and Pakistan and encourages them to come to the negotiating table. The danger of nuclear weapons was also mentioned by Trump in his Afghanistan and South Asia policy speech on Monday.
“For its part, Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror. The threat is worse because Pakistan and India are two nuclear-armed states whose tense relations threaten to spiral into conflict. And that could happen,” he had said in his first prime time televised address to the nation.
In an article published in ‘War on the Rocks’, Christopher Clary, who worked on the South Asia policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defence from 2006 to 2009, said Pakistan likely possesses more than 100 nuclear weapons today and might possess fissile material for up to 200 or 300 nuclear weapons.
“The US presence in Afghanistan is primarily about preventing terrorist groups operating there, but there is some reporting that suggests elements of the US government are wary of losing basing in Afghanistan that is useful to monitor Pakistani terrorist groups and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons development efforts,” Clary said.
Stephen Tankel, an American expert, said the US has two vital security interests in Pakistan—ensuring militants in the region do not attack the US homeland and keeping militants from getting their hands on nuclear material.
“America also has a critical interest in preventing Indo-Pakistani nuclear escalation and terrorist attacks against US persons and infrastructure in the region,” Tankel recently wrote for Center for a New American Security.
“Maintaining a sufficient counter-terrorism presence in Afghanistan has been a cornerstone of the broader US counter- terrorism policy. This, in turn, has required ensuring the Afghan government retains sufficient control over its territory,” he said.
Pakistan is developing tactical nuclear-capable ‘Nasr’ ballistic missiles for battlefield use in order to deter a limited Indian military response to terrorist attacks by Pakistan-supported militants, he wrote.
“The common concern about Pakistani nuclear weapons is that they are vulnerable to internal threats. In reality, these weapons are most likely to fall into terrorists’ hands if forward-deployed during a conflict with India,” Tankel said.
“Even some Pakistani analysts recognise that it would be difficult for the Pakistan military to ensure the full security of these weapons once they were deployed in the field,” he said.