When you map W.M.D. and terrorism, all roads intersect in Pakistan.1
A series of militant attacks at sensitive Pakistani nuclear facilities over the past two years has rasied serious concerns about the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. Indeed, military experts in Washington stated that if a crisis were to break out in Pakistan, it would be impossible to be certain that none of Pakistan's nuclear weapons had been captured by Islamic extremists.2
Pakistani officials have tried to assure American leaders that their nuclear security is up-to-date, but observers disagree on Pakistan's ability to secure its nuclear weapons. The theft of an entire functioning nuclear weapon is highly unlikely,3, but a more plausible situation envisions extremists capturing nuclear materials or information that could help them build a nuclear device themselves.
To shed light on these critical security issues, Partnership for a Secure America has combined open source intelligence on Pakistan’s military and nuclear facilities with data on which parts of the country are controlled by the Taliban and where terrorist attacks have occurred. We created an interactive map that shows the locations of nuclear facilities and airbases (where nuclear weapons might be deployed). Provinces in northwest Pakistan are color-coded based on who controls them. Information on territorial control comes from the BBC’s Urdu service, which did extensive surveys of the region to determine where the Taliban is active (for more on the BBC’s methodology, see their website).4
There are a few important caveats. First of all, information on who controls which areas is fluid and constantly-changing. Though we used the most reliable and timely information we could find, the situation on the ground doubtless differs somewhat from the colors on the map. Also, the BBC took pains to note that even “government controlled” areas are not free from militant violence. Indeed, as our map demonstrates, the attack in Rawalpindi occurred in a “government controlled” part of Pakistan. Finally, our list of facilities and airbases was derived from reliable open source intelligence, but Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities and sites are closely-guarded state secrets. While this map suggests the Taliban controls areas frighteningly close to facilities that may have important nuclear technology, it also underscores another important point: there’s a lot of about Pakistan’s nuclear security that we just don’t know.
1. ^ Sanger, David E. (2009, January 8). Obama’s worst Pakistan nightmare. The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved July 17, 2009, from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/11/magazine/11pakistan-t.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1
2. ^ Sanger, David E. (2009, January 8). Obama’s worst Pakistan nightmare. The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved July 17, 2009, from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/11/magazine/11pakistan-t.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1
3. ^ Khan, Feroz Hassan. (2009, July/August). Nuclear Security in Pakistan: Separating Myth From Reality. Arms Control Today. Retrieved July 20, 2009, from http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2009_07-08/khan
4. ^ British Broadcasting Corporation. (2009, June 22). Pakistan Conflict Map. Retrieved July 17, 2009, from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8046577.stm