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Stop talking, start acting

Pakistan's assurances that its nuclear set-up is secure are increasingly sounding hollow.

india Updated: Aug 19, 2012 22:36 IST

What is worrying about the August 16 militant attack on the Minhas airbase in Pakistan is that far from being an one-off event, it was the third such attack on this military facility. The truth is that Islamicist militant attacks on Pakistani military facilities are frequent and have been able to penetrate even the most sensitive installations. The Minhas attack can be deemed a failure by the Tehreek-e-Taliban. It got through only the first security perimeter and does not seem to have done more than minor damage to one Pakistani military aircraft. But this has not always been the case. The so-called Pakistan Taliban had stormed two of the country's most-sensitive military facilities: the Army General Headquarters in 2009 and the Mehran naval base in 2011.

There are two reasons why the ability of groups like the Tehreek-e-Taliban to attack Pakistani military facilities is alarming. The first is that similar facilities are home to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. Though there is no evidence that militants have specifically sought to obtain a nuclear weapon, at least two nuclear-related facilities — the Wah military complex where weapons are manufactured and the Sargodha nuclear storage facility — have been attacked in the past. The second concern is the increasing evidence of Islamicist penetration of the Pakistani military's rank and file. The attack on the general headquarters was done by militants who had access to uniforms, military ID cards, security licence plates, maps of the premises and layouts of the security systems. Some of the attacks have been plotted in safe houses only blocks away from the bases. Much of this points to the presence of sympathisers in the ranks of the military. The extent to which this has gone can be seen in the attempted assassinations of then Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, in a plot that included military officers.

We can take only mild satisfaction in knowing that the Taliban fighters who are attacking the Pakistan military today are a product of the same army's patronage of militants whose original target was India. The same elite Special Services Group, which for years trained Kashmiri insurgents, is now finding that the same training is being imparted to the Tehreek-e-Taliban. Cross-border militancy will pale in comparison to the threat India will face if Pakistan's nuclear facilities are compromised. Rawalpindi follows every attack with strong statements about the security of its nuclear deterrent. But given the present record of base attacks, the fact that Pakistan is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal for no obvious reason and that an estimated 70,000 people work for its nuclear programme, it is time Pakistan recognises that these statements reassure nobody.