While the United States has focused attention on the possibility of the Al Qaeda actively seeking nuclear weapons, in what could be of particular concern for India, a new report from Harvard University says “there are at least some indications” that the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) may be seeking such WMDs.
While the Al Qaeda is on the US radar, this is among the earliest reports on the LeT pursuing nuclear weaponry.
Unlike the Al Qaeda, the LeT, based in Pakistan’s Punjab province and the group behind the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, is almost exclusively focused on India.
“There are at least some indications that Pakistani groups such as LeT may also be interested — a particularly troubling possibility given the deep past connections these groups have had with Pakistani security services, their ongoing cooperation with Al Qaeda, and the example of in-depth cooperation on unconventional weapons provided by Al Qaeda’s work with Jemaah Islamiyah on anthrax,” says the report titled Securing the Bomb 2010.
The report is authored by Matthew Bunn of the Project on Managing the Atom at the Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs.
Bunn was earlier an Adviser to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
The new Lashkar threat references another recent report by Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a former CIA officer who had served as the Director of Intelligence and Counterintelligence at the US Department of Energy.
In January, Mowatt-Larssen, in a report on the Al Qaeda seeking weapons of mass destructions, had written: “Several terrorist groups have actively sought weapons of mass destruction of one kind or another. In particular, the Japanese cult group Aum Shinrikyo, Al Qaeda and its associates — nota­bly the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Jemaah Islamiya and Lashkar al Tayyib — figure most prominently among the groups that have manifested some degree of intent, experimentation, and program­matic efforts to acquire nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.”
The new Harvard report also focuses attention on the problem areas when it comes to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.
The report said, “In countries such as Pakistan, even substantial nuclear security systems are challenged by immense adversary threats, both from nuclear insiders — some with a demonstrated sympathy for Islamic extremists — and from outside attacks that might include scores or hundreds of armed attackers.”
Pakistan has between 70 and 90 nuclear weapons, according to multiple accounts.
The report also highlights concerns that have been raised repeatedly by India: “Pakistan’s modest nuclear stockpile arouses global concern because Pakistan is also the world headquarters of Al Qaeda; its stockpile faces a greater threat from Islamic extremists seeking nuclear weapons than any other nuclear stockpile on earth.”
A large part of the report focuses on the vulnerabilities of nuclear arms facilities in Pakistan from various factors including corruption, collusion of military officers with extremist outfits and insider assistance to such groups to secure parts for nuclear arms.
Other than Bunn and Mowatt-Larssen, other experts have also expressed concern recently over the fragility of security around Pakistan’s nuclear arms infrastructure.