“Long live the King!”

IR theory often makes use of domestic analogy to explain international relations. Based on the idea that states are similar to individuals, domestic analogy rests on the idea that relations between states are similar to relations between individuals. Likewise states and organizations share many similarities. I’ve been thinking about the ongoing debate about Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division. Individuals, as heads of government may come and go but the state continues as an entity. The adage “long live the king” is therefore a befitting illustration of the significance of SPD and why it should be considered an enduring entity like the state itself.

Lieutenant General Zubair Mahmood Hayat’s recent appointment as the head of Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division has become the subject of an intense debate. As commentators continue to question the safety and security of Pakistan’s nukes, there have been suggestions that the SPD and its head will likely become the focus of both the US and Indian intelligence agencies in an effort to gauge Hayat’s capability to oversee Pakistan’s nuclear weapons infrastructure.

The SPD serves as the secretariat of Pakistan’s National Command Authority (NCA) and plays a central role in the strategic planning, overall supervision and coordination of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. It is divided into four directorates overlooking operations and planning, strategic weapons, arms control and disarmament, and command & control. Additionally the SPD is responsible for training and maintaining a specialized cadre ensuring the security of Pakistan’s nuclear assets. It is responsible for monitoring scientific personnel, providing periodic intelligence reports and also material accounting and control. Furthermore, the SPD overlooks the security of sensitive materials and their transport.

Since its inception, the SPD has evolved several mechanisms including the use of “permissive action links”, the creation of personnel reliability programs and nuclear emergency security teams. Its safety and security measures include monitoring scientific personnel, producing periodic intelligence reports, material accounting and control, special vehicles and security for sensitive materials transport, and also a requirement for two or more persons for managing key functions.

Notwithstanding the recent debate about the SPD and its ability to safeguard Pakistan’s nuclear assets in the aftermath of General Kidwai’s retirement, there is a need to acknowledge the SPD’s steady development and contribution towards Pakistan’s nuclear security culture. In the words of Micheal Krepon “…No one individual or institution is foolproof, but Gen. Kidwai has developed procedures and programs that will supersede him. I expect a successful hand-off at the SPD.”

Interestingly nuclear experts in India also recognize SPD’s professionalism and competence. In the words of Bharat Karnad, a renowned Indian expert in nuclear strategic matters, SPD’s success “is principally the result of painstaking and rigorous efforts over a long period of time to seed and nurture a force manned by a specialist cadre…” and further that “the central point about the success of the SPD and every other nuclear force is that the nuclear secretariat is run by a corps of officers with real expertise — top to bottom, who are recruited after intensive tests and psychological profiling, including their ability to handle extreme stress….Such a body of officers is at the core of professionalizing the nuclear forces.”

Another axiom involving the king is more “loyal than the king” and I’m tempted to use it in the context of SPD and its role in securing Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. In a 2010 article Jeffery Lewis highlighted the folly of sounding more concerned than Islamabad about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Lewis goes on to identify Pakistan’s rapidly expanding nuclear stockpile as being the most significant danger in South Asia. The recent spate of articles appearing in the international press about the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal only serve to reinforce the perception that the United States seeks to increase its “own axis of security” to the Pakistani nuclear weapons.

Although Pakistan’s weapon security policy remains ambiguous it has developed physical safety mechanisms both within the chain of command and also its weapon systems. A single individual cannot issue the command for nuclear weapon use and neither can he operate one. Conversely, the country has made significant improvements in the realm of nuclear safety and security, a fact acknowledged by the 2014 NTI Nuclear Material Safety Index which credits Pakistan as being the most improved among nuclear armed states, through a series of steps to update nuclear security regulations and to implement best practices. Experts have duly acknowledged the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons during peacetime. However, the very existence of nuclear weapons and their command and control systems increases the possibility of nuclear usage in a low intensity conflict. As the weaker party in the South Asian equation Pakistan continues to build its nuclear stockpile. Responding to this build up in kind through strategy innovation, India now plans to use its conventional forces in a nuclear environment. India’s cold start doctrine is a manifestation of this plan and signifies a shift from conventional war fighting to escalation strategies in South Asia.

The real issue in South Asia is not the SPD’s inadequacy as an organization or even Pakistan’s inability to secure its nuclear weapons. The real problem in South Asia is the growing arms race between India and Pakistan and their inability to decide on how much is enough.



Posted in , Deterrence, India, Military, Nuclear, Nuclear Security, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Security

Amina Afzal

Amina Afzal is a Canada based researcher. She holds an MA in Non Proliferation and Terrorism Studies from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and a Masters in Defence & Strategic Studies from Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad. She has more than ten years of experience working at various Pakistani think tanks.

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2 thoughts on ““Long live the King!”

  1. Though I agree with some aspects of the article, one cannot deny that an important issue in South Asia IS the SPD’s inadequacy as an organization & its equally important to continually work on the security the nuclear weapons, not just in Pakistan but also India, as security is something that can never be 100%.

    For more views on the recent changes in SPD, please have a look the ISSSP article on the topic http://isssp.in/passing-the-nuclear-baton-in-pakistan/

  2. I agree that security can never be 100% and also that nuclear security requires vigilance and constant updating in order to deter threats or even respond to them. However, the SPD continues to improve the command and control system for Pakistan’s nuclear assets. Among other measures this also entails a continual screening and training of employees in its nuclear enterprise. In my opinion the inadequacy does not lie within SPD as an organization but the secrecy surrounding Pakistan’s nuclear assets and its inability to provide more information about its security policy both locally and internationally. Pakistan’s security culture continues to evolve and remains mindful of the possible threats to the country’s strategic assets. Moreover, the collaboration between Pakistani and US governments on best practices for the security of Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure have led to better training and equipment.

    Thank you for referring me to your article. Regarding General Kidwai’s retirement –while heading SPD he was variously criticized by commentators but his departure is now being used to question the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. On the issue of civilians being included in the NCA- this is not a recent development. The only change in the structure of the NCA is that the Prime Minister has now assumed the position of Chairman NCA from his previous appointment as the Vice Chairman of the body. Kindly refer to Peter Lavoy’s 2007 article entitled “Pakistan’s Nuclear Posture: Security and Survivability” and refer to graphic 1 with the NCA’s original structure showing that both the Ministers for Interior and Finance have always been part of the NCA.

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