In the over two decades since its 1998 nuclear tests, Pakistan has taken important steps to strengthen its nuclear safety as well as develop and enhance its nuclear security culture—defined by the IAEA as: “the assembly of characteristics, attitudes and behavior of individuals, organizations, and institutions which serves as a means to support and enhance nuclear security.” As culture is also a product of multiple factors—such as social learning, customs, and history—the process of fostering a strong nuclear security culture in each nuclear weapons state will be somewhat different.

At the core of security culture is the organizational practices around nuclear security, or the “prevention and detection of (and response to) theft, sabotage, unauthorized access, and illegal transfer of or other malicious acts involving nuclear materials and other radioactive substances.” In developing a nuclear security culture, the state has a fundamental role to play in adopting and implementing effective laws and legislations in its nuclear program. Internationally defined best practices can also be effective in promoting practices that strengthen the culture of nuclear security. In the past two decades, Pakistan has taken several steps to enhance its nuclear security by bringing in different stakeholders such as military institutions, nuclear organizations, scientists, and engineers into the country’s security to share their inputs. However, there is still space to improve.

This paper examines Pakistan’s efforts to enhance its nuclear security culture using the IAEA Nuclear Security Culture Implementing Guide—Nuclear Security Series No. 7 (2008)—as a tool for evaluation. The guide offers practical direction for concerned institutions and regulatory bodies for strengthening nuclear security culture, and can be used as a measure to see whether Pakistan’s steps are broadly in alignment with international best practices. This essay then examines ongoing challenges that Pakistan faces, which include a lack of public and academic involvement and misperceptions about Pakistan’s nuclear security space despite improvements.

Building a Nuclear Security Culture

A strong culture that supports nuclear security and safety is critical for preventing sabotage or theft at nuclear facilities. As noted by the IAEA, universal features at the state, organizational, managerial, and individual level work together to shape the nuclear security culture of a state and its nuclear institutions. A strong nuclear security culture involves each of these actors working to ensure appropriate nuclear safety and security through adherence to guildelines and protection against nuclear threats. As the guide further notes, a culture is “hard to either impose or cultivate, but it can be fostered through role models, training, positive reinforcement, and systematized processes.”

Despite a stronger nuclear security focus in recent years, the NTI Index of 2020 notes that many states have no regulatory requirements or incentives in place to strengthen nuclear security culture and most of their regulations focus solely on safety culture or subsume security culture within safety culture.

Additionally, there are six important multilateral instruments that underpin the emerging nuclear security regime, which include:

  1. UN Security Council Resolution 1373
  2. UN Security Council Resolution 1540
  3. The International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (known as the Nuclear Terrorism Convention)
  4. The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) and its amendment 2005
  5. The Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities INFCIRC/225/Rev.5 (INFCIRC/225)
  6. The IAEA Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources (known as the Code of Conduct)

As fears of threats from terrorism and theft of radioactive materials spread, nuclear security—particularly in South Asia—gained growing attention in international politics after September 11, 2001. The Nuclear Security Summits (NSS) in Washington in 2010, Seoul in 2012, the Hague 2014, the final NSS Washington 2016, and their corresponding nuclear experts’ meetings and a series of related events have provided an opportunity to develop new strategies and policies for the improvement of global nuclear security. Despite a stronger nuclear security focus in recent years, the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) Index of 2020 notes that many states have no regulatory requirements or incentives in place to strengthen nuclear security culture and most of their regulations focus solely on safety culture or subsume security culture within safety culture. As Pakistan—as well as India—was largely isolated immediately following its nuclear tests in 1998, the country has had a steep learning curve for fostering and creating a strong culture around nuclear safety and security.

State Level Steps

 According to IAEA Fundamental Principle A of INFCIRC/Rev-5, the state should have special responsibility for the “establishment, implementation and maintenance of a physical protection regime.” At the state level, legislative and regulatory frameworks have been implemented to support Pakistan’s security culture. These include creating autonomous regulatory bodies with sufficient legal authority to fulfill their allocated nuclear security responsibilities. These comprise the National Command Authority (NCA), Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) and Strategic Export Control Division. The NCA is the top decision making organization for all nuclear issues including nuclear security (i.e., both military and civilian) and strategic activities. Day-to-day oversight is provided via the NCA’s secretariat, the Strategic Plans Division (SPD).1 To support a strong nuclear security culture, it is the responsibility of a state to define and protect general regulations and is the state’s duty to assign work to the relevant organization and keep information safe. With these institutions Pakistan has worked to establish a national nuclear security regime that protects of sensitive information and facilities, and a legal framework for distribution and coordination of responsibilities to secure its nuclear assets.

Ansar Parvez, Chairman, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission conducts IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano on a tour of the premises during his official visit to Pakistan from March 10-12, 2014.

Pakistan has also stated its commitment to regularly reviewing practices “in light of national obligations, IAEA guidance documents, and international best practices.” Former Director General Yukia Amano of the IAEA expressed his appreciation for “Pakistan’s cooperation with the IAEA and its active contribution to the Agency’s efforts to build capacity in other countries in the region by providing experts and hosting training courses.” Pakistan has also adopted international legal instruments including the Amended 2005 Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) and has endorsed “Regulations on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Installations PAK/925.” PAK/925 is in line with INFCIRC 225/Rev 5, and specifically calls attention to security culture as part of the physical protection of nuclear materials. 

Organizational Initiatives, Training, and Best Practices   

Pakistan proclaims that it has created a strong nuclear security culture, which sustains a national nuclear security regime. In an IAEA Conference in 2020, Tariq Majeed an Inam ul Haq, comprehensively discussed Pakistan’s efforts to enhance its nuclear security culture through education of its nuclear scientists and engineers in the Pakistan Institute of Engineering and Applied Sciences (PIEAS). Earlier, in 2019, by recognizing Pakistan’s development in nuclear field, the IAEA named PIEAS as an IAEA Collaborating Center to support Member States on research, development, and capacity building in the application of advanced and innovative nuclear technologies. These educational institutions, are crucial for developing vigilance, continuous education on best practices, and commitment to nuclear security in Pakistan’s institutions. Pakistan also established a Centre of Excellence (CoE) for Nuclear Security in 2012, which consolidates best practices across three nuclear security institutions in Pakistan and collaborated with the IAEA-led Nuclear Security Support Center network.

Brig. Feroz Khan (retd.), has also outlined the evolution of Pakistan’s security culture. According to Khan, after the September 11 attacks in the United States, Pakistan developed several important programs including: the Personnel Reliability Program (PRP), Human Reliability Program (HRP), and physical protection of nuclear material and facilities, systems for Nuclear Material Accounting and Control, which increased safety and security procedures for weapons. Pakistan also began a Nuclear Security Action Plan overseen by the PNRA—which is responsible for the control, regulation, and supervision of all matters related to nuclear safety and radiation protection in Pakistan.

Pakistan has also gained some support internationally. According to Naeem Salik and Kenneth Luongo, “Pakistan also has benefited from cooperation and exchanges of information on best practices with friendly countries, including the United States, and has maintained a vibrant, cooperative relationship with the IAEA.” This includes a meeting as early as 2000 between Pakistan and U.S. officials to support building Pakistan’s nuclear command and control structures. Pakistan has also cooperated with China on nuclear issues and received support in strengthening its nuclear safety and security measures. For example, the PNRA signed agreements for regulatory cooperation with the Chinese National Nuclear Regulatory Authority to coordinate technical trainings for PNRA engineers and scientists. All these trainings and practices are essentials to maintain a safe and secure nuclear program.

In April 2018, the PNRA hosted an International Workshop on Nuclear Security Culture in Practice. The objective of this workshop was: “to emphasise the importance of nuclear security culture to ensure an effective nuclear security” as well as “increase understanding of the key elements of nuclear security culture by internalizing these elements…[and] encourage the participants to review their daily behaviors through the lens of nuclear security culture.” The PNRA has also organized various education and training exercises on emergency preparedness and response to train its own staff, licensees and off-site response for capacity building of people involved in nuclear organizations. Some of these activities are arranged in coordination with other national organizations and IAEA under Technical Cooperation projects. In 2020, the PNRA organized ten local training courses on emergency preparedness and response such as regulatory oversight, emergency management system, hazard assessment, public communication, medical response, response to malicious acts.

Individual Attitudes

Each person working within nuclear organizations has a vital contribution and job to perform. Beyond the crucial PRP and HRP, the education components of PIEAS also underscore Pakistan’s commitment to the human component of nuclear security. Furthermore, an assessment procedure for nuclear security culture (in the form of a survey) among the scientists and engineers has been introduced, as per guidelines of IAEA. All these exercises have helped develop better understanding of the potential threat scenarios to the nuclear facilities and organizations. Additionally, the PNRA fosters safety and security culture in nuclear installations by certifying that it is on the agenda of the licensee at the highest organizational level. To do this, the PNRA has implemented numerous initiatives for the capability development of regulatory officials in different disciplines.

The Obstacles Ahead

On the basis of recognized global standards and practices, Pakistan has taken this subject seriously and has made significant progress in developing a strong nuclear security culture which has evolved during the last two decades. The IAEA has praised Pakistan’s efforts in nuclear security and the NTI has also highlighted Pakistan’s progress declaring Pakistan as “the most improved country in the theft ranking for countries with nuclear materials, improving its overall score by 7 points” in 2020. However, there are some areas which need to be improved. Beyond nuclear security culture, Pakistan also needs to take steps to improve its global image and challenge misperceptions about its nuclear security regime. International misperceptions have at times undermined Pakistan’s nuclear security efforts. Pakistan does have a robust nuclear safety and security mechanism, but it has to address international perception through productive and proactive nuclear diplomacy. Moreover, countering socio-political vulnerabilities would further enhance Pakistan’s credibility.

Conduct Comprehensive Assessments to Address Nuclear Security Culture

At the level of state, organizations, managers and individuals, Pakistan can further conduct a comprehensive assessment to strengthen its nuclear security culture. Furthermore, Pakistan should address socio-political vulnerabilities. As indicated by the NTI Index in 2020, political instability, ineffective governance, corruption, and non-state actors are serious challenges for Pakistan. They can directly and indirectly contribute to a deterioration in Pakistan’s nuclear image. A peaceful society and good governance are essential for good security culture. More nuclear security culture workshops, outreach programs, training courses, and international coordination can also support this goal.

Diplomacy Efforts

This is mainly possible through academic writings, publications, and narrative building. The other way Pakistan can project its perspective is through greater involvement of civil society, academics, politicians, and scholars in open discussions about nuclear policies and security. Currently, there are few nuclear experts and analysts in Pakistan. By developing a strong group of nuclear experts at the national and international level, Pakistan can project its perspective ranging from nuclear politics, achievements in peaceful uses of nuclear technology, and efficacy to sustain a deterrence strategy. Nuclear politics has become a specialized subject worldwide and it has attained more attention during the last two decades—Pakistan can do more to be part of this dialogue. Academics may also have an untapped role to play in strengthening the state’s nuclear security culture, as they offer recommendations, expertise, diverse opinions and analysis.

There is a need to expand the horizon of international cooperation with the help of initiatives like the exchange of policymakers, nuclear experts, and security analysts to share knowledge and create institutional and academic cooperation as well as support research opportunities for young scholars at the international level.

Scholars Exchange Program

Additionally, international cooperation and scholar-exchange programs can support learning about nuclear security culture and best practices. Pakistan has already taken various nuclear safety and security cooperative measures, however, most of these measures are in the scientific, technical, and legal areas. There is a need to expand the horizon of international cooperation with the help of initiatives like the exchange of policymakers, nuclear experts, and security analysts to share knowledge and create institutional and academic cooperation as well as support research opportunities for young scholars at the international level. International cooperation will bring productive results for Pakistan as well as enhance Pakistan’s nuclear image. Western research institutions and think tanks in nuclear studies are highly advanced and equipped with rich resources and senior experts. It is the responsibility of the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and non-governmental organizations/think tanks, particularly working in education and consultancy areas, to provide such funding opportunities for young researchers. Furthermore, international coordination will enhance confidence and will be useful in promoting mutual cooperation and understanding.


Nuclear security culture is a critical component of strengthening organizational best practices and commitments to nuclear security. Pakistan has made strides in establishing nuclear safety and security cultures within nuclear organizations, which gives a positive outlook for the future. The country has worked to align its civilian regulation to international standards as well as re-structured its organizational framework to centralize government oversight. However, less contributions from politicians, civil society, experts and analysts are continued concerns. In Pakistan, strategic organizations and the PNRA have effectively maintained a safe and secure nuclear program, nonetheless, effective nuclear security culture is achievable only through mutual and sustained coordination from each actor in nuclear security policy and practices.  

Editor’s Note: This article is part of series of pieces published in partnership with CRDF Global. Articles for the series, written by recipients of the CRDF-SAV research grant in nuclear security, cover topics ranging from cyber security at civilian nuclear energy sites, regional and international cooperation in South Asia, to personnel protection at nuclear sites, and other topics related to nuclear security on the subcontinent.


Image 1: IAEA Imagebank via Flickr

Image 2: IAEA Imagebank via Flickr

  1. Tahir M. Azad and H. Shahid, “Evolution of Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapon Programme,” Global Security and Strategic Studies Review, VI(I), 2021, 4-5.
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