Pakistani Nuclear Weapons Now under PM

By Auner, Eric | Arms Control Today, January/February 2010 | Go to article overview

Pakistani Nuclear Weapons Now under PM


Auner, Eric, Arms Control Today


Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari turned over formal control of the nation's nuclear arsenal to Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Guani in November amid continuing political upheaval and doubts about the future of his presidency.

Zardari's decision to give up the chairmanship of the National Command Authority (NCA) "was not taken in isolation or under any pressure, rather [it was] meant to decentralize the powers" of the president, Press Secretary to the President Taimur Azmat Osman said in a statement quoted by the Associated Press of Pakistan, a government-run news agency. The text of the Nov. 27 ordinance implementing the decision was not available at press time.

Many analysts in the region and in the United States say the transfer will not have a significant effect on the practical control of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal. In an op-ed published in Pakistan's Daily Times, journalist Ahmed Rashid wrote that changes to the NCA would not affect the army's control over the country's nuclear weapons because "[c]ivilians have never controlled Pakistan's nuclear program." Smruti S. Pattanaik, a research fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, wrote on the institute's Web site, "An elected President (and now the Prime Minister) chairing the NCA gives him notional control over nuclear weapons and thus creates a sense of civilian ownership.... Such a change of guard from President to Prime Minister does not portend any major shift in civilian control over the Army."

Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington, wrote on the center's Web site that it is unclear whether "changes in the NCA and public releases of information about them [are] helpful or harmful to nuclear stabilization on the subcontinent."

In 2000, Pakistani leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf created the NCA to oversee Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and formulate nuclear policy. The precise function and role of the NCA were clarified in the 2007 National Command Authority Ordinance. According to that ordinance, the NCA is intended to exercise "complete command and control over research, development, production and use of nuclear and space technologies. …

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