Ramesh Davesar examines the perception whether the threat of accessing of nuclear technology by terrorists’ outfits is real
The awareness that the world community is gradually getting seized of the “Nuclear Terrorist” syndrome has led to the institution of various proactive counter measures. In terms of history this fear was expressed way back at the conclusion of Second World War when the US Congress convened an emergency meeting and quizzed Dr J Robert Oppenheimer- Father of atomic bomb, on measures of preventing smuggling of nuclear technology to “Non State Actors”. Though nothing substantive came out nor any follow up measures were initiated by the US, but all the same it established the imminence of such a threat later becoming a reality.
This looming suspicion resurfaced with the civil unrest and insurgency engulfing more areas during subsequent periods in the sixties and seventies when the fear of insurgents laying their hands on Nuclear-Biological-Chemical (NBC) weapons became more likely with the reports of insurgents acquiring the capability of executing “in transit robbery” of nuclear weapons and technology. The threat became more strong after the Munich Massacre of Israeli athletes in 1972 which forced global power blocks to collectively institute preventive measures. And now the cumulative manifestations of these apprehensions are fast becoming reality as the present crop of insurgents are hell bent on acquiring nuclear and the chemical weapons(NCW). In 2011, it was vindicated by the British Telegraph when they received a threat of “nuclear hell storm” from Islamic Fundamentalists which was followed by similar threats by the Al Qaida to US after the Osama episode.

Coupled with the conjoint incidents of smuggling technology know how by AQ Khan to Iraq, North Korea and Al Qaida, instances of roping in rogue scientists in acquiring nuclear technology could not be taken lightly and needed to be addressed with all seriousness. The findings of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) indicated that there have been 1266 incidents of illicit trafficking of nuclear raw material and technology since 2000 which lead to the deduction that the terrorist outfits can well exploit these developments to their advantage.
As per the International Convention for Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, the term Nuclear Terrorism (NT) implies, “is an offence when a person or an organisation unintentionally or intentionally uses in anyway radioactive material with intent to cause death or damage to the State”. Simply understood, the devices could be in the form of “Dirty Bomb or the Suitcase Bomb” (a concoction of radioactive material with the conventional explosives.
It is widely believed that due to a loosely managed nuclear scenario emanating from the close connect between the terrorist outfits with the insiders working in the nuclear establishments, Pakistan has become the “ground zero” in assisting terrorists in laying hands on nuclear technology or in the worst possibility- the devices. Terrorists attacks on three military nuclear centres in the recent times further consolidated the fear of their vulnerability to the terrorists’ designs. More recently the Tehrike Taliban Pakistan (TTP) celebrating their recent strikes in Karachi, claimed to have acquired nuclear technology, are also reported to have stockpiled huge quantity of poisonous chemicals.
According to Mr John Brennan, White House Chief Counter Terrorism Advisor,” “Nuclear Terrorism” is real, it is serious, and it constitutes one of the greatest threats to US security and indeed global security”. Foreseeing the looming danger of NT as also to initiate safeguards against such misadventures and deny its access to the terrorists, an organization called “World Institute of Nuclear Security” was set up in 2008. It was to devise ways and means to prevent use of nuclear technology by terrorists. During its summit on “Nuclear Security” convened in Mar 14 and attended by 50 countries, India expressed unanimity with serious threats scenarios, ratified 48 point resolutions to combat this threat. Additionally, to deal with the contingency of terrorists’ attempts at stealing nuclear arsenal in Pakistan, the US has raised a Special Unit in 2010 to “seal off -snatch back” nuclear warheads to safer destinations.
Closer home, the regional political and the security scenarios in the subcontinent coupled with the terrorists’ consolidations in Afghanistan & Pakistan, the recent uprisings in China & Bangladesh as also the Bhatkal’s confession of targeting Surat with nuclear bombs places India on the highest risk in the new dimensional threat. It is evident that such developments cannot be wished away, instead we must take a holistic view of the impending threat and carryout “gap analysis” to revamp our existing Internal Security (IS) and operational philosophy to not only revise our proactive and reactive responses but also effect corresponding induction of weapons & equipment and also raise specialized units to counter the enhanced threat.
The existing IS setup is splintered both in command & control resulting in incongruent execution of counter insurgency/terrorists operations (CIT Ops). Basically these are military centric operations and therefore without any iota of hesitation must be conducted under the military credos . The analysis of the ongoing IS threat perception with ever spreading “Red Corridor”, the ongoing insurgency in J&K with uneasy calm in the North East and the presumed possession of nuclear capability by them in all probability would further conflagrate the IS environment. Since an all out conventional war is a remote possibility, it could instead either be the combination of limited cross border actions with the CIT Ops or just the latter with covert external support. In either contingency the IS assumes as much operational significance as conventional threat. Therefore under the prevailing conditions there cannot be stronger justification to create an IS Command on the lines of the Field Commands of the Army commanded by a three star general under the Ministry of Home Affairs(MHA) predominantly staffed by military personnel and resources correspondingly supplemented by the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF), intelligence agencies and the counter- NBC equipage. Taking cue from the successes in J&K and Assam, a Unified Area Commands should be set-up in the affected areas. In view of the complex IS scenario, it is high time that we created a full fledged Ministry of Internal Security.
The author Col Ramesh Davesar (Retd) is a an Infantry Officer who after a successful career in the Army joined the State Bank of India as an Assistant General Manager to organize security. It was during this stint that he was academically exposed to nuances of security of banks and people , and added to his understanding of operational security, initially imbibed in his tenure in Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School (CIJWS).

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