Is It Time To Be Worried About Nuclear Terrorism In Pakistan? – OpEd


Due to the deteriorating political and security situation in the country, many speculate that Pakistan’s nuclear program could fall victim to intrusion by terror or fanatic groups. While the subject has been raised on the international forum numerous times and countered effectively as many times, it is important to take a fresh look at Pakistan’s efforts to secure its nuclear program. 

Pakistan’s mature nuclear security regime governance is based on a competent legislative and regulatory framework, well-reputed institutions and organisations, advanced nuclear security systems and measures, and strong nuclear security culture based on IAEA’s recommendations and best practices.


Pakistan has promulgated two most vital regulations that extenuate the nuclear security regime in Pakistan. Firstly in 2019, Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) promulgated ‘Regulations on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Installations’ – (PAK/925) based on IAEA’s ‘Nuclear Security Recommendations on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities’ (INFCIRC/225/Rev. 5) and the obligation of ‘Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material’ (CPPNM) as well as its latest ‘2005 Amendment,’ in addition, to experience from national and international best practices. 

Secondly, in 2018 PNRA promulgated ‘Regulations on Security of Radioactive Sources’ – (PAK/926). These regulations are based on provisions of the IAEA’s ‘Code of Conduct on Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources’ and its two Supplementary Guidance on ‘Import/Export of Radioactive Sources’ and ‘Management of Disused Sources.’ 

PNRA is a highly competent and independent regulatory body that ensures all necessary protection of nuclear material since its inception. These regulations by PNRA ensure that the nuclear and radioactive material is physically protected during use, storage, transport or sabotage. This indicates that during the unfortunate event of a terrorist attack on the nuclear site or invasion through an intruder or insider, the nuclear material is protected. 

To stop nuclear proliferation, PNRA also promulgated the ‘Strategic Export Control Act’, which places nuclear and radiological material on the export control list. For this purpose, the country’s entry and exit points, such as airports and borders, have nuclear scanners. Additionally, nuclear scanners are installed nationwide, such as on various toll plazas, highways, malls, international hotels, and so on. Additionally, CCTVs have also been installed on roads and highways. Therefore, any movement of nuclear material is immediately detected and acted upon. This shows that even if nuclear material is removed or on the move by terror or fanatic groups, it will be detected and recovered. 

Physical Protection

Physical protection of nuclear material in Pakistan is based on numerous nuclear security systems and measures that allow multi-layered defence and protection of nuclear sites. The multi-layered defence is grounded on an assessment of the current and emerging threat environment to develop a design-basis threat (DBT). DBT can be modified based on the threats a country is experiencing. For some, it is environmentalists; for others, it is violent extremists. DBT allows Pakistan’s nuclear security regime to modify accordingly. As the threat from terrorists and extremists in the country surges, adequate measures are taken to upgrade the security checks of nuclear sites.

The nuclear sites, in addition to depending on guns, guards, and gates to deter, detect, delay, defend and destroy (5D) the threat, also have advanced technology, electronic intrusion detection systems and access control systems such as central alarms, CCTVs, electric barred wires, watch towers, defence in-depth, scanners, on-way entry-exit points and so on. Moreover, these nuclear sites are protected by specially trained response forces available on and off-site. These systems and standards ensure that nuclear material and sites are protected and guarded at all times, regardless of threat level. 

Nuclear Security Culture

Pakistan has a strong nuclear security culture to strengthen the nuclear security regime further. The holistic approach of these measures ensures that personnel handling nuclear material are trustworthy and highly trained. The nuclear security culture is augmented at the nuclear sites through several important programs, such as regular in-house training, Personnel Reliability Program (PRP) and Human Reliability Program (HRP). These programs regularly and rigorously assess individuals, their families, sources of income, neighbourhoods and so on to ensure that they do not fall victim to terror or fanatic groups. 

The employees at nuclear sites are also assessed by various individuals as they pass through trainings. Pakistan has established three affiliated Centres of Excellence. The Pakistan Centre of Excellence for Nuclear Security (PCENS) offers advanced and cutting-edge training courses for national and international experts. The National Institute of Safety and Security (NISAS) offers comprehensive and in-depth training in various nuclear safety and security areas. On September 30, 2022, NISAS was designated as an IAEA collaborating centre for nuclear security that will be utilised to support implementing the IAEA nuclear security action plan for capacity building. Lastly, Pakistan has a dedicated university called the Pakistan Institute of Engineering and Applied Sciences (PIEAS) for further higher education and training. PIEAS offers courses in nuclear engineering and has dedicated labs for research and training. 

These three institutions allow Pakistan to employ highly trained, vigilant, accountable, and dedicated individuals. The training offered at these centres allows the graduates to remain abreast with new techniques to cater to evolving threat scenarios and develop capabilities and tactics to counter adversary malicious acts. Given the rapidly changing threat environment, digital safety and cyber security training also prepare the employees to strengthen their defence. This shows that in case of a cyber-attack by terrorist or extremist groups, Pakistan’s nuclear security regime is well-prepared. This demonstrates that Pakistan’s nuclear sites and weapons program is highly protected in all aspects. Be it regulatory or physical, or cyber protection.

Counter Terrorism

Every country is well aware of its threat environment and, for this purpose, takes adequate measures. Likewise, Pakistan has also taken sufficient steps to counter the threat of terrorism and extremism in the country. Pakistan’s defence forces have launched another comprehensive counter-terrorism (CT) operation. In the past, Pakistan’s defence forces have carried out several CT operations; therefore, they are well-trained and highly experienced in tackling this menace. As the geopolitical environment changes, terrorist threats evolve, as witnessed after the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. The re-emergence of terrorist groups was already expected and proactively planned to counter. 

Pakistan is also an active member of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT). This allows Pakistan’s nuclear operators to participate in and contribute to international training. Additionally, measures are being taken to collaborate with the U.S., China and Afghanistan to neutralise terrorism and extremism in the country. 

This illustrates that highly politicised misinformation regarding the security of Pakistan’s nuclear program or sites is based on incomplete knowledge of measures taken by Pakistan. It is, therefore, not the time to be worried about nuclear terrorism in Pakistan. Every country should work towards ensuring the protection and security of its nuclear sites and share best practices to ensure regional nuclear security rather than creating false propaganda that supports terrorism. 

Maheen Shafeeq

Maheen Shafeeq is a research analyst in international security and emerging technology. She holds a master’s degree in International Relations from the University of Sheffield, UK. She tweets @MaheenShafeeq.

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