Pakistan is set to become the world's 5th largest nuclear weapons state according to an alarming new report which shows the country is set for rapid expansion of its arsenal over the next decade.
The report was issued by an independent nuclear arms monitoring group under the Federation of American Scientists called the Nuclear Information Project and demonstrates that US intelligence has consistently understated and failed to accurately assess Pakistan's future capabilities.
While the Defense Intelligence Agency (the DIA) projected in 1999 that Pakistan would possess 60 to 80 nuclear warheads by 2020, the report shows the actual current figure at 140 to 150 warheads.
Should the current trend continue unabated, the Federation of American Scientists report indicates, the stockpile could increase to between 220 and 250 by the year 2025.
"We estimate that the country's stockpile could more realistically grow to 220 to 250 warheads by 2025, if the current trend continues. If that happens, it would make Pakistan the world's fifth-largest nuclear weapon state," wrote the authors of the report entitled 'Pakistani nuclear forces 2018'.
Crucially, the report also focuses on the threat that the country's vast arsenal, which includes tactical nuke development, could fall into the hands of terrorists, given Pakistan's shifting and hotbed political landscape. It cites past administrations as feeling confident at the domestic security situation, but emphasizes this was misguided.
The report also references the significant shift in priorities by the Trump administration. The report reads:
In stark contrast, the Trump administration assessment in 2018 was: “We are particularly concerned by the development of tactical nuclear weapons that are designed for use in battlefield. We believe that these systems are more susceptible to terrorist theft and increase the likelihood of nuclear exchange in the region.”
Upon unveiling his South Asia strategy on 21 August 2017, Trump urged Pakistan to stop sheltering terrorist organizations, and noted the need to “prevent nuclear weapons and materials from coming into the hands of terrorists.” US concern over the security of Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons precedes the Trump administration.
Despite security concerns and the presence of Islamist and Taliban factions along Pakistan's porous tribal Afghan border region, nuclear expansion has continued at unrelenting rapid pace.
"With several delivery systems in development, four plutonium production reactors, and its uranium enrichment facilities expanding, however, Pakistan has a stockpile that will likely increase further over the next 10 years," says the report further.
Pakistan could be poised to overstep the UK and approach China in the coming years
And perhaps more worrisome is that nuclear warheads may be going mobile: "Analysis of a large number of commercial satellite images of Pakistani army garrisons and air force bases shows what appear to be mobile launchers and underground facilities that might be related to nuclear forces," the report reads.
But perhaps most alarming is the suggestion among some analysts that Pakistan could begin actually approaching China and France in the coming decade, which the report's authors downplay: "Speculation that Pakistan may become the world's third-largest nuclear weapon state – with a stockpile of some 350 warheads a decade from now – are, we believe, exaggerated, not least because that would require a buildup two to three times faster than the growth rate over the past two decades."
Concerning the arms race with India, the report notes, "The efforts seek to create a full-spectrum deterrent that is designed not only to respond to nuclear attacks, but also to counter an Indian conventional incursion onto Pakistani territory." This has Washington officials worried as "This development has created considerable concern in other countries, including the United States, which fears that it lowers the threshold for nuclear use in a military conflict with India."
During the opening week of September the Pentagon announced that it "made a final decision" to cancel $300 million in aid to the country after the White House slammed Islamabad for turning a blind eye to terrorism — this after another $550 had been stripped by Congress earlier in the year, bringing the total withheld from Pakistan to $800 million.
President Trump had issued prior threats to do just this, as his first tweet of 2018 had charged the longtime US ally with paying back American foreign aid with "nothing but lies & deceit". He also vowed, "They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!"