The mere mention of nuclear weapons in the hands of an unstable, undemocratic nation immediate brings to mind images of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un playing with his arsenal of ballistic missiles and atomic warheads from his headquarters in Pyongyang.
And, indeed, Kim is a clear and present danger to humanity and global peace.
But while North Korea may be the focal point of international concern regarding nuclear weapons in the wrong hands, there is another serious nuclear threat to international stability, and it is Pakistan.
With an estimated 135 nuclear warheads, Pakistan is more heavily armed than its archenemy India (with about 120 warheads) and North Korea (with just 12 warheads) combined, and it is a hotbed of political unrest and a breeding ground for Islamic jihadism.
Moreover, corrupt Pakistani officials have a nasty history of peddling their country’s nuclear assets to whoever is willing to pay.
Lest we forget, Pakistan’s chief nuclear bomb-maker Abdul Qadeer Khan was caught red-handed in the late 1990s transferring sensitive nuclear technology to North Korea in exchange for an estimated $3 million.
The current Pakistani regime insists that is has since implemented stronger methods to secure the South Asian country’s nuclear arsenals, but recent evidence — including internal Pakistani documents — would suggest that Islamabad’s nuclear secrets are still vulnerable.
The Taliban and other jihadists have repeatedly struck with impunity at supposedly secure military bases where nuclear materials are kept.
Pakistan also has a habit of coddling and even sanctioning militant extremist groups, including those that have carried out attacks in India and Afghanistan.
Even more troubling is the fact that the Pakistani military is becoming progressively more radicalized, unofficially enforcing Islamic sharia law and oppressing any semblance of religious tolerance (see “No Room for Moderates,” which ran in this space on April 11).
Pakistan claims that its warheads have been de-mated (separated from their delivery mechanisms), but there is no way of proving this and, even if that is the case, not all of Pakistan’s nuclear material has been secured.
According to some reports, Pakistan is currently constructing new, smaller tactical nuclear weapons for use on the battlefield, which would be easier for terror cells to procure and deploy.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has already raised red flags of concern that Pakistan is not doing enough to protect its nuclear resources.
Clearly, Pakistan is not ready to use its nuclear weapons to wage war against its neighbors, but it may be ready to sell them to the highest bidder, or — worse yet — to let them slip into the hands of jihadist terror groups.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.