The Nuclear Security Summit held in Washington D.C. concluded with a joint communiqué on April 1, 2016. This communiqué touched all the important aspects of nuclear security which are desired to be given enduring priority. One of the difficult areas of the communiqué is about sharing of sensitive information by the states. It has been understood and accepted that such sharing of information should be in light of national conditions and every nation has the right to protect sensitive information. But in the same flow it also demands international cooperation in this regard. It is encouraging that the communiqué reaffirmed implementation of action plans on a voluntary basis and consistent with national laws and respective international obligations.
In this backdrop let us examine some of the implications for Pakistan. As we all know Pakistan has a very stringent and focused National Command Authority (NCA) established through NCA Act 2010 which clearly specifies its purpose and scope covering research, development, production and use of nuclear and space technologies and other related applications in various fields It has not left any aspect or area related to nuclear and space technology uncovered. It will not be wrong if we consider NCA and its secretariat (SPD, Strategic Plans Division) as a National focal point for all matters related to nuclear and space technology. As far as sharing of information with any country or international organisation related to these two subjects, SPD exercises its ultimate authority and jurisdiction.
Sharing of information with any one, may it be friend, is a very serious business. Under normal conditions when dealing with less sensitive issues errors can be tolerated and recourse is easy, however, while dealing with nuclear issues related to national security under tense environment, nothing is pardonable. Strict control mechanisms through multilayered oversight under experience hands are required to vet and clear text to be shared.
It is well recognised that Pakistan has been hostage to a very sensitive situation for more than a decade, after 9/11, where deliberate efforts are being made by various foreign intelligence agencies and organisations to peep inside strategic installations and seek sensitive information. New technologies and methods have been developed where information can be obtained in well protected system too. In such an advanced environment deliberate sharing of information can be problematic. It can fill in the gaps and let the picture be completed. The other side may be interested in small information which may look trivial yet may be essential from their perspective.
Total black out was a good position in the past but no longer is a practical option in increasingly interconnected world. We admire that Pakistan has adopted transparency and responsibility as its cardinal principles for dealing with nuclear program related information, but there are challenges too.
While sharing information we need to clearly define the process through which it may be decided what is to be shared and what is not, who should write the text to transmit information and what method should be adopted to share information. We need to be extremely careful at all levels of the process, only specially trained individuals, in law and linguistics, should be asked to draft such communications. Moreover no official directly dealing with sensitive information in whatever manner should be tasked to share information. It will be highly beneficial if a joint interdepartmental group in collaboration with selected experts group should review the final text and clear it for sharing. Such mechanism should be formally approved and followed for all matters including nuclear. Afterwards the responsibility to share information with any external actor may it be a state party or international organisation should finally be Ministry of Foreign Affairs. No information what so ever may be shared with foreign governments and agencies on personal basis. A sequential record should be kept in Foreign office so as to keep abreast with the ongoing developments and build an overall big picture.
Additionally all information shared with foreign governments and organisations should be made available to own scholars and researchers through open source web based applications or other convenient methods, suiting to the sensitivity of the information. Sometimes it becomes very embarrassing when information shared by our own government, not available to our own scholars, is leaked out by the other side. There is greater need of transparency at the domestic level also so that our experts and scholars are better equipped to defend our stated national position.
I am quite sure that people at the helm of affairs are well aware of the challenges of sharing information related to our nuclear program and other related national security issues. Let us be clear that there is no fool proof system, it is through constant upgrading and improvement that we can ensure highest level of information security. In my view it is a genuine public concern and may be given highest priority without unnecessarily undermining vital national security of the country.