WASHINGTON - Pakistan is making ‘qualitative and quantitative’ improvements to its nuclear arsenal, an updated Congressional report says, as it acknowledges the steps taken by Islamabad to increase international confidence in the security of its nuclear arsenal.

“Islamabad is producing fissile material, adding to related production facilities, and deploying additional delivery vehicles,” the independent Congressional Research Service (CRS) said, while emphasising that Pakistan’s policy of ‘minimum credible deterrent’ in the nuclear field is widely regarded as designed to dissuade India from taking military action against it.

The report said, “These steps could enable Pakistan to undertake both quantitative and qualitative improvements to its nuclear arsenal. Whether and to what extent Pakistan’s current expansion of its nuclear weapons-related facilities is a response to the 2008 US-India nuclear cooperation agreement is unclear.

“Islamabad does not have a public, detailed nuclear doctrine, but its ‘minimum credible deterrent’ is widely regarded as designed to dissuade India from taking military action against Pakistan.”

In addition to making qualitative and quantitative improvements to its nuclear arsenal, Pakistan could increase the number of circumstances under which it would be willing to use nuclear weapons, the report said.

While overhauling nuclear command and control structures since September 11, 2001, Islamabad has implemented new personnel security programmes, the report said.

“Moreover, Pakistani and some US officials argue that, since the 2004 revelations about a procurement network run by former Pakistani nuclear official AQ Khan, Islamabad has taken a number of steps to improve its nuclear security and to prevent further proliferation of nuclear-related technologies and materials,” the report says.

A number of important initiatives, such as strengthened export control laws, improved personnel security, and international nuclear security cooperation programmes have improved Pakistan’s security situation in recent years, it notes.

The report estimates that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal probably consists of approximately 90-110 nuclear warheads, although it could be larger.

Citing statements by top American political and military leaders as well as intelligence officials, the report says the United States has generally expressed confidence in Pakistan’s safety of the nuclear assets.

However, the report also speculates effects of instability on these reforms and refers to hypothetical situations.

Some observers fear radical takeover of a government that possesses a nuclear bomb, or proliferation by radical sympathisers within Pakistan’s nuclear complex in case of a breakdown of controls. While US and Pakistani officials continue to express confidence in controls over Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, continued instability in the country could impact these safeguards.

“Deterring India’s nuclear weapons and augmenting Pakistan’s inferior conventional forces are widely believed to be the primary missions for Islamabad’s nuclear arsenal. Observers point to India’s 1974 ‘peaceful’ nuclear explosion as the pivotal moment that gave additional urgency to the programme.”