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What is National Command Authority: Imran Khan convenes meeting of Pakistan's apex nuclear body after Balakot air strikes

Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan has called for a meeting of the National Command Authority (NCA) in the aftermath of India's pre-emptive, non-military air strikes at terror camps in Balakot in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

This is the second high-level meeting that Imran has called for in the wake of the Indian Air Force's operation. On Tuesday, he had convened an emergency review meeting of top defence and foreign ministry officials.

However, the meeting with the NCA stands out as the first significant reaction by Pakistan to India's air strikes as the NCA oversees not only Pakistan's strategic components but also its nuclear arsenal. Spokesperson of the Pakistan Armed Forces Major General Asif Ghafoor said as much at a press conference on Tuesday.

"I said we will surprise you. Wait for that surprise. I said our response will be different. There is a joint session of Parliament tomorrow (Wednesday) and then the prime minister has summoned a meeting of the National Command Authority. I hope you know what the NCA means and what it constitutes," Ghafoor was as saying by News18.

 What is National Command Authority: Imran Khan convenes meeting of Pakistans apex nuclear body after Balakot air strikes

Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan. Twitter/@PakPMO

The meeting will be attended by Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa as well as officials of the defence and foreign ministries.

What is the NCA?

The NCA was formally set up in 2000 after National Security Council chief executive General Pervez Musharraf overthrew the government in a military coup.

However, the Nuclear Threat Initiative traces the beginning of the nuclear body to 1996 when then Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto said in a clear departure from the pre-existing norm of the country's nuclear ambivalence that if India conducts a nuclear test, Pakistan could be forced to "follow suit".

By 1997, the then Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif had acknowledged his country's nuclear capabilities. In a speech at the United Nations, Sharif had offered to begin discussions with India on a non-aggression pact between the two countries and on mutual restraint on nuclear weapons and delivery systems.

On 3 February, 2000, Pakistan formally announced that it has created the NCA to facilitate the command and control of its nuclear weapons. That same year, China handed over the Chashma nuclear plant to Pakistan.

The NCA comprises the Employment Control Committee, Development Control Committee and a Strategic Plans Division of Pakistan. All three committees were to be led by the head of the government, which was Musharraf at that time. The other members of the body will be the ministers of foreign affairs, defence and interior departments, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee, the chiefs of the armed forces and the director-general of the Strategic Plans Division.

In 2019, the Pakistani National Assembly approved the National Command Authority (NCA) Bill, 2009, legally establishing the NCA as a civilian-led body in charge of the country's nuclear assets. Late in 2016, the Pakistani Senate passed the National Command Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2016, giving it the power to disburse funds to the country's Central government, instead of the finance department, Pakistani newspaper Daily Times had reported.

The NCA has had its share of controversy, with allegations of leaks of nuclear technology surfacing in 2004. Abdul Qadeer Khan, known as "the father of the nuclear bomb", was accused of selling the country's nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya. In the years to come, Pakistan has confirmed that Abdul had, indeed, sold nuclear secrets but has maintained that the government was not in the know about this. Abdul, meanwhile, has gone back and forth on several confessions.

When it comes to relations between India and Pakistan, the nuclear strength of the two countries has often been raked up but has never been on the forefront of tensions. The NCA has repeatedly assured world watchdogs that it would prevent a nuclear showdown and manage the country's assets carefully.

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Updated Date: Feb 27, 2019 09:15:09 IST