Pakistan will not delegate "advance authority" over nuclear weapons to military unit commanders even in the event of a crisis with India, according to a media report.
An unnamed senior Pakistani official was quoted by Washington-based National Journal as saying that the nuclear arsenal was under the control of a central body headed by the prime minister.
The country's top leadership "would not delegate advance authority over nuclear arms to unit commanders, even in the event of a crisis with India", the official told reporters in Washington on Tuesday.
However, the official acknowledged that "ultimately any battlefield use of tactical nuclear arms is left in military hands, as would be the case in virtually any nation's combat operations".
"The smallest to the largest - all weapons are under the central control of the National Command Authority, which is headed by the prime minister," said the official who spoke on condition of not being named.
"You must appreciate, in almost all the countries of the world, final operational control lies with the military, even here," the official said.
"But the basic control remains with the civilian leadership, in consultation with the military commanders. And the usage will be controlled at the highest level, even if the smallest device in the smallest numbers has to be used."
The official claimed Pakistan's nuclear arsenal "is primarily a deterrence mechanism" and "usage is a secondary thing".
Pakistan "is not very anxious" to use nuclear arms but sees the arsenal as necessary in "an imbalanced military relationship with our neighbours", he added.
The report said the official's remarks might slightly ease global concerns about Pakistani nuclear arms being detonated in any future conflict, "though plenty of potential hazards appear to remain".
It added that a "longtime worry" has been that Pakistani military units might be tempted to use battlefield nuclear weapons as a last resort. One possible scenario for such a move might be if Pakistani troops are in danger of being overwhelmed in any war with India, the report said.
India follows a policy of "no first use" as part of its nuclear doctrine but Pakistan does not.
Asked if Pakistani military commanders -- once given emergency authority to detonate nuclear weapons -- might set off the devices rather than allow Indian troops to overrun them, the official said: "I think principally I should take offence to this remark.
"We are not so naive to...hand them (nuclear weapons) over to a conventional army coming to our borders...There are no chances of that."
The official said if Pakistan could develop nuclear weapons, "I'm sure we can look after it, also". He referred to the "high caliber" of the nuclear technologies and the troops whose dedicated mission is to secure the arsenal.
Pakistani military commanders, the official said, "would rather commit suicide than let this fall in somebody else's hands who's not supposed to have it".
Asked about US concerns about the security of Pakistan's stockpile, particularly after militants have attacked armed forces installations in recent years, the official said nuclear safety is of paramount priority to the country' leaders.
"If something like that happens, who is the biggest affectee of that? It's us. If there is radiation, it's us. It's our people," the official said.
International nuclear weapons watchdog groups believe Pakistan has about 100 weapons, which is slightly more than what India is believed to have.