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Partners in Proliferation

Partners in Proliferation

Author: G Parthasarathy
Publication: The Times of India
Date: September 25, 2009
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/opinion/edit-page/Top-Article-Partners-In-Proliferation/articleshow/5052096.cms

Introduction: Pakistan's nuclear designs have a religious dimension

The controversy over whether the Pokhran tests of 1998 were a "fizzle" is nothing new. Prime Minister Morarji Desai reportedly asserted that Pokhran I in 1974 was nothing more than a large explosion of conventional devices, while others asserted the yield then was less than that claimed by our scientists. The two most prominent scientists involved in the 1974 test were Raja Ramanna and P K Iyengar. Interestingly, Ramanna, who was associated as a member of the Atomic Energy Commission with the 1998 tests, validated claims about their success. Iyengar, however, expressed doubts about the claim that the second "boosted fission" device had a yield of 43 kilotonnes.

The only known comprehensive international study of Pokhran 1998 was based on data of 125 seismic stations across the world. This study, carried out by seismologist Roger Clark of the University of Leeds, validated the claims of Indian scientists associated with the test. The major implication of this controversy is that while there are very few demanding that India should immediately conduct further nuclear tests, the government will find it difficult to close options, by signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Even as this controversy raged in India, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) declared that Pakistan, which according to latest estimates possesses 70-90 nuclear weapons, is set to rapidly expand its arsenal, with work nearing completion on two large plutonium reactors. Pakistan could double its nuclear arsenal, with lighter plutonium warheads within a decade. The FAS study also revealed that Pakistan is ready to deploy the Chinese origin Shaheen II missile, capable of hitting urban centres in distant corners of India and cruise missiles to counter Indian missile defences. It is now well established that the reactors and reprocessing facilities for Pakistan's new generation of nuclear weapons and its ballistic and cruise missiles are all of Chinese origin. The instruction manuals of nuclear weapons designs given by A Q Khan to Libya were in the Mandarin language!

Pakistan's intention to rapidly expand its nuclear arsenal was clear when its ambassador to the UN Committee on Disarmament in Geneva recently blocked proposals for the early conclusion of a treaty banning the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons (FMCT). This move came just after the US Military Academy at West Point published a report revealing that three nuclear weapons related facilities the Wah ordnance factory, the Kamra air base and the Sargodha weapons storage facility had been attacked by suspected jihadis. Why is it necessary for Pakistan to build such a huge and potentially unsafe arsenal when its Punjab and North West Frontier Province are vulnerable to attacks by jihadi groups?

The head of Pakistan's strategic forces command Lt Gen Khalid Kidwai has indicated that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is "aimed solely at India" and will come into play only if an Indian attack either makes deep inroads into Pakistan's urban centres, or significantly degrades its army and air force. Since neither of these scenarios is plausible, why does Pakistan need such a large arsenal?

The rationale for Pakistan's quest for nuclear weapons was outlined by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto after he decided on January 19, 1972 that Pakistan had to acquire nuclear weapons. Bhutto held that after the Bangladesh debacle in December 1971, it was imperative for Pakistan to acquire nuclear weapons to counter the conventional capabilities of a much larger India. Bhutto also noted that while the "Christian, Jewish and Hindu civilisations" had nuclear weapons capability, it was "Islamic civilisation" alone that did not possess nuclear weapons. Bhutto asserted that he would be remembered as the man who had provided the "Islamic civilisation" with "full nuclear capability". Libyan and Saudi Arabian funding of Bhutto's "nuclear vision" is well documented, as is Pakistan's supply of nuclear weapons know-how and equipment to Iran and Libya.

The Bush White House revealed that Pakistani nuclear scientists, Suleiman Asad and Al Mukhtar, had extensive discussions in Kandahar, on radiological dispersal devices, with Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden. Two associates of A Q Khan, Sultan Bashiruddin Mehmood and Chaudhuri Abdul Majeed, were detained for clandestine contacts with the al-Qaeda and Taliban. Mehmood publicly advocated transfer of nuclear weapons to other Islamic countries and echoing Bhutto, described Pakistan's nuclear capability as the property of the whole "Ummah" (Muslim world).

While General Kidwai, who now controls Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, belongs to a generation of officers commissioned before the fundamentalist General Zia-ul Haq ushered in a new generation of more religiously oriented officers, the control of Pakistan's nuclear weapons will inevitably shift to military officers and scientists who tend to regard their nuclear arsenal as an asset of the Islamic world. Pakistan's nukes might fall not just into the hands of jihadis, but there is also the prospect of cash-strapped Pakistan transferring nuclear weapons, or providing nuclear guarantees to countries like Saudi Arabia, as it seeks more influence and leverage in an oil-rich Islamic world, which is engulfed by rivalry between Shia-dominated Iran and the Wahhabi-oriented Saudis.

- The writer is a former high commissioner to Pakistan.

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