Pakistan’s nuclear programme:
Old Wine in a New Bottle
Zafar Nawaz Jaspal criticizes the penchant of the international
media to target Pakistan without ascertaining the correct facts.
Prior to September 11, 2001 the anti-Pakistan nuclear
programme lobbies alleged that Pakistan would transfer nuclear weapons
technology to the Muslim states. In the aftermath of it, they began to
disseminate that terrorist organization such as Al Qaeda and Islamic radical
groups would get hold of these weapons. At this time, they are propagating
that much of the technology for the North Korean new project — to
produce a bomb from highly enriched uranium —came from Pakistan,
in exchange for getting missile technology know-how from Pyongyang.
Pakistan has denied helping North Korea and reiterated its commitment
to non-proliferation.1 President of Pakistan Gen. Pervez Musharraf, stated
“There is no such thing as collaboration with North Korea in the
nuclear arena”. This announcement failed to generate an impressive
impression. The issue didn’t boil down. Secretary of State Colin
Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said they believed
him, although they refused to say in absolute terms that there had never
been Pakistan-North Korean cooperation. On November 30, 2002 the Russian
President, Vladimir Putin had expressed the fear that Pakistan’s
weapons of mass destruction could fall into the hands of “bandits
and terrorists’’.2 Nevertheless, these concerns are not supported
by hard evidence(s).
On October 16, 2002, the US State Department announced that North Korea
had acknowledged her continued covert nuclear development programme.3
“We need nuclear weapons,” Kang Sok Joo, the North Korean
senior foreign-policy official, said, arguing that the programme was the
result of the Bush administration’s hostility.4 The clandestine
development of nuclear weapon programme is a direct violation of the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the 1994 Agreed Framework with the United
States and the 1991 North-South Korean Denuclearization Agreement by North
Korea. In order to justify her act, North Korea accused the US of taking
steps that forced Pyongyang to nullify the 1994 Agreed Framework, which
had provided Western energy aid in return for the North’s promise
to freeze the development of nuclear weapons. The breach of prior undertakings
could enable North Korea to use nuclear material now stored under international
supervision at Yongbyon, the reactor site that was the centrepiece of
a nuclear standoff between International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and
North Korea in the early 1990’s.
Where did North Korea acquire this advanced uranium enrichment technology?
Jon Wolfsthal argued that:
Given its capabilities and its history of dealings with North Korea, Pakistan
is the most likely source for the centrifuges and the know how to operate
them... Later, it purchased scud and ‘no-dong’ missiles from
North Korea. Analysts have wondered for years what North Korea got in
exchange for the missiles, and one explanation is that the centrifuge
technology was part of the larger transaction.5
Discussions of the clandestine nuclear trade between Pakistan and North
Korea in the international media sooner or later, mostly sooner, turn
to the problem of Pakistan as an irresponsible Nuclear Weapon State or
made the basis for pronouncing Pakistan as a proliferation culprit. Noriyuki
Katagiri argued that:
Before Pakistan’s October 10 democratic election, Washington gave
itself time to plan ahead on how to deal with President Pervez Musharraf,
who is supportive of Operation Enduring Freedom. It was only after the
election that showed an increase in the seats of Islamic representatives
sympathetic to the former Taliban and al Qaeda that Pakistan was openly
criticized and Musharraf urged to restrain from further nuclear dealings
with Kim. In other words, Bush timed the announcement about the North’s
nuclear programme so as to renew its pressure on Islamabad to remain supportive
of Washington in the war against terrorism.6
The current ongoing nefarious propaganda could legitimize interference
from outside in Pakistan. It encourages the US led coalition for commando
operation, such as that referred by journalist Seymour Hersh’s in
The New Yorker on October 29, 2001. It is because, the Americans believe
that North Korea’s nuclear programme threatens 100,000 American
troops in Asia along with the people of Japan and South Korea.7
The following study is an attempt to critically analyze: Is Pakistan a
proliferation culprit? What is the background of the anxiety about Pakistan’s
nuclear weapons’ programme? How should Pakistan react to the current
ongoing campaign against her nuclear policy? These issues would be analyzed
critically in the following discussion.
Background of the Problem
In the post-September 11, 2001 terrorists’ attack on the
World Trade Centre in New York and Pentagon in Washington D.C., questions
about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, fissile material
stocks, and nuclear facilities have come to the fore. Hypothetical threat
scenarios have been formulated. David Albright, Kevin O’Neill and
Corey Hinderstein argued, “A troubling question in the current situation
is that a nuclear weapon or fissile material could fall into the wrong
hands. Available information suggests that, despite official statements
to the contrary, the Pakistani government may not have full confidence
in the security of its nuclear arsenal”.8
R. James Woolsey and Mansoor Ijaz wrote in the New York Times “the
main nuclear security problem posed by Al Qaeda today is access to radioactive
materials in Pakistan”.9 Paul Richter opined, “While the nuclear
programme was conceived to protect Pakistan from the perceived nuclear
threat from India, some groups in the region view its nuclear arsenal
as the Islamic bomb that could be used to defend the broader interests
of the Muslim world.”10 Praful Bidwai wrote:
The grim truth stares us all in the face: Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal
is neither safe nor secure amidst the unrest, turmoil and insecurity,
which now convulse that country. There is a finite, definite, chance that
these weapons of mass destruction could fall into the hands of extremists
within Pakistan’s politicized army, or even pro-Taliban terrorists,
who will have no hesitation in using them, or threatening the world with
The significant factor in this debate is to question Pakistan’s
ability to maintain control of the nuclear weapons or radioactive material
and prevent their unintended use. Interestingly, it’s not a new
discussion. Since 1970s identical suspicions and fears regarding Pakistan’s
nuclear programme have been expressed. One cannot miss similar antagonism
and malicious propaganda in the writings of Steve Weisman and Herbert
Krosney in The Islamic Bomb and William E. Burrows and Robert Windrem
in Critical Mass — The Dangerous Race for Superweapons in a Fragmenting
World. These writers criticized Pakistan’s nuclear programme and
stated that it is working for Islamic Bomb. “The CIA knew that cores
were then stored near the other components needed to make a complete weapon,
the Pakistani Bomb — the long feared, Islamic Bomb”, argued
William E. Burrows and Robert Windrem.12 In November 2002 David E. Sanger
Last July, American intelligence agencies tracked a Pakistani cargo aircraft
as it landed at a North Korean airfield and took on a secret payload:
ballistic missile parts, made by North Korea... In exchange, Pakistan
sold technology and machinery to make highly enriched uranium for North
Korea’s clandestine effort to build a nuclear bomb.13
Prior to September 11, single purpose of such stories were to legitimize
the American’s nuclear related sanctions against Pakistan. At the
moment, anti-Pakistan lobbies sole objective is to undermine the US and
Pakistan relations and declare Pakistan as a proliferation culprit.
Facts for Constructive Debate
The fears, which have been expressed by the analysts, are illegitimate
concerns. To be precise, the anxiety among the analysts is due to the
lack of information available about Pakistan’s ability to maintain
her control of her nuclear weapons or radioactive material and prevent
their unintended use. Moreover, they are not fully aware about Pakistan’s
nuclear regulatory authority’s responsibility and credibility. The
official stance of Pakistan is that she has adopted an effective mechanism
for the security of nuclear facilities, fissile material storage, production
facilities and nuclear know-how trade.
No illicit traffic of Pakistan’s nuclear material and nuclear accident
have occurred so far. On October 19, 2002 the then Information Minister
of Pakistan, Nisar Memon said, “Pakistan’s strategic assets
have been secure since the nuclear programme started and, thank God, there
has been no leakage of any kind”. He added, “Nobody will ever
be able either to attack or take them away”.14 This establishes
that Pakistani nuclear weapons and fissile materials are under secure
Pakistan has always been sensitive to international nuclear-related concerns.
This is evident in its decisions to join certain nuclear related treaties
and the several proposals made over the years. On September 4, 2000 Pakistan
ratified the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material
(1979). Pakistan is also party to the Convention on Early Notification
of a Nuclear Accident and Nuclear Safety Convention. The international
Convention on Nuclear Safety envisages complete separation between the
regulatory and promotional aspects of nuclear energy.
In January 2001, the government of Pakistan promulgated Pakistan Nuclear
Regulatory Authority (PNRA) Ordinance establishing a complete independent
regulatory authority called PNRA. This authority has been entrusted with
the control; regulation; and supervision of all matters related to nuclear
safety and radiation protection measures in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s nuclear non-proliferation proposals, such as Nuclear
Weapon Free Zone in South Asia, South Asia Zero Missile Zone, mutual inspection
by Pakistan and India of each other’s facilities etc,15 have not
received any serious consideration by the major powers and have also been
ignored by many international analysts.
After May 1998 nuclear explosions, Pakistan deferred conversion of its
tested nuclear weapons into deployment, observed moratorium on further
nuclear testing and censured transfer of nuclear weapons know-how to any
party. In October 1999, Pakistan formally proposed a Strategic Restraint
Regime to India. It encompassed prevention of a nuclear and ballistic
missile race, establishment of a risk reduction mechanism and a proposition
that nuclear deterrence should be pursued at the lowest possible level.
India responded negatively.
Despite the fact that Pakistan has no defencive pact with any Muslim state
and is an active participant in the campaign against terrorism, some analysts
criticize Pakistan, question its nuclear policies and malign its intentions.
The United States and other Western powers, while ignoring India, which
is the initiator of nuclear arms race in South Asia, have always been
pressurizing Pakistan to end its nuclear programme.16 Within the context
of South Asia, India’s nuclear facilities are perhaps the most vulnerable
to nuclear terrorism, given India’s extensive nuclear programme,
much of it not subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.
In addition, there have been many reported cases of theft of fissile material
from the Indian nuclear facilities.
On August 27, 2001, the police in West Bengal (India) disclosed that it
had arrested two men with more than 200 grams of semi-processed uranium.17
On July 23, 1998 India’s Central Bureau of Intelligence seized six
kilograms of uranium from GR Arun, a city engineer, and S Murthy, his
associate in Tamil Nadu. The scientists at the Indira Gandhi Centre for
Atomic Research (IGCAR) at Kalpakkam, stated that the seized uranium was
capable of radiation emission, having energy corresponding to natural
Uranium-238 and U-235.18 There is a long (reported) list of the illicit
nuclear trade in India. It proves that a nuclear mafia is operating in
The Indian nuclear facilities are vulnerable to a high probability of
accidents. According to an Indian parliamentary report, 147 mishaps or
safety-related unusual occurrences were reported between 1995-1998 in
Indian atomic energy plants.19 On January 4, 2001 the Milan missile —
an anti-tank weapon, capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, accidentally
fired in the presence of the then Defence Secretary, Mr. Yogendra Narain,
at the Bharat Dynamics Limited. It left one quality control officer for
the Milan missile programme dead and injured five others at the unit.
This unit is located in a thickly populated part of the Hyderabad City.
T. Lalith Singh commented, “Even as the accidental missile firing
at the Bharat Dynamics Limited here continues to be shrouded in mystery,
several questions are raised over the safety procedures adopted at the
country’s premier missile production unit”.20
President Putin had criticized Pakistan. Significantly, the Russian Federations’
systems of safeguarding her nuclear assets, fissile material and sensitive
technology have been a matter of serious concern to the international
community since the demise of former Soviet Union Russia. There were reports
of over 200 cases of attempted smuggling of alleged nuclear material out
of Russia.21 Moreover, there is a consensus among the analysts that the
Russian scientist redirection programme is imperative, in order to prevent
these weapons experts from providing WMD and missile expertise to proliferators
and terrorists. Importantly, the US is working to speed up material protection,
control, and accounting programmes at up to 40 sites in the former Soviet
Union to reduce vulnerabilities of fissile materials; secure material
in fewer, consolidated sites; and dispose of fissile materials declared
excess to defence needs.22
Several years ago the US Central Intelligence Agency estimated that North
Korea already had reprocessed enough plutonium at Yongbyon to make one
or 2 nuclear weapons, and that the fuel in storage could be fabricated
into 5 or 10 more.23 The 1994 Agreed Framework was specifically designed
to halt a sophisticated and well-advanced nuclear programme at Yongbyon
that involved extracting plutonium from reactor waste, and using it to
produce weapons. Many nuclear analysts have pointed the rudimentary nature
of North Korea’s nuclear programme, which essentially means that
she does not really need outside help to pursue her programme. Therefore,
North Korea doesn’t require Pakistan’s assistance in the nuclear
David E. Sanger in his article wrote that: “The clearest possibility
is that the Pakistanis gave them (North Koreans) the blueprint. ‘Here
it is. You make it on your own’.”24 Many nuclear scientists
claim that the acquisition of the theoretical knowledge of nuclear know-how
is not difficult in today’s world. To be precise, simply making
a case on the baseless assertion that Pakistan had provided blueprints
— which North Korea could acquire from other sources — indicates
that Pakistan’s adversaries only agenda is to eliminate her nuclear
programme and malign her in the international community. Pakistan’s
Foreign Ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan very rightly called the report’s
allegations: “entirely baseless, motivated and malicious”.25
The “Axis of Evil” term, flung by US President George W. Bush
in his first State of the Union address to Congress on January 29, 2002
is of great concern for the strategic analysts. The “war on terrorism”
concept has led to the inclusion of states suspected of developing weapons
of mass destruction as legitimate targets for the US. Since the end of
Cold War and sudden demise of an enemy that had kept the American strategic
thinkers completely preoccupied throughout the Cold War, created a conceptual
void, which provided almost unlimited scope for flight of imagination
ending up with such odd formulations as the “Rogue States”
and “Axis of Evil”. Many believe that the American strategists
have been in search of credible enemy.
Empirical research indicates that the bases for declaring Iran, Iraq and
North Korea as rogue states club members are inadequate. Like many other
terms of political discourse, the term Rogue State has two uses: a propagandist
use, applied to assorted enemies, and a literal use that applies to states
who do not regard themselves as bound by international norms. Logic suggests
that the most powerful states should tend to fall into the latter category
unless internally constrained, an expectation that history confirms. In
March 1999, the newsletter of the American Society of International Law
observed that international law is today probably less highly regarded
in the US than at any time in the century.26
Iran, Iraq and North Korea are parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty (NPT). The NPT allows Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United
States to have nuclear weapons but prohibits all others from developing
them. Under the Article 6 and 4 of NPT, the five nuclear-weapon states
agreed to pursue steps toward nuclear disarmament and to share peaceful
nuclear technology, respectively. In 1992 Iran permitted the International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect its listed nuclear facilities and
other installations alleged to contain nuclear activity. On that occasion
the IAEA found no evidence of illegal actions.27 Moreover, Iran signed
the Geneva Protocols of 1925, prohibiting the use of poison gas. Iran
signed the Biological Warfare Convention of 1972, banning the development,
production and deployment or stockpiling of biological weapons. Iran signed
the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993 and ratified it in 1997.28
Who will be labelled next as the member of Axis of Evil? It’s too
difficult to say something definite about it. Nevertheless, tentative
assessments can be made. In the prevalent international environment, its
imperative that Pakistan shall be cautious. For instance, if Pakistan
fails to convince the Americans and Europeans that she has not been transferring
highly enriched uranium technology to North Korea, many of them will conclude
that Pakistan is a nuclear proliferation culprit. No doubt, Pakistan became
a valued ally, mainly by abandoning her support of the Taliban leadership
in Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks on the US and being supportive
of Operation Enduring Freedom. However, there are chances that the US
would ditch her valued ally again, once it would be established that Pakistan
is an irresponsible Nuclear Weapon State. According to the New York Times
editorial, “The Bush administration has warned Islamabad of unspecified
‘consequences’ of this reckless traffic”.29
What is clear, too, is that our challenge has grown. Nuclear weapons technology
transfer allegations would malign Pakistan’s reputation in the international
community and convince her that Pakistan’s nuclear programme is
dangerous for the civilized world. To be precise, one could anticipate
a collective international move against Pakistan’s nuclear
programme. Which is very dangerous for Pakistan’s national interest.
Therefore, Pakistan shall take this ongoing media and diplomatic campaign
against her nuclear arsenals security and nuclear trade policy seriously.
A well-thought counter strategy ought to be chalked out for countering
and defying the propaganda. For instance, the objections of the critics
could be identified. On the basis of these issues a sustainable and durable
constructive debate at the academic, electronic/print media, diplomatic
level would be initiated. So that the anti-Pakistan lobbies’ propaganda
would be corrected with argument that these problems lie somewhere else
rather than in Pakistan.
1“There is no truth in these reports whatsoever,” said presidential
spokesman Major-General Rashid Qureshi. “I do not know where the
New York Times gets its information from. I am convinced that they need
to update their intelligence gathering system”. See “Pakistan
dismisses DPRK arms deal report”, The News (November 25, 2002).
2“Pak weapons could fall into hands of terrorists: Putin”,
Khaleej Times Online (December 1, 2002). <http://www.khaleejtimes.co.ae/subcont.htm#storyb>.
See Amit Baruah, “Concerns over terrorists acquiring Pak. nuclear
arms remain: Putin”, The Hindu (December 1, 2002).
<http://www.hinduonnet.com/stories/2002120104380100.htm>. See also
“Russia concerned at Pakistan’s nukes”, Dawn (December
3On October 3-5, 2002, an eight-member American delegation led by Assistant
Secretary of State James Kelly confronted its counterparts in Pyongyang
with intelligence reports that North Korea was gathering high-strength
aluminum for gas centrifuges used to enrich uranium. The North Korean
officials admitted that the allegations were correct. Noriyuki Katagiri,
“North Korea’s Nuclear Programme: analyzing ‘confessional
diplomacy’,” Centre for Defence Information (October 28, 2002).
4David E. Sanger, “Pakistan, North Korea set up nuclear swap”,
The New York Times (November 24, 2002).
5Jon Wolfsthal, “North Korea’s Nuclear Breach” Carnegie
Analysis (October 17, 2002).
6Noriyuki Katagiri, “North Korea’s Nuclear Programme: analyzing
‘confessional diplomacy’,” Centre for Defence Information
(October 28, 2002).
7“Nuclear Duplicity From Pakistan”, The New York Times (December
2, 2002). <http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/02/opinion/02MON2.html?ex=1039496400&en=bc333f8462e829bb&ei=5040&partner=MOREOVER>
8David Albright, Kevin O’Neill and Corey Hinderstein, “Securing
Pakistan’s Nuclear Arsenal: Principles for Assistance”, ISIS
Issue Brief (October 4, 2001).
9Mansoor Ijaz and R. James Woolsey, “How Secure Is Pakistan’s
Plutonium?”, The New York Times, (November 28, 2001).
10Paul Richter, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Wild Card”, Los
Angeles Times (September 18, 2001).
11Praful Bidwai, “Nuclear chickens come home”, Frontline,
vol. 18, issue 23 (November 10- 23, 2001).
12William E. Burrows and Robert Windrem, Critical Mass — The Dangerous
Race for Superweapons in a Fragmenting World (New York: Simon and Schuster,
1994), p. 61.
13David E. Sanger, “Pakistan, North Korea set up nuclear swap”,
14“Pakistan will keep nukes out of extremists’ hands: Nisar”,
Dawn (October 20, 2002).
15For other similar proposals see Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, “Kashmir:
A Nuclear Flash Point?”, Rouben Azizian, ed, Nuclear Developments
in South Asia and the Future of Global Arms Control: International, Regional
and New Zealand Perspectives (New Zealand-Wellington: Centre for Strategic
Studies, 2001), p. 17. Samina Ahmad, Pakistan’s Proposal for a Nuclear
Weapon Free Zone in South Asia’, Pakistan Horizon, vol. XXXII, No.
4 (Karachi: 1979), pp. 92-130.
16The 1985 Pressler Amendment was Pakistan specific and does not address
the Indian nuclear programme. Hasan Askari Rizvi, “Roots of Anti-Americanism
in Pakistan”, Pakistan Journal of American Studies, vol. 12, no.
1&2 (Spring and Fall 1994), pp. 8-22. See also Dr. Maleeha Lodhi,
“Pak-US relations: The Current Phase”, Pakistan Journal of
American Studies, Vol. 10, No. 1 (Spring 1992), pp. 1-9.
17Dr. Shireen M. Mazari and Maria Sultan, “Nuclear Safety and Terrorism:
A Case Study of India”, Islamabad Papers, No. 19 (Islamabad: ISS,
2001), p. 6.
18Uranium racket unearthed”, Press Trust of India (July 24, 1998).
19Dr. Shireen M. Mazari and Maria Sultan, op. cit. p 9.
20T. Lalith Singh, “Doubts over BDL Safety Norms,” The Hindu
(January 9, 2001).
21“Pakistan rejects Putin’s remarks over N-arms safety”,
The News (December 2, 2002).
22John S. Wolf, “US Approaches to Non-proliferation”, IIP
Electronic Journal, Vol. 7, No. 2 (July 2002). <usinfo.state.gov/journals/itps/0702/ijpe/wolf.htm>
23David E. Sanger, “US to Withdraw From Arms Accord With North Korea”,
The New York Times (October 20, 2002).
24David E. Sanger, “Pakistan, North Korea set up nuclear swap”,
The New York Times (November 24, 2002).
25“Pakistan denies allegations of N Korea nuclear deals”,
The News (November 26, 2002).
26Noam Chomsky, Rogue States: The Rule of Force in World Affairs (London:
Pluto Press, 2000) p l.
27Geoffrey Kemp, “The Impact of Iran Foreign Policy on Regional
Security: An External Perspective”, in Jamal S. al-Suwaidi, ed.
Iran and the Gulf A Search for Stability (Abu Dhabi: United Arab Emirates,
1996), p. 123.
28North Korea and Iraq have so far not acceded to the Chemical Weapons
29“Nuclear Duplicity From Pakistan”, The New York Times (December