Maligning Pakistan’s nuclear programme:
Old Wine in a New Bottle

Columnist 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 them.11
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 wrote that:
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 control.
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 India.
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 arena.
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.
End Notes
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 2, 2002).
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”, Op.cit.
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).
<http://www.indian-express.com/ie/daily/19980724/20550804.html >.
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 Convention.
29“Nuclear Duplicity From Pakistan”, The New York Times (December 2, 2002).