By Bhaskar Roy
Recently, leaked reports from US government sources said Pakistan’s deployed nuclear warheads may have crossed 100, surpassing India’s estimated 60 -70 warheads, with Pakistan emerging as the 5th nuclear weapon power in the world.
The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), has claimed that the latest satellite imagery obtained by it shows that the fourth reactor at Khushab, Pakistan is at an early stage of construction, and is nearly the same shape and size as the second and third reactors.
The Khushab complex planned to have four reactors. The first was a heavy water reactor built in the 1990s and known as the Khushab Nuclear Complex-I or KNC-I. The KNC-II, a plutonium producing reactor became operational in 1996. It is estimated to produce 22 Kgs of plutonium per year. The KNC-III, another plutonium reactor is scheduled to become operational this year, 2011. The KNC-IV is now on the way, and construction work is going on well. An expert on nuclear weapons proliferation was quoted recently as saying that the KNC-IV reiterates the point that Pakistan was determined to produce a lot of plutonium to make nuclear weapons far exceeding its need.
In addition, Pakistan has a reprocessing facility at the Pakistan Institute of Science and Technology (PINSTECH), and reports suggest other such facilities exist elsewhere in the country.
The Khushab complex also has a tritium production facility, an element that boosts the yield of a nuclear weapon. Pakistan’s original fissile material facility remains at Kahuta. This is a gas centrifuge, producing highly enriched uranium (HEU), estimated to produce 100 Kgs of fissile material a year. Several other uranium enrichment facilities reportedly exist including at Golra Sharif, 15 Kms from Islamabad.
Kahuta was the traditional center of Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Such centers have reportedly spread, to ensure that targeting one does not cripple Pakistan’s capabilities.
Pakistan has two types of delivery vehicles – the F-16 aircraft earlier provided by the US, and a variety of surface-to-surface missiles acquired from China and North Korea initially, and later developed in Pakistan using these designs and components.
The first nuclear weapon capable missile, the M-II with a range of 290 Kms, was acquired from China in 1991-92. This was followed by the Nadong acquired from North Korea. The main missiles ready are the Hatf-III (Gaznavi) with a range of 300-400 Kms; the solid fuel-IV (Shaheen), with a range over 450 Kms; and the liquid fuel Hatf-V (Ghauri) with an approximate range of 1,300 Kms. The solid fuel Hatf-VI (Shaheen-2), with a range of 2,000 Kms may have already been deployed or soon to be deployed. The ground based cruise missile (Babur), and the air launched Ra’ad, with ranges around 320 Kms are under development (see Congressional Research Service Report, of January 13, 2011).
The above gives a glimpse of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and delivery system. From the available information, Pakistan’s declaration of maintaining a minimum credible deterrence against India becomes questionable. How much is still not minimum with more than 100 deployed warheads and ballistic missiles with upto a range of 2000 Kms covering most of India? Pakistan’s current weapons stockpile is more than is required for its stated deterrence, and a doctrine which includes “first use”, as against India’s 60 to 70 warheads and declared doctrine of ‘no first use”. Its nuclear weapons build up activities and development of long range ballistic missiles and airborne cruise missiles, suggests an ambition much beyond India. So, what is Pakistan’s ambition that its burgeoning nuclear arsenal is going to serve?
It is well known that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons achievement is not indigenous. It had, on the one hand, active foreign assistance which is still continuing. It also acquired technology and know-how through its own efforts and that of a friendly country. On the other hand, the United States and several western countries winked and looked away while blatant proliferation was indulged in by Pakistan, China and North Korea. That is how Pakistan has emerged as the 5th largest nuclear weapons state in the world, and its activities suggest that it may surpass the UK and France in another decade. Operationalization of KNC-III and KNC-IV will ensure that.
The West or NATO led by the US failed to recognize those activities because of narrow geopolitical objectives. During the cold war, the US-Pakistan-China axis evolved to counter the Soviet Union, and India was perceived as a Soviet ally. Post cold war, the deep antipathy towards India remained for quite some time in Washington. One cannot say with full confidence that the whole of Washington has moved away from the Pakistan appeasing line because of its current engagement in the region.
In parallel, in spite of several run-ins with China last year, the US may not be keen to further antagonise China because of huge economic interests. Militarily, the US, especially the Pentagon, is looking at Beijing more in bilateral terms (which includes the Asia Pacific region).
The history of China-Pakistan nuclear and missile cooperation is well known and needs no repetition. The Pakistan establishment, especially the military is elated with China’s power and assistance. It believes that it now stands toe-to-toe with India.
China created nuclear Pakistan to counter India, but the Pakistanis are unable to understand that China has used Pakistan all along. Neither Islamabad nor the GHQ in Rawalpindi have ever stopped to objectively assess how little economic assistance they have received from China over the years. Today China, with $2.8 trillion foreign exchange reserve, is not doing anything for Pakistan to extricate it from its economic hole. When Pakistan suffered its worst ever floods, China did pathetically little, given its economic power. Its investment in Pakistan is basically in the mining area which is to its own interest and in infrastructure like the Gwadar port which will serve China’s interest. The trade imbalance between the two tells the story. Pakistan’s economy is kept afloat by the US and the west. Pakistan hardly realises that China is driving it to become a military nation, a fact which is beginning to worry most countries. The Pakistani people will ignore this at their own peril.
Although China is a signatory to all non-proliferation regimes, it has been contravening them with impunity. With its new found economic and military power it believes that it can do very much what it likes.
It is no secret that Pakistan continues to receive active assistance from China for its plutonium route. It has also received technology to reduce the size of its nuclear warheads, and plutonium is, therefore, important. The China-Pak alliance mainly targets India. In the last two years or so China has made several assertive and aggressive moves against India. Beijing is being extremely irresponsible, because Pakistan ultimately may not follow exactly the script written by China. That is the emerging threat to the entire international community.
How secure is Pakistan’s nuclear asset? The US, at the very highest level, have periodically certified that those are secure. True, after the revelations of the A.Q. Khan Proliferation network, steps were taken to establish multi-layer security. But the Americans agree that vulnerabilities exist, as stated by former Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) Director Maples in March, 2009.
How secure is secure in a volatile state like Pakistan with rising radical Islamism, with several factions fighting against the state? The former IAEA Director General Mohammad EL Baradei had also expressed the fear that a radical regime could take over power in Pakistan, thereby acquiring control of the nuclear weapons.
It must not be forgotten that A.Q. Khan and at least two of his nuclear scientist colleagues were in touch with Ossama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda group between 1988 and 2001/2. Intelligence reports say the Khan-Ossama meeting was facilitated by the ISI in a safe-house of the organization, and Khan was also flown to Afghanistan in an ISI helicopter. Recent reports suggest that the Al Qaeda has been seeking fissile material and technology.
One can never be too sure that more A.Q. Khans are not sleeping inside Pakistan’s nuclear establishment. Even the real brain behind Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme, the low profile Dr. Samar Mubarakmand, had close friends among Islamists. One cannot help but ask the question why Pakistan refused steadfastly to given access to the USA and the IAEA to question Khan. Could Khan reveal names of his kind still inside the nuclear establishment and the involvement of the army in the net-work?
The international community must ponder on the recent developments in Pakistan. Take the case of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer. He was killed by his own body guard because of his anti-Islamist and secular disposition. Most lawyers and the public declined to protest against Taseer’s killer, save a few in the media who are waging a lonely battle against the Islamists.
Fearless, liberal member of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Sherry Rehman, had to withdraw her bill on Blasphemy Amendment law under pressure from the party and Prime Minister Yusaf Raja Gilani. The government succumbed to the threat from the Islamists. The banned terrorist organization, the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) can gather 20,000 people on the streets with a click of their fingers. The LET remains banned in Pakistan in name only.
In all this, the Pakistan army remained silent. It is well known that the government cannot move one inch in issues related to security and foreign policy without the army’s clearance. So, what was the army’s role in the government giving way to the Islamists? It may be recalled that radical Islamism was brought to the fore by the Pakistani army, especially Gen. and President Zia-ul-Haq. The Islamist groups remain assets of the army in Afghanistan and in the operations against India.
The silence of the international community over Pakistan’s rapid accumulation of nuclear weapons, and China’s assistance, is confounding. The obvious answer is Pakistan’s importance in combating extremists and militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan, though it is evident whatever Pakistan has done in fighting terrorism has been done under pressure.
Imagine a man like Zia-ul-Haq, becoming the Chief of the army and, in a coup, takes over the government. With such a huge nuclear arsenal which is still growing, Pakistan will not remain India-centric. It will move against the Christian west with the US as the central target. 9/11 may look like a school play compared to what they can do. This may be an extreme scenario. More likely is the possibility of fissile material with dirty bomb technology falling in the hands of the jehadis across the region. Jehadis have among them highly educated technology savvy members.
The US and the west remain short sighted and narrowly focussed, refusing to acknowledge and address a growing threat of dimensions never seen before. The US must accept that the billions of dollars it is pumping into Pakistan for development is not feeding the hungry but fattening the war machine of Pakistan.
(The author is an eminent strategic analyst with many years of experience. He can be reached at [email protected])