By Rajeev Sharma
China’s decision to sell a 1-gigawatt nuclear power plant to Pakistan, closely following an early commitment to build two smaller nuclear plants in Chashma, seriously undermines the global community’s commitment to discourage proliferation of nuclear weapons, materials and technology and at the same time raises the spectre of nuclear terrorism.
The deal is currently being negotiated between the Pakistan government and China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), a Chinese government enterprise closely linked to civilian and military use of nuclear technology and materials. CNNC is an integral part of China’s nuclear weapons programme.
Since both China and Pakistan are not forthcoming on the details of the negotiations, it is difficult to know about the character of the cooperation both the countries are pursuing in the nuclear field.
China argues that the Chashma nuclear power station was under the IAEA safeguards and hence the two reactors—No. 3 and 4 of about 300 megawatts each—would be used for peaceful purposes. Such claims remain highly questionable considering the proliferation records of both China and Pakistan. China has been instrumental in clandestinely supporting Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme while Pakistan’s proliferation activities helped North Korea, Iran and Libya to gain technological know-how and materials for their own nuclear weapons programmes.
The growing nuclear cooperation between China and Pakistan is not just directed against India but it is part of Beijing’s large strategic game-plan. China also knows that its flurry of agreements on the nuclear front with Islamabad and Beijing cannot contain India’s nuclear weapons capability. Here in this context, India is only incidental to Chinese games.
What China fails to fathom is how dangerous the game of arming a radically Islamic country like Pakistan could be. Pakistan is already a nuclear weapons State and is rapidly building its capability with the Chinese help. The problem with Pakistan would be adequate number and types of delivery systems. Pakistan Navy is by all means a Cinderella force and is hardly capable of a first strike or even a second strike. It relies therefore heavily on its missiles and combat planes like F-16s. Moreover, Pakistan already has enough weapons and plutonium to carry out first and second strikes on India and therefore the urgency with which the Chinese are building the nuclear capability of Pakistan raises some disturbing questions.
First and foremost is why Pakistan needs so many nuclear weapons when it has only one enemy to deal with. The answer to this question might lie in Beijing. For China, Pakistan is a convenient nuclear proxy to neutralise the inevitable India-US strategic alliance. Since China views this alliance as a major future threat to its economic and strategic interests in the region as well in the world, it is assiduously co-opting Pakistan as its strategic ally. China is aware of the serious trust deficit the US has in Pakistan and the kind of support it enjoys in the military and political leadership. China has also tacitly assured the Pakistani leadership that it will stand by Pakistan in case of any conflict with India. The Chinese financial and technical assistance to build hydropower dams in Pakistan occupied Kashmir is part of this strategic assurance.
There is a grave flaw in this Chinese strategy. It has failed to understand the true nature of Pakistan’s ideology and character, particularly its deep and extensive links with the Wahabi Islamic world. Pakistan has always been open to rent itself to the highest bidder for playing their geo-strategic games. During the Cold War, Pakistan became a lynchpin for the American war against the Soviet troops occupying Afghanistan. It not only created the terrorist infrastructure for carrying out the `dirty job` for the Americans, it also managed to earn itself considerable goodwill and moolah as aid and assistance for several years. After 9/11, it again became a `strategic ally` of the US in hunting down al Qaida and the Taliban, earning $10-15 billion dollars in direct aid, a few hundred billion in indirect assistance and much more from the multilateral organisations controlled by the US. Pakistan is now lending itself to the Chinese against the US, playing a double game which it has refined into a fine art.
What the Chinese seem to overlook is Pakistan’s organic link to Wahabi Saudi Arabia and its unstated but strongly rooted desire to be a leader of the Islamic world. Pakistan Army’s assiduous cultivation of terrorist and extremist groups for the past four decades was an intrinsic part of the greater Islamic revival plan conceived by Saudi Arabia. Pakistan Army has always held that its agenda was not only to protect the sovereignty of Pakistan but safeguard Islam.
There is much more to Pakistan calling its nuclear bomb an `Islamic` bomb. A Pakistan Brigade is assigned to protect the royal Saudi family. There is also deep suspicion that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons were funded to a large measure by petrodollars and are in fact meant to protect the interests of the Arab world. It is not only the military which has links with Saudis but also the civilian political leadership. For instance, Nawaz Sharif was protected by the Royal family when President Musharraf took over the reins in a coup and wanted to prosecute the former Prime Minister for denying landing permission to the airplane carrying the General.
So by strengthening the nuclear capability of an Islamic army, China is creating a stronger Islamic entity in its neighbourhood which can exploit the sizeable number of Muslims living in China—close to 28 million– to expand its Islamic agenda. A majority of these Muslims live in Xinjiang, an area which has witnessed a revival of radical Islam in the recent past. This resurgence of radical Islamic sentiments in China’s western-most province has grave consequences for China in the near future. The radical groups active in the region are influenced in great measure by al Qaida ideology and the presence of Taliban and various other extremist groups in neighbouring Pakistan and Afghanistan can upset the applecart in Xinjiang in the near future.
A nuclear Islamic world is as much a threat to India as to China. This reality must be understood in Beijing before tumbling headlong into spawning a disaster that can undo much of China’s rise as a global power.
(The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist-author and commentator on strategic issues, international relations and terrorism. [email protected])