Pakistan and Nuclear Proliferation

Once again General Musharraf seems to be caught in a Catch 22 situation with the international community accusing his country of being a nuclear proliferator.

Once again General Musharraf seems to be caught in a Catch 22 situation with the international community accusing his country of being a nuclear proliferator.

The recent revelations about Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation can be put to use by the US to exert pressure on Pakistan and on General Musharraf. If General Musharraf admits that the state was aware of the leak of technology then he looses the credibility which he has earned as the “most trusted ally in the war against terror”. Pakistan may once again be put to economic and military sanctions or may be declared as a ‘rogue state’ which will be suicidal for the country as well as for General Musharraf. If Pakistan takes the stand that it was ‘personal gains’ which had induced the scientists to sell the nuclear technology to Iran it is in greater trouble. This will give the United States the legitimacy to control or to regulate the nuclear weapons programme of Pakistan, and in turn gives the United States almost absolute control over the nuclear programme and policy of the country and this is what they would prefer to do. What the NPT or the CTBT failed to achieve ‘the leaks’ could do it. Probably the best way the United States could deal with Pakistan is to engage in talks with Pakistan the loopholes in the export control mechanism/regime for nuclear technology and materials which can be put to dual use. This would serve the interest of both the United Sates and Pakistan.

The United States would not like to push Pakistan too hard on this as it would further aggravate the anti-US sentiments in Pakistan and the Fundamentalist forces gaining control over the state and its nuclear arsenals (as is feared by the US). Musharraf may be killed by the fundamentalist elements (already two/three assassination attempts have been made on General Musharraf) for the sin of selling Islam to foreign power. So, US would prefer regulating Pakistan’s nuclear policy with a distance and trust Musharraf. It would also serve the purpose of General Musharraf as he can prove to his people that despite Pakistan being a ‘proliferator’ it was Musharraf who kept the economy of the country going by managing to keep the sanctions at bay which the United States would have otherwise done. It would also give Musharraf an edge over the democratic political parties like the Pakistan’s People Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz faction (PML-N). It has been reported that it was during the rule of these political parties that the nuclear leaks had taken place. Though, it is a well known fact that even under a civilian rule the nuclear programme and policy of the country has always been under the control of the Pakistan army. This gives General Musharraf another moral ground to keep the country under an army rule or in a ‘regulated Democracy’.

In the last couple of months Pakistan has been accused for the proliferation of nuclear technology to three countries – North Korea, Iran and Libya. Since 2002, there have been a series of reports linking the nuclear programme of North Korea to Pakistan; and since December 2003 there have been regular reports of further nuclear linkages of Pakistan with Iran and Libya.

American news papers since the 1990s have been stating that Pakistan had been engaged in nuclear proliferation to North Korea. At the heart of the North Korea- Pakistan transactions is Dr.A.Q. Khan. Dr. Khan made a number of visits to Pyongyang during the mid to late 90’s when Pakistan was under sanctions put by the US and was keen to acquire missiles to match India’s capability. 1 Pakistan was in need of medium range missiles to counter the conventional superiority of India while North Korea had the most advanced ballistic missile capability. Pakistan and North Korea agreed for the ‘give and take’ arrangement which benefited both the countries. Even after Pakistan becoming an ally of the United States in the “war against terror,” Pakistan continued with its support of nuclear technology to North Korea. 2 It was in 1997 that Pakistan decided to secretly supply advanced centrifuge technology and components for uranium enrichment in exchange for expensive, medium range, nuclear capable Nodong missiles which were renamed as Ghauri. 3

Pakistan also has been aiding Iran’s nuclear weapons programme. Initially Pakistan was not seen aiding Iran’s nuclear weapons programme; in fact Iran’s nuclear programme itself was never under probe. It was only in September 2000 that Bill Clinton, President of the United States requested Vladimir Putin, the Russian President to halt the sale of laser isotope separation technology to Iranian labs as they can be put to dual use. 4 In June 2003, the International Atomic Energy report revealed that Iran was in the process of building nuclear weapons. The nuclear weapons programme was being carried out clandestinely along with civilian nuclear energy programme. In June 2003, an IAEA team of centrifuge technology experts visited Iran to discuss Iran’s centrifuge enrichment research and development. 5 On 11 June, in a report following this visit the Director General stated on the basis of environmental samples taken from the chemical traps at Natanz that it contained evidence of enriched uranium particles, which were not consistent with the nuclear material declaration made by Iran. 6 Tehran claims that its equipment was contaminated with enriched uranium with the previous owner. 7 The centrifuge technology used for enriching uranium was found similar to the one used in Pakistan. As such, Pakistan once again was in dock.

The leaders of Pakistan kept on denying the proliferation of nuclear technology but the sales brochures of the A.Q. Khan lab very clearly reflect the name of the countries credited with the nuclear leak. 8 Though the Pakistan ambassador, as reported from Washington dismissed allegations that its scientists had provided nuclear technology to Iran 9 . But the fact is that Pakistani scientists had been helping Iran to acquire centrifuge suitable for enriching uranium. 10 By January 2004, Pakistani officials were forced into accepting the fact that it did act as a proliferator of nuclear technology to countries like North Korea, Iran and Libya. 11 Government of Pakistan is now questioning Abdul Qadeer Khan, and several of his colleagues. 12 Questioning of top Pakistani nuclear scientists is near completion as is reported by official sources in Pakistan. 13

Pakistan is still a non-signatory to the Nuclear-non-Proliferation treaty (NPT), the Nuclear suppliers group (NSG) and the missile technology Control regime (MTCR). Pakistan is also not a signatory to CTBT. Pakistan is not a member of the ‘Australia Group’ which is a voluntary group of countries which works to the control of export of chemical and biological materials. As such it has no formal role in controlling the proliferation of nuclear weapons. 14 Pakistan’s export control mechanism has been criticized as too short of international standards. 15 Though it is mandatory for the private exporters/ importers to get them registered with the Export promotion bureau but all the federal and provincial Governments and authorized public sector agencies are exempt from this requirement. 16 . A Law passed in 2000 exempts “any goods, stores or equipment when sold abroad on government to government basis and exported under an export authorization issued by the director General of Defense Purchases or by any other officer authorized by the ministry of Defense in his behalf.” 17 The ‘Vice Chairman’ of the Export Promotion bureau also has the authority to waive the regulations on any enterprise. 18 The nuclear leak has supposedly taken place in 1997 during the rule of the civilian government in Pakistan and as such General Musharraf can still stick to its “commitment on the war on terror” with the United States. But the major area of concern remains the 2000 Export Control Law that still holds good and there is no record as to how many times the power accorded to the ‘officials’ has been ‘used’. The much loosely framed 2000 Export control Law which exempts ministry of Defense agencies (Ministry of Defense is controlled by the army) from its scope must also be looked into by the Musharraf regime if he is serious about controlling any further proliferation of nuclear technology.

References

  1. Praful Bidwai, “Pakistan’s nuclear dilemma, Asia times online.
  2. David E. Sanger and James Dao, “US says Pakistan gave Technology to North Korea”, The New York Times, 18 October 2002.
  3. Johana Mcgeary, ” Inside the A-Bomb Bazaar,” Time, p.19
  4. Arms Control Association, Fact Sheets: The state of nuclear proliferation. http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/statefct.asp.
  5. International Atomic Energy Agency; GOV/2003/63; Report by the director General
  6. GOV/2003/40, Report by the Director General.
  7. Iran to curtail support to UN nuclear agency, from combined diapatches, Tehran.
  8. David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, “From Rogue Nuclear Programs, web of trails lead to Pakistan” New York Times, 4 January 2004.
  9. Utusan Malasian online, “Pakistan’s ambassador dismisses allegation …”,
  10. Simon Henderson, ” Link-Leaks”, National Review online, 22 January 2004
  11. William J. Broad, David Rohde and David E. Sanger, ” Inquiry suggests Pakistanis sold nuclear secrets”, The New York Times, 22 December, 2003
  12. ” Pakistan questions top atomic scientists”, New York Times, 23 December 2003
  13. “Pakistan says nuclear probe drawing to close”, New York Times, January 19, 2004
  14. Anupam Srivastava and Seema Gahlaut, “Curbing Proliferation from emerging suppliers: Export controls in India and Pakistan,” Arms Control Today, September 2003, p.12.
  15. Ibid, p.15.
  16. ibid.
  17. ibid.
  18. ibid.

Email ID: garima@orfonline.org

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Observer Research Foundation.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s).

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