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Paper no. 1193

20. 12. 2004


by B.Raman

( Text of the comments sent by the author on December 19,2004, in reply to a query from an Italian journalist regarding possible Pakistani nuclear assistance to Saudi Arabia)

The late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto projected to Saudi Arabia, Iran and Libya Pakistan's project for an atomic bomb as a project for an Islamic bomb to counter what he used to call the Christian, Jewish and Hindu bombs and persuaded them to share the cost of the project. While the exact amounts paid by these countries are not available, the major share came from Saudi Arabia and Libya and a smaller amount from Iran.

2 . While the flow of funds for the Islamic bomb project was substantial and regular from Saudi Arabia and Libya, it was sporadic from Iran. It was regular till 1979 when the Shah of Iran was in power. After the success of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, the US and some other Western countries imposed economic sanctions against Teheran. The US froze all Iranian assets in US banks. The Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s aggravated Iran's economic difficulties. Saudi Arabia, a Wahabi State, was extremely suspicious of the Shia revolutionaries of Iran. Gen.Zia-ul-Haq, who overthrew Z.A.Bhutto in 1977 and seized power, was himself worried over the radicalisation of the Shias of Pakistan, who constitute about 20 per cent of the population, following the success of the Shia revolution in Iran. The US was interested in the success of Iraq in its war against Iran and would have viewed adversely Pakistan hobnobbing with Teheran and adding to its military muscle.

3. All these factors slowed down the flow of money from Iran, but not Iran's interest in benefiting from Pakistan's experience and military nuclear technology. After the end of the Iran-Iraq war, Iran's economic position once again improved and the flow of money to the Pakistan project increased and continued.

4. When Z.A. Bhutto and other Pakistani leaders projected the Pakistani atomic bomb as the Islamic bomb to Saudi Arabia, Libya and Iran, they emphasised the following:

* Pakistan would hold the bomb in its custody on behalf of the Islamic Ummah as a whole.
* The bomb would be available for use, if need be, not only against India, but also against Israel.
* If any of the funding countries (Saudi Arabia, Libya and Iran) felt the need for developing their own independent nuclear capability to protect themselves against Israel, Pakistan would be happy to assist them by training their scientists in Pakistani nuclear establishments, by sharing its technology and experience with them and by placing at their disposal its clandestine nuclear procurement network.

5. In pursuance of this agreement, teams of nuclear scientists of Saudi Arabia , Libya and Iran had been regularly visiting Pakistan since the 1980s for being trained in its nuclear establishments and for an exchange of views with Pakistani scientists. Dr.A. Q.Khan, the so-called father of Pakistan's atomic bomb, had been regularly visiting these countries to assist them. Pakistan also agreed to help Libya and Iran in setting up an uranium enrichment plant based on the model of its own enrichment facility at Kahuta, which was based on a model from Holland on the basis of drawings stolen by A.Q.Khan, who was working there.

6. Was Pakistan's assistance to Iran and Libya confined to the setting-up of an uranium enrichment facility or did it go beyond to helping them to militarise their capability? Pakistan's own atomic bomb was based on a Chinese model with the help of drawings clandestinely given by China to Islamabad to counter India's perceived nuclear capability. Reliable sources in Pakistan have reported that when Pakistan carried out its nuclear tests at Chagai in May,1998, nuclear scientists from Saudi Arabia and North Korea were present and that one of the devices tested was of North Korean origin. Past reports had spoken of the presence of only North Korean scientists at Chagai, but recent reports speak of the presence of Saudi scientists too in their capacity as the major financiers of the project. They also say that Pakistan shared the Chinese drawings definitely with Iran and Libya.

7. What is the position regarding Saudi Arabia? Was it also interested in developing its own uranium enrichment capability and was Pakistan helping it too? On the basis of the evidence presently available, I do not think so. To my knowledge, Saudi Arabia does not have an ambitious civilian nuclear power programme and would, therefore, find it even more difficult than Iran to justify its need for an uranium enrichment capability.

8. However, Saudi Arabia, which takes seriously Pakistan's projection of its atomic bomb as an Islamic bomb and which is a major financier of the entire Pakistani project, enjoys a privileged position in the Pakistani nuclear establishment, the like of which neither Libya nor Iran had before the unearthing of Pakistan's nuclear nexus with these countries by the USA-UK post 9/11. That privileged position is demonstrated by the fact that the Saudi Ambassador in Islamabad or a senior and trusted representative of the Saudi regime sits in secret meetings of the Pakistani military and nuclear establishments to discuss Pakistan's programme and that whenever he comes to Pakistan, Crown Prince Abdullah makes unpublicised visits to the uranium enrichment plant at Kahuta and other nuclear establishments and he used to be briefed by Dr.A.Q.Khan and other senior scientists on various aspects of the Pakistani programme.

9. There are certain questions, which have remained unanswered. The Saudi monarchy has always strongly distrusted Libya and Iran, Was it aware of the details of the Pakistani assistance to them and, if so, why it did not try to put its foot down and stop it? Was it because of its confidence that Libya and Iran would use their military nuclear capability only against Israel and not against any Islamic country?

10. While Pakistan's nuclear assistance to Saudi Arabia, Libya and Iran arose out of considerations of Islamic solidarity and religious obligation to help a brother Islamic country, its assistance to North Korea was motivated purely by the need to get from North Korea as a quid pro quo medium and long-range missiles and the technology for producing them. China gave Pakistan short-range, nuclear-capable missiles and possibly medium-range ones too and the technology for producing them, but was disinclined to give it long-range ones. Only North Korea was prepared to give them, in return partly for much-needed cash and wheat and partly for Pakistani assistance in developing its military nuclear capability. The Pakistan-North Korea nuclear axis is a purely opportunistic alliance.

11. Was there any other non-Islamic countries with which Pakistan has had clandestine nuclear contacts in the past? Yes. Brazil and South Korea. Both were interested in the Kahuta design and technology. There is, however, no evidence of these contacts having resulted in any agreement on actual assistance.

12. Is it not stupid on the part of Pakistan to have clandestine nuclear contacts with adversaries such as North and South Korea or Saudi Arabia and Iran? What we see as stupidity, the Pakistani rulers see it as opportunistic cunning to serve their national interests. Such duplicity and double-dealing in the pursuit of foreign policy has been a constant in Pakistan's history since it was born in 1947. It co-operates with the USA in the monitoring of the activities of terrorists from alleged sanctuaries in the Iranian territory. At the same time, it shares with Iran intelligence regarding the US presence and activities in Afghanistan.

13. What is the possibility of Pakistan or individual Pakistani scientists helping Al Qaeda and the International Islamic Front (IIF) in acquiring a military nuclear capability? As I have been repeatedly pointing out since 9/11, the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), which is a member of the IIF and now plays a leadership role in it, has followers in Pakistan's nuclear scientists' community. Past reports on the annual conventions of the LET at its headquarters at Muridke in Pakistani Punjab had spoken of the presence of unidentified Pakistani nuclear scientists at these conventions. There has been a penetration of Pakistan's nuclear scientists' community not only by the LET, but also by the Hizbut Tehrir (HT). There is a growing community of jihadi nuclear scientists in Pakistan. Retired scientists Sultan Bashiruddin Chaudhry and Abdul Majid, who were found having contacts with Osama bin Laden in the name of an ostensibly humanitarian relief non-governmental organisation, constitute only the tip of the jihadi iceberg in Pakistan's nuclear establishment. The danger of the likelihood of transfer of nuclear technology and material to Al Qaeda and the IIF from them is real.

1 4. The world seems to have forgotten that the Western intelligence agencies had discovered between 1985 and 1988 a clandestine Pakistani network for the procurement of nuclear waste from the nuclear establishments of the then West Germany and other European countries. This was in addition to the clandestine network which A.Q.Khan was operating for the procurement of uranium enrichment technology and machinery. Why was it interested in the procurement of nuclear waste? To try to use it in a radiological device (dirty bomb ) against India, if the need arose.

15. The Americans claim to have an accurate knowledge of the details of the production and storage in Pakistan's nuclear establishment. But, what happened to the large quantity of nuclear waste procured by A.Q.Khan & co in the 1980s? Nobody knows. Don't be surprised if these stocks are already with Al Qaeda and waiting to be used.

16. Pakistan's nuclear promiscuity is not a one night stand. It is a long continuing affair. A.Q. Khan and the half a dozen scientists ostensibly arrested and interrogated by President Pervez Musharraf earlier this year were not the only participants in this. Every Pakistani General since Zia, including Gen. Musharraf, had actively participated. If you want to establish the complete picture, A.Q.Khan and other scientists involved have to be taken out of Pakistan and interrogated by a joint team of international experts. Unless and until this is done, the Damocle's sword of nuclear terrorism will continue to hang over our head.

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-mail: )

Pakistan Expanding Nuclear Program
Plant Underway Could Generate Plutonium for 40 to 50 Bombs a Year, Analysts Say

By Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 24, 2006; A01

Pakistan has begun building what independent analysts say is a powerful new reactor for producing plutonium, a move that, if verified, would signal a major expansion of the country's nuclear weapons capabilities and a potential new escalation in the region's arms race.

Satellite photos of Pakistan's Khushab nuclear site show what appears to be a partially completed heavy-water reactor capable of producing enough plutonium for 40 to 50 nuclear weapons a year, a 20-fold increase from Pakistan's current capabilities, according to a technical assessment by Washington-based nuclear experts.

The construction site is adjacent to Pakistan's only plutonium production reactor, a modest, 50-megawatt unit that began operating in 1998. By contrast, the dimensions of the new reactor suggest a capacity of 1,000 megawatts or more, according to the analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security. Pakistan is believed to have 30 to 50 uranium warheads, which tend to be heavier and more difficult than plutonium warheads to mount on missiles.

"South Asia may be heading for a nuclear arms race that could lead to arsenals growing into the hundreds of nuclear weapons, or at minimum, vastly expanded stockpiles of military fissile material," the institute's David Albright and Paul Brannan concluded in the technical assessment, a copy of which was provided to The Washington Post.

The assessment's key judgments were endorsed by two other independent nuclear experts who reviewed the commercially available satellite images, provided by Digital Globe, and supporting data. In Pakistan, officials would not confirm or deny the report, but a senior Pakistani official, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that a nuclear expansion was underway.

"Pakistan's nuclear program has matured. We're now consolidating the program with further expansions," the official said. The expanded program includes "some civilian nuclear power and some military components," he said.

The development raises fresh concerns about a decades-old rivalry between Pakistan and India. Both countries already possess dozens of nuclear warheads and a variety of missiles and other means for delivering them.

Pakistan, like India, has never signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. One of its pioneering nuclear scientists, Abdul Qadeer Khan, who confessed two years ago to operating a network that supplied nuclear materials and know-how to Libya, Iran and North Korea.

The evidence of a possible escalation also comes as Congress prepares to debate a controversial nuclear cooperation agreement between the Bush administration and India. The agreement would grant India access to sensitive U.S. nuclear technology in return for placing its civilian nuclear reactors under tighter safeguards.

No such restrictions were placed on India's military nuclear facilities. India currently has an estimated 30 to 35 nuclear warheads based on a sophisticated plutonium design. Pakistan, which uses a simpler, uranium-based warhead design, has sought for years to modernize its arsenal, and a new heavy-water reactor could allow it to do so, weapons experts say.

"With plutonium bombs, Pakistan can fully join the nuclear club," said a Europe-based diplomat and nuclear expert, speaking on condition that he not be identified by name, after reviewing the satellite evidence. He concurred with the Institute for Science and International Security assessment but offered a somewhat lower estimate -- "up to tenfold" -- for the increase in Pakistan's plutonium production. A third, U.S.-based expert concurred fully with the institute's estimates.

Pakistan launched its nuclear program in the early 1970s and conducted its first successful nuclear test in 1998.

The completion of the first, 50-megawatt plutonium production reactor in Pakistan's central Khushab district was seen as a step toward modernizing the country's arsenal. The reactor is capable of producing about 10 kilograms of plutonium a year, enough for about two warheads.

Construction of the larger reactor at Khushab apparently began sometime in 2000. Satellite photos taken in the spring of 2005 showed the frame of a rectangular building enclosing what appeared to be the round metal shell of a large nuclear reactor. A year later, in April 2006, the roof of the structure was still incomplete, allowing an unobstructed view of the reactor's features.

"The fact that the roof is still off strikes me as a sign that Pakistan is neither rushing nor attempting to conceal," said Albright of the institute.

The slow pace of construction could suggest difficulties in obtaining parts, or simply that other key facilities for plutonium bomb-making are not yet in place, the institute report concludes. Pakistan would probably need to expand its capacity for producing heavy water for its new reactor, as well as its ability to reprocess spent nuclear fuel to extract the plutonium, the report says.

After comparing a sequence of satellite photos, the institute analysts estimated that the new reactor was still "a few years" from completion. The diameter of the structure's metal shell suggests a very large reactor "operating in excess of 1,000 megawatts thermal," the report says.

"Such a reactor could produce over 200 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium per year, assuming it operates at full power a modest 220 days per year," it says. "At 4 to 5 kilograms of plutonium per weapon, this stock would allow the production of over 40 to 50 nuclear weapons a year."

There was no immediate reaction to the report from the Bush administration. Albright said he shared his data with government nuclear analysts, who did not dispute his conclusions and appeared to already know about the new reactor.

"If there's an increasing risk of an arms race in South Asia, why hasn't this already been introduced into the debate?" Albright asked. He said the Pakistani development adds urgency to calls for a treaty halting the production of fissile material used in nuclear weapons.

"The United States needs to push more aggressively for a fissile material cut-off treaty, and so far it has not," he said.

Special correspondent Kamran Khan in Karachi, Pakistan, and researcher Alice Crites in Washington contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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