A rare insider’s narrative on the world’s fastest growing nuclear complex

ot just the revelations by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden tell us that the United States has recently stepped up surveillance of Pakistan’s nuclear activities. The London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies has reported that Pakistan’s tactical ‘battlefield’ nuclear weapons (Nasr) were threatening regional security inviting strong rebuttal from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as also from his Chief of Strategic Planning Division (SPD), Lt Gen Khalid Kidwai who has been at the helm for the last 15 years.

The Chinese meanwhile continue to support Pakistan and recently signed a $9.6 billion deal to build two new 1100 MWe ACP1000 units in the outskirts of Pakistan’s largest city Karachi. All this should make the international community worried about Pakistan’s nuclear trajectories.

Eating Grass not only elucidates how Pakistan’s nuclear programme repeatedly survived its economy coming to a grind following sanctions and censure from sheriffs of non-proliferation, it also presents one of the most reliable insider’s narratives making it a must read. Having spent several years at the very core of Pakistan’s nuclear establishment, Feroz Khan demonstrates a thorough understanding on both its external linkages as also its minute intricacies of multiple versions and visions guiding the Pakistani elites’ passions to develop nukes to seek deterrence and parity against New Delhi.

Bhutto’s imprint

From the late 1950s, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto stands out as the strongest proponent of nuclear technologies. His obsession is further reinforced by the 1965 war, bifurcation of Pakistan in 1971 and India’s nuclear tests of 1974. On December 20, 1971, as President Yahya Khan steps down, Bhutto becomes the first civilian Chief Marshal Law Administrator.

As first thing, he calls a meeting of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) symbolising how the “bomb lobby was now in power.” A huge gathering of scientists is called at Multan on January 20, 1972 where Bhutto pronounces his famous words “we will make an atomic bomb even if we have to eat grass” and replaces the 12-year aristocrat PAEC Chairman I. H. Usmani with a cosmopolitan IAEA staffer, Munir Ahmed Khan.

Bhutto immediately embarks on a tour of the Muslim world that takes him to Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Syria, Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya with the last one agreeing to extend financial assistance of $500 million. This is where Bhutto’s idea of ‘Islamic bomb’ gets refined and proves so potent.

On return, Bhutto instructs his finance minister Mubashir Hasan to “abolish all the several committees dealing with Atomic Energy in various Ministries. You give [Munir] the money as he puts in a request.” Libya later diverts 450 tons of low enriched uranium, acquired from Niger, to Pakistan.

Bhutto was “very annoyed” at India’s nuclear tests in May 1974. He pushes PAEC to begin work on Chagai Hills test site in September 1974 when Pakistan was nowhere near producing its first atomic device. Even the first of their 24 cold tests in Kirana hills — with natural uranium — were to begin from March 1983.

Bhutto was pained to see his friend Henry Kissinger visit India in October 1974 and promise to continue to supply fuel for General Electric reactors at Tarapore. Pakistan has had this persisting sentiment that while India repeatedly breached non-proliferation norms the West always suspected and punished Pakistan. Not just that, sooner or later India gets accommodated. This is what pushes Pakistan to explore indigenisation, alternative partners as also grey markets which makes Pakistan’s nuclear programme so unique.

A Q Khan network

The enduring partnership with European companies, China and North Korea as also the rise of the A Q Khan network across Europe and Asia are presented as natural outcomes of Pakistan’s alienation. Pakistani leaders often suspected the U.S. or Israel, even India of planning pre-emptive strikes on their nuclear sites.

Secondly, starting from early 1990s, the control of Pakistan’s nuclear establishment shifted from the President’s office (with Ghulam Ishaq Khan being the last) to Army Chiefs starting with Gen Mirza Aslam Beg, with the latter showing “almost blind faith in A Q Khan’s messianic ability” to procure whatever was needed.

Driven by pure profit motive, European companies facilitated Pakistan’s access through grey markets. At one point in the 1980s, over 70 German companies were conducting nuclear-related business with Pakistan. Apart from other enabling and handing auxiliary technologies, China provided Pakistan with 5 tons of Uranium hexafluoride or UF6 gas, 40 tonnes of heavy water, 50 kg of HEU, bomb design of its fourth test and later 5,000 ring magnets as also various types of missiles and missile technologies. A Q Khan gave names like Ghauri I & II to North Korean Nodongs and Taipodong as also names like Shaheen, Ghaznavi and Babur to China’s M-11 and M-9 and Dong Feng-10 missiles. Access to Western technologies was the solitary incentive for China and North Korea. Detonation of six nuclear devices on May 28, 1998 did slow down and transform but has not ended these partnerships.

Internal threat

SPD has been Pakistan’s most powerful new creation after its Inter-Services Intelligence. The author shows how SPD “has a firm hold of Pakistan’s nuclear organisation and policy.” Its Security Division organises physical security of all nuclear assets through (a) laboratories’ own set of procedures, (b) 10,000 plus paramilitary forces, (c) access to ISI intelligence in addition to its own 10,000 plus intelligence personnel snooping and implementing personal reliability of scientists.

By SPD’s own admission, the most formidable threat to nuclear assets no longer comes from external sources like U.S., Israel or India but from internal sectarian strife.

About 150-strong SPD Secretariat provides the critical link between the apex National Security Council and the operational Strategic Force Commands of the three Services. The fact that one man, Lt. Gen Khalid Kidwai, has been in control of SPD since June 1998 — even though he retired from active service in October 2007 — makes it very noteworthy. It is the SPD that had once evolved Pakistan’s 10-point nuclear doctrine for internal use and Gen Kidwai’s ‘four thresholds’ continue to define Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine.

These include (a) space threshold i.e. India conquering a large part of territory, (b) military threshold i.e. India destroying a large part of its forces, (c) economic strangling and (d) political destabilisation through internal subversion. Pakistanis believe that like India they also have a doctrine of No-First Use and minimum deterrence. Also like India, their nuclear posture does not imply hair-trigger alert and weapons are kept in disassembled form, their components stored separately, at dispersed sites. Pakistan’s nuclear force structures remain subject to technical and financial constraints and integrated with conventional forces to raise the threshold for a nuclear strike.

The projections by the author clearly defy most global estimates of Pakistan’s fastest growing nuclear complex and missiles. These remain driven by Pakistan’s misplaced quest for parity with India and given its internal situation this cocktail of terrorism and nuclear stockpiles makes President Obama’s Nuclear Security Summits describe nuclear terrorism the greatest global threat for 21 century.

(Swaran Singh is Professor for Diplomacy & Disarmament, Jawaharlal Nehru University)

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