International

Zia-ul-Haq pressed China for joint n-test

Pakistan under Zia-ul-Haq pressed China in 1980 for a “joint [nuclear] explosion” to be carried out at a Chinese site, given the “new technical problems” Rawalpindi was facing in going for its own nuclear test.

This was the assessment of ambassadors of the socialist countries based in Islamabad ahead of Gen Zia’s visit to China and North Korea in May 1980.

The analysis is contained in a ciphered telegram sent by the Hungarian Embassy to its headquarters on April 30, 1980, now available at the Wilson Centre digital archive in Washington.

Non-western sources

Though there have been consistent reports of the Chinese sharing nuclear technology with Pakistan, this cable is perhaps the first from non-Western sources that points to the intensive contacts between the two countries in this sensitive field.

In May 1979, the Soviet ambassador Sarvar Alimzhanovich Azimov informed his socialist colleagues in Islamabad that Pakistan possessed both the “material and intellectual capabilities” to carry out a nuclear explosion.

“The execution of the programme is being accelerated by the recent discovery of uranium of a favourable composition near Dera Ghazi Khan. They began to set up the already available enrichment facility in the vicinity of the quarry,” the Hungarian Embassy quoted the Soviet envoy as saying in his May 17, 1979, cable to headquarters.

West Asian help

The Soviet ambassador also stated that the Pakistani nuclear programme, proceeding at an accelerated pace, was “actively supported” by both Saudi Arabia and Libya.

Twenty-five years later, the fact of Pakistani-Libyan nuclear cooperation was made public by the United States, but even then, Washington put the blame on Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, absolving the Pakistani State of any role in the international smuggling operation.

Israelis knew

Interestingly, on the same day as the Hungarian cable was sent in 1979, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin wrote to his British counterpart Margaret Thatcher informing her of Libya’s close partnership with Pakistan in the nuclear field.

The British, too, shared the Israeli (and Soviet) view of close Pakistani-Libyan collaboration in the nuclear field.

“Our evidence appears not dissimilar to theirs,” a British assessment prepared for Mrs. Thatcher said.

The Soviets were seriously worried about the prospect of the Arabs getting their hands on a nuclear weapon and were contemplating various means to prevent this from happening, according to the May 1979 Hungarian cable.

“For this reason, it is becoming less and less interesting whether we might be able to slow down the execution of the [Pakistani nuclear] programme. Instead, we should rather look for means to prevent its successful completion,” Ambassador Azimov told his socialist counterparts.

“At the same time, however, one should be extremely cautious in this question because of the ‘Indian factor’,” Dr. Azimov was quoted as saying.


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Printable version | Nov 25, 2021 6:33:07 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/zia-ul-haq-pressed-china-for-joint-n-test/article19747423.ece

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