Initial Motivations and Management of Pakistani Nuclear Programme

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Pakistan’s nuclear programme has an independent origin, and the first step in this direction was taken in 1953. The year witnessed the setting up of an Atomic Energy Council (AEC), under the chairmanship of Dr. Nazir Ahmed. The Council was entrusted with the following tasks: (i) Survey of radioactive minerals, (ii) Working out a plan for the establishment of an institute of Atomic Energy in Pakistan, and (iii) Making recommendations on all matters connected with the utilization of atomic energy. The Atomic Energy Council was upgraded to the Pakistani Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), in 1956. The new PAEC had a realistic mandate. Pakistan was to plan and develop ‘peaceful’ use of atomic energy with particular reference to survey, procurement and disposal of radioactive materials, planning and establishment of Atomic Energy and Nuclear Research Institute , installation of research and power reactors, negotiations with International Atomic Energy bodies, selection and training of personnel, application of radioisotopes to agriculture, health, industry, etc. The nature of Pakistani nuclear development activities carried out during the regime of Ayub Khan, and Yahya Khan pointed to the direction of peaceful use of nuclear energy. The CANDU type nuclear power plant Pakistan had acquired was no doubt meant for public purposes of electricity generation, but a military by-product had been built into it so that the fuel used in the plant could be reprocessed to obtain plutonium.

The regime of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was in fact, the chief architect of Pakistan’s nuclear policy and its nuclear programme. Under him, Islamabad’s nuclear thinking underwent a significant change related to the non-peaceful uses of atomic energy. Earlier, when Pakistan’s Atomic Energy Commission was established, he was confident that it would vigorously pursue its objective of paving the way for Pakistan sooner than later, to join the nuclear club. The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission should not be afraid of the USA as Bhutto had already told some Americans, including Dr. Kissinger, that they should not insult the sovereignty and self-respect of Pakistan by discussing the pros and cons of the reprocessing plant. American pressure on Pakistan to refrain from buying nuclear reactors from France was part of their desire to try to contain Bhutto’s over-ambitious plans. With a nuclear bomb and the ability to share it with the Arab States, Bhutto saw himself catapulted into an international role far more significant than his poor country permitted him.

For Bhutto, the building of a nuclear bomb was more than a reaction to India. It represented a trump card in his foreign policy, Pakistan would become the first Muslim country with the weapon. Among the rich and security anxious Arab States he planned to share the secrets the success would enhance Pakistan’s stature and importance incalculably. There is some evidence that substantial funds were injected by the Libyans to promote his plan which, if realized would tip the balance of power in the Middle East. ‘Pakistan will develop atom bomb,’ Bhutto once remarked way back in 1966 ‘even if we have to eat grass.’ Although he categorically denied or disguised his plans in order to side step international pressures, he consistently planned and worked towards building a nuclear bomb. Earlier, when he was Minister of Fuel, Power and Natural Resources in Ayub Khan’s Cabinet, he began reorganizing the Atomic Energy Commission, increasing their budget and lobbying in their interest. He also justified a substantial investment on nuclear research, principally on prospecting for uranium and on training scientists in atomic research, both by sending abroad and by getting them trained within Pakistan by foreign-trained scientists.

Under Bhutto’s leadership Pakistan’s first nuclear power plant, the Karachi Nuclear Project (KANUPP) having a capacity of 137-MW and located 15 miles west of Karachi at Paradise point on the Buleji Coast, was completed in 1972. This IAEA safeguard plant was purchased from Canada, and it received enriched uranium fuel from Canada and heavy water from the USA. Canada also granted a soft loan of $23 million and a credit of another $24 million to cover the foreign exchange costs of this plant. Japan provided a credit of $3.6 million for turbine- generator. Canada abrogated its nuclear cooperation agreement with Pakistan in December 1976, because of Pakistan’s refusal to agree to full-scope safeguards.
The American non-proliferation policy, from its very beginning, has been to restrict not only the development of nuclear weapon technology but also the spread of civilian nuclear such to maintain its nuclear monopoly and to prevent the monolithic from attaining nuclear weapon capability. It was, in fact, determined to achieve the twin objectives of disarming America’s nuclear adversaries and discouraging its potential nuclear enemies from acquiring such skills. In South Asia, the US policy has been discriminatory. One example, its permissive approach towards Pakistan’s nuclear programme is sufficient to substantiate this assertion. While it would be an unreasonable proposition to make that the United States favored the emergence of nuclear Pakistan, but it can also not be denied that Pakistan’s nuclear programme has gone ahead under the overall patronage of the United States and its turning of a blind eye to Pakistan’s clandestine weapons programme. Many analysts, even Americans, too, agree, that the US government did not take the desired steps to halt Pakistan’s nuclear weapons Programme in time in spite of adequate information in that regard. On the other hand, the legislative measures that could have been taken were postponed several times through narrow interpretations of the legal provisions.

From a strategic viewpoint, Islamabad’s nuclear programme is driven mainly by its threat perception and security concern with respect to India. In contrast, India’s nuclear calculations are centered on China which has an expanding nuclear arsenal. Pakistan sees its potential nuclear forces as a deterrent to India’s conventional military advantages and strategic ambitions. India, whose military build-up was spurred by its humiliating defeat in the 1962 war with China, views its nuclear programme as the vital component of a strategic plan to deter against a more powerful China. The China factor, in the light of the Chinese aggression against India in 1962 and its claim to Arunachal Pradesh, can hardly be ignored. India is the only Asian nation that has the potential to challenge China. And naturally for China, Pakistan has become a useful pawn to undermine India. If Pakistan has allowed itself to be used by the US in the Cold War Era, today it itself to China.

Scheme under Zia-ul-Haq

One of the earliest initiatives taken by Zia in 1977, was to militarise integrated nuclear weapons programme which was founded by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1972. During the first stages, the plan was under the control of Bhutto and his Scientific Advisor Dr. Mubashir Hassan who was heading the civilian committee that supervised the construction of the facilities and laboratories. This atomic bomb project had no boundaries with Munir Ahmad Khan and Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan leading their efforts separately, and they reported to Bhutto and his science adviser Dr. Hassan who had little interest in the atomic bomb project. Major-General Zahid Ali Akbar, an engineering officer, had small role in the nuclear project; Zia responded by taking over the programme under military control and disbanded the civilian directorate when he ordered the arrest of Hassan. This whole giant nuclear energy project was transferred into the administrative hands of Major-General Akbar who was soon made the Lieutenant-General and engineering – in-chief of the Pakistan Army Corps of Engineers to deal with the authorities whose co-operation was required. Akbar consolidated the entire project by placing the scientific research under military control, setting boundaries and goals. Akbar proved to be a competent officer in the matters of science and technology when he aggressively led the development of nuclear weapons under Munir Ahmad Khan and Abdul Qadeer Khan in a matter of five years.

By the time, Zia assumed control, the research facilities became fully functional, and 90% of the work on atom bomb project was completed. Both Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and the Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) had built the extensive research infrastructure started by Bhutto. Akbar’s office was shifted to Army Combatant General Headquarters (GHQ), and Akbar guided Zia on critical matters of nuclear science and atomic bomb production. He became the first engineering officer to have to acknowledge Zia about the success of this energy project into a fully matured programme. On the recommendation of Akbar, Zia approved the appointment of Munir Ahmad Khan as the scientific director of the atomic bomb project, as Akbar convinced Zia that civilian scientists under Munir Khan’s directorship were at their best to counter international pressure.

This was proved when the PAEC conducted the cold-fission test of a fission device, code name Kirana-1 on 11 March 1983 at the Weapon Testing Laboratories, under the leadership of weapon-testing laboratory’s director Dr. Ishaq Ahmed. Lieutenant-General Zahid Akbar went to GHQ and notified Zia about the success of this test. The PAEC responded by conducting several cold-tests throughout the 1980s; a policy also continued by Benazir Bhutto in the 1990s. Zia was so profoundly convinced of the infiltration of Western and American moles and spies into the project, that he extended his role in the atomic bomb, which reflected extreme ” paranoia,” in both his personal and professional life. He virtually had PAEC and KRL separated from each other and made critical administrative decisions rather than putting scientists in charge of the aspects of the atomic programmes. His actions spurred innovation in the nuclear bomb project, and an intense secrecy and security culture permeated PAEC and KRL to their ultimate success.