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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 47, June 2000

2nd Anniversary of Pakistan Nuclear Tests

May 28 marked the 2nd anniversary of the nuclear tests conducted by Pakistan in response to an Indian series of tests a few weeks earlier. In an address to the nation, the country's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, stressed the crucial importance of resolving the Kashmir conflict in improving relations between New Delhi and Islamabad. Referring to his Government's willingness to negotiate over the issue, Musharraf stated: "We don't want the people of South Asia to live under the threat of a nuclear holocaust… But India shouldn't take our offer as a sign of weakness." The same day, the nuclear physicist widely referred to as the 'father' of the country's atom bomb, Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, requested reporters: "please don't keep on harping [on about] what happened two years ago. It was a good thing, it gave us a viable deterrence, but please forget it now. Now concentrate on the development of science and technology… One should not live in the past. The nuclear weapons…we produced are not something that really we should be very, very proud of… We should look forward now." Asked if Pakistan should still work to enhance its nuclear capability, Khan answered: "Anybody who is manufacturing something…always tries to improve, make them better, make them safer. So that is what the Pakistani scientists and engineers are doing. … [But] whatever capability we have is enough to safeguard our interests. So if somebody jumps over the balcony we don't have to jump. Let them."

Two days before the anniversary, General Musharraf - who on May 25 announced he was prepared to abide by a Supreme Court ruling requiring a return to civilian rule in three years - chaired a meeting of the National Command Authority (NAC) established in February this year to exercise control over the state's nuclear weapons programme. A statement issued after the meeting noted that the Authority had reaffirmed "Pakistan's resolve to consolidate its nuclear capability as a means of deterring aggression" as well as its "nuclear policy of responsibility and restraint, consistent with its obligations as a de facto nuclear power."

Writing in the Sunday Mirror newspaper on the day of the anniversary, UK Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain identified "a link between Pakistan's exports of nuclear capability and terrorism," adding: "The country is rapidly becoming a threat to world peace." Hain was responding to allegations by the newspaper that Pakistan was helping terrorist groups in Afghanistan acquire canisters containing uranium and plutonium originally in the possession of occupying Soviet forces. Unsurprisingly, both the article and Mr. Hain's comments caused consternation bordering on disbelief in Pakistan. On May 29, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the matter would be raised at the highest levels: "We would be surprised if such an irresponsible statement, which is belied by the contents of the Sunday Mirror article itself, has been made by a senior official of the British Government…If this story has any truth, it raises serious questions [about] whether the Soviet army had introduced and stored nuclear materials inside Afghanistan… [We are] committed not to export nuclear and other sensitive technologies to any other country or entity. Our record on this count is impeccable." On May 30, the British High Commissioner in Islamabad, Hillary Synnot, was questioned on the matter by senior Foreign Ministry officials. A Foreign Office press release was issued later the same day stating: "We are not aware of evidence to confirm these claims but naturally we take all reports of nuclear proliferation seriously."

On June 13, a statement from the Foreign Ministry repeated Pakistan's call for a "strategic restraint regime" in South Asia: "We are willing to consider any restraint arrangements on a reciprocal basis with India." The next day, a spokesperson for India's Foreign Ministry dismissed the statement as "nothing new" and "essentially propagandist in nature": "It is for Pakistan to create a proper environment for the process to start. It could start only if Pakistan stops cross-border terrorism and avoids anti-India propaganda…" On June 15-16, Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar and US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott held talks on nuclear issues in Washington, the first formal 'nuclear dialogue' discussions between the two sides since they were suspended by the US in February 1999. The talks coincided with a test-firing by India of its short-range (150 miles maximum) surface-to-surface Prithvi missile system, believed to be capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, on June 16. The same day, State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher issued a statement on both the US-Pakistan talks and the Prithvi test: "[We explored] our mutual concern about preserving South Asian security while preventing proliferation of nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems. There was agreement to continue to work closely together to prevent further proliferation, an arms race, and conflict in the region… We regret the Indian Government's decision to proceed with this test. We have long urged countries developing missile systems, including India and others, to exercise restraint… Missile testing has the potential to increase tensions in the region and we hope that India will consider the impact of missile tests under current circumstances." Describing the talks as "very productive," Sattar (June 16) described US-Pakistan relations as currently "troubled but friendly."

On June 6, NBC television reported on an apparent US intelligence determination that Pakistan's nuclear capability was probably equal to, and possibly superior to, India's. Few details were given, and General Anthony Zinni, Commander of US Central Command, was quoted only as saying: "Don't assume that the Pakistani nuclear capability is inferior to the Indians…" The question was raised during Sattar's visit. According to the Foreign Minister (June 16): "Our programme started 25 years later than India's. The programme is extremely limited in scope. We have no more than one plant where we produce limited quantities of fissile material. Therefore, any comparison that shows Pakistan [to be] ahead is, I think, erroneous…" State Department spokesperson Boucher observed (June 16): "Whatever differences exist do not appear to be strategically significant… Speculation about who could deploy more bombs or who has more nuclear-capable aircraft is in itself potentially destabilising… We are worried about the potential that perceptions of some kind of gap could lead to more actions that enhance destabilisation…"

On May 31, the Associated Press released details of an Indian Government order dated April 25 terminating oversight of the country's major nuclear weapons facility, the Bhabra Atomic Research Centre (BARC), by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB). According to the order, "regulatory and safety functions at BARC…will henceforth be exercised through an Internal Safety Committee structure to be constituted by the Director [of] BARC [Dr. Anil Kakodkar]." Adinarayana Gopalakrishman, AERB Chairman from 1993-96, reacted to the news with great concern, telling AP (May 31): "We're going in a very negative direction… This is as if we've set the clock back 25 years and we're standing where Russia stood - totalitarian control and little concern for the public. … Even during my days we had difficulty monitoring BARC functions… It's very definite [that] they plan to go full steam [ahead] with weaponization and more laboratories may need to come in…and they don't want someone to be snooping around." Current AERB Chairman Suhas Sukhatme, however, expressed satisfaction at the development, telling reporters (May 31) that the "fuzziness" about "what we could and could not oversee" had now been "removed and clarity…established. … The public need be totally reassured that there is nothing shady going on." And on June 1, Rajagopalan Chidambaram, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), stated simply: "We are a nuclear-weapons state. We should learn to behave like one… This is inevitable when you are a nuclear-weapons state… We must ensure safety in all our strategic activities and have a structure to take care of this."

Reports: Pakistan army promises democracy, Associated Press, May 25; Pakistan vows to 'consolidate' nuclear capability, Reuters, May 26; Pakistan - Kashmir is key to peace, Associated Press, May 28; Bomb father wants Pakistan to look ahead, Reuters, May 28; Pakistan does not harbour any pretensions to regional or global power status - Gen. Musharraf, Associated Press of Pakistan, May 29; Pakistan rejects British Minister's nuclear charge, Reuters, May 29; Pakistan sees bias in British nuclear accusation, Reuters, May 30; India's nuke program more secretive, Associated Press, May 31; India defends nuclear monitoring, Associated Press, June 1; N-arms programme off AERB jurisdiction, The Hindu, June 2; NBC News Report, June 6 http://www.msnbc.com/news/417106.asp; Pakistan says can consider any N-curbs with India, Reuters, June 13; India calls Pakistan's talks offer 'propaganda', Reuters, June 14; Pakistan wants sanctions lifted, Associated Press, June 16; State Department 'regrets' Indian missile test, Reuters, June 16.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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