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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 49, August 2000

Confusion over New Pakistan Nuclear Export Regulations

On July 24, the Pakistan Ministry of Commerce released an advertisement announcing new procedures - officially known as Statutory Regulatory Order (SRO) 898 of 1999 - to regulate the export of nuclear materials from the country. As almost all the listed items are only possessed by the state, the SRO was naturally interpreted as an official invitation for export bids. As former Pakistan Army General Mirza Aslam Beg told The Guardian newspaper on August 3: "The purpose of this is very clear: it is to earn much needed money… It shows we have enough material to maintain our low-level nuclear deterrence and so much in surplus that we can sell it in the open market. It is a respectable way of earning money." However, Information Minister Javed Jabbar, quoted in the same article, insisted that the new procedures represented simply "a fulfilment of our commitment to transparency… There is absolutely no scope left for any kind of misuse or pilferage or illegal export of any substance. We are doing it only in order to be a good nuclear citizen."

A list of items and materials was published, the export of which would be allowed following acquisition of a 'no objection certificate' (NOC) from the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC). The extensive list of items for which export certificates could be sought caused widespread dismay and surprise. Eleven nuclear substances were named - natural uranium, depleted uranium, enriched uranium, thorium, plutonium, zirconium, heavy water, tritium, beryllium, a range of natural or artificial radioactive materials, and nuclear grade graphite - together with 17 types of equipment, including nuclear power reactors, reactor control systems, nuclear research reactors, gas centrifuges for separating uranium isotopes, and heavy water production systems.

It quickly became clear, however, that a number of these items - including enriched uranium and plutonium - had been erroneously included. Within 48 hou rs, the export order was withdrawn, presumably for redrafting. A Pakistan Government spokesperson expressed frustration at media reports, particularly the Guardian article, which did not acknowledge that this re-evaluation, plus an investigation into how the advertisement was allowed to appear with such embarrassing contents, was underway. An unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesperson stressed to the BBC on August 4 that Islamabad remained committed to prohibiting the export of any sensitive nuclear materials or equipment.

Notwithstanding these assertions, remarks in the August 3 Guardian article from an unnamed US State Department official suggested that confusion generated by the publication of the SRO was not confined to media circles: "This is not exactly what the US had in mind when we talked to them about nuclear controls. … Up to now the Pakistanis have not supported the idea of making money out of selling this stuff. We're still trying to figure out what all this new stuff means."

Reports: Government regulates export of nuclear material, The Dawn (Pakistan), July 24; Pakistan unveils nuclear procedures, Associated Press, July 25; Pakistan to sell nuclear material, The Guardian, August 3, SRO on export of nuclear technology disregards law, The Times (Pakistan), August 4; Pakistan's nuclear advert 'mistake', BBC News Online, August 4.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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