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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 55, March 2001

South Asia Nuclear Crisis: Latest Developments

In mid-March, Pakistan's military leader General Pervez Musharraf invited two nuclear weapons scientists - Dr. Ashfaq Ahmed, and Dr. Qadeer Khan - to serve as his senior advisors on science and technology issues. It was not immediately clear whether Dr. Khan - popularly referred to as the 'father' of the Pakistani bomb - would accept the appointment, which was generally reported in the media as an attempt to remove the two scientists, well-known for their outspoken advocacy of nuclear testing and development, from dominant positions within the country's nuclear weapons programme. A number of political parties criticised the move, blaming it on foreign pressure, and even accusing General Musharraf of betraying the two men. On March 14, Musharraf responded: "I am not a traitor and so there could not be any compromise on the nuclear programme... Let me assure you that we still have hundreds of equally capable scientists at the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission and KRL [Khan Research Laboratories] whose services will be utilised to the maximum."

On February 22, Pakistan Navy spokesperson Roshan Khayal told reporters that the country "may equip its submarines with nuclear missiles to defend its key naval installations." The same day, Indian Defence Ministry spokesperson P.K. Bandopadhyay responded: "We are also fully prepared for the [naval] deployment of nuclear missiles by them. We are equal to it..." Also on February 22, the strategic thinking behind such a move by Pakistan was spelt out at some length by Rear Admiral Afzal Tahir, Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff:

"Nuclear weapons have fundamentally changed the dynamics of the military equation in the region, and Pakistan has to prepare itself to meet any aggression... A potential conflict is most likely to be short and intense due to fear of reaching nuclear thresholds on both sides. The visualised conflict scenario is likely to be crises-oriented, localised military actions and prolonged forward deployment of forces. ... In the nuclear balance of power, the relative geography places Pakistan at a distinct disadvantage. The aggressive draft of [the] Indian nuclear doctrine, which [proclaims a policy of]...no-first use while keeping the option of a pre-emptive strike open, is quite ambiguous and worrisome for Pakistan. Their projects such as the...installation of cruise missiles on naval platforms are presently in progress with considerable success. This will give them extended reach and flexibility of not only a nuclear second-strike, but also the capability to conduct conventional cruise missile attacks on Pakistan from the sea. At present, the threat primarily emanates from enemy submarines which are capable of striking on-shore targets with medium-range missiles, and the Indian aspiration of achieving longer rangers with more precision... We are proud to maintain a potent submarine arm with modern and indigenously constructed Agosta 90-B submarines. We also possess an effective air-arm and well-equipped aircraft such as P3Js and Atlantics, with no match to the capabilities of these aircraft in the Indian inventory."

Visiting the region in mid-March, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan praised Bangladesh for signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and once more called on India and Pakistan to follow suit. In Dhaka on March 14, Annan stated that the Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, had shown "considerable courage trying to defuse tension after India and Pakistan had conducted nuclear tests... I hope that other countries of South Asia would follow the example set by Bangladesh by signing the CTBT..."

Reports: Nuclear missiles for subs under study - Pakistan navy, Dawn (Pakistan), February 22; Pakistan may put nukes on submarines, Associated Press, February 22; Nuclear rivals bolster naval defences, South China Morning Post, February 23; Musharraf reaffirms nuclear programme after reshuffle, Khaleej Times, March 14; Islamabad keen to project responsible nuclear image, Asia Times, March 15; Annan urges end to nuclear race in South Asia, The News International (Pakistan), March 15.

© 2001 The Acronym Institute.