Pakistan Nuclear Weapons
Pakistan's Atomic Energy commission was founded some 15 years after the Indian program. In 1965, President Ayub Khan took some initial steps in response to the emerging of Indian nuclear threat. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was the founder of Pakistan's Nuclear Program, initially as Minister for Fuel, Power and Natural Resources, and later as President and Prime Minister. Pakistan's nuclear program was launched in earnest shortly after the loss of East Pakistan in the 1971 war with India, when Bhutto initiated a program to develop nuclear weapons with a meeting of physicists and engineers at Multan in January 1972. In 1974 India successfully tested a nuclear "device." Bhutto reacted strongly to this test and said Pakistan must develop its own "Islamic bomb."
Pakistan lacks an extensive civil nuclear power infrastructure, and its weapons program is not as broad as India's. Much of its nuclear program is focused on weapons applications.
Initially, Pakistan focused on the plutonium path for building a nuclear weapon. Plutonium can be obtained from fuel that has been reprocessed from nuclear power plants, and in October 1974 Pakistan signed a contract with France for the design of a reprocessing facility for the fuel from its power plant at Karachi and other planned facilities. However, over the next two years Pakistan's international nuclear collaborators withdrew as Pakistan's nuclear ambitions became more apparent. The French were among the last to withdraw at the end of 1976, following sustained pressure from the United States.
A major advance jump to Pakistan's nuclear program was the arrival of Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan in 1975, who brought with him the plans for uranium enrichment centrifuges, and lists of sources of the necessary technology. On this basis, Pakistan initially focused its development efforts on highly enriched uranium (HEU), and exploited an extensive clandestine procurement network to support these efforts. A.Q. Khan evidently persuaded Pakistan to work with Uranium (as compared to Plutonium) because Plutonium involves more arduous and hazardous procedures and cumbersome and expensive processes. Pakistan's activities were initially centered in a few facilities. A.Q. Khan founded the Engineering Research Laboratories at Kahuta in 1976, which later to became the Dr. A. Q. Khan Research Laboratories (KRL).
In March 2005 Benazir Bhutto said Pakistan may have had a nuclear weapon long before that. She said her father, former prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, had told her from his prison cell that preparations for a nuclear test had been made in 1977. "... he expected Pakistan to have its first nuclear test in ... in August 1977. I was in his conduit to the person who was actually running the nuclear program who is no longer alive now. His name was Mr. Munir and he was chairman of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission. He told us that the nuclear test had been delayed to December 1977, and then he told us the nuclear test had been indefinitely delayed." It is unlikely that this would have been a test with appreciable nuclear yield, since at that time Pakistan would not have had an appreciable inventory of fissile material.
Dr. Samar Mubarik Mand, member Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, has said that the team of Atomic Energy Commission developed the design of atomic bomb in 1978 and had successfully conducted a cold test after developing the first atomic bomb in 1983.
A number of United States laws, amendments to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, applied to Pakistan and its program of nuclear weapons development. The 1976 Symington Amendment stipulated that economic assistance be terminated to any country that imported uranium enrichment technology. The Glenn Amendment of 1977 similarly called for an end to aid to countries that imported reprocessing technology--Pakistan had from France. United States economic assistance, except for food aid, was terminated under the Symington Amendment in April 1979.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan made Pakistan a country of paramount geostrategic importance. In a matter of days, the United States declared Pakistan a "frontline state" against Soviet aggression and offered to reopen aid and military assistance deliveries. When the Reagan administration took office in January 1981, the level of assistance increased substantially. Presidential waivers for several of the amendments were required. The initial package from the United States was for US$3.2 billion over six years, equally divided between economic and military assistance. A separate arrangement was made for the purchase of forty F-16 fighter aircraft.
Aside from Afghanistan, the most problematic element in Pakistan's security policy was the nuclear question. President Zia had inherited a pledge that for domestic reasons he could not discard, and he continued the nuclear development program. Zia inherited an ambitious program from Bhutto and continued to develop it out of the realization that, despite Pakistan's newly acquired weaponry, it could never match India's conventional power and that India either had, or shortly could develop, its own nuclear weapons.
In 1985 the Solarz Amendment was added to prohibit aid to countries that attempt to import nuclear commodities from the United States. In the same year, the Pressler Amendment was passed; referring specifically to Pakistan, it said that if that nation possessed a nuclear device, aid would be suspended. Many of these amendments could be waived if the president declared that it was in the national interests of the United States to continue assistance.
Even after the invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan almost exhausted United States tolerance, including bungled attempts to illegally acquire United States nuclear- relevant technology and a virtual public admission in 1987 by the head of Pakistan's nuclear program that the country had developed a weapon. As long as Pakistan remained vital to United States interests in Afghanistan, however, no action was taken to cut off United States support. For the remainder of Zia's tenure, the United States generally ignored Pakistan's developing nuclear program. But the issue that after Zia's death led to another cutoff of aid was Pakistan's persistent drive toward nuclear development.
Initial Pakistani attempts to handle the bilateral nuclear relationship with India led nowhere, but a significant step was a nonformalized 1985 agreement that neither India nor Pakistan would attack the other's nuclear facilities. Zia asked India to agree to several steps to end the potential nuclear arms race on the subcontinent. One of these measures was the simultaneous signing of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The second step was a joint agreement for inspection of all nuclear sites by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Pakistan also proposed a pact between the two countries to allow for mutual inspection of sites. And, finally, Pakistan proposed a South Asian nuclear-free zone. It appeared that Zia was looking for a way to terminate the costly Pakistani program. But in order to sell this idea in Pakistan, he required some concessions from India. Termination would also get him out of difficulties the program was causing with the United States, including the curtailment of aid in 1979.
Though Pakistan was unnsuccessful in getting India to agree to those terms during the 1980s, these proposals were still on the table in the early 1990s. They were supplemented during that period by then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's call for a roundtable discussion among Pakistan, India, the United States, Russia, and China on nuclear weapons in South Asia.
Pakistan's dependence on China grew as Western export controls and enforcement mechanisms have grown more stringent. China's nuclear assistance predates the 1986 Sino-Pakistani atomic cooperation agreement, with some of the most critical transfers occurring from 1980 through 1985. China is reported to have provided Pakistan with the design of one of its warheads, as well as sufficient HEU for a few weapons. The 25-kiloton design was the one used in China's fourth nuclear test, which was an atmospheric test using a ballistic missile launch. This configuration is said to be a fairly sophisticated design, with each warhead weighing considerably less than the unwieldy, first-generation US and Soviet weapons which weighed several thousand kilograms. As of 1989 it was suggested that Pakistan had a workable bomb weighing only 400 pounds. Pakistan Foreign Minister Yakub Khan was present at the Chinese Lop Nor test site to witness the test of a small nuclear device in May 1983, giving rise to speculation that a Pakistani-assembled device was detonated in this test.
Evidently the jump-start provided by A.Q. Khan's trove of documents was an insufficient basis for a dependable Uranium program. Chinese assistance in the development of gas centrifuges at Kahuta was indicated by the presence of Chinese technicians at the facility in the early 1980s. The uranium enrichment facility began operating in the early 1980s, but suffered serious start up problems. In early 1996 it was reported that the A.Q. Khan Research Laboratory had received 5,000 ring magnets, which can be used in gas centrifuges, from a subsidiary of the China National Nuclear Corporation.
Perhaps in response to the persistent problems with the Uranium program, around the time of the signing of the 1986 Sino-Pakistani atomic cooperation agreement, Pakistan evidently embarked on a parallel Plutonium program. Built with Chinese assistance, the heavy water reactor at Khushab is the central element of Pakistan's program for production of plutonium and tritium for advanced compact warheads. The Khushab facility, like that at Kahuta, is not subject to IAEA inspections. Khushab, with a capacity variously reported at between 40 and 70 MWT, was completed in the mid-1990s, with the start of construction dating to the mid-1980s.
In March 2005 Benazir Bhutto said her government had a nuclear capability when she came into office the first time in 1988, ten years before Pakistan's first nuclear test. Ms. Bhutto said Pakistan had all the components for nuclear weapons, but never assembled them until India set off several tests in 1998.
"When I became Prime Minister I was told we had not put together the bomb. We had the components of the bomb. So, when is a chicken a chicken? Is it a chicken when you have it in separate parts but you don't put it together? Or is it a chicken when you actually put it together? And although we had the components of a nuclear weapon, we took the conscious decision not to put together a nuclear weapon, which is why when India detonated it took us some time to put together the weapon and actually have our own tests."
The Pakistan Peoples Party [PPP] government evolved the Benazir Nuclear Doctrine in April 1989. This was done to protect Pakistan's nuclear assets and to give confidence to the world community which was deeply concerned about the nuclear program. Under this doctrine, Islamabad undertook not to put together the components of a nuclear device unless its security was threatened and also not to export nuclear technology to any third country. This doctrine followed discussions between Islamabad and Washington in 1988 and 1989. It was announced during the Benazir Bhutto state visit to Washington at the invitation of the first President Bush in April 1989. Later Washington had certain issues in this regard which it wished to discuss with Prime Minister Bhutto in the summer of 1990. This discussion with the special envoy of the Bush administration could not take place because the Foreign Office was unable to coordinate the meeting. At the time, the Prime Minister was travelling to different countries mustering support for the Kashmir dispute for a scheduled Foreign Ministers meeting of the Organisation of Islamic countries. Once the PPP government was sacked on August 6, 1990, Washington cancelled the four and a half billion dollar assistance package as well as the sale of sixty F-16s which the Benazir government had negotiated.
In 1993, when Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto formed the second PPP government, she consulted the armed forces officials with regard to what had happened in the summer of 1990 to raise concerns in Washington. The PPP government wanted to ensure that there would be no slippages which could pose a threat to the nuclear policy or the nuclear assets. Following this concern, the armed forces came up with a plan to protect the command and control system and prevent any individualistic action. An officer of the armed forces was made in charge of the command and control system and reported to the army chief who in turn reported to the Prime Minister.
On 28 May and 30 May 1998 Pakistan conducted at least two nuclear weapons tests. These tests came slightly more than 2 weeks after India carried out 5 nuclear tests of its own, and after many warnings by Pakistani officials that they would respond to India (the two countries have fought 3 wars). In addition, Pakistan's President Rafiq Tarar declared a state of emergency, citing "threat by external aggression to the security of Pakistan." The United States had been attempting to persuade Pakistan not to test (and to head off a potential nuclear arms race in South Asia) by offering potential economic and military benefits, but this effort did not succeed. Pakistan already had been subject to limited U.S. sanctions since 1990 under the Pressler Amendment, when $650 million in military and humanitarian aid had been cut off as a result of an inability by the President to certify that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear device.
As was the case following India's nuclear tests, President Clinton, as required by law (including the Glenn Amendment, part of the Arms Export Control Act) announced that the United States would impose sanctions on Pakistan. These sanctions, among other things, could stem the flow of financial assistance into Pakistan, potentially causing severe harm to the Pakistani economy. With $37 billion in foreign debt (more than half of the country's total Gross Domestic Product, or GDP), a monthly trade deficit of $150 million, foreign exchange reserves of only $1.3 billion, and interest payments of $200-$500 million due each month, Pakistan can ill afford any suspension or cutoff in international assistance. Overall, Pakistan is considered far more vulnerable to economic sanctions than India.
In October 1997, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had agreed to lend Pakistan $1.52 billion -- including $935 million under an enhanced, low-interest-rate, enhanced structural adjustment facility (ESAF) -- over three years as part of an economic reform program. (The first $208 million tranche was released in October 1997.) The IMF money was considered important not only on its own account but also because it facilitates Pakistan's ability to borrow from commercial sources by increasing the country's financial credibility. Without the IMF, some economists believed foreign lenders could call in their loans, leading to a crisis of confidence in Pakistan's economy and a run on the country's freely-convertible currency, the rupee. Pakistan also receives money from other international lending organizations, including the World Bank.
President Bush formally lifted sanctions against India and Pakistan 22 September 2001 in a special memorandum to Secretary of State Colin Powell. The sanctions were imposed in response to the Indian and Pakistani nuclear weapons programs and testing. Powell said on NBC's "Meet the Press" September 23 that lifting these sanctions, which had been under consideration for some time, sends an important signal that "we will stand by our friends who stand by us."
In March 2003 President Bush lifted sanctions against Pakistan that were imposed following the 1999 bloodless coup that brought President Pervez Musharraf to power. A White House statement said President Bush decided to lift the sanctions because it will "facilitate the transition to democratic rule in Pakistan" and help in efforts to fight international terrorism. Pakistani cooperation was key to US military action against the Taleban government in neighboring Afghanistan and al-Qaida terrorists thought responsible for the September 2001 attacks in New York and Washington.
By December 2003 Pakistani government had launched an investigation into whether figures in Pakistan's nuclear program may have provided nuclear-weapons technology to Iran or other countries. The US State Department said Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf assured the United States more than a year earlier that any such activity had ceased. Officials were reluctant to speak about what nuclear-export activity the United States believes Pakistan was engaged in before the Bush administration took office.
But officials at both the State Department and White House said the United States continued to accept at face value an assurance made in 2003 by President Musharraf that Pakistan was no longer involved in such proliferation. The assurance was conveyed during what he said was a "very specific" conversation between Mr. Musharraf and Secretary of State Colin Powell on the proliferation issue in October 2002. That telephone talk had followed a flurry of press reports, denied at the time by Pakistan, that that country had been secretly aiding North Korea's nuclear program. In December 2003 The United States welcomed the Pakistani government's investigation and debriefing of prominent nuclear scientists about alleged technology exports. Those questioned are said to include aides to Abdul Qadeer Khan, who's considered the "father" of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program. Information Iran provided to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, strengthened suspicions that Pakistan sold Iran key nuclear secrets, including how to build uranium-enrichment centrifuges. A 10 November 2003 report by IAEA Director-General Mohammed El-Baradei on Iran's nuclear program stated that Tehran had received nuclear assistance from "several external sources."
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list