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April - May 2004


Political News

Black Market & Nuclear Proliferation

by Sashanka Sekhar Banerjee


Black market in nuclear technology began in Pakistan at the Government level after India tested its first nuclear device in 1974. Over the years, substantial information relating to Pakistan Government's sophisticated clandestine activities in acquiring technology for its secretive nuclear programme has come to light and well documented. Put these together into a dossier. There will be no scope for denials of Government involvement in such smuggling activities to hold water.

Responding to the Indian Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi's decision to test the A-Bomb in the Pokhran deserts in Rajasthan, the Pakistan Prime Minister Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto declared employing his usual hyperbole that Pakistan was ready to fight a 1000-year's war with India adding that " they will eat grass but make the Atom Bomb ", whatever the cost. He cleverly went on to describe Pakistan's A-Bomb project as The Islamic Bomb. The invitation was loud and clear to Muslim countries with money to spare and ambition to have the bomb to invest capital into the project to make it a success.
It was an open secret for a long time that Saudi Arabia, Libya, Iraq and Iran had both the money and the ambition to have the bomb, hostility with Israel being the reason that drove them to it. However, developing the A-Bomb required a sophisticated scientific and industrial base, which Pakistan had hardly any at that time. Bhutan's clarion call flushed Pakistan with petro-dollars but the country was limited by the state of its industrial backwardness. Pakistan Government was therefore left with no alternative but to rely on promoting a highly secretive smuggling network to develop its nuclear arsenal. It was the first time in modern military history that a State got involved in creating a worldwide clandestine black marketing network for the acquisition of nuclear and missile technology.
The other strategic component of Pakistan's nuclear programme was the involvement of China about which India had raised alarm from time to time but to no effect. The recently released declassified documents from the US on this subject finally acknowledging China's role in building the Pakistani nuclear arsenal make compulsive reading. It reads like a belated essay in denial, couched in guilt, of a cover up.
Enter Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan.

Pakistan's nuclear black market pre-dates Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan's emergence on the scene. What Dr Khan did was to steal some nuclear secrets from Holland and smuggle them to Pakistan thus becoming merely a spoke - albeit an important one - in the wheel of the already well established black-market network. How valuable those secrets were is open to doubt. Holland is not a Nuclear Weapons Power. Therefore, what did he steal except some bit and pieces. The outsourcing network of critical components had spread far and wide but was mostly concentrated in Europe.

According to widely circulated reports in the press, Pakistan had already received off-the shelf A-Bombs from China before Khan arrived in Islamabad. Why then Dr Khan was given the honour of being described as the Father of Pakistan's Islamic A-Bomb. Was Pakistan trying to reduce its reliance on China in matters nuclear by developing its own bomb independent of Beijing? Alternatively, was Pakistan's nuclear programme simply an instrument of making money out of the rich Muslim nations? Or was it meant to pressure New Delhi to redefine India's own threat perception shifting it away from being China-centric to being Pakistan-centric, needed to soothe Beijing's ears to attract more favours? There was also the all-important question of managing US opposition to charges of nuclear proliferation under the NPT regime, which could open the floodgates of sanctions. A significant achievement, of which the Pakistani Foreign Office should be proud of, is that it was able to persuade Washington to accept Islamabad's position that Pakistan's nuclear programme was a legitimate response to the overwhelming threat from India and needed special treatment, outside of the NPT to the extent possible. When the US decided to look the other way when the Pakistani nuclear black marketing operations were in full swing throughout the eighties and the nineties of the last century, it ensured, by default, that the NPT remained no longer controversial, it was now reduced to a dead letter for all practical purposes. Rest of it is history.
It is nobody's business to question Pakistan's right as a sovereign nation to have or not to have the A-Bomb. It depended on the interpretation of its geo-political compulsions, threat perception and national ambition. It was the cat and mouse game that Islamabad got involved into and the layers of denials that it had to resort to in the acquisition process that attracted international scrutiny. More importantly, as Pakistan got deeply involved in creating an extensive infrastructure of terror on its territory, the international community was left with no alternative but to sit up and take notice. Pakistan has nobody to blame but herself for its present unfortunate predicament.
The question will however remain Was Pakistan's perception of the Indian threat to its security so real as to drive its leadership into a frenzy of emotional outbursts? Was it irrational or was there much substance in it? A hark back to history may be in order.
Historical Backdrop.
It began in 1962. India under Nehru was highly respected in the Chancelleries of the West. This was resented by China. Beijing in a mood to show India its place had launched an unprovoked invasion of India in October 1962. The timing was impeccable. The invasion took place at the height of the Cuban crisis ensuring that neither the US nor the Soviet Union would have the time or the mood to intervene. India was unprepared for the military engagement and therefore it was unable to give a good account of itself. India's defeat was a confirmation of China's military pre-eminence in Asia. Two years later in 1964, China tested its first weaponised nuclear device in Lop Nor deserts in Xing Yang province. It sent a chill down the spine of the Indian security community. The Chinese Atom Bomb was seen in New Delhi as a direct threat to India's long term security.
The Indian response came from none other than Mrs Indira Gandhi. She wasted no time in ordering the Indian scientific community to concentrate on developing India's own nuclear and missile technology. The instruction was clear that the nuclear weapons as well as the delivery systems must be developed entirely with Indian technology. It was declared a national project. There was no question of seeking outside help because India could expect none of it. It took ten years to develop the technology locally. It was not before 1974 that the Indian scientists could test their first nuclear device in Pokhran in Rajasthan. It was only a technology demonstrator, not a weaponised version.
China was not pleased with this development. Beijing responded by targeting its nuclear weapons on India, which exacerbated the security situation further for India. The worst thing that could have happened for India in terms of its nuclear security was for China to bring on board Pakistan as a third component in the India-China nuclear equation. India had factored in its calculations the possibility of China getting involved with the Pakistani programme but was surprised that a big and supposedly a responsible power like China would become the epicentre of under-cover nuclear proliferation. Thus began Beijing's clandestine off-the-shelf arming of Pakistan with nuclear weapons. Feeling encircled by hostile forces New Delhi perceived that the Beijing-Islamabad nexus was a dangerous escalation of the threat. With two nuclear adversaries to contend with from now onwards, it was all systems go for India to develop its nuclear weapons and missile technologies.
Meanwhile, Pakistan had good reasons to feel threatened by the Indian Bomb. Islamabad had lost half of its territory to Bangladesh in a War with India in 1971. Three years later in 1974 India had the Atom Bomb. Those were the dark days of the Cold War. Before India went to war with Pakistan, fearing Chinese and American hostile response against India's action, New Delhi had secured Moscow's nuclear umbrella by entering into a security pact with the Soviet Union called The Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace and Friendship 1971. The close military relationship between India and the Soviet Union represented by the Treaty had angered China no end.
In the Asian nuclear quadrangle there was now the New Delhi-Moscow alliance as against the Beijing-Islamabad partnership. It was getting complication worse compounded. The US stood outside this line-up but being a super-power had security interests in what was happening in the region. The Soviet Union and China were the two permanent members of the UN Security Council and under the terms of the nuclear non-proliferation Treaty, both of them were regarded officially as acknowledged Nuclear Weapons Powers. India and Pakistan were not permanent members of the UNSC nor were they likely to be acknowledged officially as Nuclear Weapons Powers even if they had the Weapon in their possession. After the 1998 tests by both India and Pakistan, the Indian sub-continent was fully nuclearised yet the NPT did not recognise them as nuclear powers. This was the stark unreality of the NPT. In addition, because of its inherent discriminatory nature, both India and Pakistan decided not to sign the NPT......

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