India should counter the challenge diplomatically

“India has passively not taken up its concerns about the China- Pakistan missile and nuclear collaboration strongly with Beijing. This challenge surely needs to be more seriously addressed and countered, both diplomatically and strategically”, says the author.

While explaining the rationale for Pakistan’s nuclear weapon program, its then Prime Minister Z.A. Bhutto noted that while the Christian, Jewish and Hindu civilizations had nuclear weapons capability, it was the Islamic civilization alone that did not possess nuclear weapons.

He asserted that he would be remembered as the man who had provided the Islamic civilization with full nuclear capability. Bhutto’s views on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons contributing to the capabilities of the Islamic civilization were shared by Pakistan’s senior nuclear scientist Sultan Bashiruddin Mehmood who, along with his colleague Chaudhri Abdul Majeed, was detained shortly after the terrorist strikes of 9/11.

They were both charged with helping Al Qaida acquire nuclear and biological weapon capabilities. Two other Pakistan scientists, Suleiman Asad and Al Mukhtar, wanted for questioning about their links with Osama bin Laden, disappeared after it was claimed that they had gone to Myanmar.

The original sinner in nuclear proliferation, however, is not Pakistan, but China. Director of the Wisconsin Project of Arms Control Gary Milhollin has commented: “If you subtract China’s help from the Pakistani nuclear program, there is no Pakistani nuclear program”.

There is evidence, including hints from Bhutto’s prison memoirs, that suggest that China initially agreed to help Pakistan develop nuclear weapons when Bhutto visited Beijing in 1976. It is now acknowledged that by 1983 China had supplied Pakistan with enough enriched uranium for around two weapons and the designs for a 25- Kiloton bomb. Chinese support for the Pakistan program is believed to have included a quid pro quo in the form of Pakistan providing China the designs of centrifuge enrichment plants.

Interestingly, thanks to China, Pakistan acquired nuclear arsenal at least five years before India decided to cross the nuclear threshold. China’s assistance to Pakistan continued even after Beijing acceded to the NPT. When Pakistan’s enrichment program faced problems in 1995, China supplied Pakistan 5,000 ring magnets.

China has subsequently supplied Pakistan with unsafeguarded plutonium processing facilities at Khushab. There is also evidence that China has supplied Pakistan with a range of nuclear weapons designs with the passage of time. While the nuclear weapons designs supplied by Dr A.Q. Khan to Libya were of a Chinese warhead tested in the 1960s, the nuclear warheads tested by Pakistan in 1998 were of a different design According to Thomas Reed, a former Secretary of the US Air Force, who was closely associated with the US nuclear weapons establishment and Dan Stillman, a US nuclear expert who had extensive interactions with his Chinese counterparts a Pakistani derivative of the Chinese CHIV-4 nuclear bomb was tested by Pakistan in China on May 26, 1990.

This was eight years before India’s 1998 tests that validated its nuclear weapons. Reed stated that while in China, Stillman had noted that his stay at the Shanghai Institute of Nuclear Research “also produced a first insight into the extensive hospitality extended to Pakistani nuclear scientists during the late 1980s time period”.

Reed has disclosed that “in 1982, China’s Premier Deng Xiao Ping began the transfer of nuclear technology to Pakistan”. Moreover, after warmly welcoming Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in Beijing in 1988, Deng commenced missile collaboration with Pakistan, with the supply of short range Hatf 2 missiles. This was followed up by assistance to manufacture Shaheen 1 (750 km range) and Shaheen 2 (range 1500-2000 km), at Fatehjang.

China has thus not only provided Pakistan assistance for manufacturing nuclear weapons, but also for missiles which can target population centres across India. Not satisfied with providing nuclear weapons designs, knowhow and modern uranium enrichment centrifuges, China soon found that Pakistan’s arsenal would become more potent if it included lighter plutonium warheads, both for easier mating with the Chinese designed ballistic missile and for development of tactical nuclear weapons.

Pakistan and China adopt a parallel approach on nuclear and missile proliferation in the Islamic world. Saudi Arabia’s Defence Minister, Prince Sultan, was given unprecedented access to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons facilities in Kahuta in March 1999. Shortly thereafter Dr. A.Q. Khan paid a visit to Saudi Arabia at the invitation of Prince Sultan in November 1999.

Khan’s visit was followed by a visit to Pakistan’s nuclear facilities by Saudi scientists who had been invited by him to visit Pakistan. Given these developments and the fact that China had supplied long-range CSS 2 Saudi missiles to Saudi Arabia in the past, there is interest about the precise directions that nuclear and missile collaboration of Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia could take. Pakistan could, for example, justify the deployment of nuclear weapons and missiles on Saudi soil.

It is not without significance that the Chairman of Pakistan’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, Gen Khalid Shamim Wynne, who handles its nuclear arsenal, was received at a high level in Saudi Arabia. Similarly, while Pakistan provided the designs of nuclear centrifuges to Iran over two decades ago, China is known to have been on the forefront of transfer of ballistic missile knowhow and technology to Tehran.

The issue of Beijing issuing stapled visas for Indian nationals from Arunachal Pradesh visiting China was raised by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj during the recent visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi by pointedly calling on China to adopt a “One India” policy.

While the Chinese provide stapled visas for Indian nationals from Arunachal Pradesh and oppose international funding for projects in Arunachal Pradesh and J&K, they warmly and officially welcome high functionaries from PoK, Gilgit and Baltistan. Members of China’s Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) have in recent years been involved in large numbers in building roads and tunnels in Gilgit/Baltistan. The construction work is said to be for a transportation corridor linking China to Arabian Sea at the Port of Gwadar.

But tunnels across high mountains slopes are also ideal locations for nuclear weapon silos. India has passively not taken up its concerns about the China-Pakistan missile and nuclear collaboration strongly with Beijing. This challenge surely needs to be more seriously addressed and countered, both diplomatically and strategically.


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