Defence Industry

Pakistan's Nuclear & Missile Weapons Programme
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Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, as Minister for Fuel, Power and Natural Resources (1958-1962) and Foreign Minister of Pakistan (1963-1966), was a leading advocate for attainment of nuclear weapons capability by Pakistan. Later Bhutto as Prime Minister brought the Atomic Energy Department under his direct control. He can be credited or blamed for giving Pakistan’s peaceful nuclear programme a weapon orientation.

Even Ayub Khan, a military dictator, was reluctant to the idea. In 1961, the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science & Technology (PINSTECH) was established at Rawalpindi. The country’s two nuclear research reactors i.e. Pakistan Atomic Research Reactor (PARR-1) and PARR-2, and a laboratory scale reprocessing plant are located within PINSTECH. The institution plays an important role in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme. In 1965, Pakistan signed an agreement with Canada for setting up of a nuclear power plant at Karachi, which was formerly inaugurated by Bhutto in November 1972.

In December 1976, Canada suspended all nuclear cooperation with Pakistan because of the latter’s refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and placing its nuclear facilities under international safeguards. Even Belgium refused to supply equipment like the neutron flux monitor for the Karachi plant. The Karachi reactor was on the verge of being shutdown due to non-availability of fuel. A contract was subsequently signed in 1972 with Canada for the construction of a fuel fabrication plant, which did not materialise due to the Canadian embargo on the transfer of equipment in 1974.

Pakistan had constructed underground nuclear testing facilities in early ’80s in Chagai, where it conducted a dozen cold tests between 1983 and 1986. The US was more than aware of the developments of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme.

The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) went ahead with the construction of its own plant at Kundian, which made its first delivery of nuclear fuel to the Karachi plant in 1980. However, it produced only trivial amounts of fuel.

Meanwhile in 1976, Pakistan signed an agreement with the Saint Gobain Techniques Nouvelles (SGN), France for setting up a Plutonium reprocessing facility at Chashma in Miawali District of Punjab. The Chashma plant envisaged an annual capacity to reprocess 100 metric tonnes of Plutonium. The plant could only be utilised to its full capacity if Pakistan had more than 40 reactors with a total capacity of 25,000 to 50,000 megawatts. Since Pakistan did not have even a fraction of this reactor capability, it was evident that the Chashma plant was being set up with ulterior motives i.e. for a Plutonium route to nuclear weapon capability. The US could no longer ignore the developments and Kissinger is known to have told Bhutto to wind up plans for the construction of the Chashma reprocessing plant or else he stated: “We (US) will make a horrible example out of you (Pakistan)”.

In 1979, due to US pressure, France after some reluctance, cancelled the deal. However, it is believed that by this time, it had transferred 95 percent of the blueprints to Pakistan. There are reports to suggest that the Chashma plant is being completed with Chinese assistance. Nevertheless, the New Laboratories located in the vicinity of PINSTECH was built with the help of a Belgium firm and SGN. It was completed in 1982 and is understood to have the capability to reprocess 10 to 20 kg of Plutonium a year. The main problem that Pakistan faced was that it did not have a safeguarded reactor to produce Plutonium as a by-product. It subsequently erected such a reactor at Khushab in 1996-1997, allegedly with much assistance from German firms, as also with technological assistance from China. As per one estimate, the Khushab reactor could produce 10 to 14 kg of weapons grade Plutonium annually.

The quest for a nuclear fuel fabrication facility received impetus after Bhutto’s decision in 1972 to build a bomb. Therefore, any logic by Pakistan to link its nuclear weapons programme with Indian nuclear tests in 1974 is preposterous. On 20 January 1972, soon after the Indo-Pak War of 1971, Bhutto in a meeting of the country’s nuclear scientists at Multan exhorted them to prepare for a fission bomb within three years. Amongst others, Abdus Salam, who had been Professor at the Imperial College of Science & Technology in UK and later was appointed as Chief Scientific Advisor to Ayub Khan, attended the meeting. He also later received the Nobel Prize for Physics. IH Usmani (ex Indian Civil Service officer and Ph D in Physics from Imperial College, London), who was the Chairman of PAEC, had protested against Bhutto’s directive during the meeting and resigned. He was replaced by Munir Ahmed Khan as Chairman of PAEC during the meeting itself. In 1978, it was Abdus Salam, who visited China and initiated the process of nuclear cooperation between the two countries.

In Pakistan, there were a few voices like those of Asghar Khan and Nur Khan (both ex Air Chiefs), who opined that Pakistan should refrain from reacting to the Indian nuclear tests and earn international goodwill for its restraint.

In its quest for obtaining complete nuclear cycle capability, Pakistan formed a theoretical group of scientists (designers of the bomb) of the PAEC for obtaining details of the Manhattan Project. Two scientists, Riyajudin and Dr Masood Ahmad went to Triesti Institute on a fellowship and came back to Pakistan with all the details. Another group called the Wah group was established in Pakistan’s Ordnance Factory to handle issues like implosion, explosion, hydro-dynamics and high-intensity explosives. A separate group was set up under the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Directorate. Libya, Saudi Arabia and other countries contributed US $ 5 million for the nuclear cycle programme.

Due to hiccups in the Plutonium route, Pakistan embarked on the Uranium route in quest of a nuclear weapon in 1974. AQ Khan was a scientist working in a Dutch engineering firm, FDO, which was the consultant and sub-contractor to URNECO — a joint venture by UK and West Germany engaged in production of enriched Uranium for nuclear reactors. AQ Khan managed to convince Zulfikar Ali Bhutto that he could help Pakistan realise its nuclear dream through the Uranium route in a short span. The Uranium route involved: centrifuge plant to enrich Uranium, development of the Uranium mine at Bhagalchor (Dera Ghazi Khan), a hexafluoride plant, and a weapons design programme.

Eventually, AQ Khan emerged as the key figure in Pakistan’s nuclear weapon programme. AQ Khan had managed to steal the blueprint for a centrifuge plant from the FDO over a period of time. Kahuta was selected as the site for a centrifuge plant. Pakistan floated numerous dummy corporations in the UK, France, the Netherlands, and West Germany for clandestine acquisition of various components for setting up the centrifuge plant. Towards this, Pakistan was also facilitated by the emergence of a global grey market of nuclear mercenaries in the mid-‘70s. One SA Butt coordinated the clandestine acquisition activities from the Pak Embassy in Brussels and Paris.

In 1979, Pakistan obtained hexafluoride gas for the Kahuta plant from China. Four years later, China is also believed to have transferred the design of a tested nuclear weapon and Uranium for at least two nuclear weapons. In 1986, Pakistan and China entered into a comprehensive nuclear agreement and in the same year, Pakistan conducted a cold test of a nuclear weapon at Chagai. In 1989, Pak scientists were incorporated in China’s nuclear tests at Lop Nor. Further, 5,000 ring magnates had been supplied by China Nuclear Energy Corporation in 1994.

Pakistan had constructed underground nuclear testing facilities in early ‘80s in Chagai, where it conducted a dozen cold tests between 1983 and 1986. The US was more than aware of the developments of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme. In 1979, it cut off all assistance to Pakistan under the Glenn-Symington Amendment. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was indeed a boon for Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme, as the US was compelled to restart strategic and military business with the country.

…after the Pakistan nuclear tests and subsequently the initiation of war against terrorism that the international community has begun to focus its deserved concern on the safe custody of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

In 1987, Zia had stated that Pakistan could make a nuclear bomb whenever it desired. Again in 1992, Shahryar Khan, the then Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, had declared in Washington that Pakistan could produce at least one nuclear device. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons state had reached the last stage: it contucted its first nuclear tests on 28 May 1998 (five tests – sub kiloton yield) and 30 May (sixth test – 12 kilotonne yield) just 15 days after the Indian nuclear tests. To its public and the Islamic constituency all over the world, Pakistan sold its nuclear tests in the constrictive perspective of an India-Pakistan duel.

In Pakistan, there were a few voices like those of Asghar Khan and Nur Khan (both ex Air Chiefs), who opined that Pakistan should refrain from reacting to the Indian nuclear tests and earn international goodwill for its restraint. By implication, they felt that while Pakistan could economically gain from the situation, India would be economically devastated due to sanctions. In India too, there was a constituency which criticised the government’s decision to carry out nuclear tests. Had it not been for the Indian nuclear tests, Pakistan’s clandestine nuclear weapons programme would never have come to the fore to the unsuspecting international audience. As a result, the proliferation activities by Pakistan’s nuclear scientists like AQ Khan would have carried on unnoticed.

Blueprints for a nuclear weapon are believed to have been recovered from the wreckage of an abandoned Al Qaeda house in Afghanistan. Two former nuclear scientists, Sultan Bashrudiin Mahmood and Abdul Majid were arrested in October 2001 for trying to obtain enriched Uranium for the Taliban. Sultan Bashrudin Mahmood was one of the key figures present during the meeting of scientists in 1972 in Multan, wherein the decision to acquire nuclear weapon capability was formally taken by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. AQ Khan is known to have publicly expressed sympathy for the jihadi movement in Pakistan. It is only after the Pakistan nuclear tests and subsequently the initiation of war against terrorism that the international community has begun to focus its deserved concern on the safe custody of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

In March 2001, under US pressure, AQ Khan who headed the Kahuta Research Laboratory (KRL) and Ishfaq Ahmad, Chairman of PAEC, were removed from their positions due to their alleged involvement in nuclear proliferation to countries like North Korea, Iran and Libya. In the case of Pakistan, the concern about safe custody of the nuclear weapons gets further accentuated because of the sleazy and clandestine nature of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme since the ‘70s. The individuals involved can always provide clues and direction to state and non-state actors desirous of obtaining nuclear capability through similar means.

There are various estimates regarding the number of nuclear weapons in the Pak inventory. While some sources reckon that Pakistan has between 30 to 50 nuclear weapons (1 to 15 kilotonnes) in a partially disassembled state, according to SIPRI the number is between 15 and 25.

Some sources also aver that in the assessment of a Pakistani authority, an arsenal of 70 nuclear weapons will take care of the country’s strategic requirements.

The various nuclear facilities available in Pakistan are shown on the map.

Command and Control of Nuclear Weapons

In February 2000, the Musharraf dispensation established a National Command Authority (NCA) for exercising command and control over Pakistan’s strategic assets i.e. missile and nuclear arsenal. It is located with the Joint Strategic Headquarters (JSHQ) where a new Strategic Plans Division headed by a Lieutenant General has been formed to act as the Secretariat for the NCA. The NCA has nine members and is responsible for policy formulation, employment, development and control over nuclear weapon assets and related organisations. The first meeting of the NCA was held in March 2001 under the chairmanship of Musharraf at the General Headquarters.

The NCA has two main constituents i.e. the Employment Control Committee (ECC) and the Development Control Committee (DCC). While the ECC is responsible for deciding the stages of weaponisation of nuclear weapons and their eventual employment, the DCC is responsible for supervision of actual development of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems including missiles. The Strategic Plans Division (SPD) under the Chairmanship of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee is responsible for planning, coordination and establishment of a reliable command, control, communication, computers and intelligence (C4I) network. President Musharraf, by virtue of being the Head of State, is the Chairman of the ECC, the other members being: Minister of Foreign Affairs (Deputy Chairman), Minister of Defence, Minister of Interior, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, the three Service Chiefs, Director General of Strategic Plans Division (Secretary) and technical advisors co-opted by the government. The DCC is also headed by the Head of the Government, and its other members are: the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, the three Services Chiefs, and Director General of Strategic Plans Committee.

Organisationally, the DCC is purely military in nature and it can be inferred that it is the military, which will control the development aspects of Pakistan’s strategic assets and eventually factor them in the overall military strategy. Musharraf by virtue of being the Head of State and head of the Army is the key figure in both the ECC and the DCC. In 2001, Pakistan further integrated its nuclear infrastructure by placing the Khan Research Laboratories and the Pakistan Atomic Research Corporation under the control of the Nuclear Defence Complex.

Missile Programme

Pakistan embarked on acquisition of missile capability in the 1980s. It obtained short range M-9 (800 km) and M-11 (300 km) missiles from China in the 1990s. By the mid-‘90s, Pakistan had acquired about three dozen M-11 missiles from China. In Pakistan, Chinese technicians activated these missiles. Later, China also assisted Pakistan in establishing missile-building facilities at Sargodha and Tarwanah. The nuclear capable medium-range missiles were supplied to Pakistan by North Korea. The North Korea-Pakistan missile cooperation is believed to have been facilitated by China, since it was under tremendous pressure from the US to discontinue its missile assistance to Pakistan. In fact, China supposedly provided funds to North Korea to continue the supply of missiles to Pakistan. Nevertheless, as per CIA reports in 2002, some Chinese entities continued to provide assistance to Pakistan in its missile programme.

The Ghauri missile that Pakistan first tested on 6 April 1998, was a re-christened Nodong missile delivered by the Fourth Machine Industry Bureau of North Korea. Also in April 1998, the US imposed sanctions against Pakistan and North Korea for violation of the Missile Technology Control Regime. The supply of missiles and missile technology by North Korea to Pakistan was not without a price. As a quid-pro-quo North Korea extracted Pakistan’s indulgence in its nuclear weapons programme in terms of designs and machineries for gas centrifuges for enrichment of Uranium. This kind of cooperation between the two countries could not have been possible without the knowledge and facilitation of China. In July 2002, US satellites had monitored a C-130 aircraft belonging to Pakistan, as it landed in a North Korean airfield and loaded components of ballistic missiles.

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The missiles in Pakistan are assembled by two competing agencies i.e. PAEC (Shaheen series) and Kahuta Research Laboratory (Ghauri series). In 1999, Pakistan tested its Shaheen-I Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM), which has a range of 700 km and can carry a 750 kg warhead. The PAEC’s National Defence Complex has reportedly begun serial production of Shaheen-I. On Pakistan’s Annual Day Parade, the Shaheen-II Medium-Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM) was unveiled. This two stage solid fuel missile is capable of carrying a 1,000 kg warhead up to 2,500 km.

The known technical details of Pakistan’s missile programme are given in the table.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

RSN Singh

is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research and Analysis Wing, or R&AW and author of books Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and The Military Factor in Pakistan. His latest book is The Unmaking of Nepal.

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