By Jai Kumar Verma
The fourth heavy water reactor at Khushab in Pakistan became functional in January 2015. The new heavy-water reactor would enhance the production of weapon-grade plutonium.
Pakistan considers India as its prime adversary and it apprehends that it cannot match India in conventional warfare hence it is increasing its nuclear capability faster than India, and presently Pakistan possesses more nuclear warheads than India.
Analysts say that by 2020 Pakistan will possess more than 200 nuclear warheads. Pakistan has neither signed the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) nor Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
Pakistan initiated its nuclear weapons programme in 1972 after a humiliating defeat by India. Pakistan was isolated in the international arena and no country, including United States of America or Peoples Republic of China (PRC), helped Pakistan against India. Consequently, Pakistani authorities decided that the country has to inculcate capability indigenously against India, and therefore it developed nuclear warheads.
It detonated five nuclear devices in May 1998 in Ras Koh Hills in Balochistan a few weeks after India’s second nuclear test. The nuclear bomb of Pakistan can be delivered by aircraft, ships and missiles. Pakistan has declined to accept a “no first use” agreement with India.
The Khushab nuclear site, which is in a highly restricted area, is situated at Jauharabad in Khushab district. It is about 200 km from Islamabad. Pakistan does not provide any information about Khushab reactors. Khushab I became operational in 1998 and Khushab II started producing plutonium and tritium from 2010. Khushab III became fully operational in 2013. Khushab IV which appears to be different from other three reactors became operative from January 2015.
According to satellite imagery brief, Pakistan is building Khushab V where it would produce miniaturized plutonium based nuclear weapons.
The analysts feel that Pakistan had uranium-based warheads hence now it is developing plutonium-based warheads also. The Khushab Nuclear Complex and Kahuta nuclear plants are not subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections. The plutonium programme of Pakistan is indigenous and developed by Pakistani scientists with Chinese assistance.
India and Pakistan have signed three agreements on nuclear affairs which includes not to attack the other country’s nuclear facilities; informing each other on ballistic missile tests; and report to the other country in case of a nuclear accident in the country.
Besides creating nuclear warheads Pakistan has also developed second strike potential by constructing very strong and deeply buried storage and nuclear devices launch capability.
PRC is the foremost supplier of nuclear and missile technology, warhead designs, highly enriched uranium etc. It also assisted in development of nuclear infrastructure, including nuclear plants at Chashma Nuclear Power Plant (Chasnupp) in Punjab, K Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (Kanupp) etc. A uranium centrifuge plant at Kahuta is operative since 1984 and in 1991 it was extended.
Pakistan has a big arsenal of nuclear weapons and the international community is worried about safety and security of Pakistani nuclear facilities and nuclear warheads. The analysts claim the Pakistani government may not misuse the nuclear weapons but the probability that terrorists may obtain it through dubious means cannot be ruled out.
In the past, Abdul Qader Khan, the mastermind of Pakistani nuclear bomb, secretly helped Iran, Libya and North Korea in their nuclear programme.
The US is worried because of increasing anti-American sentiments in Pakistan especially in the Pakistani Armed Forces. In the past there were several assaults on strategic establishments, including nuclear facilities. The US authorities are also not fully aware about the locations of all Pakistani nuclear establishments, hence protecting them is also quite difficult.
Pakistan claims that it is the only Muslim country which possesses nuclear warheads, therefore Jews, Western countries and India are involved in malicious propaganda that nuclear weapons are not safe in the country. Pakistan refused to accept Permissive Action Link (PAL) technology as Pakistani scientists apprehended that USA may put “dead switches” and Pakistan may not able to use these devices at the hour of need. However, Pakistan claims that it has developed PAL system indigenously and is using it in defending its nuclear warheads.
Pakistan has constituted a National Command Authority (NCA) which includes civil and military personnel and it will be responsible for safety and security of nuclear weapons. It also started a Personnel Reliability Programme (PRP) under which extremists/fundamentalists would not be employed in nuclear installations.
The US gave various equipment, including helicopters, night-vision devices and nuclear detection, apparatus to Pakistan to safeguard its nuclear installations, warheads and nuclear material. It is also reported in the media that US has trained a few commandos who would attack and seize the nuclear weapons from extremists if terrorists succeed in obtaining them.
Although Pakistan professes that it has an infallible security system and all the nuclear facilities, warheads and nuclear material are in safe hands, but facts contradict the claim. Fundamentalism is enhancing very rapidly in the country. Terrorists attacked military bases, including Minhas (Kamra) Air Force Base. Terrorists also attacked areas near Khushab and Gadwal nuclear plants.
Extremists also tried to kidnap officials working in nuclear facilities. The possibility, that terrorists could kidnap or allure some official working in the nuclear establishment and the rogue official supply nuclear material to terrorists, cannot be ruled out.
The Pakistani military, which controls nuclear facilities, has nurtured several terrorist groups. These terrorist outfits as well as several Pakistani military officers are so fanatical that they can go up to any extent to damage India, USA or Afghanistan. Terrorists, including Al Qaeda leaders, had showed interest in procuring Pakistani nuclear warheads.
The terrorists may have already penetrated nuclear installations or the Pakistani army, and once they need the nuclear material their planted stooges would smuggle it.
There are reports that Pakistan has abandoned the system of keeping nuclear warheads and launchers separately. Now short-range nuclear missiles are deployed near Indian borders where security measures are relaxed.
In the tactical deployment of nuclear warheads junior officers have the authority, which is also a very risky proposition. Pakistan has a history of military takeovers and turmoil and the chances that the terrorists capture some nuclear device in that chaos cannot be ruled out.
Pakistanis consider possession of nuclear warheads as a great honour and will not tolerate its dismantling, destruction or occupation by any external power. Pakistanis also consider nuclear weapons as a fool-proof defence against its foremost enemy India.
The danger of acquiring nuclear warheads by terrorists is real and its consequences would be appalling. Hence all the nuclear plants of Pakistan must come under jurisdiction of IAEA and Pakistan should sign NPT and CTBT immediately.
The international community is required to press Pakistan for signing the no-first-use agreement with India. China, US and other countries should chalk out a plan for the security of Pakistani nuclear weapons as well as for nuclear material. In the security system, the International community should also be involved. The postings in nuclear installations must be strictly checked and only Pakistani security officials should not be entrusted with this sensitive work. The international community should also chalk out an emergency plan that, in case terrorists are able to get hold of nuclear warheads, how they can be recaptured again before they are misused.
*Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based strategic analyst. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org