The ever-present mot in the rumormongers’ eye, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program has made it to the headlines again. This time the country is allegedly at the brink of proliferating nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia. This particular sensational story was broken by the Sunday Times, and quoted, very handily, unnamed Saudi officials – unsurprisingly such unnamed sources and officials are always readily available when it is Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program in the line of fire. This is nothing but old wine in new bottles. The story has been regurgitated in local and international media quite frequently, despite no actual evidence. In attempting to write on the issue one wonders twice whether it even demands the serious attention or time required for the dismissal such superfluous alarms.
Although concerns about possible nuclear dominos falling in Middle East have some veracity, the scenario isn’t new. The current fears in this regard have conflagrated in the wake of the success of P-5+1 and Iran’s negotiated framework agreement over a possible deal, curtailing Iran’s capability for building a bomb while retaining, at the same time, the capability for peaceful uses of nuclear energy. In this regard, Saudi Arabia seriously doubts the veracity of US claims that an agreement could effectively halt Iranian ambitions for building a bomb. These fears and doubts have translated into serious, proactive thought for exploring a nuclear option that entails the enrichment and reprocessing technologies in the Kingdom itself. These fears have also led the KSA to decline participation in the Camp David Summit convened by the US, alongside its Gulf States partners, all of whom have spurned US assurances for an enhanced cooperation.
The myth that Pakistan is the most likely supplier for such Saudi ambition to acquire a bomb is only predictable. The recent story in Sunday Times even goes so far as to quote yet more anonymous officials – this time from the US – claiming that KSA would get a nuclear bomb “off the shelf”. However, is there any physical evidence to substantiate this allegation? Of course not!
Let us then humor the dubious claim, and re-examine the assertion from a logical perspective. Pakistan, as a nuclear weapon state outside the NPT, has had a hard time in establishing its non-proliferation credentials after the infamous AQ Khan Proliferation episode. An explicit Command and Control Structure headed by the National Command Authority was also specifically instituted to oversee the nuclear program and ensure there was no space for another such episode. To date, no other nuclear weapons state has made such a transparent arrangement. In order to rule out inadvertent nuclear use or transfer of sensitive knowledge or technology, the 10-member politico-military body of NCA makes collective decision making related to the strategic issues.
As a responsible nuclear weapons state, Pakistan has contributed significantly to international efforts to control the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. At the national level, it has instituted a strong export control regime and developed a Strategic Export Control Division under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which acts as a licensing authority and is responsible for regulating exports of dual use or sensitive technologies. Furthermore, the country reports submitted by Pakistan in compliance with the UNSCR 1540 are greatly commended for their correctness and completeness. Although a non-member of the export control regimes such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Wassenaar Arrangement (WA), and Australian Group (AG), it abides by their guidelines on a voluntary basis. Furthermore, Pakistan has also expressed its desire to obtain membership of these voluntary arrangements.
As per policy prescription, Pakistan has always promoted nuclear nonproliferation norms, with the recent Iranian nuclear crisis being a relevant example. Pakistan maintained that Iran should comply with its nonproliferation obligations in the NPT; Saudi Arabia’s case would be no different.
In signing the Indo-US deal, the US rewarded India for its so-called “good non-proliferation credentials” subjectively, thereby legitimizing its strategic programme outside safeguards. Pakistan has been advocating a legitimate case for access to nuclear technology for civilian use, particularly given its ever-increasing energy requirement-production gap. In such a scenario, it is difficult to fathom what benefits could be accrued by proliferating weapons, when it would seriously undermine Pakistan’s strategic, economic and political interests.
To evade doubts of insiders proliferating nuclear knowledge for lucrative purposes, various strong mechanisms were put in place. Let us be very clear that the Personnel Reliability Program (PRP) and Human Reliability Program (HRP) are robust mechanisms that ensure periodic screening and monitoring of all personnel, during inductions as well as in active service. The programmes include intrusive systems of reporting, approvals and constant monitoring of all movements of key personnel in possession of sensitive knowledge.
Pakistan has nothing to gain from proliferation to Saudi Arabia or any other country for that matter; such a move would only bring a lot of international censure and result in alienation. Moreover, Pakistan has been advocating its case as an energy-deficient country, for access to nuclear technology for peaceful uses through the NSG, which is faced with several roadblocks as is. Pakistan’s reputation as a responsible nuclear weapons state would be seriously damaged, and chances of progress on this front would become jeopardized. It will also have to face serious sanctions in addition to international isolationism, which will seriously undermine its national counter-terrorism campaigns as well as multiply political and socio-economic difficulties.
The truth of the matter is that such articles appear to be part of the campaign against Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, churned out time and again by a malicious propaganda machine at maligning the country’s reputation as a responsible nuclear weapon state. Pakistan, as a nuclear weapons state, has oft suffered the brunt of sins that at times were not even committed by it. Despite the ‘original sin’ of proliferation (the 1974 nuclear test) having been committed by India, the brunt was borne by Pakistan in shape of the French and Canadians withdrawing their cooperation in 1970s from the plutonium reprocessing plant as well as from the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP) respectively.
Finally, Pakistan tested nuclear weapons at a time when the world was bent on denying their necessity and Pakistan’s legitimate security needs; they were positively dismayed to learn Pakistan would retain this capability for its self-defence. Just like the first American nuclear test, Trinity, is not generally associated with a ‘Christian’ Bomb, and India’s Smiling Buddha Test is not a ‘Vegetarian Bomb’, the ‘Pakistani’ bomb is by no means an ‘Islamic’ one.
The writer is the President of Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies (CPGS) and Member Senate Standing Committees on Defence.