PAKISTAN’S TRYST WITH NUCLEAR BOMB

  • By Abdul Majid Zargar

Since its birth  in 1947, Pakistan has always been fearful of its survival mainly because of threatening postures & unfriendly statements from Indian  leaders including Nehru & Patel. It has, therefore, aspired  since inception, to have a strong nuclear deterrent at its disposal  to neutralize , what it perceived the expansionist & hegemonistic intentions of its hostile neighbor.

With this fear looming large, Pakistan soon  joined US backed  military alliances like SEATO & CENTO, but  realized that America was not going to help it in developing a credible nuclear deterrent. It, therefore had to turn its eyes  somewhere else . The opportunity was provided by  Indo-China war of 1962 & Chinese test of its own Atom bomb in 1964. But there were contradictions at home. A strong anti-bomb lobby led by Finance Minster Mohammad Shoiab and a number of close economic advisors to Ayub Khan  were against developing relations with Beijing  fearing  injury to US-Pak relations.  But Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, as Foreign Minster, held the ground. His famous pronouncement in 1965 that ‘We will sleep hungry or eat grass but would make a bomb ‘ would finally become a guiding principle  for the Pakistani Nation. (China-Pakistan Axis by Andrew Small-p 31).

The years between 1965 & 1970 were not  significant in making much headway except that during this period Pakistan  further cemented  its relations with China. Its single act of  being the first Muslim Country to recognize the people’s republic of China in 1949 were yielding  it good dividends. In 1966 when Liu Shaoqi ,the Chinese PM arrived on a visit to Lahore , he was carried in the arms of cheering crowds Prompting the US Consul general to lament that ‘Pakistan is lost to US’ (Memories & reflections by Sultan Mohammad Khan-).  Side by side it also made untiring efforts to normalize  relations between its two estranged friends  China & USA culminating in that secret PIA flight of 1971 that brought Henry Kissinger to China while the world believed him to be recuperating   from a stomach ache at a Pakistani hill station. Pakistan played such a splendid mediatory  role   that China & America felt obliged  to her.

The defeat of 1971 compelled  Pakistan to fast-track its nuclear programme. It was further propelled by India’s first nuclear explosion at Pokhran in 1974.Bhuttoo secured much needed finance for his nuclear programme from a few oil –rich Arab States including Libya under Colonel Muammer Gaaddafi, coining the catchy term ‘Islamic atom bomb’. He would often plead that Since Christain, Jewish & Hindu Countries already possessed a bomb, it was time for a Muslim nation to have one.

In  Sept. 1976, A.Q Khan, the Indian born nuclear scientist of Pakistan joined the Pakistani Delegation at Mao’s funeral where he & his  colleagues met three leading Chinese nuclear officials-Li Jue, Li Wei & Jiang  Shangjie. Jiang was the nuclear fuel bureau chief and one of Chinese top nuclear scientists. Li Wei was incharge of development of nuclear plants & Li Jue incharge of Research & development of nuclear weapons. He had also run the Chinese ninth Bureau –the most secret organization in the entire Chinese  nuclear programme (Washington post -13 Nov. 2009 & Lewis & Litai-China builds the bomb-p.54).In the ensuing meeting,  Khan discussed the designs for centrifuges he had obtained, clandestinely though, from Netherlands.                                       

The years 1982- 1984 were the pivotal ones for Pakistani nuclear programme. During this period, China Supplied it with  complete design of a 25 kiloton nuclear bomb and sufficient weapons grade Uranium for two bombs. After assembling an atom bomb at Kahuta, The Chinese detonated it successfully  on  their behalf    at their own  test site at Lop Nor in Xinjiang province in utmost secrecy  in March 1984. The  parity with India was thus achieved  in that year only.

By 1980, India had become reasonably sure of Pakistan being on the threshold of making a bomb.  A confirmation had  come from Bhaba Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Tromby  of the  presence of Uranium traces on the discarded hair of  Kahuta laboratory staff, collected by RAW agents from nearby barber shops which indicated uranium enriching activity going on in the laboratory. (Dilip Hiro-The Longest August) Naturally Indira Gandhi fretted about Zia’s  drive to build an atom bomb by using weapons grade uranium and she considered ways of terminating his scheme. She knew that Israeli Warplanes had destroyed the French equipped ‘Osirak nuclear reactor’  under construction in Baghdad on 7th June 1981. The daring & surprising raid by Israel inspired her to initiate a similar project in the autumn code-named ‘Osirak contingency’ under Air Marshall Dilbagh Singh, then Chief of Air staff.

The IAF’s planes practiced low level flying runs with two thousand pound bombs. But neutralizing the strong air defenses of the Kahuta facility, including surface to air missiles proved too great a challenge for Indian military. To overcome the difficulty,  Israel  offered  its expertise in jamming advanced communications systems at Kahuta. Its offer was in line with its policy of blocking any Muslim nation from possessing nuclear weapons. In tune with its policy, Indian military officers traveled to Tel-Aviv clandestinely in Feberuary 1983 to purchase electronic equipment  to Jam Kahuta’s Air defences prior to launching an attack. The  plan ,however   didn’t remain secret for long from the prying eyes of ISI. In the Autumn of 1983, its chief Lt. General, Rahman Khan sent a message to his counterpart in RAW, N.F.Suntook. Rehman warned  that  if India alone or with the support of Israel attacked Kahuta, Pakistan would hit India’s nuclear facility in Tromby, on the outskirts of Mumbai with horrific consequences for millions of residents of that city.  (Levy & scott-Deception  P105-106).Indira Gandhi had to abandon the plan in view of the threat. A meeting also took place between Munir Ahmad Khan , head of Pakistan Atomic energy commission  & his counter part Raja Ramana in Vienna to cool the rising tempers.

In the meanwhile the links between RAW & MOSSAD had grown to such an extent that MOSSAD equipped RAW’s two Boeing 707’s belonging to its Research Aviation centre with specialist equipment to gather signal intelligence. To outwit Zia, Indira Gandhi engaged him in peace talks resulting in an agreement on normalizing relations by setting up the Joint indo- Pakistan commission to look into various issues  between the two countries on the sidelines of the Seventh summit of Nonaligned nations held in Delhi in March 1983 .  In late 1983, Aerial Sharon offered to carry out the raid from Jamnagar in Gujrat by entering Pakistan beneath the radar and following the mountains in Kashmir to reach Kahuta. The plan was picked up by CIA station chief in Islamabad who informed white House. Zia ul Haq was tipped off by USA to avoid a dangerous tit-for- tat situation  between India & Pakistan. (Levy & scott-supra).

Zia-ul-Haq acted swiftly. At his behest, Qadeer Khan gave interviews to local newspapers in Jan. & Feb 1984. His core message was that Pakistan could build the bomb if it needed to and if Kahuta is destroyed, more than one such plant can be rebuilt. Simultaneously Pakistan’s ambassador in New Delhi  told India’s External affairs Minstry that his country would rain fire in retaliation for an attack on Kahuta.The message forced Indira Gandhi  to revoke her earlier permission to Sharon to attack Kahuta. (Levy & scott-supra).

That is how Pakistan’s nuclear apparatus survived various Indo-Israel conspiracies till 1998 when it tested a bomb on its own soil & attained total parity with India. It is widely believed today that Pakistan has more nuclear bombs than India. It has also developed portable  bombs,  known as tactical bombs, which  can be handled &  used with much ease.

(The author is a practicing chartered Accountant. E mail: abdulmajidzargar@gmail.com)

 

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