A report by the US Congressional Research Service (CRS) released on 14 January 2016 claims that Pakistan is rapidly increasing its nuclear stockpile, with 110-130 nuclear weapons currently in its possession. The report claims that these weapons are meant to deter India from taking any military action against Pakistan. Indian experts, however, counter this claim by describing the report as “alarmist” and an attempt by the United States to scare India so that it does not indulge in any cross-border surgical strikes on militant camps inside Pakistan territory, after any terrorist attack by Pakistan based terror groups.
“It is quite clearly an alarmist report. The Americans are trying to scare India and stop us from retaliating in the event of a terrorist attack from Pakistan. The report has given a benchmark number of nukes in Pakistan’s possession, so that they can ascertain from our response to the report the number of tactical nuclear warheads that India possesses,” said an Indian policymaker, who has close ties to the nuclear establishment, on the condition of anonymity.
The report titled “Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons” claims that Pakistan has already surpassed India in terms of the number of nuclear weapons and has accelerated its nuclear weapons programme. The report cites Dr Samar Mubarakmand, a scientist closely involved with Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme, who said: “Pakistan has over 15 types of nuclear weapons, from large weapons that can be carried on fighter jets to small ones that can be loaded onto ballistic missiles and even smaller warheads for cruise missiles and tactical nuclear weapons.”
When asked about this, Jayadeva Ranade, former Additional Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat and strategic affairs expert, told this newspaper, “It is a scenario that the Americans paint. The argument of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal being larger than ours has been going on for a long time. If you look at our nuclear policy, it is very clear that we will not strike first. But in case Pakistan uses a nuclear weapon on us, regardless of the size and place, the retaliation will be overwhelming. That is our declared policy. I don’t think it really upsets the security balance between India and Pakistan. What it does do, however, is that with the increase in the nuclear arsenal, with the kinds of nuclear weapons that they are planning to use and develop, all they will do is dilute their own nuclear command and control systems and make it more vulnerable for a takeover either from within the army by terrorist elements or by terrorist elements from without.”
“Thanks to guys like A.Q. Khan, about whom whatever the Pakistani government might say, he was flying around in military aircraft... Look at the kinds of bedfellows they have—the Chinese, the North Koreans. At that time (early 2000s) they were peddling (nuclear knowhow) to Libya and Iraq. So their proliferation record is very poor as well. When you argue about the ‘Islamic Bomb’, see that Saudi Arabia has acquired ballistic missiles. And it’s the Chinese who have provided them with it. Pakistan is in a good position of marketing it to them. Also, the Islamist terrorists, who are active inside Pakistan, could well acquire control of these nuclear weapons. Especially, since their numbers are increasing within the Pakistani army. That is a more worrisome prospect. In case there is a nuclear attack, our policy is that the retaliation will be swift and immense. It will wipe Pakistan from the map,” he added.
The US report further stated: “Instability in Pakistan has called the extent and durability of reforms into question. Some observers fear radical takeover of the Pakistani government or diversion of material or technology by personnel within Pakistan’s nuclear complex. While the US and Pakistani officials continue to express confidence in controls over Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, continued instability in the country could impact these safeguards. Furthermore, continued Indian and Pakistani nuclear weapons development could jeopardize strategic stability between the two countries.”
Sources within the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), India’s primary foreign intelligence agency, say that Pakistan is producing large amounts of weapons-grade nuclear material and it plans to make at least 20 nuclear weapons per year.
“Pakistan has constructed four nuclear reactors to enrich plutonium. These reactors produce nearly 50 kg of weapons-grade plutonium each year that adds to its existing capability to produce highly-enriched weapons-grade uranium. If it uses the entire enriched material it produces from these facilities for nuclear weapons, we estimate that it could make 20 or more nuclear weapons a year. However, they don’t have low-yield tactical nuclear weapons that they can use on the battlefield,” a senior official in the R&AW, told The Sunday Guardian.
“They don’t have the delivery apparatus needed for tactical weapons. They have a small fleet of F-16 aircraft, but they don’t have the cruise missiles to weaponise them with nuclear weapons. They don’t have the technology to make state-of-the-art warhead delivery systems. In addition to this, Pakistan is not a stable country. Its army does not function in sync with the government. They have a rogue intelligence agency. Terrorists are increasing in number every day. It is only a matter of time that there is an internal upheaval. That is what we want to avoid. We need to keep our neighbours strong because if they implode, then it will be a situation worse than the Soviet split. Pakistan has placed nuclear weapons at strategic locations near India’s borders. If there is an attack, there is no reason why we should abstain from attacking. If the Americans are so afraid of Pakistan’s instability, why are they selling them weapons in the first place?” the RAW officer asked.
According to Major General Praveen Lohia (Retired) of the Indian Army, “This is a sham report. If the US is so concerned about instability, it should move a global nuclear disarmament mission. This report is only targeted at Indians. They want us to come out and reveal the size of our nuclear arsenal and the kinds of nuclear weapons we possess. They want to know the tactical strike capabilities that we have.”
“Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme is driven by its perception of threat from India. An American report, frankly, doesn’t make any difference on India-Pakistan relations. They have tried such scare tactics in the past as well. We know the consequences of a nuclear war very well. We do not need the Americans to tell us about our security concerns. We need to understand that the Americans are out there to make money. They manufacture unrest and then sell weapons to make money. Regardless of that, there is a threat, it has always been. And this government is on the right path to improve relations between the two countries,” Lohia added.
“We are expanding our military prowess as well; it’s necessary. Pakistan is like a matchbox waiting to catch fire. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are not a guarantee of its safety, as their army argues. That country is very volatile. In the scenario of an internal upheaval, God knows who will end up with these weapons and what they will do with them. In light of their proliferation record, their nuclear obsession is indeed a worrying trend for us,” he added.
Experts in the US, however, are taking the CRS report seriously. When asked, Gregory Koblant, associate professor at George Mason University and advisor to the Congressional Research Service, told The Sunday Guardian, “India’s military power is growing. It obviously has a much larger economy and as a result, is able to invest freely in modern defence technology. Islamabad is of the opinion that it requires more and more nuclear weapons in order to maintain deterrence with India.”
Pakistan’s nuclear safety record also goes against them as Toby Dalton, co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment, said: “There is no concrete information to suggest that there have been any safety incidents or unforeseen events at Pakistan’s nuclear facilities, their nuclear security record does not give much confidence. It is clearly not as clean as their authorities claim.”
In 2004, Dr A.Q. Khan, founder of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme, confessed that he had sold nuclear technology to North Korea and Iran. Khan was ousted from his position as head of Pakistan’s nuclear programme by Pakistan’s former President Pervez Musharraf in 2001. Khan spent five years under house arrest only to be released by a Pakistani court in Islamabad in 2009.
Amid this, Pakistanis claim that it is India’s “cold start” military doctrine that is pushing them into accelerating their nuclear weapons programme. Cold start involves limited war, with rapid thrusts carried out in a manner that the conflict does not escalate into a nuclear war. Raza Rumi, senior journalist and analyst from Pakistan, told this newspaper over telephone, “India’s cold start doctrine has triggered the accelerated production of nuclear weapons in Pakistan. However, it is also a fact that it was the Americans and the Chinese who handheld Pakistan into developing nuclear weapons, which has been conveniently forgotten by everyone. We have embarked upon a pointless and wasteful militarisation programme, which is bound to wreck our economy. The Americans are desperately trying to get their hands on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. We have a hostile Afghanistan government next door. Nuclear war is not something that we should look forward to.”
“A.Q. Khan was cleared of charges of divulging nuclear secrets and is still revered in his county as a hero. There is a misplaced notion that has been injected in the minds of the Pakistani people that the nuclear bomb is their saviour. They feel that the bomb will protect their sovereignty and save them from the ‘Indian threat’ and will help them emerge as a strong country in the region. Things will get really critical if terrorist elements that have infiltrated the army get their hands on these weapons. The Pakistani people need to have a larger understanding of the scheme of things. Pakistan is not stable. We know it. We don’t like to accept it. Moving forward with an uncontrolled nuclear programme, in a country which is pseudo-democratic, will be an unwise decision. Nuclear weapons will never be a deterrent to war. They are instruments of war and will always be,” Rumi added.