One of the most difficult topics in the field of nuclear diplomacy in South Asia is, surely, Pakistan’s nuclear programme and its objectives. Documentation is hard to come by, information is sparse and rumour rife. Dr. Sinha and Dr. Subramanian, both of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, have responded to the challenge ably. They describe Pakistan’s nuclear programme over a quarter century from 1954 to 1979, discuss its objectives, and proceed to analyse the switch-over from the route of reprocessing of spent fuel for recovering plutonium to that of uranium enrichment. They sum up by considering the implications of Pakistan’s programme for the region. Although General Zia-ul-Haq has continued the programme, contrary to Z.A. Bhutto’s accusation, it was Bhutto who, since his entry into the Cabinet of General Ayub Khan in 1958, ‘provided new content, direction and dimensions to the nuclear programme and policies of Pakistan.’ The opinion is fully supported by the facts the authors mention which provide a good idea of the inception and progress of the programme over the years.
‘Bhutto has claimed to have commissioned the famous American architect Edward Stone to build the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology (PINSTECH) at Nelore near Islamabad, and laid its foundation stone. Bhutto negotiated with the USA and the IAEA for the supply of enriched uranium and plutonium for use in a 5 MW nuclear research reactor to be installed with the assistance of IAEA at PINSTECH. Ultimately, this US-supplied “swimming pool” type research reactor was set up in PINSTECH in 1963 under IAEA safeguards … In October 1967 the first batch of radio-isotope was produced in PINSTECH.
‘Shortly after India had secured an atomic power reactor from Canada, in 1962, Bhutto, as Minister of Industries, Natural Resources and Atomic Energy, pressed the National Economic Council’s Executive Committee to accept the proposal to secure a nuclear power reactor from Canada. The PAEC started discussions with Canada in 1962. In 1964 the proposal was submitted and in 1965 the agreement was signed. Canada granted a soft loan of $ 23 million and a credit of another $ 24 million to cover the foreign exchange cost of the plant. Japan gave a credit of $ 3.6 million for the turbo-generator and its installation. A number of Pakistanis were fully trained in Canada and they returned to Pakistan in December 1968 to commission and start the Karachi Nuclear Power Project (KANUPP) with the help of Canadian staff. The KANUPP site is located at Paradise Point on the arid Arabian Sea coast, about 15 miles to the west of Karachi.’
There follows a good resume of the various arrangements and agreements which Pakistan made with other countries. In some places the authors rely on sources of doubtful authenticity. ‘According to an observer who specializes in writing on Pakistan, Pakistan entered into a secret pact with China during Bhutto’s visit to Peking in May 1976, which involved China in a deal to help Islamabad produce nuclear arms.’ In support of this assertion is cited a writer whose knowledge of such matters is none too impressive. When one turns to this writer’s work one finds a mere ipse discit of his.
After the break-up of Pakistan, a more aggressive recruiting programme was launched by Bhutto. While announcing the setting up of a pool of 100 scientists to encourage and attract scientific talent to remain in Pakistan, he expressed the hope that Pakistani scientists abroad would return to serve their country. ‘In March 1972, Munir Ahmed Khan was appointed Chairman of the PAEC for three years. At the time of his appointment, he was in charge of the Nuclear Power and Reactor Division of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, where he had been working as a nuclear-power specialist for over 13 years. Indigenous facilities to train scientists in the nuclear and allied fields were gradually expanded. In 1973, 40 nuclear technicians were under training at Nelore. The number was to rise to 60 in 1974 and still go on increasing to give an outturn of 100 per year. A large number of Pakistani scientists serving abroad were attracted back to their country and they,
along with locally trained technicians, did create a manpower base for Pakistan to launch a serious nuclear programme.’ The episode holds lessons for us.
It would appear that Bhutto pursued both routes—reprocessing of spent fuel to recover plutonium and uranium enrichment. As the authors sum up, the most important developments were the two steps taken under his stewardship efforts to acquire the technology and equipment to enrich uranium and the deal with France to purchase a reprocessing plant to recycle spent fuel by separating reusable uranium from fissionable plutonium. Not till the latter half of 1978 did the active pursuit of enrichment technology become known. By then the deal with France for the purchase of a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant had come to naught. The negotiations had begun in 1973 and ended in an agreement signed on March 16, 1976. But France, two years later, began to have second thoughts and urged Pakistan to agree to modifications which would permit supply of a ‘co-processing’ rather than a reprocessing plant but Pakistan refused. The absence of acrimony on its part suggests that despite the fact that France did not supply the plant itself, much benefit was conferred, all the same, because of the deal.
‘Strangely, the French company continued to help the Pakistanis build the reprocessing plant in spite of the French President’s declaration. In June 1979, however, the last of the French technician-advisers withdrew from the project, thereby effectively putting an end to French co-operation in the project. By that time “sensitive” equipment for the plant had not been delivered from France and only the huge concrete shell was near completion. Thus, Pakistan possessed the details of the plant but lacked the vital equipment.
‘However, the Pakistani President, while talking to Indian newsmen in Havana during the non-aligned summit in September 1979, stated that France had not abrogated the agreement on the supply of a nuclear reprocessing plant to Pakistan. Pakistan had already paid about 80 per cent of the total cost of the plant. The withdrawal of the last French technician from the plant site and Zia-ul-Haq’s above statement have made a mystery of the French-Pak deal. But it is no mystery that Pakistan has been going ahead with the setting up of a reprocessing plant.’
The authors have demonstrated that Pakistan’s nuclear programme has an unmistakable military objective. The pursuit of the uranium enrichment process at such expense proves that. In this regard there is little to choose between Bhutto’s ardour and General Zia’s zeal.
Perhaps the best parts of the book are the two chapters dealing with the two alternative technologies—reprocessing and enrichment. They are described lucidly enough for the layman to follow. ‘Any country contemplating a nuclear explosive or weapons programme necessarily must have accessibility to ‘weapons-grade material’. The question then arises as to what constitute weapons grade material. Only three elements, namely Uranium-235 (U-235), Plutonium239 (Pu-239) and Uranium-233 (U-233) can fit this category. Of these, only Uraniupl-235 occurs naturally, being present as one part in a hundred and forty 0/140), or 0.7 per cent of uranium ore, the rest being U-238 which is not ordinarily ‘fissionable’ or ‘capable’ of fragmenting a part with explosive power. To produce a nuclear explosive device, one needs at best 20 kg of at least 90 per cent ‘enriched’ uranium (that is, 90 parts per hundred) of U-235, or 5 kg of plutonium in a certain geometry known as a ‘critical’ assembly.’
Enrichment technology has remained confined to the US, the USSR, France, Britain and China. India’s nuclear explosion was based on plutonium. The nuclear-weapon states have followed the enrichment route. Pakistan has not abandoned the reprocessing route. Thomas Pickering, US Assistant Secretary of State for the Oceans and International Environment, in testimony before the Senate on May 2, 1979, revealed that Pakistan had in existence a plutonium plant and that its nature was more of a ‘hot cell’ pilot-scale laboratory.
The authors. however, point out the short-comings in Pakistan’s nuclear programme due largely to impatience and shortsightedness. ‘It appears in retrospect that, by not emulating India’s modus operandi, that is the setting up of a research reactor a la CIRUS, before the commercial power reactor, the PAEC scientists lost the capacity to attain indigenous expertise on the production and utilization of heavy water reactors. As a result, dependence on the Canadians for heavy water and essential components required by KANUPP became total. Even the decision to set up an indigenous fuel fabrication plant with the initial help of Canada and later of Belgium came after KANUPP became operational. This decision should have been made at a time when KANUPP itself was being contemplated. But in actual fact, the decision was only made in August 1975.’ It suffers, also, by reason of the lack of a heavy water plant in operation and of a fuel fabrication plant.
For all these shortcomings, Pakistan is all set on the road to nuclear capability. Its success will have an enormous impact on India’s programme and policies. The authors hold that ‘if Indian defence thinking does not contemplate the integration of nuclear weapons into its planning operations at any time, then at a foreign policy level perhaps the possibilities of the signature of a “no first use” pledge between the two adversaries or the codification of a “peaceful” intent may be considered as one of the options … In short, India must decide by the next decade what her role in South Asia must be, if nuclear weapons are to be accommodated.’
A.A.G. Noorani is a well-known columnist.