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Reacting to the reactors

The NSG must focus on the larger danger of Pakistan-China proliferation destabilising West Asia....

Written by K. Subrahmanyam |
June 23, 2010 10:26:46 pm

The real issue before the forthcoming NSG meeting is getting increasingly obfuscated. It is sought to be portrayed as China building two more reactors in Pakistan getting around the NSG guidelines,and Pakistan claiming a kind of parity with India’s exceptionalism,but this is a superficial view. If Pakistan gets two more power reactors under the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency,that alone should not worry India and the international community. The more reactors are built in Punjab,the more vulnerable Pakistan will become to retaliatory strikes to their threatened India-specific first strike. Progressively,this posture will lose credibility. India wants Pakistan,which is short on energy,to develop economically. Therefore,the additional Chinese reactors by themselves cannot be an issue.

The real issue is the following. According to US nuclear scientists Thomas Reed and Danny Stillman who wrote The Nuclear Express,Deng Xiaoping took a decision to proliferate to selected Marxist and Islamic countries in the early ‘80s including Pakistan,North Korea and Iran. Dr A.Q. Khan’s revelations have disclosed the entire saga of Chinese proliferation to Pakistan and the US looking away as a price for Islamabad’s support to the jihad against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. These disclosures stand vindicated as the Pakistani judiciary has exonerated Khan of all wrongdoing. It stands to reason that the Chinese proliferation to Pakistan and proliferation by both countries to Iran were deliberate state-led acts. All subsequent Pakistani proliferation attempts to Iran and Libya were state-sanctioned,and Khan was acting with full approval of successive governments and army chiefs in Pakistan. One of the mysteries about Khan not discussed in the Western media is his CIA link. Former Dutch Prime Minister Dr.Rudd Lubbers has revealed on more than one occasion,including at a conference in the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses,that the Dutch authorities that detained Khan twice in 1975 and 1986 had to set him free on CIA’s intervention.

Reed and Stillman maintain,after elaborate discussions with the Chinese nuclear establishment, that the 35th Chinese nuclear test at Lop Nor on May 26,1990 tested a Pakistani-assembled Chinese-designed fission weapon (Chicom-4,the design of which was recovered from the cargo destined to Libya on board the ship BBC China in October 2003,wrapped in the bag of Khan’s Islamabad dry-cleaner). It is a remarkable and under-analysed coincidence that Robert Gates,as the deputy national security advisor,led a team to Islamabad just a few days before the test. It is admitted that he discussed the nuclear issue with General Aslam Beg and President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. It is not known whether they discussed the impending Pakistani test in China.

The non-proliferation community welcomed China,with this ongoing proliferation record,as a nuclear weapon state into the non-proliferation Treaty(NPT) in 1992. Though it is argued by some Chinese academics that China’s proliferation took place before it joined the NPT,and that it abides by the treaty ever since,China was caught red-handed supplying crucial ring magnets to Pakistan in 1995. The US accepted the totally implausible story that the supply was without the knowledge of China’s central authorities. The NPT community and the NSG kept mum.

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China managed to insert a clause aimed at India into the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty draft,totally in violation of the Vienna Convention on Treaties,that the treaty would enter into force only when India which was totally opposed to the treaty,signed and ratified it. This was a challenge to India’s sovereignty. The NPT community went along with China,flouting international conventions.When China joined the NSG in 2004,it had indicated a commitment of only two power reactors to Pakistan. Now China claims an unnotified right of grandfathering two more reactors. Meanwhile the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has reported using the plutonium from the Khushab research reactors. Pakistan has already exceeded India’s nuclear arsenal and in coming years,is likely to exceed India’s arsenal manifold. Western analysts,who are not familiar with the strategy of credible minimum deterrent,talk of an impending arms race between Pakistan and India.The real issue they overlook is the Pakistani nuclear arsenal’s destabilising effect on West Asia and the strategic gain for China from that phenomenon.

On June 7 this year,The Washington Post disclosed that a former CIA officer who managed intelligence reports on Saudi Arabia has sent an uncleared manuscript to Congressional offices claiming that China supplied nuclear missiles to the kingdom early in the George W. Bush administration.” I believe the People’s Republic of China delivered a turnkey nuclear ballistic missile system to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia over the course of several years beginning no later than December 2003,” writes Jonathan Scherck in a self-published book,Patriot Lost. It may be recalled that in the 1980s,even as China was proliferating muclear weapons to Pakistan,they sold CSS-2 long range missiles to Saudi Arabia. Since Saudi Arabia was financing the Pakistani nuclear programme it was a logical inference that when Saudi missiles needed warheads they would come from Pakistan. By the same logic the additional plutonium warheads under production in Pakistan are likely to find their vectors in Chinese-supplied missiles in Saudi Arabia. Shia Iran finds itself confronted on two sides by Sunni nuclear-armed powers. Iran has an experience of weapons of mass destruction (chemical weapon) by its Sunni leadership (Saddam Hussein). They face millennium-old Sunni hostility,al-Qaeda and its associates patronised by the Pakistan army regularly target Shias even while praying in mosques. Western analysts are right to worry about an arms race in West Asia. But the origins lie not in Iranian proliferation,but in Chinese-Pakistani proliferation. Iran is only trying to protect itself. The arms race is already on.

The Chinese are believed to be providing Iran with missile technology. They have supplied Saudi Arabia missiles. They are now attempting to sustain Pakistan’s plutonium warhead production under the cover of supplying two more power reactors.What does China gain out of this? They get oil and oil exploration rights on a preferential basis from Iran which relies on China for lightening its sanctions burden and for missile technology. It gets oil from Saudi Arabia.for exchange of missiles. It will use Pakistan and the Pakistani army to make the US and NATO position in Af-Pak area unsustainable and to bring Afghanistan,with its $ 3 trillion of newly discovered mineral riches under its control. It may convert Gwadar into a homeport for its nuclear submarines in the Indian Ocean as suggested by some Pakistani naval officers. The core issue before the NSG is whether they will allow China to get away with it.

The writer is a senior defence analyst

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First published on: 23-06-2010 at 10:26:46 pm
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