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Short on Vision

An insider’s view on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme holds a warning

By Lt Gen. B.S. Nagal (retd)

Eating Grass Brigadier Feroz Hassan Khan’s book ‘Eating Grass: The Making of the Pakistani Bomb’ holds several important messages. The first is India’s lack of strategic vision that hobbled it from preventing Pakistan from making the nuclear bomb. It seems there was no understanding of the consequences of a nuclear weapons capability with Pakistan.

Second, India failed diplomatically to galvanise the world in preventing Pakistan from obtaining technology and equipment to produce nuclear weapons.

Third, Indian intelligence’s failure of Herculean proportions which did not provide the requisite inputs to the government or even leak it to countries which could have enforced non-proliferation. Such real time inputs could have changed the course of the sub-continental history.

Fourth, the delay in testing of the nuclear capability reflected poor strategic decision-making by India as it gave greater space to Pakistan and allowed the developed world to equate it with India on the nuclear weapons issue in 1998; despite the fact that India had tested the first device in 1974.

Fifth, a pre-emptive strike by India before Pakistan acquired nuclear weapons would have been more cost-effective in the long run than dealing with a nuclear Pakistan. This lack of foresight to take hard strategic decisions while dealing with long term problems has been India’s bane, probably due to fear of short term losses or hardships.

Sixth, the US turned a blind eye at critical junctures due to geopolitical compulsions. Seventh, the non-proliferation regime performed dismally. Eighth, China successfully marginalised India by keeping it mired in the sub-continent, even as it propped Pakistan as a nuclear counter-weight.

Ninth, China gained critical strategic new generation technologies from Pakistan in exchange of nuclear weapons technology and enriched uranium. China got access to western reactor technology from a Canadian reactor. By reverse engineering western weapons and equipment picked up by Pakistan in Afghanistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa region, China today has narrowed the gap with the US and Europe in military hardware.

Lastly, it clearly emerges from the book that Pakistan ran both plutonium and uranium programmes simultaneously. The sheer size and audacity of the four reactors at Khushab point towards a very large arsenal with a range of weapons to suit the planned triad. Though Pakistan does not have a SSBN, the sea leg appears to be copying the Israel model of fitting cruise missiles on conventional submarines. Pakistan is using the stability-instability paradox in the reverse to conduct the proxy war without India responding with conventional war, by linking conventional to nuclear.

The book justifies Pakistan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons purely on the perceived threat from India. Many events and issues are used to enlarge this threat beyond rational explanation. At many places, events are used to magnify the risk to Pakistan’s nuclear facilities including the possibility of joint offensive action by India and Israel, and the options with the US to strike, seize and eliminate its nuclear capability.

The author justifies Pakistan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, its policy of linking nuclear deterrence to conventional war, and development of weapon-cum-delivery systems to obtain a full range of nuclear weapons. The range of delivery systems developed through transfer of technology and reverse engineering today provide Pakistan the capability to strike the whole of India, a capability which is growing as Pakistan produces more weapons, a very ominous development for India. In the final chapter the author highlights the future technology roadmap where cruise missiles, battlefield nuclear weapons/ tactical nuclear weapons, sea-based deterrence and ballistic missile defence will change the strategic landscape, a warning to be heeded.

Post-1998, Pakistan went through crises and events (Kargil conflict, Operation Parakaram, 9/11 and Operation Enduring Freedom) that forced its leadership to fast-pace the command and control of the nuclear weapon system, development of fissile material, and enhance the security of its nuclear stockpile and institutions. The environment created by these geo-political events became the raison d’être for urgent maturing of the command and control system, creation of organisations (National Command Authority, Strategic Plans Division [SPD], Army Strategic Forces Command, Air Force Strategic Command and Naval Strategic Forces Command), procedures and processes to manage the nuclear arsenal.

The author discusses these issues to convey a message to the world that Pakistan has mastered these in a very short time, and the nuclear weapons are under absolute control of the security forces. Pakistan Army took full control of the nuclear weapons programme in 1993. Since then it has firmly remained under the control of the armed forces. The Musharraf era further strengthened the control with the raising of SPD and making it the secretariat of the Nuclear Command Authority.

The unravelling of the Dr A.Q. Khan proliferation network points to state acquiescence of nuclear weapons proliferation. Though an extreme view, it is quite likely that maybe Pakistan wanted nuclear non-proliferation to fail by facilitating other nations (Iran, Libya and North Korea) to acquire nuclear weapons, and leaving the world with fait accompli. Motives could vary, but it appears that the network succeeded due to the great latitude given to Dr A.Q. Khan in the initial years, to acquire technology at any cost and by any means. This did result in lack of control by the Pakistani state, greed and megalomania on the part of Dr A.Q. Khan; and financial and technology quid pro quo for the state.

The book touches upon the dilemma Pakistan faces of extremist organisations now challenging the state and the lurking fear of radical/ extremist organisations seizing power and control over the nuclear arsenal, but offers no policy solution. The consciousness of the possibility of an extremist takeover is a positive sign. The Pakistan Army has a major stake in its prevention if it does not want to see Pakistan doomed.

The book is an ‘insider’s’ (partial access) account of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons acquisition programme and policy issues, as well as the dilemma that the country faces as a nuclear state.

In the first half of the book, the author traces the route, steps and action taken by Pakistan to develop the technical base required to produce a nuclear bomb. These include: the setting up of the organisation and institutions to progress the system; the collection and piecing together of scientist and technical personnel; the establishment of the smuggling and deceit network to obtain dual use equipment/ fissile material producing machinery; the financial details to fund the programme; the violations of sanctions; use of the Cold War environment to obtain banned technologies; utilisation of geopolitical advantages to get aid and new technologies; the role of China and North Korea in the growth of the strategic programme of Pakistan; the internal bickering and competition between PAEC and KRL; the role of Dr A.Q. Khan in fruition of the uranium enrichment programme based on smuggled equipment from Europe and import of the Ghauri missile system with transfer of technology from North Korea; the import of uranium ore from Libya and Niger; the handing over of the nuclear weapons to the army in 1993; the development strategy and growth of the plutonium programme at Khushab; creation of the strategic forces command in the army and air force; the setting up of the CD directorate at army HQ; the subsequent creation of SPD to oversee the Nuclear weapons and missile programme, the reverse technology cooperation with China especially of the latest US weapons picked up from Afghanistan conflict; and the testing of nuclear weapons initially as cold tests and later hot tests on 28 and 30 May 1998.

The second half of the book examines the growth and maturing of Pakistan’s nuclear strategy/ doctrine learning curve, nuclear policy issues both internal as well as external, the dilemma of tactical nuclear weapons, Pakistan’s paranoia of India’s designs to destroy Pakistan, compulsions for staying the nuclear course and credible minimum deterrent. The fear of pre-emptive strikes by Israel, India or the US to destroy Pakistan’s nuclear programme are discussed repeatedly in the book.

The author claims that when Pakistan was created, the area which comprised West Pakistan had no technical institutions or scientific base. It even lacked trained personnel. The loss of East Pakistan in 1971 meant loss of all technical institutions and trained manpower, causing further reduction in capability. To overcome the initial shortage of technical manpower and obtain niche technologies Pakistan-trained scientists in Europe and other developed countries. Scientists of Pakistan origin settled in Europe were brought back to Pakistan, the most prominent being Dr A.Q Khan. The specific role that Mr Bhutto played in driving and supporting the nuclear weapons programme is dwelt upon at length, the financial support from Saudi Arabia and Libya was critical for the programme more so when Pakistan’s economy was weak.

General Zia-ul-Haq advanced the programme with focussed determination during his term. The US compulsion to defeat the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan provided Pakistan the opportunity to bypass non-proliferation sanctions and obtain military aid from the West and continue its smuggling conduit to get sensitive technologies from the West.

China provided Pakistan with three critical items to make it a nuclear state. One, enriched uranium; two, a bomb design in the early 1980s; and three, China also set up a turnkey project in Pakistan to produce ballistic missiles, giving it technology and capability which takes years for a developing country to master.

North Korea too provided Pakistan missiles and missile technology (transfer of technology of liquid fuel missiles), this as quid pro quo for enriched uranium technology and equipment to North Korea by Dr A.Q. Khan. President Ghulam Ishaq Khan is also praised for his contribution for the continuity of the programme and his backing of the programme during financial problems.

The author begins part III (the second half of the book) discussing the crisis that reinforced Pakistan’s belief in nuclear weapons. He states, “However, no other period of Pakistani history better reinforced the strategic belief that a nuclear weapon was the only salvation for the nation than the events of the 1980s and crises with India”. He goes on to recount such events as, Siachen, Operation Blue Star, Exercise Brass Tacks, Operations Falcon and Chequerboard, Kashmir and a third military crisis and their effect on Pakistan decision-making apparatus.

Non-proliferation regimes being pursued by developed nations and the UN have tried to convince Pakistan to sign the CTBT and FMCT, however Pakistan has cited India to not sign these treaties. It has even used the logic to shield itself from criticism by other nations.

The author left SPD in 2003. His writings post this period are based on ‘official briefings’ and as an outsider once he joined the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey. Pakistan’s ‘official briefings’ have restricted the author from an unbiased analysis of the threats, policies and programmes. It is evident in the lack of depth in the analysis of the policy issues and over concentration on Pakistan’s point of view. However, a discerning reader can make his own deductions and there are contrary views in writings of strategic experts. Overall an informative book for first time readers or those interested in factual details of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme.

Pakistan today has approximately 90-110 nuclear weapons, and could reach 150-200 warheads in a decade (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Pakistan’s nuclear forces, 2011). Though the book does not touch on the size of the arsenal, these figures read in conjunction with the policy being defended by the author are a cause of concern. With such an arsenal, extended deterrence and a nuclear umbrella to the Middle East may become a reality. The time has come for Israel and the US to evaluate long term options in case they wish to remain ahead in the decision loop and not react when things are too late. India being at the receiving end of Pakistan terrorism policy and its revisionist agenda is advised to formulate a well-thought out long term strategic policy.

Eating Grass: The Making of the Pakistani Bomb
By Brig. Feroz Hassan Khan
Cambridge University Press India Pvt Ltd.


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