In his briefing to the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ambassador Richard Olson, who was his country’s chief envoy to Pakistan until last month and is regarded here as a friend, profusely praised Pakistan’s contributions to regional stability, particularly the country’s counter-terrorism co-operation with the United States.
He declared Pakistan a ‘key to facilitating peace process with Taliban’, expressing hope Pakistan will follow through on its stated commitment to Afghan-owned, Afghan-led reconciliation. Ambassador Olson was also quite confident about Pak-US relationship. He stated: ‘We plan to continue working with Pakistan to foster economic growth, particularly by strengthening private sector ties’. But where he departed from this optimistic scenario was Pakistan’s nuclear program, as he perceptibly viewed it through the Indian prism.
Ambassador Olson told the Congress committee that the United States has held “candid discussions” on Pakistan’s tactical N-weapons and the Obama administration was “not negotiating a one-two-three agreement (the one US signed with India) – a civil nuclear co-operation agreement with Pakistan”.
He also conceded that Pakistan is “prepared to engage with us in those discussions”. And why not, as Pakistan expects of Washington to act in an absolutely non-discriminatory manner insofar as its policy to help other countries’ civil nuclear programs is concerned.
As a senior diplomat, Ambassador Olson was expected to appreciate the fact that but for Islamabad’s unveiled threat of using tactical N-weapons to counter ‘Cold Start’ or a ‘Limited War’ by India, the Modi government would not have moved out of a lingering hostile mode and offer to resume peace parleys.
In nuclear parlance it is called ‘deterrence’, which has worked. If the US government discussed the importance of avoiding “increased risk to nuclear safety, security, or strategic stability” with its Pakistani counterpart, we do not know. But we do know that there are serious problems with safety and security of India’s nuclear facilities. According to a report of ‘Nuclear Threat Initiative’, a non-governmental organization, quoted in the recent issue of prestigious Foreign Policy journal, ‘among 25 nuclear states India stands at 23rd, only above Iran and North Korea’. The report also calls safety and security of storage, transportation and, protection of India’s nuclear weapons and fissile material ‘rudimentary’.
That how little does the outside world, including the United States, know (or pretends ignorance), about the scope and range of India’s nuclear programme, is a fact that has found its best expression in an exhaustive report in the latest edition of Foreign Policy.
India is building a top-secret nuclear facility in southern Karnataka that experts says would be the subcontinent’s largest military-managed complex of nuclear centrifuges, atomic-research laboratories, and weapons, aircraft testing facilities. And another facility for production of supply fuel located in Mysore – for the country’s fleet of submarines.
Quoting experts based in London and Washington, the report says that this under-construction project is aimed at giving India ‘an extra stockpile of enriched uranium, if India decides, to be used in hydrogen bombs’, also known as thermonuclear weapons. Since it is not a declared facility it would not be open to international inspections. It did test a thermonuclear weapon in 1998, but it “fizzled out”.
As for its normal N-weapon program, it diverts enriched fissile material from the exiting stockpile – India doesn’t report what it does with its indigenous uranium especially if it is not in the civilian domain. It uses the imported enriched uranium in the declared reactors, and the imported quantity, some 4,914 tons, is more than needed, therefore likely to be diverted to weapon-producing facilities.
In terms of N-weaponry assets, Pakistan is keeping pace with India, given the increasing conventional asymmetry. But it was never in a nuclear race with India; its entire nuclear program commences after 1974, when India exploded an atomic device at Pokhran under the rubric ‘Smiling Buddha’ and grew as a response to India’s action. Rightly then, the Foreign Policy report predicts India’s secret project as provocation to China and Pakistan, and they ‘might respond by ratcheting up their own nuclear firepower’.
One wonders if members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), who are already supplying material and technology or those who intend to do so, are aware of this secret project in Karnataka. If all of it as reported by the journal is not a step back from the much-professed commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) then what it is?