Nuclear Security Imperatives
By MIRZA ASLAM BEG, June 23, 2008
The story of Pakistan's Nuclear weapon programme is unique, as regards 'intent and the sacrifices' made to acquire the capability. In 1974 when India carried-out the first explosion, our Prime Minister Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, declared that Pakistan would acquire nuclear weapon capability, to maintain the balance of power in South Asia, no matter what price it had to pay. Thus Pakistan became the first country in the world to pronounce its 'intent' to acquire nuclear weapon technology overtly, though it could be possible only through great deal of covert activity. And the price Pakistan had to pay was very little, in terms of money, but very high in terms of personal sacrifices of our national leaders, who made it possible to achieve the objectives of the programme within a period of 22 years – 1975-1998.
There were mainly five persons, to whom our nuclear programme is indebted to – Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who gave the 'policy definition and set the goals'; General Ziaul Haq provided unflinching support to the programme from 1977 to 1988; Benazir Bhutto added 'logic and restraint'; Dr. A.Q. Khan, the work-horse, with his technological genius achieved break-through in a short period of ten years and Mian Nawaz Sharif added 'credibility and confirmation' to our nuclear weapon capability, by giving a befitting response to Indian atomic tests of 12 May 1998, carried out under the leadership of Dr. Samar Mubarakmand who conducted five tests on 28th May at Chaghi and the sixth on 30th May at Kharan. All the five personalities have paid a very high price for their contributions.
Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was eliminated through the judicial process; General Zia was assassinated through sabotage; Benazir Bhutto was assassinated through terror in cold-blood; Dr. A.Q. Khan was humiliated by the military government and confined to languish in a sub-jail, since 2004. Mr. Nawaz Sharif lost his government, suffered humiliation and eight years long exile. This is what makes Pakistan's Nuclear programme so unique and dear to the Pakistani nation.
The Story: In 1975, Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, formed the task force under Dr. A. Q. Khan, defined the goals to be achieved, gave him full autonomy and freedom, and directed him, "go and get it." Dr. A. Q. Khan could not get the technology, from those who possessed – Washington, Moscow, London, Paris or Beijing yet he got it from the American and European agents operating with the 'nuclear under-world', who had everything to offer, if one is prepared to pay the price. Thus Dr. Khan entered the nuclear underworld, made his contacts and did his shopping. He rubbed shoulders with others, shopping in this 'grand mall'. North Korea, Libya, Iran and others could also consult with each other, to find the lead to the best bargain. Thus they all remained under constant watch by the American watching eyes who recorded and photographed such contacts, and produced these as evidence against Dr. Khan in 2004. Our military leadership found him guilty and put him under 'protective custody' without a trial. Tomorrow, when Dr. Khan is free, he will tell the real story.
General Ziaul Haq supported the programme for ten long years, thus Pakistan was able to enrich weapon grade uranium, and through system engineering, was able to design and develop the complete technology of the atomic weapon, and "crossed the red-line" in 1986. As the programme expanded, Gen Zia, inducted Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) under the gifted scientist, Dr. Samar Mubarakmand, who took care of research and development of the weapon system. In 1986, the Vice-Chief of Army Staff, General K.M. Arif was also made a member of the Nuclear Command Authority (NCA).
In march 1987, I was appointed Vice-Chief of Army Staff and made privy to the nuclear programme. I visited the KRL laboratory and saw the atomic devices and thousands of centrifuge machines, spinning and enriching uranium. I also visited the computer laboratory, where device testings were carried-out. What I saw, was a marvel of scientific work. In 1987, Dr. A.Q Khan was also tasked to complete the weapon delivery system, using the F-16s and the mirages. Within six months, our scientists tested the system, which worked perfectly well. It was at this time that Mr. Richard Barlow, who was covertly monitoring our programme, reported to Washington that "Pakistan has crossed the red-line." Washington told him to 'shut-up'.
He was transferred and the President of United States continued to testify before the congress, for three successive years, 1987, 88 and 89, that Pakistan was several years behind in making weapon grade uranium and the atomic warhead, because, USA needed Pakistan's support in their war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. When the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, the Americans turned their back on Pakistan threatening to cut-off military and economic aid, which they did in 1990.
On 17th August 1988, General Zia, several senior army officers and the American Ambassador died in the C130 crash, near Bahawalpur and I happened to be the only surviving senior most general, as the natural heir to General Zia. On arrival at the General Headquarters, I called the naval and air chiefs, my legal and security advisors for discussion and we decided to hand-over power to the Chairman Senate. Thus, within three hours of General Zia's death, the Constitution was restored and the nation was relieved to hear the good news of elections in 90 days.
Elections were held as promised and Benazir Bhutto was elected as the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Within four months of her election as Prime Minister, she called a meeting of the Nuclear Command Authority in April 1989, co-chaired by the President Mr. Ghulam Ishaq Khan. It was in this meeting that the policy of Nuclear Restraint was adopted. The policy of Nuclear Restraint was single in conception and unique in the sense, that no other nuclear capable state, so far has adopted such a policy of nuclear sanity. The salient points of this policy were:
1. As the minimum credible deterrence, the 'correlation of one to seven' was considered sufficient to maintain the balance of terror against India who at that time possessed the capability of 60-70 atomic warheads. This command decision of such a strategic vision, continues to be followed, even now.
2. Enrichment of uranium was brought-down to 3% and below.
3. No hot-tests were to be carried-out to maintain the policy of ambiguity.
4. In case of real threat to our nuclear assets, the 'option of First Strike' was to be maintained.
5. The 'second strike' capability was to be developed, in case of pre-emption by India.
6. 'A force-in being concept' was to be followed, thus, not necessitating 'push-button readiness' of USA and Russia.
7. R&D was to continue for the refinement of the device and the delivery system.
In 1990, a very serious threat developed, as a result of Indo-US-Israel nexus, planning to destroy our nuclear assets. After confirmation from various sources, as the threat became very imminent, the Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto called an urgent meeting of the NCA. This meeting was co-chaired by the President, Ghulam Ishaq Khan and the Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. After long deliberations the following decisions were made:
» The foreign minister was sent to Delhi, to convey to the Indians that no matter, who attacked Pakistan's nuclear assets, Pakistan would retaliate massively against India.
» A squadron of F-16s armed with nuclear warheads was moved to Mauripur base to attack on orders, Indian nuclear facilities at Trombay, Trinchomaly and other places.
As the American satellite picked-up these activities, there was panic in Delhi and Washington. Mr. Robert Gates came rushing to Pakistan to pacify the Pakistani leadership. Mr. Ghulam Ishaq Khan forcefully conveyed the meaning of 'first strike option', and Pakistan's decision to use it against India, if the activity of the Indo-US-Israel nexus did not seize forthwith. And it did.
The 'deterrent response' worked till 1998, when India carried-out second series of explosions, to test Pakistan's policy of 'nuclear ambiguity'. The then Prime Minister Mr. Nawaz Sharif took time to respond. The tunnels under the Chaghi mountains and at Kharan were re-opened, and the infrastructure was revived, while the consultations continued. The Prime Minister, consulted his cabinet ministers and only few favoured atomic explosion. The foreign office also was not in favour, with the exception of a few like the then foreign secretary. Only the Chief of Air Staff supported the counter explosion, thus the burden of responsibility lay mainly on the shoulders of the Prime Minister, who did not hesitate to carry-out five different tests on 28 May at Chaghi, simultaneously and the sixth one at Kharan on 30th May, to prove that Pakistan's capability was superior to the one demonstrated by India. How our team of scientists conducted these tests using the tunnels closed-down some 15 years earlier, is a marvel of courage, conviction and devotion to the cause of the nation.
The counter explosion thus established the balance of nuclear power in South Asia, as desired by late Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The world at large accepted Pakistan as a 'nuclear capable state'. The Defence Minister of India acknowledged that "a perfect nuclear deterrence, exists between India and Pakistan," as the guarantee for peace. With mission accomplished, the policy of nuclear restraint continues to maintain perfect 'balance of terror' in South Asia. Thus, the story of Pakistan's nuclear programme ends here, and what we hear about it now is all hearsay. Yet, every story has a moral to tell, so has the story of our nuclear weapon programme – a feat of courage, commitment and dedication.
The Moral: Nuclear weapons are not a weapon of war. These are weapons of peace. These serve as great equalizer between two rivals. If only one possesses such capability, as in the region of Middle East and others do not, peace remains elusive. Nuclear capability also does not compensate for conventional military capability. Conventional war will occur despite nuclear deterrence, as was the case in 2002, when India massed its forces on our borders, threatening Pakistan of dire consequences, yet it dared not cross our borders, not because they were scared of our nuclear weapons, but because, they did not have had enough of 'combat infantry' to support land offensive. The bulk of their combat infantry was committed in Kashmir. Therefore, the notion of reducing our conventional military capability, because we have nuclear weapon, is a self defeating idea. Nuclear deterrence, also is the cheapest option. For example, in 1990, when Dr. A.Q.Khan presented the balance sheet of the expenses made on the programme since 1975 to 1990, the total expenses was less than US$ 300 million, which is less than the cost of one submarine we purchased from France, which can carry the nuclear warhead, and less than the cost of eight F-16s. We now have the missiles, which cover all territories of India, supported by an effective command and control system, to operationalize the capabilities into a meaningful deterrence, which is the ultimate purpose.
Nuclear deterrence means credibility of the weapon system, means of delivery, an effective command and control system, and the will to use this capability, when the threat to our nuclear assets become imminent, as in 1990. Nuclear weapons cannot redeem conventional military defeat, and yet if one prefers to use nuclear weapons under such extreme conditions, one would invite mutual destruction, whereas the conventional military defeat provides the opportunity to live another day, and rise again to avenge the defeat.
Nuclear weapons have been used only once in 1945 against Japan, because there was no fear of retaliation. If there was a possibility of only one nuclear bomb the Japanese could drop on United States territory, the Americans would never have attacked Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These two bombs killed over 350,000 human beings – almost the same number of innocent Germans who were killed at the same time, by the allied air force, at Dresden, where the refugees were swarming against the advancing Soviet armies towards Berlin. For three days the allied air force used all the deadly weapons in their arsenal, including the napalms, for the orgy of massacre. Was this act less criminal and less deadly than the weapon of mass destruction against Japan? In both cases, it was the criminality of mind which executed the indiscriminate orders to kill. In our neighbourhood, in Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, more than five million people (50,000,00) have been killed during the last 25 years, mainly due to foreign aggression. So, which is more deadly? The nuclear bombs, or foreign aggression caused by world leaders, having criminal disposition.
Having achieved the objectives of the Nuclear weapon programme in 1998, Pakistan is concentrating on nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, particularly for power generation. Since, Pakistan is gifted with large deposits of uranium – almost 20% of the world deposits, it is imperative that Pakistan undertakes setting-up of a number of nuclear power plants to off-set, energy shortfalls, as well as to reduce dependence on oil. Pakistan has always relied on its conventional forces for security and not the nukes, because the recent events have proved that the nukes could not prevent disintegration of the Soviet Union, nor these could save Israel from their shameful defeat at the hands of Hizbullah. The United States and the Europeans also could not escape defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan, at the hands of the rag-tag freedom fighters. The challenging strategy of the contemporary wars, therefore places greater reliance on 'men and missiles' and not the large armed forces equipped with high-tech weapons and equipment. The world has yet to learn this lesson of war, being fought by "Shadow Armies led by committed believers", who have defeated the mightiest of the mighty in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, proving the fact that 'men and missiles' are the main contributing factors of success in war and not the nukes.
The concept of nuclear strategy of "minimum credible deterrence" is contained in Pakistan's Policy of Nuclear Restraint, based on the minimum capability to be retained against the much larger capability of the adversary – India. It envisages a very reliable delivery system and the 'will to use it' under an 'extreme situation'. It is India specific. The 1990 threat to Pakistan's nuclear assets was such an extreme situation, which was warded off by demonstrating the capability to use the 'option of first strike.' The strategy conceptualizes a 'force-in-being capability criteria', and not a push-button-readiness posture, because it is not relevant to our environment.
Therefore what is "essentially and most urgently needed for a more sustainable and durable internal and external security and peace" in the region is, not to disturb the existing level of nuclear deterrence in South Asia, not to create the hoax of Pakistan's nuclear assets falling in the hands of extremists; and not to fool the Pakistani nation by saying that its "nuclear capability alone can ensure its physical survival." It is the people who are the guarantors of nation's survival, and not the weapons of high tech; nor the weapons of mass destruction.
The writer is Chairman FRIENDS. E-mail: email@example.com