The News Islamabad (The News)
Saturday, May 30, 1998 ISLAMABAD: Prominent nuclear scientist Dr A Q Khan said Friday that Pakistan's nuclear explosions have created a deterrence in South Asia. In an exclusive interview to 'The News', Dr Khan said India tried to call Pakistan's bluff by exploding its devices but "we have given them an appropriate response." He said Pakistan had tested fission devices but could also explode a thermonuclear device if the government decided to do so. Q: What did Pakistan achieve from these tests? A: This has been a successful nuclear explosion by all definitions. It was exactly as we had planned and the results were as good as we were hoping. Q: Was it a fission or fusion device? A: They were all boosted fission devices using uranium 235. We have been manufacturing this at Kahuta for almost 18-19 years. The first enrichment was done on April 4, 1978. The plant was made operational in 1979 and by 1981 we were producing substantial quantities of uranium. Q: What is the difference between a plutonium and an uranium based explosion? A: Both are fission materials but the technologies are different. Plutonium needs a more arduous and hazardous procedure. It is a cumbersome and expensive process. Uranium is more difficult but safe. Very few countries have this technology. Q: How does our nuclear programme compare with India's? A: I would say that they have used the old technology of plutonium from spent fuel, whereas we have used enriched uranium which is much more sophisticated and a safer process. Devices made from plutonium have a worse fallout but the process is much safer. Q: What was the total yield of our tests? A: As the Prime Minister said, one was a big bomb which had a yield of about 30-35 kilotonne, which was twice as big as the one dropped on Hiroshima. The other four were small tactical weapons of low yield. Tipped on small missiles, they can be used in the battlefield against concentration of troops. None of these explosions were thermonuclear. We are doing research and can do a fusion blast, if asked. But it depends on the circumstances, political situation and the decision of the government. Q: How long can that take? A: Much quicker than one expects. When the Indians tried to call our bluff, we proved otherwise. When the Indian Prime Minister gave a go-ahead, their scientists took more than a month. Our scientists took 15-16 days. Q: Has the target been achieved? A: Research development is a continuous process. There is always a new target. You can reduce the size of the weapon, increase its yield and the storage life. We can make them more effective. Q: How long is the storage life? A: Enriched uranium's decay is almost negligible. It has unlimited life. Explosives used in them last for 10 years but are conventional and can be replaced. Q: How many bombs does India have? A: The numbers are less important than their effectiveness and sophistication. If there is a war, you need only a few. Deterrence is the main advantage. Now they know we also have nuclear weapons, they will think ten times before invading us. Q: Who supervised the team that exploded the devices? A: The team is very good and very competent. They are highly educated and courageous people. My presence was not necessary. Q: Can our programme continue despite sanctions? A: Yes, we can. Sanctions do not affect our programme. We are totally independent, self-reliant and make everything here. Q: Have changes of government ever affected your programme? A: It is a national project and no government ever caused any obstacle. Former president Ghulam Ishaq Khan was associated with it since Z A Bhutto's days. General Zia ul Haq also retained Ghulam Ishaq Khan. He later formed a board which included Agha Shahi, AGN Kazi, Sahebzada Yaqub and Gen K M Arif. Ghulam Ishaq Khan took a very keen interest. He visited Kahuta every month and would see progress. Since General Zia's period was the longest, we made greater progress during his government. We achieved our goals. Prime Minister Junejo also extended full support and allowed Ghulam Ishaq Khan to continue. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also supported the programme fully. So did Benazir Bhutto when she was the prime minister. Each government considered it a national priority. Q: When did we achieve the capability to explode a nuclear device? A: We attained this capability at the end of 1984. Pakistan never wanted to make nuclear weapons. It was forced to do so. In 1971 when East Pakistan was separated, it weakened Pakistan. The Indian nuclear explosion in 1974 brought a qualitative change. We kept quiet because there was no provocation. General Zia could and some people asked him to do so but he said no. He said there is an undeclared moratorium. Why should we do it. But when the BJP assumed power, Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee said India is a weapon state which created a big question of security for Pakistan. So we had no other option. It was not a difficult job for us. We have done more difficult things before. We had always told our prime minister and the people that whenever we are asked, we can deliver. Q: Our country's detractors says that Pakistan had already exploded a device in China, did you? A: No country allows another country to explode a weapon. The only such agreement is between the United States and UK. Since "cold tests" give a fairly good assessment, we did not need to test a device in China. We had done cold tests in 1983 and in 1984 we told Gen Zia that whenever you order, it will not take more than a week or two to do it.