Home search HEW Archive Pakistan Previous Next Disclaimer

Pakistan's Nuclear Weapons Program

Development

Last changed 2 January 2002



By Carey Sublette

The Eighties: Developing Capabilities

In March 1979 US intelligence announced that the Kahuta uranium enrichment plant in Pakistan had been commissioned. On 4 April the hard-line nature of Zia ul-Haq's regime was emphasized when former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged. Finally on 25 December the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, ensuring that despite its nuclear weapons program Pakistan would be the beneficiary of a massive infusion of US weaponry, as well as US economic and diplomatic support. The possibility that the US would impose meaningful sanctions of any kind on Pakistan due its nuclear program became slim, then nil when the aggressively anti-Soviet Reagan administration came to power a year or so later.

The importance of the twin developments of the Soviet intervention, and Ronald Reagan's election, to supporting ul-Haq's rule, and furthering Pakistani nuclear ambitions can hardly be exaggerated. It converted Pakistan into an inestimable strategic asset, nullified the prospect of any sort of pressure on Pakistan to restrain its weapons program, and opened floodgates of military and other aid from the US. At the same time Pakistan was an essential ally for China, who was just as concerned by the Afghanistan invasion (with which China shares a border) as the U.S., and in addition wanted a counterweight to India on China's southern border (and with which China had fought a war only 17 years before).

During the late 70s and early 80s, a number of Pakistani agents were arrested trying to violate export control laws in the west. In November 1980 Albert Goldberg was arrested at a US airport while attempting to ship two tons of zirconium (useful for reactor construction) to Pakistan. A.Q. Khan attempted to order 6000 maraging steel rotor tubes in 1983. In 1984 three Pakistani nationals (including one Nazir Vaid) were indicted in the US for attempting to smuggle out 50 krytrons (high speed switches suitable for implosion detonation systems), and in 1987 the purchase of US maraging steel was attempted. Large quantities of materials were successfully purchased without being detected, including a German uranium hexafluoride manufacturing plant.

China became involved with supporting Pakistan's program at an early stage. Pakistan's location is of extreme strategic value to China bordering as it does Afghanistan, Russia, India, and China itself. Pakistan had begun cultivating a relationship with China to counterbalance India in 1962, when China and India were at war and the US was offering measured support to India. In February 1963 Foreign Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had signed treaty with China formally demarcating their border. Chinese technicians and scientists were present at Kahuta in the early 80s, a relationship that no doubt provided direct benefits to both nuclear programs. Pakistan received many benefits from Chinese technical resources, and China obtained details of the URENCO centrifuge technology.

By 1980 a number of centrifuges were reported to be operating in Pakistan. In the late 1980s Pakistan began publishing technical articles about centrifuge design, flaunting their capability and placing design details, previously secret, in the public domain. Among these was an 1987 article co-authored by A. Q. Khan on balancing sophisticated ultracentrifuge rotors.

The test shafts were completed in 1980 [Azam 2000], and in April 1981 US Senator Alan Cranston revealed Pakistan's test site construction activity in Baluchistan [Perkovich 1999; p. 228-229]. According to a statement made before the Kargil Committee, the Indian military agency RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) had assessed that by 1981-82, Pakistan had enough weapons grade enriched uranium to make one or two uranium weapon cores [Kargil 2000]. This assessment seems much too early in the view of other observers, and the assessment may be connected with intelligence about the shaft construction.

The Wah Group had a weapon design - an implosion system using the powerful but sensitive HMX as the principal explosive - ready for testing in 1983. The first "cold test" of a weapon (i.e. a test of the implosion using inert natural uranium instead of highly enriched uranium) took place on 11 March 1983 under the leadership of Dr. Ishfaq Ahmed of the PAEC. This test was conducted in tunnels bored in the Kirana Hills near Sargodha, home of the Pakistan Air Force’s main air base and the Central Ammunition Depot (CAD).

The Kirana Hills test tunnels were reportedly bored by the SDW after the Chagai nuclear test sites, i.e. sometime between 1979 and 1983. As in Chagai, the tunnels had been sealed after construction to await tests. As Prior to the cold tests, an advance team opened and cleaned the tunnels. As [Azam 2000] relates:

After clearing the tunnels, a PAEC diagnostic team headed by Dr. Mubarakmand arrived on the scene with trailers fitted with computers and diagnostic equipment. This was followed by the arrival of the Wah Group with the nuclear device, in sub-assembly form. This was assembled and then placed inside the tunnel. A monitoring system was set up with around 20 cables linking various parts of the device with oscillators in diagnostic vans parked near the Kirana Hills.

One of the principal objectives of the test was to determine whether the neutron initiator (probably a polonium beryllium design similar to those used in the first US, USSR, UK, and Indian bombs) to reliably start a fission chain reaction in the real bomb. However, when the button was pushed, most of the wires connecting the device to the oscilloscopes were severed due to errors committed in the preparation of the cables. At first, it was thought that the device had malfunctioned but closer scrutiny of two of the oscilloscopes confirmed that the neutrons had indeed been produced. A second cold test was undertaken soon afterwards which was witnessed by Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Lt. Gen. K.M. Arif and Munir Ahmed Khan.

By March 1984, Kahuta Research Laboratories (KRL) had independently carried out its own cold tests of its own nuclear device design near Kahuta. This seems to have been at best a secondary weapon design program, not a co-equal relationship like has long existed between Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore. Azam relates that by 1998, KRL had conducted many fewer weapon cold tests than the PAEC, and when it came time to put the test operation into practice it was the PAEC that controlled the operation, and it was PAEC devices that were tested. The KRL program may have been either a backup effort or even a rogue or vanity program on the behalf of A.Q. Khan.

The mid-eighties saw indications of the growing nuclear capability of Pakistan pile up. In 1984 Pakistan announced that it now had the capability of producing low enriched uranium [Albright 1997; p. 273]. At this time approximately 1,000 centrifuges were operating at the facility, and this apparently marked Kahuta's move to full operational status. But Kahuta is reported to have had serious start-up problems though which delayed the achievement of full production.

Periodic revelations confirming the successful advance of the Pakistani program were turning up with some regularity. Drawn to the limelight, the leader of Pakistan's uranium enrichment program Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan held periodic interviews boasting about Pakistan's nuclear prowess. It was in such an interview in February 1984 that he first made the claim that Pakistan had achieved nuclear weapons capability. In July 1984 the New York Times reported that US intelligence had learned that the previous year that China had supplied Pakistan with the design of an actual tested nuclear device - the design of China's fourth nuclear weapon tested in 1966 with a yield of 25 kt. This is said to be a low weight (200 kg class) solid-core bomb design. Reports have also surfaced that China also provided sufficient HEU to construct one or two weapons in 1983. In 1998 A. Q. Khan stated that Pakistan had acquired the capability to explode a nuclear device at the end of 1984.

In March 1985 a West German court convicted a German businessman of smuggling a complete uranium hexafluoride manufacturing plant to Pakistan. Also in March the US concluded that Pakistan had made such progress in uranium enrichment capability that the Reagan administration sought an assurance from President Zia that Pakistan would refrain from enriching uranium above the level of 5%. In July 1985 it was reported by ABC that Pakistan had successfully conducted a "cold" implosion test - firing a complete krytron-triggered implosion system with an inert natural uranium core (Khan late reported that cold tests had been conducted in 1983 and 1984). Taken together these indicators pointed to Pakistan acquiring the ability of conducting a nuclear test if it chose to do so within the next year. By mid-1986 US intelligence had concluded that Pakistan had produced weapon grade uranium [Albright 1997; p. 273]. Cold implosion shots were conducted in the Chagai Hills area of Baluchistan in September 1986. In 1987 Pakistan acquired a tritium purification and production facility from West Germany, as well as 0.8 grams of pure tritium gas illegally (the German parties who were convicted of illegally exporting tritium in 1990).

Between 1983 and 1990, the Wah Group developed an air deliverable bomb and conducted more than 24 cold tests of nuclear devices with the help of mobile diagnostic equipment. These tests were carried out in 24 tunnels measuring 100-150 feet (30-50 m) in length which were bored inside the Kirana Hills. Later due to excessive US intelligence and satellite attention on the Kirana Hills site, it was abandoned and the cold test facility was shifted to the Kala-Chitta Range. The bomb was small enough to be carried under the wing of a fighter/bomber such as the F-16 which Pakistan had obtained from the US. The Wah Group worked alongside the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) to evolve and perfect delivery techniques of the nuclear bomb using combat aircraft including "conventional freefall", "loft bombing", "toss bombing" and "low-level laydown" attack techniques, the latter requiring a sophisticated high speed parachute system. Today, the PAF has perfected all four techniques of nuclear weapons delivery using F-16, Mirage-V and A-5 combat aircraft [Azam 2000].

The KRL initiated development efforts on liquid fueled missiles during the early-mid 80s (the Hatf-1 and Hatf-2 programs) but despite considerable assistance from the China made little progress initially.

Pakistan's missile developments got another major boost during the mid-80s with the resumption of cooperation between North Korea and Pakistan, which has lapsed temporarily after Zia's rise to power. Both countries were active in supporting Iran during the Iran-Iraq War, a relationship through which Pakistan learned of the DPRK's growing missile capabilities. North Korea had provided Iran with 160 Scud-Bs, known as Hwasong-5s in North Korea, and was assisting with the development of 500 km and 1300 km range systems. The exchange with the DPRK was extended to include nuclear technology as well, with Pakistan advising North Korea on its own nuclear developments [Bermudez 1998b].

There some significant ups and downs in the Indo-Pakistani relationship from late 1985 through early 1987. The rapidly developing Pakistani nuclear capability provided motivation to establish a modus vivendi between the two nations. In December 1985 Zia and Gandhi met in New Delhi and agreed to a pact not to engage in attacks on each others nuclear facilities (a situation that would left India rather the worse off due to the proximity of its production reactors to urbanized areas). It would not be signed until 31 December 1988, or fully implemented (through an exchange of data about their facilities) until 1993. In the year following this promising development, an ambitious but poorly managed military exercise by India lead to an unexpected crisis.

This crisis was precipitated by Exercise Brasstacks, the largest military exercise in Indian history conducted to test and demonstrate India's ability to deal with a major war with Pakistan. This exercise was planned by Gen. K. Sundarji, now Army Chief of Staff and began in July 1986. It reached its crisis stage in December when India had a total of nine divisions deployed in Rajasthan adjacent to the Pakistani province of Sindh. India had not undertaken any measures to alleviate Pakistan's concerns about having such a massive armed force so close to its border, such as inviting observers, or sending advance notice of maneuvers. Pakistan accordingly mobilized its own forces - sending Army Reserve North and Army Reserve South to locations close to India's border where they could strike at Punjab or Kashmir. Pakistan's concern was not unwarranted, military maneuvers have been used to mask planned attacks before - notably Operation Badr, the stunningly successful Egyptian and Syrian surprise attack that opened the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Poor intelligence and communications, and a disengaged and volatile Rajiv Gandhi made a bad situation worse in January, leading to an atmosphere of real crisis on 18 January 1987. Gandhi's decision to begin airlifting troops to Punjab on 20 January threatened to escalate the crisis out of control.

The Kargil Committee heard testimony that at about this point Pakistan conveyed a nuclear threat to India. This was officially communicated by Pakistan's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Zain Noorani to the Indian Ambassador in Islamabad, SK Singh, something not known publicly until 2000. It was also communicated by A.Q. Khan to Indian journalist Kuldip Nayar on 28 January, near the height of the crisis. Nayar however shopped the story around for a few weeks, and it was not published until 1 March, after the matter had been resolved. Nonetheless it left a lingering sense of nuclear threat associated with the Brasstacks affair. The potential for even non-hostile actions to create dangerous situations has unfortunately not been a lesson well learned, judging from further crises that have followed in 1990, 1998 and 1999.

Pakistan's slow progress in manufacturing ballistic missiles led, following India's February 1988 test of its Prithvi ballistic missile, to China increasing its assistance. In particular China agreed to provide complete missile systems - both the 600 km M-9 (CSS-6/DF-15) and 280 km M-11 (CSS-7/DF-11) missiles. The first of these systems began arriving during late 1988 [Bermudez 1998b].

The New York Times Magazine reported in March 1988 that US officials had by then concluded that Pakistan had enough weapon-grade uranium for 4 to 6 nuclear weapons. Pakistan had begun construction of a second enrichment facility at Golra, 10 km west of Islamabad [Albright 1997; p. 273].

Two dramatic changes altered the strategic environment for Southwest Asia in 1988. The first was the Soviet decision in February 1988 to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, a move that removed the geopolitical rationale for the US support for the Pakistani military regime, and the reluctance to pressure Pakistan on account of its nuclear weapons program. The second change was on 17 August 1988, when President Zia ul-Haq, the architect of the militarization of the nuclear program, was killed along with thirty other people, when the aircraft in which he was travelling crashed in what is suspected to be an assassination.

In the aftermath of Zia's death, the military stepped aside and permitted the return of Pakistan to democracy three months later. In November 1988 Benazir Bhutto, the daughter of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who had been overthrown and executed by Zia, became Prime Minister herself. The nuclear weapons complex remained in the hands of the military, who formed an independent center of power not under the control of the civilian government. PM Bhutto was in fact unaware of the status of the nuclear program, and when Pakistan passed the milestone of manufacturing fissile cores for weapons she first learned of it from the US Ambassador to Pakistan.

1989 marked a turning point in the strategic situation in South Asia because it was in this year that Pakistan, and in response India, began creating real nuclear arsenals by stockpiling complete, ready-to-assemble weapons.

Throughout the 80s, due to its strategic importance the US had been loathe to pressure Pakistan on its nuclear weapons program. To avoid invoking sanctions against Pakistan the Republicans in Congress had passed the Pressler Amendment which stated that as long as the administration could certify that Pakistan had not acquired nuclear weapons no sanctions would be invoked. To avoid triggering the Pressler amendment a series of "red lines" had been drawn for various milestones, such as producing weapon grade uranium, converting it to metal, and fabricating a core. But as Pakistan passed them one by one the Pressler Amendment, passed to avoid sanctions, became an inevitable trigger for them instead. The last certification was made in 1989, with great difficulty. Bhutto thus faced having to deal with the imposition of sanctions for a program she had done nothing to advance and did not control. Bhutto's knowledge of the Pakistani program was in fact wholly dependent on briefings given her by US officials in February and June 1989 [Burrows and Windrem 1994; pp. 79-81]. Benazir Bhutto did succeed in halting production of highly enriched uranium in June 1989 prior to a trip the US. Production was resumed in early 1990 (coinciding with the Kashmiri crisis, see below) and continued until sometime in 1991.

During early 1989 Pakistan announced that it had tested two 500 kg payload missiles, the Hatf-1 with a range of 80 km and the Hatf-2 with a range of 300 km. This significantly increased tensions with the US and led to a distinct chilling of PRC-US relations since Chinese assistance had led to the development of these systems [Bermudez 1998b].

The Nineties: Assembling Weapons

In 1990 a second nuclear crisis developed in which Pakistan attempted to pressure India with its presumed nuclear arsenal. This new crisis arose early in 1990 over Muslim-majority Kashmir. The seeds of this crisis had been sown in April 1987 when Rajiv Gandhi's Congress (I) Party had contrived with the aid of the local Kashmir National Conference to steal the state election. Intimidation, harassment, and ballot tampering were widespread (and widely reported) but the Congress-National Conference Alliance emerged with slightly less than 50% of the vote, yet obtained 80% of the seats. Widespread protest followed over the next few years, much of it violent, which was met with harsh repression. An armed insurgency developed, and after Gandhi's defeat in November 1989 it escalated further.

In January 1990 the new Indian government sent 150,000 troops to restore order and established military rule. At this even the government's Kashmiri allies defected to the opposition. Pakistan had established training bases for Kashmiri insurgents months before, but now the Pakistani support for the insurrection went into high gear, and Pakistan's government began high profile protests of the situation. The Kargil Commission Report states that "In January 1990, Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Sahibzada Yakub Khan, visited Delhi and spoke to the Indian Foreign Minister, I.K. Gujral and the Prime Minister V.P. Singh in terms which they regarded as verging on an ultimatum." The report then adds that the Pakistan Air Force was then placed on alert, and the Indian Air Force followed suit. The rhetoric on both sides escalate rapidly during March and April. On 13 March PM Bhutto traveled to Pakistani controlled Kashmir and promised a "thousand year war"; Indian PM Singh responded on 10 April calling on India to be "psychologically prepared for war with Pakistan".

Both civilian governments appeared to be too weak to be able to back out of the confrontation, and on the Pakistani side events were actually being controlled by the military. The Kashmiri training camps were run by the Pakistani secret intelligence organization, the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate), and General Aslam Beg and his close ally Pres. Ghulam Ishaq Khan gave Bhutto little room to maneuver.

In the midst of the crisis the Pakistani military apparently decided to activate their nuclear capability. It is believed that weapon grade uranium production was resumed in May, and - more troubling - that 125 kg of highly enriched uranium hexafluoride that had been stored in casks until then was converted into metal form, and fashioned into 7 bomb cores [Burrows and Windrem 1994; pp. 60-61].

Then in late spring US intelligence intercepted messages indicating that the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), the developer and custodian of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, had assembled at least one nuclear weapon [Perkovich 1999, p. 308]. There was additional evidence of suspicious activity detected, indicating a possible nuclear alert, such as convoys traveling from nuclear storage sites, and F-16 aircraft on runway alert suggesting they were already armed [Burrows and Windrem 1994; pp. 83-85]. This prompted the George Bush administration to send a high-level team, headed by Deputy National Security Adviser Robert Gates, to meet with leaders of both governments. In Pakistan the team met with Gen. Beg and President Ghulam Ishaq Khan on 20 May (PM Bhutto was out of the country at the time); and with PM Singh, Foreign Minister Gujral, and Principal Secretary Deshmukh in India on 21 May. The American team found the two sides concerned about the prospects of war breaking out, but neither seemed much concerned about the prospects of a nuclear war. The American team revealed to the Pakistanis that they were aware of Pakistan's nuclear preparations, preparations that apparently came as a surprise to Pres. Khan, and was the subject of sharp exchanges. The Indians on the other hand knew nothing of Pakistan's preparations, and were not told about it by the Americans. The KRC Report's [Kargil 2000] version of this is as follows:

"American accounts describe Robert Gates' visit to Islamabad in May 1990, and his warning to President Khan and General Aslam Beg against any rash action against India. The Pakistanis describe this as one more instance when their nuclear deterrent prevented Indian aggression. During this crisis, the Kahuta establishment was evacuated, a fact that the Indian mission in Islamabad communicated to Delhi."

In the end a list of confidence building measures proposed by the Americans served as the basis for a negotiated withdrawal from the crisis over the next six weeks. The KRC Report concludes "On the 1990 events referred to above, there are varying perceptions among Indian officials. The majority view is that there was an implied threat." [Kargil 2000]

As the crisis was winding down in June, Peter Galbraith, South Asia specialist for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, met with Benazir Bhutto to brief her about her own nation's nuclear activities during the crisis. She was completely surprised by the revelations. The US had by this time discovered the manufacture of the weapon cores [Burrows and Windrem 1994; pp. 60-61]. In a follow-up meeting In July US Ambassador Robert Oakley informed her that the US was not going to be able to certify Pakistan again under the Pressler Amendment. This prompted Bhutto to try and obtain a briefing on the program from her own government. Three times over the next month she contacted Pres. Khan and requested that he convene the committee that ran the nuclear weapons program, but each time he demurred. Then on 6 August 1990, Pres. Ghulam Ishaq Khan announced Benazir Bhutto had been removed from office, a move Bhutto later described as a "nuclear coup" or "judicial coup" triggered by her efforts to obtain nuclear accountability.

According to the KRC Report in August 1990, information was received from a sensitive intelligence source that in any future confrontation, Pakistan might use nuclear weapons as a first resort. V.P. Singh and I.K. Gujral have a vivid recollection of this report [Kargil 2000].

Although much has been made of the 1990 crisis as the first example of nuclear deterrence in South Asian affairs, Perkovich argues persuasively that nuclear weapons played little or no role in the decisions made by the leadership of the two nations in generating, then resolving the crisis. The only real influence Pakistan's nuclear preparations had was to prompt the US to get involved as mediator, a role that proved to be quite valuable in defusing the situation. The incident serves to underscore the independence that Pakistan's military exercised in controlling the nations nuclear capabilities, even in a period of supposed democratic rule. In October 1990, Pres. Bush informed Congress that he could no longer certify that Pakistan did not have the bomb, thereby triggering the Pressler Amendment. The decertification of Pakistan as a non-possessor of nuclear weapons was scarcely a revelation to India, indeed many there felt that it was long overdue. Nonetheless the formal change in US position created new leverage for supporters of an openly nuclear armed India.

As a result of US pressure, in 1991 Pakistan again allegedly stopped enriching uranium to weapon grade levels. SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) estimated that at that time Pakistan had acquired 120-220 kg of highly enriched uranium (8-15 weapons worth). Pakistan did not stop or even slow its uranium enrichment program though, it merely began stockpiling uranium hexafluoride enriched to no more than the 20% level. This level of enrichment represents the bulk of the "separative work" required to enrich natural uranium to weapon grade levels. By running low to moderately enriched uranium through an appropriately configured centrifuge cascade it can be quickly enriched to weapon grade levels, and in the end Pakistan would have lost none of its weapon-grade uranium production. This appears to be exactly what happened after the May 1998 Indian/Pakistani test series, catching up to its full HEU production potential before the end of 1999. A.Q. Khan claimed after the test that Pakistan had never stopped making bomb-grade HEU during the 1980s and 1990s."

On 7 February 1992 Pakistani Foreign Minister Shahryar Khan stated in an interview with the Washington Post that Pakistan had the components to assemble one or more nuclear weapons. This went farther than statements from any other "non-weapon state" at the time in admitting to the existence of a nuclear arsenal [Albright and Hibbs 1992]. In July 1993 General (retired) Mirza Aslam Beg, now former army chief of staff, claimed that Pakistan had tested a nuclear device. Since no information about an actual nuclear explosion by that time has come to light, and Pakistan's own comments after its 1998 test series confirm that those test were its first, Beg's comments presumably refer to the hydronuclear (zero-yield) test of a weapon design which had been reported several years earlier.

The Chasma nuclear power plant project, initiated and then canceled by France in the 70s, was resumed in the early 1990s, this time under IAEA safeguards, and with the China Nuclear Energy Industry Corporation (CNEIC) as the foreign supplier. The reactor was redesigned and its capacity expanded to 300 MW(e). The reactor is based on China’s first indigenous reactor, Qinshan-1. The first concrete was poured on 1 August 1993, and primary construction of CHASNUPP was completed in late 1995. CHASNUPP began operations in November 1999 and was connected to the power grid (run by the Karachi Electric Supply Company) on 14 June 2000.

Relations with South Asia during the first two years of the Clinton administration (1993-1994) were marked by an effort to overcome the impasse that existed between India and Pakistan, and achieve some sort of agreement to restrain the nuclear competition between the two states. Efforts at avoiding nuclear weapon deployment had clearly failed, so the emphasis shifted to arms limitation in some form such as a cutoff in fissile material production, and a commitment to forgo nuclear tests. The re-election of Benazir Bhutto as Prime Minister of Pakistan in October seemingly provided a boost to this effort by restoring democratic government. Unfortunately the relations between India and Pakistan proved to be a zero-sum game -- a gain for one nation was perceived as a loss by the other, and what each nation desired to gain proved to be greater than what the others were prepared, or were politically able, to offer. In particular the more favorable position taken by the US toward Pakistan after Bhutto's election was unacceptable to India and caused the Indians to dig in their heels; and Bhutto was too weak domestically to commit to the types of restrictions and inspections that were necessary in light of Pakistan's sense of inferiority with India. So in the end nothing came of considerable diplomatic effort.

Benazir Bhutto, although out of the loop on Pakistan's nuclear programs, had strongly supported the missile programs, and Pakistan's collaboration with China and North Korea on missile and nuclear issues, from the time of her first election as Prime Minister. In 1992 a Pakistani delegation visited the 125 Factory in Pyongyang (and possibly the Sanum-dong military research-and-development facility) to examine the No-dong. DPRK Deputy Premier-Foreign Minister Kim Yong-nam traveled to Pakistan on 4-7 August 1992 to discuss a number of issues, including missile cooperation and North Korean sales of Hwasong-6 and possibly No-dong missiles. Pakistani experts are believed to have been present for the DPRK’s 29-30 May 1993 tests of the No-dong at the Musudan-ri Launch Facility [Bermudez 1998a].

1993 saw the establishment of the National Development Complex (NDC) built by the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission's (PAEC) under the direction of Dr. Samar Mubarakmand. The NDC was set up as a center for solid fuel missile development using Chinese technology. The Shaheen ballistic missile program was initiated in 1995 and assigned to the NDC. This program was intended to develop missiles with ranges in the MRBM class. The 750 km range Shaheen-I began development at the beginning of 1996, and the prototype was ready for test flight two years and three months later, but was not test fired in 1999 [PTI 2000].

In December 1993, two months after her re-election Benazir Bhutto, traveled to China and North Korea. Although she publicly denied it, subsequent events indicate that she was seeking, among other items, increased cooperation in ballistic missile development and, in particular, a system capable of striking strategic Indian targets. Shortly afterwards, Pakistan established a ballistic missile program at the Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) at Kahuta with similar objectives that competed with the NDC Shaheen project. This program was based on North Korean liquid fuel missile technology and amounted to a Pakistani effort to manufacture the No-dong missile under the name Ghauri (Hatf-5) [Bermudez 1998a].

Official contacts and technical cooperation between Pakistan and North Korea increased after the establishment of the Ghauri project. DPRK Foreign Ministry and State Commission of Science and Technology delegations visited in 1994, then in late November 1995, a DPRK military delegation led by Marshal Choe Kwang (vice-chairman of the National Defense Commission and minister of the People’s Armed Forces) traveled to Pakistan. This visit was of special importance since Choe is believed to have finalized an agreement to provide Pakistan with key components from either the No-dong or Taep’o-dong programs, about 12 to 25 No-dong missiles, and at least one transporter-erector-launcher (TEL). Choe met with Pakistani President Sardar Leghari, Defense Minister Aftab Shaban Mirani, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Chief of Naval Operations, Commander of the Air Force, and various other military officials. Choe is also believed to have visited the missile-related production facilities in the Faisalabad Lahore area and possibly even Jhelum (the area from which Ghauri was subsequently launched).

Most of the missiles and supporting equipment were delivered to KRL in the spring of 1996 by the Changgwang Sinyong Corporation (a.k.a., North Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation/Bureau) which had earlier supplied missiles and components to Iran during the mid-1990s. On 24 April 1998 the US State Department imposed sanctions against both the Khan Research Laboratories and Changgwang Sinyong Corporation (the second time for both) [Bermudez 1998a].

The years 1995-1996 proved to be watershed in the history of South Asia, and in nuclear proliferation efforts world-wide. The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) came up for review and extension in 1995. Since its original drafting in 1968 the NPT had steadily gained adherents until by the mid-90s the vast majority of states in the world had signed it (by 2000 only 4 states out of 191 had not signed it - with India and Pakistan being half of the four). Pakistan indicated that it was willing to sign - if India did. India had endorsed the NPT in principle, but had refrained from signing because it objected to the establishment of "legitimate" nuclear weapon states limited to the 5 nuclear armed nations then in existence. The NPT committed these nuclear states to good faith efforts at eliminating their arsenals but in the nearly 30 years since no effort in that direction could be discerned. India insisted that the nuclear states commit themselves to a specific timetable to accomplish the disarmament which they themselves had agreed to undertake when joining the NPT. The nuclear weapon states unanimously refused to consider this approach.

When the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was introduced directly into the UN General Assembly on 9 September 1996, it was adopted by a vote of 158 to 3, only India, Bhutan and Libya voted against it. Pakistan, which had said that it would sign the CTBT only if India did, abstained from voting. As one of the 44 nations possessing nuclear reactors, the CTBT cannot go into effect without India's and Pakistan's signatures however.

In March 1996 the New York Times reported that KRL had received 5000 high-strength rare earth ring magnets, which can be used as magnetic bearings in gas centrifuges, from the state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation. The US intelligence community believed the magnets were intended for the suspension bearings found at the top of enrichment centrifuge rotors and violated Chinese commitments to restricting sales of "dual use" materials. The shipment was made between late 1994 and mid-1995 and was reportedly worth US$70,000. The ring magnets would allow Pakistan to double the number of installed centrifuges and thus double its total enrichment capacity.

Since the 1980s Pakistan had been working on a heavy water "research" reactor at Khushab. This reactor is alleged to be "indigenous", but was developed with technical assistance from China which also supplied the heavy water. The Khushab reactor is not subject to IAEA inspections. Khushab has a capacity variously reported at between 40 MWT to 50 MWT (but as high as 70 MWT). It was "commissioned" in March 1996, but began operating only in April 1998 [Albright 1998b].

During 1996 and 1997 Pakistan's ties to India improved under the civilian rule of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Partly this was due to the natural moderating effect of pluralistic civilian government, but partly it was due to Pakistan's both relative and absolute decline. Since the end of the Cold War, and the Afghanistan War, Pakistan had lost its strategic importance to both the US and China and with it some or all of their financial and technical support. While India's economy had been growing robustly since 1992 and had a positive trade balance, Pakistan's economy had deteriorated seriously and was running massive deficits both in trade and in government spending. Pakistan had also failed to establish a stable social order - the military existed outside of civilian control (when civilian control even existed), the bulk of the Pakistani economy was under the control of a small number of wealthy families that exercised near feudal control over large areas of Pakistan, and radical Islamic fundamentalist organizations formed yet another independent state-within-the-state. This last independent power arose as a result of the Afghanistan War, when the increasing Islamisized Pakistani military granted considerable autonomy and funding to Mujaheedin training camps in Pakistan. After the end of the war, these Islamic factions turned their attention to radicalizing Muslim ethnic groups inside China, quickly alienating Pakistan's erst-while patrons. China's disenchantment with Pakistan accordingly raised its interest in a rapprochement with India, further undercutting Pakistan's position.


Home search HEW Archive Pakistan Previous Next