Pakistan’s first nuclear weapon detonation took place in May 1998, just a few weeks after neighboring country India’s first nuclear tests. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are seen as some of the world’s most insecure, due to the instability in the region, the threat of terrorism, and the history of clandestine nuclear networks. For years, top Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan ran an illicit nuclear trading network and there are indications that he was selling sensitive materials to countries such as Libya, Iran, and North Korea. BASIC monitors the nuclear activities of the Pakistan in our Getting to Zero updates. Read the summaries below in reverse chronological order.
- August 2012
- June 2012
- November 2011
- July 2011
- May 2011
- March 2011
- November 2010
- October 2010
- July 2010
India continued a series of nuclear-capable missile tests, including the land-based Agni 1 with a range of 700km/435 miles and the K-15, India’s firstsubmarine-fired high-altitude missile with a range of 750km/466 miles. India also announced plans to work with Russia to test experimentalhypersonic cruise missiles within five years. India’s first nuclear-powered submarine, the INS Arihant, eventually to be armed with nuclear weapons, was set for its first sea trials. However, completion of the vesselis reportedly months behind schedule.
According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ most recent assessment on India’s nuclear arsenal, released in July, India has enough weapons-grade plutonium for about 100-130 nuclear warheads. However, available information pertinent to nuclear-capable delivery vehicles leads to a lower estimate of about 80-100 nuclear warheads in India’s arsenal.
A Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report from the end of June indicates that Pakistan is elevating its nuclear posture, in particular by continuing with the production of plutonium for atomic warheads as well as increasing the deployment of delivery vehicles.
Pakistan successfully tested its Hatf-VII nuclear-capable cruise missilewith a range of about 435 miles/700 km. The test-fire is seen as part of Pakistan’s efforts to bolster its nuclear deterrent against India. The firing is the country’s fifth nuclear-capable missile test since late April.
Pakistan and India renewed their bilateral agreements on Reducing the Risk from Accidents Relating to Nuclear Weapons and also on Pre-Notification of Flight Testing of Ballistic Missiles, for five more years, starting this past February.
Pakistani officials were reeling from a report in the December edition of The Atlantic (“The Ally from Hell”) which cites unnamed U.S. and Pakistani officials acknowledging that nuclear weapons are transported around the country in relatively unsecure vehicles, among other highly critical claims. The article, authored by Jeffrey Goldberg and Marc Ambinder, also includes U.S. intelligence and military officials saying that U.S. forces train for scenarios in which they would seize Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal during a crisis. Pakistani officials have continued to deny that the country’s nuclear weapons are vulnerable to terrorist acquisition, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the report “pure fiction”, but has since announced that the country would task an additional 8,000 personnel with maintaining security around the arsenal.
The Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers met in Delhi July 26-27 to discuss cross-Kashmir and nuclear confidence-building measures (CBMs). Peace talks have essentially been stalled since the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which some said were indirectly linked to Pakistan’s military intelligence service, the ISI.
Pakistan’s National Command Authority (NCA) met on July 14 to review global and regional security developments and their implications for Pakistani foreign policy. The NCA expressed Pakistan’s commitment to meeting non-proliferation goals and its desire to join four multilateral nuclear export control regimes, but only “on the basis of equality and partnership with the international community.” Pakistan refuses to sign up to the NPT and the CTBT, which it views as discriminatory as long as the United States and India are not full members. At the meeting it was also decided that Pakistan will continue to pursue its policy of “credible minimum deterrence”.
A recent publication in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists estimates Pakistan currently has 90-110 nuclear warheads and possesses the world’s fastest growing nuclear stockpile. Four new delivery systems and two plutonium production reactors currently under development may compound this growth, meaning Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal could grow to 150–200 warheads in a decade.
Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said he is confident about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Hecommended the country’s steps in recent years to improve security, which include strengthened export control laws, improved personnel security, and international nuclear security cooperation programs. He added, however, that there is a limit to U.S. knowledge about the arsenal.
The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) analyzed a satellite photo obtained by Newsweek and concluded that Pakistan was completing construction of a fourth plutonium nuclear reactor, which could enable Pakistan to double the rate at which it can make nuclear weapons.
Scrutiny of Pakistan’s government and nuclear arsenal rose again after it was revealed that before he was killed by U.S. forces, Osama bin Laden had been hiding in the city of Abbottabad, Pakistan, for five years – either with the ignorance or acquiescence of the Pakistani military. Militants raided a naval base in Karachi on May 22. Pakistani forces retook the base after 17 hours of fighting, but the attack added to the anxiety over the security of Pakistani military locations.
Writing in an article which also appeared in Newsweek, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, A.Q. Khan, defended the program and argued that nuclear deterrence has protected Pakistan from a fate similar to Iraq or Libya’s: “Don’t overlook the fact that no nuclear-capable country has been subjected to aggression or occupied, or had its borders redrawn.”
Pakistan is believed to possess well over 100 nuclear warheads (an increase of 40% in two years), and is expected to soon possess the fifth largest nuclear arsenal, overtaking Britain. Most are miniaturized and can be mounted on its ballistic missiles, with a range of 1,245 miles, placing most Indian cities at risk.
In Senate hearings on March 16, U.S. Gen. David Petraeus emphasized that although Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are safe and secure, terrorist groups still hope to obtain them. There are concerns over extremists in India as well. The Minister of State for Home Affairs asserted to the Lok Sabha (lower house of the parliament) that India’s nuclear power plants remain at risk from terrorist attack, and the security challenges will only increase as India builds new nuclear power plants.
A U.S. Federal jury indicted Maryland resident and Pakistani national, Nadeem Akhtar, for allegedly exporting to blacklisted Pakistani organizations materials that could have nuclear-related applications, including nuclear-grade resins, calibration machinery and radiation sensors.
At a joint press conference on October 23 with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Clintonrefused to respond to a question on a potential U.S. nuclear deal with Pakistan, an indication that the United States has no plans to pursue an agreement similar to the one it has with Pakistan’s arch rival India. “We are not in any discussion with the Pakistanis on civil nuclear cooperation,” affirmed Frank Ruggiero, U.S. Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Following the Pakistan-U.S. Strategic Dialogue, the Pakistani Foreign Minister stressed that Pakistan is fully qualified for a civil nuclear technology transfer deal with the United States. He added, “Pakistan has the technology as well as technicians and can run a civil nuclear program efficiently having thirty-five years’ experience without any major incident.”
The China-Pakistan civil nuclear agreement was concluded in July despite opposition from Washington, and the China National Nuclear Corporation is moving ahead with plans to build two additional reactors in Pakistan. The plans had been put on hold in 2003 when China joined the Nuclear Suppliers Group, but the India-U.S. nuclear cooperation agreement led to a revival of the plans.
During the confirmation hearing for Cameron Munter to become the nextU.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Richard Lugar (Republican, Indiana), expressed his concerns over Abdul Qadeer Khan, father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb, who has been accused of proliferating nuclear technology to other countries, including Iran and North Korea. Munter responded that he intends to “raise the question again of our repeated requests to have our people be able to interview Khan.”
Pakistan is expected to become the next chair of the IAEA board. The appointment would be controversial because Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons and has refused to join the NPT, and has restricted access to foreign questioning of A.Q. Khan, but there is no formal rule against such an appointment. The position of the chair, currently occupied by Malaysia, rotates every year on a regional basis. The chair facilitates the decision making process within the IAEA but without authority to make unilateral policies.
President Asif Ali Zardari is scheduled to visit China from July 6-11 amid news that China was progressing with plans to build two nuclear reactors at the Chashma atomic complex in Pakistan, a state possessing nuclear weapons outside of the NPT framework. The development comes a few months after the United States had rebuffed entreaties from Pakistan for a deal similar to the one Washington struck for allowing the exportation of nuclear technology to India. The United States has subsequently said that the NSG should first grant approval of the arrangement before the plans go ahead. British officials have also voiced skepticism. The NSGdecided in late June that it was unable to agree to the deal, because China had not provided enough information on its nuclear plans with Pakistan.