Asia-Pacific, Headlines

POLITICS: Economic Threat May Push Pakistan to Nukes – Report

Nadeem Iqbal

ISLAMABAD, Feb 4 2002 (IPS) - Pakistan has laid down scenarios under which it may use nuclear weapons as a last resort — if its survival is threatened by India not only militarily but by strangling its economy or stopping access to shared water resources, says a new report by Italian nuclear physicists who visited the country recently.

Concern about the two South Asian rivals’ nuclear doctrines has risen in recent months, amid a peaking of bilateral tensions in the wake of a Dec. 13 attack on the Indian Parliament, which New Delhi blames on Pakistan-based groups.

Quoting the top Lt Gen Khalid Kidwai of the nuclear Strategic Plan Division (SPD), the report outlined Pakistan’s four nuclear thresholds, adding that “the nuclear weapons are aimed solely at India”.

It says nuclear weapons would be used if India crosses the “space threshold” — if New Delhi attacks Pakistan and conquers a large part of its territory – and the “military threshold”, if India destroys a large part of its land or air forces.

It also says Islamabad would resort to nuclear methods if India proceeds to pursue to the economic strangulation of Pakistan, and if India pushes Pakistan into “political destabilisation or creates a large scale internal subversion (there).”

The Strategic Plan Division acts as a secretariat for the National Command Authority (NCA), created in 2000 to deal with all aspects of nuclear weapons and is headed by Pakistan’s president and army ruler, Gen Pervez Musharraf.

It is well known that unlike India, Pakistan does not have a ‘no first use policy’, which its officials believe make up for its smaller conventional forces.

The report on Pakistan’s nuclear policy, released in January, was prepared by nuclear physicists Paolo Cotta-Ramusino and Maurizio Martellini of Landau Network, Italy, an arms control institution regularly consulted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The two were in Pakistan in the first week of December, before the escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan that have put them on a virtual war footing.

Their report consists of a 25-question survey and has data from meetings with think tanks, nuclear experts, retired and in-service diplomats and generals, foreign ministers, journalists and peace activists.

The study’s aim was to assess the impact of the Afghan war on the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and continued tensions with India, which may have serious effects on the nuclear situation in South Asia.

The report’s release came at a time when India has severed road and air links with Pakistan and many hawks in India gave been demanding that New Delhi withdraw from the Indus (river) Waters Treaty signed in 1960 by India, Pakistan and World Bank.

All the six rivers – the Indus, Ravi, Jehlum, Beas, Sutlej and Chenab — flow into Pakistan from India.

A dispute over water emerged between the two countries soon after independence in 1948, when India cut off the water. The row continued for almost decade before the Indus Waters Treaty was signed, giving rights of exclusive use of the waters of three rivers, the Indus, Jehlum and Chenab to Pakistan, and the remaining ones to India.

The report’s authors said they asked Gen Kidwai if the above conditions for the use of nuclear weapons were too broad and too vaguely defined. They quote him as saying there would be no risk of nuclear conflict assuming “rational decision making by both countries and if they stay clear of the nuclear threshold and restrain from aggressive behaviour that could trigger a nuclear reaction”.

The two physicists commented: “It seems that the combination of the diversity and broadness of the motivations that may justify the use of nuclear weapons, on one side, and the use of the nuclear threat to enforce a rational decision making, i.e. a not-too-aggressive behaviour, by the opponent, on the other side, is suggesting a vision of the type doomsday machine for Pakistani nuclear weapons, that is not reassuring.”

“It is also clear,” they continued, “that nuclear weapons are perceived in Pakistan as an instrument to countervail a manifest conventional inferiority vis a vis the Indian military force.”

“Presumably Pakistan feels or will feel compelled to enlarge and diversify its nuclear arsenal so to increase the nuclear options and make the threat of nuclear retaliation more credible,” they added.

” If this diversification will move Pakistan away from a doomsday-machine vision, it will also increase the likelihood of the use of nuclear weapons in a situation of crisis. Thus the Indian subcontinent may follow on a reduced scale (but not necessarily on a reduced risk) the pattern of the U.S.-USSR (former Soviet Union) nuclear race during the Cold War.”

They suggested that the alternatives might come from dialogue and arms control negotiations directly between India and Pakistan on one side and from some kind of international constraint and pressure on the two nuclear programmes, on the other side.

The report also recalls some of the history of the Pakistani nuclear programme, saying that former army chief Gen Aslam Beg had pointed out that by 1989 Pakistan had six devices and by 1991, 15 delivery systems. It also quotes him as having said that the cost of the nuclear programme in 1975-89 has been in the order of 200 million dollars.

“Gen Aslam Beg made some reference to keeping (in the future) the total number of devices between 75 and 90 just to readdress the conventional balance vis a vis India, that possesses an army three times as big as Pakistan, an air force five times as big as Pakistan and a navy six times as big as Pakistan,” the report explained.

“The bombs have been declared by Gen. Musharraf to be in a ‘disassembled state’, meaning probably that the fission core is kept separately from the non-nuclear (ignition) components. Nevertheless, according to General Kidwai, the bombs can be assembled ‘very quickly’,” it added.

It quoted Kidwai as saying Pakistan has ‘ground and air capability for the delivery of nuclear weapons’, which “apparently means that bombs/warheads can be delivered by airplanes and/or missiles”.

“Gen. Kidwai said explicitly that nuclear artillery is not part, at the moment, of the Pakistani nuclear programmes,” it further added.

Regarding the existence of PALs (Permissive Action Links) to prevent unauthorised use of nuclear weapons, the report cited comments by some in the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) that keeping the weapons in an unassembled state makes PALs unnecessary.

It quotes them as saying PALs would be needed only if the weapons are assembled and, as a consequence, putting them could be interpreted as a sign that Pakistan is moving toward a quicker nuclear reaction capability.

Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar has said there is a possibility that a group of Pakistani officials may visit the United States to discuss like the control of nuclear devices.

The Italian physicists identified it as a grey area, saying that PALs do not exist, but that weapons can still be assembled “very quickly” and thus, the reaction during crises can be relatively “very quick”.

This raises important questions about the effective control of nuclear weapons in crises, and points to an area where international cooperation with nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states could be developed.

The Italian physicists’ report concluded that an offer of cooperation to improve security and safeguards of nuclear materials and weapons can be, and probably will be, positively considered by Pakistan — provided that some obvious conditions, such as the protection of classified data and the absence of intrusive activities, are met.

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