Sunday July 03, 2022

Nuclear myths and realities

February 11, 2016

Pakistan’s nuclear programme has consistently been the target of a US-led Western negative narrative based on unsubstantiated allegations that deliberately ignore ground realities. This orchestrated campaign has been projected by the Western media and think-tanks as the gospel truth, while completely ignoring Pakistan’s compulsions to ensure credible deterrence against a rapidly growing Indian conventional and nuclear arsenal.

This discriminatory Western approach started with India’s first nuclear test in 1974 which forced Pakistan to respond. Instead of punishing the culprit, sanctions were targeted at the victim. Again, after Indian’s second series of nuclear tests 1998, which required a matching response by Pakistan, sanctions were imposed on both countries but soon withdrawn from India which was rewarded with a nuclear waiver in 2006. Even now, Indian nuclear and missile build-up accompanied with a massive conventional armament programme that underwrites its aggressive doctrine of ‘Cold Start’ to fight a limited conventional war with Pakistan, is given a free pass. The focus is exclusively on capping Pakistan’s efforts to ensure its security.

It is necessary to expose these myths and highlight the existing realities. The first myth is that Pakistan has the world’s fastest growing nuclear weapons programme. This claim is totally unsubstantiated. Pakistan simply does not have the same number of nuclear facilities as compared to India that can produce the necessary fissile material for nuclear weapons – highly enriched uranium and/or weapons grade plutonium. Moreover, India has been producing fissile material much before its test of 1974, which means that its existing stocks far outnumber those of Pakistan.

Following the nuclear waiver for India facilitated by the US, New Delhi can divert its entire indigenous stocks of fissile material for weapons production while using imported fissile material for its nuclear energy programme. According to American commentators themselves, this enables India to produce at least 50 nuclear weapons a year.

According to the second myth, Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programmes are destabilising the region. The facts, on the other hand, show that Pakistan is only deterring Indian threats, created by the Indian strategic and conventional military build-up. This involves, apart from increasing the number of nuclear weapons, the acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines, development of short-, medium- and long-range ballistic missiles and the projected deployment of a Ballistic Missile Defence System with US and Israeli assistance. India is also working on acquiring thermo-nuclear weapons or hydrogen bombs. On the conventional side, India has embarked on a massive build-up which will give it the ability to implement its Cold Start doctrine.

A third myth is about the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons even though Pakistan’s efforts are recognised by the world’s nuclear watch-dog, the IAEA, as a model to be emulated. It is also a matter of record, maintained by the IAEA, that no nuclear material has been unaccounted for, misplaced or misused in Pakistan. Moreover, Pakistan’s safety and security record has been judged as being much safer than that of India among other countries, by the American intelligence community itself, according to a report in Public Integrity by Adrian Levy and Jeffery Smith released in December 2015.

The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a Washington-based group that monitors nuclear safety standards, also maintained that “India’s nuclear security ranked 23rd among 25 countries (including Pakistan)”. Even so, as Levy and Smith expose in their report: “Washington has allowed itself to be put into the position of not wanting to displease India for fear of putting things, off-track”.

The fourth myth relates to Pakistan’s alleged proliferation record whereas India’s record is supposedly ‘impeccable’. The US narrative deliberately fails to acknowledge that India introduced nuclear weapons in South Asia with its 1974 nuclear test for which fissile material was clandestinely diverted from its US-Canadian supplied power reactor in violation of its international commitments. It then refused to sign the NPT and later the Comprehensive (nuclear) Test Ban Treaty. It also engaged in proliferation of other ‘weapons of mass destruction’.

Even after getting the US nuclear waiver, India continued to conduct illicit nuclear trade and leaked sensitive nuclear information according to a September 2008 report by the US-based Institute for Science and International Security. According to another NTI report, India is currently developing thermo nuclear or hydrogen bombs. However, despite these activities, the US and its Western allies are busy selling nuclear reactors and material to India for commercial gains and advocating its entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the very same cartel to control nuclear trade that was created due to India’s 1974 nuclear test.

The fifth myth is that Pakistan is blocking negotiations on a treaty to ban fissile material for producing nuclear weapons. In reality, Pakistan advocates a treaty that will not only ban future production of fissile material but will also take into account the existing huge stocks of fissile material possessed by several nuclear weapons states including India. Since these stocks can be easily diverted to make more nuclear weapons, a treaty that only bans future production, but ignores existing stocks, would be meaningless.

The promotion of these myths to sustain the discrimination against Pakistan needs to be effectively countered and the myths upon which it is built fully exposed. This requires a sustained factual counter-narrative that is not just official but is also used by knowledgeable commentators in the media and think-tanks.

The writer is a former ambassador.