Pakistan Nuclear Update – 2003

Nuclear program overview

Pakistan continues to increase its nuclear weapon capability, and to import the necessary dual-use equipment and materials. The country is now estimated to possess an arsenal of 30-50 nuclear weapons and plans to increase its nuclear facilities with foreign assistance. In March 2003, Pakistan signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China for a second 300 MW power reactor at Chashma. Pakistan also relies on foreign support in developing its weapon delivery systems. It has nuclear-capable aircraft and is improving its ballistic missile program with the assistance of Chinese and North Korean entities.

U.S. concerns

President Bill Clinton imposed economic sanctions against Pakistan as a punishment for its May 1998 nuclear tests. However, by late 1998, he waived most of those sanctions, and President George W. Bush removed the remaining sanctions in September 2001. U.S. diplomatic efforts after the weapon tests focused on obtaining Pakistan’s commitment to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), but although Pakistan announced a unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing, it has remained outside the CTBT. In addition, Pakistan has always said it will not sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty until India does.

In June 2003, President Bush promised to work with Congress on a $3 billion assistance package to “help advance security and economic opportunity for Pakistan’s citizens.” After the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001, American military and intelligence officials became concerned about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapon stockpile, and an American official was quoted as saying that the $3 billion aid package was contingent on Pakistan’s continued cooperation in the ‘war on terror.’ President Pervez Musharraf insists that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is under tight control, and a former head of Pakistan’s army, Lieutenant General Mirza Islam Beg, claimed in June 2001 that Pakistan assures safety by keeping disassembled nuclear bombs at a location separate from weapon delivery systems. According to Christina Rocca, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, the United States believes that “the government of Pakistan is in control of its nuclear assets.”

The $3 billion aid package, which is to be distributed over five years, is one of several instances of bilateral cooperation between the United States and Pakistan. The White House said that the United States and Pakistan are also “working together to bring Pakistan’s export controls and practices in line with international standards.”

Nuclear power

In March 2003, Pakistan signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China for a second 300 MW reactor to be built at Chashma within six years. Pakistan has two nuclear power plants, a 300 MW reactor at Chashma and the Kanupp 125 MW reactor in Karachi. The Chashma reactor went critical in May 2000, and the Kanupp reactor completed its 30-year design life on December 5, 2002 and will undergo refurbishment until mid-2003. Nuclear energy provides about 2.6% of total electric power production in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s nuclear exports

The United States has not made any formal accusations against Pakistan for assisting North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, but media reports allege that beginning in 1997, Pakistan provided North Korea with the gas centrifuge technology needed to make highly enriched uranium. According to press reports citing American intelligence officials, the centrifuge help was provided in exchange for ballistic missile components, and American spy satellites tracked a Pakistani aircraft as it was loaded with ballistic missile parts in a North Korean airfield in July 2002. When pressed about Pakistan’s role in aiding North Korea in October 2002, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that President Musharraf had given him “four hundred percent assurance that there is no such interchange taking place now.”

In March 2003, the United States imposed sanctions against one Pakistani and one North Korean entity “for specific missile-related transfers.” Pakistan’s Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) was sanctioned under executive order 12938, and North Korea’s Changgwang Sinyong Corporation was sanctioned under the missile sanctions law. A report in The Washington Times said the sanctions involved the transfer of fully-assembled, nuclear-capable No Dong missiles from North Korea to Pakistan.

One news report called the imposition of sanctions against the Pakistani and North Korean entities an acknowledgment that Pakistan was the key supplier of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad reportedly said the KRL, a government-affiliated nuclear research laboratory, was accused of “material contribution to the efforts of a foreign country, person or entity of proliferation concern, to use, acquire, design, develop and or secure weapons of mass destruction,” but it did not name the country that had received the goods. On March 12, the Bush administration informed Congress that after reviewing the facts relating to the possible transfer of nuclear technology from Pakistan to North Korea, it had decided not to impose sanctions against Pakistan.

Pakistani officials have denied cooperating with North Korea and expressed their disappointment with the sanctions imposed on KRL. In addition, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Kurshid Mahmud Kasuri said the move will not affect Pakistan’s nuclear and missile research. It appears that the sanctions, which ban dealings with KRL for two years, will have little effect because the United States has no contracts with KRL.

In early 2003, evidence began to emerge that Pakistan had also supplied Iran. In January, the trade publication Nuclear Fuel accused Pakistan of being the origin of Iran’s centrifuge program. Western intelligence officials reportedly said that Pakistan provided Iran with centrifuge design data in the early 1990s, years before sharing it with North Korea. The design data had been under the control of the KRL and was stolen from Western Europe’s Urenco program during the1970s and 1980s.

In May 2003, an official French paper presented to the Nuclear Suppliers Group buttressed this claim. The French paper stated that there are “convincing indications about the origin of [Iran’s centrifuge] technology-it is of Pakistani type…” The paper also said that Iran “controls the manufacturing process of centrifuges and seems even able to improve it.”

Chinese support

Although China pledged in May 1996 not to provide assistance to unsafeguarded nuclear facilities in any state, the CIA has reported that there may still be “continued contacts between Pakistani and Chinese entities on Pakistani nuclear weapons development.” The CIA also reports that China is still helping Pakistan’s ballistic missile program. China has helped Pakistan move toward the serial production of solid-propellant SRBMs, such as the Shaheen-I, Abdali and Ghaznavi, and Pakistan will be looking for continued Chinese assistance in the development of solid-propellant MRBMs, such as the Shaheen-II, according to the CIA.