By Momin Iftikhar
Given the backdrop of the recently concluded Indo-US Nuclear Deal, the chorus of concerned voices emerging from India – and US, lamenting the purported “qualitative and quantitative” improvements in Pak nuclear arsenal is loaded with implications; worrisome not only for Pakistan but for the entire Region. Two reports originating in the US have laid down the ground work for the Indian scientific-military community to build upon and prepare a case for India to not only expand its already formidable nuclear arsenal but also pave way for further improvements in the existing state of nuclear technology including options for resorting to further nuclear testing.
The report by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) coming earlier had claimed that Pakistani arsenal could be as large as 70-90 warheads. The second report, authored by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), titled Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons: Proliferation and Security Issues, had substantiated the claims made by FAS noting that Pakistan was making ‘qualitative and quantitative improvements’ to its nuclear arsenal adding that the circumstances under which Pakistan could be willing to use the nuclear capability in its defence had undergone an increase. Without adequately explaining the context in which these were made, the CRS Report also quoted Pakistani officials’ statement alluding to them in a manner which projected an impression that perhaps Pakistan was rearing to start a nuclear arms race in the subcontinent. This included the statement made by the Foreign Ministry spokesperson while reacting to the India’s 26 July launch of her indigenously built nuclear powered submarine stating that “continued induction of new lethal weapon systems by India is detrimental to the regional peace and stability”.
General Deepak Kapoor, the Indian Army Chief, picked up the cue and without placing the contents of these reports within the ambit of the nuclear / conventional threat scenario heavily loaded in India’s favour, began pleading a case for review of India’s nuclear doctrine for further expansion and upgrading. Responding to the FAS report the general asserted, “There is a difference between having a degree deterrence, which is required for protection and going beyond that. If the news of (Pakistan) having 70 to 90 atomic bombs are correct then I think they are going well beyond the requirement of deterrence,” he said. Turning Pakistan into a scapegoat, his remarks have triggered an orchestrated debate in Indian media, actively joined by the strident scientific community and duly backed by the posse of intellectual hawks, calling for a review of the India’s nuclear posture including a rethink on the need to conduct further nuclear tests to retain the cutting edge of India’s nuclear programme. Few aspects in this context merit consideration.
First, the signing of the Indo-US Nuclear Deal has placed India in a position of great advantage with unfettered access to nuclear material and technology. The expansion of its nuclear arsenal is now left to its own sweet discretion through taking care of the shortages of domestic uranium resources that had hamstrung Indian efforts to speed up the build up of nuclear weapons. The Agreement allows for imported nuclear fuel for its safeguarded reactors thus freeing the indigenous 300 tons of uranium to produce fissile material from 8 of Candu Type nuclear plants with 220MW capacity each, which the Agreement has placed outside of the IAEA safeguards. Indian fissile material stocks are now assured of a plentiful inventory and would certainly be used to increase the current level of India’s nuclear arsenal. The brouhaha by the Indian chief concerning the tally of Pakistan’s nuclear holding is uncalled for and certainly meant to justify expansion of nuclear arsenal before an obliging gallery comprising US and NSG.
Second, all obstructions laid down by CTBT to prevent renewed nuclear testing by India have been effectively dismantled by the 123 Agreement. The Agreement doesn’t contain a single provision that stipulates that in the eventuality of a renewed nuclear testing the nuclear cooperation with India would cease forthwith. Thanks to US Administration bending of cardinal rules related to IAEA and NSG to avert proliferation and banning any new testing of nuclear weapons, India has been exempted from any penalties in case she chooses to resort to nuclear testing. There is no mention of the word ‘perpetuity’ related to safeguards imposed on those reactors that India has conceded to lay open to IAEA inspection. This effectively means that as and when India resumes nuclear testing the supply of nuclear material and technology would continue from the NSG countries to the safeguarded reactors even as underlying principles of the CTBT have been blown to the smithereens.
Third, the Indian tests for the Hydrogen Bomb still remain inconclusive leaving it as an unfinished agenda of the Indian nuclear quest. It is widely believed that the Indian efforts in 1998 to detonate a thermo nuclear (TN) device wasn’t entirely successful and India still is left with nagging doubts regarding the efficacy of its design for the Hydrogen bomb. Indian scientists believe that further tests would be needed to certify the TN capability besides the need to hone the existing technology for more compact, more powerful nuclear weapons. The fact that the 123 Agreement didn’t impose any restrictions on further nuclear testing by India is a clear reflection of a tacit understanding in the US establishment for the Indian ambitions to upgrade its nuclear programme qualitatively as well as quantitatively.
The current tirade spearheaded by the Indian Army chief underlining the expansion of nuclear arsenal by Pakistan is deceptively devious and is primarily aimed at providing a justification to India to start exploiting the tilted playing field offered by the Indo-US Nuclear Deal. US has bent over backwards in changing the goal posts for India to facilitate her nuclear weapons programme and leave the door open for renewed nuclear testing; even turning IAEA and the NSG into accomplices in the process. All stop limiting India’s capabilities for producing more nuclear weapons with greater sophistication stand removed and her resorting to such attempts is but a fate accompli. A serious situation confronts Pakistan which has to ensure that its nuclear as well conventional deterrence remains in balance vis-i-vis India. As India ratchets up the ante, maintenance of a minimum credible nuclear deterrence starkly emerges as the only viable option; musings by General Kapoor and highly loaded assertions by the US research institutions notwithstanding.