The Institute of Strategic Studies (ISS) Islamabad, headed by Dr Ansar Pervez, former chairperson of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, has come up with the conclusion that India has the size and capabilities to prepare a large nuclear stock ( between 356 and 492 weapons) which New Delhi has deliberately kept outside the International Atomic Agency safeguards.
The study titled `Indian Unguarded Nuclear Programme` was co-authored by four Pakistani nuclear scientists including Dr Ahmed Khan, Dr Adeela Azam, Dr Sameer Khan and Dr Mohammad Ali. The study claims to have collated material from several primary sources leading them to conclude that India has the oldest and most unsafeguarded nuclear program amongst developing nations.
When asked to comment on whether this evaluation was correct, Dr R. Rajaraman, nuclear physicist and Emeritus professor of Theoretical Physics at JNU pointed out, ` India does possess around two tonnes of reactor grade plutonium which can make between 300-400 nuclear bombs.’
Rajaraman who is also co-chair of the International Panel on Fissile Materials and a member of the world scientists permanent panel on Mitigation of Terrorists Acts, went on to add,` This reactor grade plutonium is not ideal bomb material and I do not know of any country who has made a bomb using this material.
`But this is a technical matter. In principle, physics allows you to make a bomb. Once you have a reactor, you can make it. The numbers given in this Pakistani study are right,’ he said going on to add,’ `They know the numbers are right because India has told them this.’
During the three-year-long arduous negotiations that took place between India and the US following the signing of the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Agreement, ` some plutonium was allowed to stay within the (Indian) military’ and the ISS study is referring to this.
Dr Bharat Karnad, a security expert with the Centre for Policy Research, was equally candid. ` We have weapon grade plutonium in our possession. All it needs is to be reprocessed. Once this fissile material is converted into energy, it can blow us all to smithereens on Ground Zero.’
Asked to comment on the statement given by the Pakistani Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif that “tactical weapons, our programmes that we have developed, they have been developed for our protection. We haven’t kept the devices just as showpieces. If our safety is threatened, we will annihilate them (India),’ Dr Karnad said, ` As a nation , we are risk averse, that is why they can get away with their nuclear bluff.’
`I have frequently emphasised the exchange ratio where you balance the destruction you impose on your enemy with the destruction your enemy imposes on you. (in case of an attack) We would lose two of our cities ( Mumbai and Delhi) for all of Pakistan. But as a nation they can hold their nerves better than us. Pakistan believes they need a large stock of weapons because they need to contain a pre-emptive strike though our position has always been no first use.’
Dr Karnad concedes that it is Pakistan which presently has the world’s fastest growing nuclear programme in the world. A recent satellite imagery has indicated that a new uranium-enriched complex is coming up in Kahuta, a town that is barely 30 km from Islamabad.
Rajaraman cautions that even as Pakistan is producing more weapon-usable fissile material each passing year, the rate of growth of these nuclear warheads is being exaggerated by western strategic experts.
As a scientist who is a member of the International Panel on Fissile Materials who track fissile material production of all countries on an annual basis believe that the Pakistanis have set up 3 plutonium producing reactors at Khushab and a fourth is in the making. But these are heavy water reactors with a 50-MW (Megawatt thermal) capacity.
Pakistan’s current arsenal of nuclear weapons is said to be around 110 weapons. Rajaraman said, “Even if this figure is correct, and we add 21 more in the next five years, Pakistan cannot reach 200 warheads by 2020, as is projected by some think tanks.”
Pakistan’s own domestic supply of raw uranium is limited and could be one of the reasons why they are pushing for plutonium.
By contrast, Rajaraman maintains that India’s rate of warhead production is not 10 warheads a year as is being projected by some western analysts because the plutonium production reactor at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre annually produces about 18 kg of Plutonium which can fuel around three to four bombs per year.
The problem of going nuclear is compounded by the fact that Pakistan has now developed the Nasr missile which he believes is an extremely dangerous development especially since there is no clarity about the command and control status of this nuclear missile and in case of an actual war, ground commanders may give the go-ahead to use them without awaiting clearance from the top political leadership.
Experts believe that in a nuclear strike, India , even while suffering tremendous losses, will have an advantage. Pakistan is working overtime to chip away at this advantage.