News / Asia

As Pakistan Expands Nuclear Program, China Seen as Most Reliable Partner

FILE - Pakistan's President Mamnoon Hussain (L) shakes hands with China's President Xi Jinping during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
FILE - Pakistan's President Mamnoon Hussain (L) shakes hands with China's President Xi Jinping during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
Ayaz Gul
Pakistan is pressing ahead with expanding its nuclear energy and nuclear weapons programs, despite worries from international observers over their safety. Some argue that Washington should strike a deal to share civilian nuclear technology if Islamabad meets certain safeguards, similar to the U.S. deal with India. However, the chief of Pakistan's nuclear agency suggested he prefers to work with China.
Foreign analysts who study Pakistan's nuclear weapons program find much to worry about.
Peter Lavoy recently retired as the U.S. acting assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs. During a conference in Islamabad this month organized by the Center of Pakistan and Gulf Studies, he detailed the weapons technology many outside analysts believe Pakistan is developing.
"Today Pakistan's nuclear weapons trajectory is the single most troubling concern in Washington and in other capitals. In particular, I am referring to the expansion of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program to include efforts to significantly increase fissile material production to design and fabricate multiple nuclear warheads with varying sizes and yields, to develop, test and ultimately deploy a wide variety of delivery systems with a wide range to include battle field range ballistic delivery systems for tactical nuclear weapons as they are often called," said Lavoy.
For many, the bigger worry than the technology itself is who controls it. During the 1980s and 1990s, the father of Pakistan's nuclear program, A.Q. Khan, built a proliferation network that secretly aided nuclear programs in Iran, Libya and North Korea. Pakistan military's ties with militant groups opposed to India and the Kabul regime in Afghanistan serve as an additional worry for the international community.
Mark Fitzpatrick of the UK-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, however, said Islamabad has since taken commendable steps to safeguard its nuclear assets and should be allowed broader access to civilian nuclear technology.
"The time has come to offer Pakistan a nuclear cooperation deal akin to India's. Providing a formula for nuclear normalization is the most powerful tool western nations can use to positively shape Pakistan's nuclear posture. Offering nuclear legitimacy is also the most effective way to communicate that the United States and its allies do not seek forcefully to disarm Pakistan,” said Fitzpatrick.
He said that Pakistan has already met most of the conditions that were required of India in its agreement with the United States, including separating military and civilian nuclear facilities, observing a moratorium on nuclear testing and tightening export controls.
Pakistani officials have lately stepped up efforts to seek such a civilian nuclear deal with Washington to overcome its energy crisis. But surprisingly, speaking at the conference in Islamabad, Chairman of Pakistan's Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) Ansar Parvez said he recommends against such an arrangement, suggesting Islamabad is better off relying on China.
"If you are going to buy a nuclear power plant from a country you must have a very deep understanding with it you must have a relationship with it you must make sure that in time of need they will not leave you. So, as they say, once bitten twice shy but now I don't think that we can gain anything," said Parvez.
Parvez is referring to the United States, which had close relations with Pakistan when both were backing the Afghan insurgency against Soviet occupation forces in the 1980s.
After the Soviet withdrawal, relations between Islamabad and Washington worsened, in part over Pakistan’s nuclear program and its ties to the Afghan Taliban. Those tensions still exist to this day.
China has been a much more reliable ally for Islamabad for decades, and has provided urgently needed economic and defense cooperation.
That includes two nuclear plants that provide around 700 Megawatts (MW) of electricity. Two smaller units are under construction.
Pakistani officials say its nuclear advancements are meant to ease the country's chronic energy crisis. They say the construction of a 2200 MW nuclear power complex in Karachi with China's assistance is part of those efforts. The $10 billion project is scheduled to be completed in five years.
Parvez defended the country's nuclear advancements at the international conference on nuclear non-proliferation at Islamabad. He said Pakistan’s acute energy shortages require alternatives to oil and gas.
"It seems that to get out of this mess we have to use coal, imported or local, or nuclear [energy]. These are the only two options that are available to us in Pakistan in the current day scenario," said Parvez.
Although Pakistan's nuclear weapons program remains shrouded in secrecy, many foreign analysts believe its nuclear arsenal is growing at a faster pace and by the mid 2020s it could rank as the world's fourth or fifth biggest stockpile.

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Comment Sorting
by: Suraj from: Paris
May 13, 2014 10:11 AM
if the agreement between the US and India had not been made, perhaps China would not have made the sale of currently planned new nuclear reactors for Pakistan. When the nuclear agreement between the US and India and the NSG exemption for India came into force without Chinese objections, China's policy was developed to support the claims for compensation by Pakistan. Back in 2008, the Pakistan nuclear market was opened to nuclear imports, but while there has been Sino-Pakistani nuclear discourse, China is unlikely to impose tough restrictions on Pakistan. As a result, this market will most likely be monopolized by China in the future.

by: meanbill from: USA
May 12, 2014 11:30 AM
CRAZY isn't it? -- The US delivers weapons of war and brings violence, death, destruction and war to Pakistan and Afghanistan, while the Chinese build roads, dams, bridges, and power plants in these same countries? -- And the Chinese help upgrade the Pakistan nuclear weapons for defensive reasons, without strings attached...

by: Not Again from: Canada
May 12, 2014 8:51 AM
In my opinion, there is no question that Pakistan can develop and set to work nuclear programs and systems, but it is not wise to do so, for a number of very significant reasons, Pakistan really needs to rationalize its nuclear programs. There are at least five massive problems wrt Pakistan continuining in its nuclear path, some of it applies to other regional countries. One- Pakistan is a country that is very unstable, many extremists and internal conflicts. Two- Pakistan's economy, can't afford to have nuclear programs, they are very costly to build, very costly to operate and very costly to maintan.

Three- Pakistan has many geologically unstable areas, earthquakes pose a tremendous negative risk to the Pakistani nuclear program, of very special concern are large reactors and power plants. Four- Pakistan has an extremely poor civil defence program, this is observed after each major disaster, Pakistan can't cope, without massive foreign aid, with even small disasters, a nuclear disaster would have terrible consequences for the civilian population, they will be left on their own, and at the mercy, handouts, of the international community, as usual. Five- Pakistan will not be able to cope, economically, with the legacy costs associated with spent nuclear fuel, another serious source for an evironmental disaster; even most of the rich nuclear powers can't cope with the legacy costs.

The number one issue that Pakistan should be addressing is its economy, its control and cleanup of water sources (water security), its food production (food security), its numerous internal conflicts, the education of its children, rather than useless nuclear weapons programs. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, as in many other countries, making life better for the majority, is usually something that is not a real priority; any country that has the technical capability and it can develop nuclear weapons, has no excuse for such terrible poverty, or for for living from international handouts.

Clearly, in my opinion, the Pakistani ruling elites do not care about the hardships their people have, are, and will continue to endure.

by: Natasha from: Pakistan
May 12, 2014 7:08 AM
Nuclear weapons are being availed by the authorities of Pakistan in order to to have deterrence in case of foreign aggression and not to use them unintentionally. Pakistan's nuclear weapons was being acquired in the wake of security concerns which became raised when India tested its nuclear weapon. This is very much true that Pakistan has done app-laudable efforts in order to prevent proliferation and also to run its nuclear program in a safe and secured manner. International community has always been discriminatory in dealing Pakistan and India so in that scenario Pakistan must look forward towards China which is all weathering friend and recently it has also collaborated with Pakistan in the nuclear power sector where it donated nuclear power plants in order to make country fulfilled its energy demand.

by: Rabi from: Islamabad
May 12, 2014 4:53 AM
Nuclear weapons spread to our borders, our neighbours were all getting nuclear weapons so we needed them. On all sides around us, other nations had nuclear weapons so we have them for deterrent, for self defence. The fear of nuclearization of the region by India makes Pakistan to follow the pursuit to secure their national interest which is not a harm to any nation in the world since its attainment of nuclear weapons. A recent US think tank report in the meanwhile showed that India is expanding its uranium enrichment programme which could allow it to double the size of its nuclear arsenal. ISIS has been a long term critic of India's nuclear programme, which it believes was established with "illegal purchases of goods and technology abroad" in defiance of international sanctions.

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