PAKISTAN'S ISLAMIC BOMB

by Yossef Bodansky

On May 28, 1998, when the jubilant masses poured to the streets to cheer Pakistan's string of nuclear tests, they shouted "Allah Akbar!". They paraded, and celebrated around, models of the Hatf - Pakistan's tactical nuclear missile - marked "Islamic bomb". In Friday prayers, Mullahs stressed that the tests are a "triumph for Islam." Completely ignored were President Nawaz Sharief's explanations that these nuclear tests were Pakistan's reaction to the Indian threat. And herein - in the stark difference between action and the politicians' rhetoric - the quandary lies.

Indeed, as Pakistan embarked on its series of nuclear tests, the brinkmanship and crisis-generation policies intensified. The Pakistani propaganda machine spun the yarn of convoluted Israeli-Indian and now also American conspiracies against Pakistan and its "Islamic Bomb." No event was left out of this intensifying incitement of terror. For example, when anti-nuclear Baluchi students hijacked the PIA plane to protests Islamabad's policies, Pakistani "sources" fed the media with allegations that ISI had uncovered a RAW-CIA-Mossad conspiracy against Pakistan of which the hijacking was a small part. And so, the isolated hijacking incident has become yet another component in the slide toward the "forthcoming Indian-Israeli attack" Islamabad is still anticipating. India's and Israel's denials of such plans and their calm reaction to the Pakistani nuclear tests and related rhetoric have so far had no tangible impact on Islamabad's policies.

This is not because Islamabad still fears the Israeli-Indian attack, if it ever really did, but because of Islamabad's requisite to integrate the dramatic development of Pakistan becoming a declared nuclear power into the volatile polity of the Hub of Islam. Hence, an inevitable outcome of this process is the return of Pakistan as a predominant leader of the Muslim World, and particularly the Hub of Islam. Islamabad is already capitalizing on its unique notoriety to build support as the sole Muslim nuclear power. After all Pakistan's has always been the "Islamic Bomb," and no amount of post-factum denials by Islamabad is going to change this. Indeed, this aspect of the Pakistani nuclear testing has been emphasized in both popular celebrations and mosque sermons in both Pakistan and throughout the Hub of Islam.

Only when the pressure from the West over the Islamic' aspect of the Pakistani nuclear tests, and with it the threat of protracted sanctions, mounted, did Islamabad issued a denial - optimized for the Western audience. "Nothing gives me more offense than the use of the phrase ?Islamic bomb,'" retorted Tariq Altaf, a Foreign Ministry spokesman. "There is no such thing as an Islamic bomb. This is a weapon for the self-defense of Pakistan - period. There is no question of transferring the technology to anybody. This is deterrence for Pakistan alone." However, Pakistan's own record in pursuing its nuclear weaponry flatly contradicts Altaf's assertions and assurances.

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In its dogged pursuit of military nuclear capabilities Pakistan has not only enjoyed active support from Arab states, particularly Libya (mainly funds and access to clandestinely obtained West European technologies and materiel) and Saudi Arabia (mainly funds and access to US-made super-computers), but it provided active support to other Muslim nuclear programs. In fact, Pakistan shared data and expertise with the two leading nuclear programs in the Muslim World - Iraq's and Iran's.

Pakistan's contributions to the nuclear programs of the Islamic Republic of Iran date back to the early 1980s. In 1984, for example, a Nuclear Research Institute was opened in Isfahan with technical assistance from France and Pakistan. In February 1986, Pakistan offered to train Iranian nuclear scientists in return for financial support for Pakistan's own nuclear program. The Iranians were trained on Chinese equipment. Subsequently, in June 1990, Tehran signed a contract with the PRC for the supply of another reactor for the Isfahan Nuclear Research Institute. The Isfahan institute opened the door to Iran's short-cut to the production of its own bomb.

Meanwhile, Dr. Abdus Qadir Khan, the father of the Pakistani bomb, attended a high level meeting of Iran's leading nuclear scientists held in the Amir Kabir College in January 1987. He visited both Tehran and Bushehr to assess the Iranian nuclear potential and discuss future cooperation with the Iranian leadership. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, then Iran's president, also took part in the conference. Soon afterwards, Iran and Pakistan signed an agreement on technical cooperation in military nuclear fields. Two senior Iranian scientists, Sayyid Reza and Hadi Rambashahr, went to Kahuta. They were later joined there by few Iranians and began organizing a training program. Within a year, 31 Iranian nuclear specialists were sent to Pakistan, mainly Kahuta, to join this program and receive advance training. These Iranians are involved in several key aspects of weapon building including Uranium enrichment and Plutonium extraction.

There was a corresponding progress in Iran's nuclear technological capabilities. In 1988, the installations in the Amir Kabir College, most likely the German-Argentinian equipment, were already capable of extracting some Plutonium. In early-1989, Iran began "producing the fuel required for the production of atomic weapons," using materials and chemicals purchased in Japan as late as 1987. In late-1989, Pakistan started helping Iran to build a reactor for the extraction of Plutonium. In the early 1990s, Iran was also expected to become the first export customer to Pakistan's new reactor of indigenous design - achieved with extensive Chinese assistance. Speaking in an exhibition of Chinese electronic equipment in Karachi on 16 January 1991, Munir Ahmad Khan, the Chairman of Pakistan's Atomic Energy Commission, declared that "Pakistan has achieved some extraordinary success in the manufacturing of nuclear fuel and is now manufacturing a nuclear reactor and a power generating reactor." He added that "China's backing for Pakistan's peaceful nuclear efforts is encouraging and praiseworthy."

Although of a lesser magnitude, Pakistan's support for the Iraqi military nuclear program might have been more decisive. In early 1990, once committed to the instigation of a cataclysmic event that would shock the Middle East and ensure Saddam Hussein's prominence - at the time Baghdad was still wavering between attacking Israel and liberating Kuwait - Baghdad resolved to complete the acquisition of one or a few nuclear weapons in order to have a rudimentary deterrence.

Toward this end, senior Iraqi intelligence and weapons program officials made a series of clandestine visits to Pakistan in the Spring and early Summer of 1990, virtually until the invasion of Kuwait. They launched a series of efforts to buy anything - from nuclear technology to nuclear weapons. At first, Saddam Hussein's emissaries were rebuffed by official Islamabad. However, the Iraqis launched a supposedly secret initiative to recruit, through both bribes and capitalizing on Islamist sentiments, some of Pakistan's leading experts. One of the Iraqi documents retrieved after the war includes a scrawled footnote describing an offer made to Iraqi intelligence by an unidentified Pakistani offering to establish contacts with "senior figures in Pakistan's nuclear programme who were willing to help President Saddam Hussein's regime to manufacture a bomb." Pakistani Intelligence - the ISI - was aware of these efforts from the beginning for some of those approached notified them. It did not take long for the ISI to discover that the Iraqis were organizing a procurement network relying on Islamist activists. At first Islamabad provided tacit, though deniable, support for the Iraqi effort that was then "apparently run from the embassy," in the words of an ISI senior officer. This effort seemed to have come to an end when Iraq invaded Kuwait and Pakistan sided with the US-led coalition.

However, alarmed by the prospects of an US/Western hegemony over the Hub of Islam as a result of an overwhelming victory over Iraq, Islamabad opened back channels to Baghdad offering to assist in deterring the anticipated war. The Pakistani offers ranged from offers to mediate an honorable end to the crisis to a last ditch effort to enable Iraq acquire nuclear weapons and deterrence. According to an October 6, 1990, memorandum from Section B.15 of Iraqi Intelligence to Section S.15 of the Nuclear-Weapons Directorate, Baghdad had just received a proposal from "Pakistani scientist Dr Abd-al-Qadeer Khan" to help Iraq "manufacture a nuclear weapon." This memorandum was retrieved by the UN and confirmed by Iraqi officials who claimed they had rejected the offer because they suspected it was an American sting. Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan dismissed as "totally false and baseless" both the memorandum and any other form of involvement in discussions with the Iraqis. Nevertheless, there remains unresolved the source of the Iraqi technology for gas centrifuges for uranium enrichment, and particularly the self-confidence that led Baghdad commit to a major installation in al-Furat even before test and evaluation was completed in al-Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center. Centrifuges are Dr. Khan's main expertise and he recently stressed the centrality of uranium enrichment to the sophistication and might of the just tested Pakistani nuclear weapons.

Thus, given this track record, it is safe to assume that Islamabad will continue to participate in Islamic and Arab strategic programs. Indeed, Islamabad's subsequent highlighting of its confrontation with, and standing up to, the Israeli-Indian threats and anti-Muslim conspiracies has already created expectations for nuclear Pakistan to play a strategic role in the Hub of Islam as a nuclear power. In the longer term, more and more Muslim states will gravitate toward Pakistan. Islamabad's audacious gambit will thus result in the further consolidation of the militant Islamist faction of the Islamic Bloc within the Trans Asian Axis that will challenge US presence in the Middle East and Persian Gulf.

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Meanwhile, this process has already begun. It is most significant that the first foreign dignitary to arrive in Islamabad was Kamal Kharrazi, the Iranian Foreign Minister. Although Iran and Pakistan have been feuding on spheres of influence in Afghanistan and over Tehran's support for militant Shiites in Pakistan, Tehran was the first to express whole hearted support for Islamabad in the name of Islamic solidarity. Having lived for long under the shadow of Israel's nuclear threat, Kharrazi declared, Muslims all over the world "feel confident" because a fellow Islamic nation has crossed the nuclear threshold. "Over the world, Muslims are happy that Pakistan has this capability." Kharrazi also endorsed Islamabad's position that India's test left Pakistan no choice but to test as well. "As a matter of its national security and to create a balance in the region," Pakistan was obliged to respond in kind.

Similarly, conservative Arab regimes have no doubt about the anti- American implications of the Pakistani bomb. For example, the Saudi- owned al-Sharq al-Awsat wrote that many Muslim nations would "release a sigh of relief, while the blood will freeze in the veins of the decision-making powers, especially Washington, after Pakistan entered the nuclear club." This analysis is of significance because, when deliberating on the reaction to the Indian nuclear testing, Islamabad consulted only with the PRC, its closest ally, and Saudi Arabia. Specifically, Nawaz Sharief communicated with Crown Prince Abdallah whose organ is the al-Sharq al-Awsat . Similarly, the conservative and Islamist-leaning Ukaz newspaper stressed that "the West and Israel still view Pakistan's nuclear capabilities as an asset to the Arabs and Muslims in their eternal struggle with Israel; thus, the West and Israel view the Pakistani nuclear tests as a very serious development. In fact, Israel has announced more than once that it may attack the Pakistani nuclear installations as it did with Iraq in 1981. Moreover, there has been clear evidence over the past few days that India and Israel have been cooperating on the nuclear level and that Israel has played a significant role in India's recent nuclear explosions." In this, and numerous similar articles, Riyadh endorsed the Pakistani testing and threat analysis.

Other Islamist leaders not only supported the Pakistani tests, but expected Pakistan to use its nuclear capabilities to further all-Islamic causes. HAMAS leader Shaykh Ahmad Yassin hailed Pakistan's nuclear capability as "an asset to the Arab and Muslim nations." Khalid Baig of the Al-Balagh E-Zine elucidated for many: "Pakistan will also be expected now to play a more active role in the affairs of the Ummah. There was a time when Pakistan was actively involved in such matters. Based on its newly acquired status, it will again have to shoulder those responsibilities. It must not shy away from those responsibilities. Rather it must enlarge its vision and its view of itself. There is no sense in defining Pakistan's nuclear policy solely in terms of India. Al-Aqsa is not a ?Palestinian mosque' and Jerusalem is not just a Palestinian issue. Therefore, Israel cannot be just a Palestinian or Arab problem. It is a problem for the entire Ummah and Pakistan must now be willing to stand up to its responsibilities in this matter."

Meanwhile, other voices in the Arab World urge Pakistan to contribute to the emergence of an Arab bomb. The Saudi Ukaz expects a major strategic realignment in the Middle East as a result of the Pakistani tests. "What is certain is that the recent developments in the Indian sub-continent will leave their own effect on the Middle East developments and will prompt several parties involved in the Middle East crisis to rearrange their cards and to review their calculations for the forthcoming phase." Similarly, the Islamist paper Al-Quds al-Arabi anticipated that the Pakistani nuclearization would have a major impact in the Arab World. "The main Arab states, especially Egypt, will feel intensely embarrassed on account of Pakistan's possession of the first Islamic nuclear bomb, and its success in achieving strategic balance with its adversary India, while these states have failed to achieve the same balance with the Hebrew state... The possession of nuclear arms is an introduction to taking on the leadership of the Islamic World and having greater influence over most of the events and Islamic summits that will be held in the future." Al-Quds al-Arabi urges the Arab leaders to learn from Islamabad and to both make decisions and resist the US. "The Arab states in confrontation with Israel should have striven to gain possession of nuclear weapons, not only in order to liberate Palestine, but in order to maintain their national security and neutralize the Israeli nuclear weapons. ... The Arab states can still benefit from this Pakistani lesson at more than one level and the Pakistani experience in the nuclear field is still very important for any Arab state that wants to rebel against US and Israeli domination and follow the path of military power and its requirements."

And even before the Arab World mobilizes to meet the nuclear challenge, Pakistan is already assuming its leadership position. As the initial impact of the Pakistani nuclear testing subsides, Islamabad is gradually shouldering its responsibilities as the sole declared Muslim nuclear power - fronting for the entire Hub of Islam against the US-led West and its nuclear might as well as standing up for the "honor" of Islam. To assume the leadership position it aspires, Pakistan need not provide any Muslim state with nuclear weapons. Moreover, the state of nuclear research and related infrastructure in the Muslim World is so dismal that technology transfer will only have limited impact in the near term. However, Pakistan can, and Islamabad has already hinted its willingness to provide a nuclear umbrella to counter balance Israel and the US To date, the mere threat of unilateral use of nuclear weapons has deterred Arab leaders such as Saddam Hussein from using non-nuclear weapons of mass destruction against Israel or the US forces in the Arabian Peninsula. By merely declaring that it will not tolerate the use of nuclear weapons against a sisterly Muslim state and warning that it might retaliate in kind, Pakistan markedly reduces the effectiveness of the nuclear threat that has so far restrained Arab and Iranian leaders. And the Pakistani ballistic missiles currently test-launched can reach the centers of such potential foes as Russia and Israel, as well as the US deployment in the Persian Gulf.

It is in this role of the nuclear guardian of diverse Islamic causes that Pakistan is finding its leadership niche. Islamabad is already inviting Muslim states, particularly the Arab World, to help Pakistan withstand the sanctions in return for Pakistani support and providing of a nuclear umbrella for their own causes - such as a confrontation with Israel or the eviction of the US forces from the Persian Gulf. Indeed, on June 1, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief said that "Pakistan's nuclear tests had brought glory to the Muslims of the world who would never bow before any super power now." He heralded Pakistan's nuclear posture as a turning point in Islamic history. "The Muslims will never bow before any super power and the support of different countries for Pakistan in these difficult times will be remembered in a historic manner," he declared.

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Enter the Iranian exploitation of these strategic nuclear developments to pressure Israel and Saudi Arabia. Pakistan's becoming a declared nuclear power in the aftermath of its nuclear and missile tests is a source of pride for all Arabs and Muslims. For the first time, the Muslims formally crossed a threshold firmly held in Western, and even more significantly - by Israeli hands. In this particular case, of great importance is the fact that the Pakistani nuclear tests were highly publicized and that the government in Islamabad has declared itself a nuclear power. This process is distinctly different from Tehran's nuclear opacity - where just enough material has been leaked about the country's acquisition of nuclear weapons from the ex-Soviet Central Asia to have a deterrence factor while Tehran continues to maintain official denial. Now, irrespective of whether Islamabad endorses it or not - Pakistan's is an Islamic Bomb, so accepted throughout the Muslim World by both governments and the popular street.

And this widely held impression is everything. For in the case of nuclear weapons and their strategic delivery systems, that is, ballistic missiles, what really counts is the image - the source and quintessence of deterrence. Decision makers - both friends and foes - react to the reports of that many nuclear tests, assuming that a country has more weapons than just those tested, and believe that the missiles they watched on TV being tested are real and capable of the advertised performance. No responsible leader would take the risk of discovering the veracity of claimed strategic capabilities - declared or opaque - by having these weapons detonate over his/her country's vital centers. The same logic applies to the impression given by the responsible authorities concerning arrangements between their countries and governments over strategic umbrellas and other guarantees.

Of great significance is the influence of this principle on Tehran. Pakistan's emergence as a nuclear power has already created a set of strategic circumstances that enables Iran to be far more audacious and assertive than before. The Islamic Republic of Iran has impressive strategic objectives on both regional and global scales. Their furthering, let alone realization, would entail confrontation with Israel and the US with the inevitable necessity to resolve and/or overcome the deterrence factor. To date, Tehran has relied on the small arsenal acquired from the former Soviet republics of Central Asia mounted on SSMs based on North Korean and Chinese technologies. The longer range ballistic missiles, those capable of reaching Israel from Iranian bases, are derivatives of untested prototypes. While Tehran is convinced these missiles will work, uncertainty remains in the mind of Iran's enemies. Hence, for Tehran, its own arsenal was never an element of decisive and unambiguous preventive deterrence.

Thus, the mere existence of the Pakistani Islamic Bomb changes everything. Here there are proven missile and nuclear weapons capabilities. There is an ambiguity as to the extent to which Islamabad will give its strategic capabilities to all-Islamic causes, particularly in the Middle East. However, given Islamabad's on going warnings and alarms of impending Israeli strikes, as well as its requests for Arab and Iranian assistance, it is virtually impossible for Islamabad not to "contribute" to Arab-Iranian "causes," even if only in a declaratory manner. Moreover, Egyptian and Pakistani officials claim that the CIA has been warning Islamabad of a potential Israeli strike since 1994. That is, the US has known about Israel's "perfidious designs" and has done nothing to restrain Israel - thus giving greater credibility to the need to integrate Pakistan into the Arab-Israeli and anti-US strategic equation. Moreover, not to be ignored is the active participation of Pakistani pilots and other military experts in all the previous Arab- Israeli wars. Thus, irrespective of what Islamabad declares or does not declare, it is highly likely that Pakistan will be providing a de-factor nuclear umbrella that will serve as restraining factor for both Israel and the US in case of a major crisis.

This dynamics should be comprehended in the context of the mega- trends in the Middle East. The last couple of years have seen the marked radicalization of Arab World. The public at large is giving up on US influence and its ability to deliver Israel. Given this rise of Islamism, there is a concurrent gravitation toward Iran and militancy. Iran's rapprochement with Saudi Arabia is the latest and most dramatic phase in this process. Now, through Pakistan, Iran, as leader of Muslim Bloc, can deliver the nuclear umbrella that removes the primary obstacle to - the cause of fear of - confrontation with Israel and the US. Consequently, for Tehran, these dynamics provide the best of both worlds. Iran can surge in the non-nuclear level under an undeclared yet unignorable nuclear umbrella provided by Pakistan. At the same time, Iran will be retaining its own undeclared and opaque nuclear capabilities as measures of last resort in case Islamabad changes position and/or fails to deliver.

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Further more, Iran's rising prominence and ensuing assertiveness and audacity must be examined in the context of the greater geo- strategic dynamics, particularly the ascent of the PRC. Beijing has a vested interest in flaring up the Hub of Islam, if only to keep Washington preoccupied. For that - Beijing needs Iran as the leader of the Islamic Bloc within the Trans-Asian Axis. Pakistan still desperately needs its posture as the lynchpin - the source of unique posture and contribution. Hence, there is mutual interest in the exacerbation of the situation in the Hub of Islam and projecting strategic instability. Moreover, Islamabad is adamant on becoming the center and leader of an Islamic cause in order to mobilize its own population and not appear only as a supporter of an Iran-led, essentially Arab cause. Practically, Pakistan needs Arab/Iranian help with Kashmir and Central Asia, as well as Chinese endorsement and patronage. Hence, Islamabad can hardly refuse their participation in what is definitely a Pakistani "cause."

However, through all of this dynamics, one must not forget a simple reality. A nuclear-tipped ballistic missile is a controlled object. If launched, it'll fly in the direction it has been pointed to by guidance installed by human operators. Hence, even as, say, Islamabad, warns its missiles are aimed at point A, there is no guarantee they are not actually aimed at point B. More specifically, even if Pakistan declared its providing of a nuclear umbrella to a Middle East or Persian Gulf conflagration, New Delhi would not know for certain that the Pakistani assets were no longer targeting India. And thus the deterrence factor remains. Similarly, Islamabad's guarantees that its nuclear assets are not a component of an Islamic "cause" cannot be substantiated independently.

What does this ambiguity means is that Islamabad has an incentive to capitalize on a major crisis on the Arab-Israeli front or in the Persian Gulf in order to further its conflict with India. With world attention focused elsewhere, and with Chinese support guaranteed, Pakistan can pursue its own Islamic cause - Kashmir - as an integral part of the all-Islamic "cause." Such circumstances are the best of all worlds for Islamabad. Given the close relations between India and Israel, Pakistan can even tie both crises - Kashmir and the Middle East - with the excuse that India was going to help Israel, and Pakistan is defending the rear of the Hub of Islam. Tehran, Islamabad, Arabs already believe this to be the case, and they'll make their decisions accordingly. And so, under the Pakistani nuclear umbrella, an emboldened Hub of Islam is already getting psyched-up, preparing to confront its real and imaginary foes. [June 18, 1998, I & GN]



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