A high-placed source warned that by 2023 at the latest, … the DPRK and Pakistan would each have a “fully functional nuclear weapons stockpile together with reliable means of delivery”. They were pessimistic about the international community having the will to ensure that effective steps be taken to freeze … the joint programme of the North Korean and Pakistan militaries to develop and deploy nuclear weapons that would include battlefield variants. – Prof Madhav Das Nalapat
Both the nuclear explosions that took place in North Korea this year are “made in Pakistan”, according to those silently, and in total secrecy, tracking the nuclear trajectory of the East Asian country. “Silently” because most governments are chary of publicly naming and presumably shaming the military establishment in Pakistan for its drive to weaponise the country’s nuclear deterrent. Cooperation in the development of nuclear weapons between Pakistan and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has been ongoing since the 1970s, but accelerated some years after the 1998 Chagai tests by Pakistan. “By end-2005, it was clear that testing of nuclear devices through computer modelling was not yielding operationally significant results”, a key analyst based mainly in Hong Kong claimed, adding that from then onwards, a hyper secretive programme of cooperation between the DPRK military and the Pakistan army was begun. In both countries, the men in uniform control the development and production of nuclear devices. The October 2006 and May 2009 North Korean tests took place with regular participation of scientists from a secret nuclear weapons development facility near Hyderabad (Sindh) in Pakistan, the sources asserted. They said that “the Pakistan army has so far done brilliantly what they are expert at, which is bluff”, in that they hyped the degree to which Pakistan had proceeded on the road towards a weaponised nuclear deterrent and attack system. “When A. Q. Khan gave his 1987 interview to Kuldip Nayar about Pakistan having the bomb, they had nothing to show for their pains except a few lumps of radioactive material.” However, “subsequently they received assistance from a member of the United Nations P-5 to launch them on the path towards developing nuclear weapons. However, such assistance was almost totally cut off after the 1998 tests,” thereby forcing Pakistan to conduct further tests in the laboratory rather than underground. After six years, the results of such tests were meagre, although externally, the spin given was that the military establishment in Pakistan had perfected a nuclear weapon and indeed had more such items in stock than India.
The non-proliferation ayatollahs in the US have, from the 1974 Pokhran tests, concentrated on rolling back the Indian nuclear programme, and “although the primitive nature of the Pakistan programme was known to the intelligence services, with which non-proliferation websites and groups in the US closely (albeit covertly) worked, it suited this lobby to broadcast that Pakistan had a robust programme”. The aim was to persuade India that there was an equivalence of nuclear terror between Delhi and Islamabad, thereby (it was calculated) making it more likely that India would undertake reciprocal actions in downsizing its nuclear weapons programme. According to a source based in a European capital, “The A. B. Vajpayee government, through National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra, gave specific promises to its US counterparts that key elements of the Indian programme would be slowed down in the field”, the fig leaf being that laboratory testing would intensify. A source claimed that “thus far, the results of such cold tests have been insufficient to generate designs for a tactical nuclear weapon or weapons that could reliably be loaded onto missile systems already available in the armoury of India”. He added that “unless India conducts at least a half-dozen more tests, it will be extremely difficult to perfect the trigger mechanism for separate devices or to ensure devices that could be safely married on to delivery platforms”.
However, this has been contested by scientists in India, who claim that laboratory testing in the country is sophisticated enough to generate data that would be of use in battlefield situations.
The Pakistan army has, on the contrary, opted to take the field testing route for its nuclear weapons programme, except that “such tests are being conducted by North Korea, with the results being made available to the Pakistan side almost instantaneously”. A source in Hong Kong said that “the results of the February 2013 test by North Korea were the most valuable, and enabled a refinement of the device that became apparent in the two tests conducted this year” by the Kim Jong Un regime in Pyongyang. The sources said that “designs are ferried through North Korean diplomats as well as by individuals acting under commercial cover, and while direct air and sea flights and sailings have taken place, much of the to and fro of date and materiel takes place via China”, which according to these sources “has looked the other way for more than two decades at nuclear cooperation between North Korea and Pakistan”, as, in effect, has the United States. These sources claim that key scientific and technical staff from Pakistan visit the DPRK on a regular basis since 2005 “under assumed identities”.
The sources warn that the covert collaboration between North Korea and Pakistan is geared on the Pakistan side towards developing a tactical nuclear weapon, and on the North Korean side towards producing a nuclear device that could be married to a North Korean missile capable of entering the airspace of the continental United States. They claim that “the Pakistan military has made available extensive information to Pyongyang about how accuracy and reliability can be improved on their missile systems”. Because of external assistance as well as domestic expertise, the missile programme in Pakistan, which is centred in a secret facility near Bahawalpur, has developed a level of sophistication that has yet to be matched by the nuclear weapons programme. These sources expect that North Korea will conduct “at least a half-dozen more tests” as “the calculation by both sides is that these will be required to ensure a reliable nuclear weapons system that could, with small modifications, be entered into the armoury of both states.
“The Pakistan army sees the development and deployment of tactical nuclear weapons as being sufficient to permanently deter India from launching a conventional war on its territory”, a source based in a European capital revealed, adding that “at present Pakistan is years away from actually inducting such weapons, which is why they are going the North Korea route towards developing them”. Another source added that “there is no substitute for field data, and unless India manages to persuade the US to share some of its field data on nuclear tests, the (Indian) deterrent will continue to be less than fully reliable in battlefield conditions”. These sources claimed that although India is significantly more advanced than Pakistan in the nuclear weapons trajectory, “as yet tactical nuclear devices have not been perfected” by this country, a lack the cause for which they assign to the unpublicised limitations placed on the nuclear weapons programme by the Vajpayee government—“constraints that were added on to by Manmohan Singh, especially after his 2005 agreement with George W. Bush on nuclear matters”. It would appear that it was the Bush-Singh understanding which helped to motivate the Pakistan army to launch a programme of conducting nuclear tests through North Korea.
A high-placed source warned that by 2023 at the latest and 2021 more likely, the DPRK and Pakistan would each have a “fully functional nuclear weapons stockpile together with reliable means of delivery”. They were pessimistic about the international community having the will to ensure that effective steps be taken (such as through blockade and inspection of both countries including overland routes through China) to freeze and afterwards roll back the joint programme of the North Korean and Pakistan militaries to develop and deploy nuclear weapons that would include battlefield variants. – Sunday Guardian, 25 September 2016
» Prof Madhav Das Nalapat (M.D. Nalapat) is an Indian academic and columnist. Currently Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian and ITV Network (India), Vice-Chair of Manipal University’s Advanced Research Group, and Director of the Department of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Karnataka.