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Pakistan's Nuclear Weapons Program

The Beginning

If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own. We have no other choice.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto - 1965

Last changed 2 January 2002



By Carey Sublette

Historical Background

Since the dawn of civilization modern day Pakistan has been an integral part of India. The Indus River valley, now in Pakistan, was the center where ancient Indian civilization was founded, spreading through the plain of the Ganges, and into southern India. Pakistan has also been the principal corridor into India from the Mediterranean and Central Asian worlds. Islam entered India though Pakistan in the century after Islam's founding and soon converted the Sindh area on the lower Indus. Centuries later Central Asian Islamic empires invaded, sacked, proselytized, and ruled northwestern India through the Pakistani corridor. This entry point, closely connected to the Islamic world of the Middle East, became heavily Muslim in time but remained an integral part of Indian society. Islam was hardly confined to this region, converts were found throughout India but were also concentrated particularly in the impoverished floodplain of the Brahmaputra River in eastern India.

India was always divided into a number of separate states throughout its history, becoming unified for the first and only time under the British Raj in the 18th Century. The origin of Pakistan's identity distinct and separate from the rest of India is quite recent. It arose after the beginning of the Twentieth Century, indeed well after World War I. In hindsight it hardly seems to have been predestined. The modern state of Pakistan is the construct largely of one man - Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

During three decades of growing Indian agitation for independence a rift developed and steadily grew between the predominantly Hindu Brahmin leaders of the movement and Ali Jinnah, the leading Muslim nationalist. In 1917 Hindu and Muslim (as well as Parsi and Sikh) nationalists were united behind the program expressed in the Lucknow Pact which demanded national self-determination and also specified proportional legislative representation for the various religious communities. This principle - that Muslims would be guaranteed representation proportionate to their numbers in government - set a standard that Jinnah would judge all future proposals. The Hindu-dominated All Indian Congress dropped this principle in favor of at-large voting with no set-asides for minority communities in the 1920s, a policy seemingly neutral and "ethnically blind" on its face, but one that naturally favored the Hindu majority. This issue crops in multi-ethnic societies the world over, such as in recent debates about affirmative action in the US. Jinnah and the Muslim League split with the Congress over this issue at the December 1928 All-Parties Conference.

From then on the inevitable differences and tensions that arise between social groups differentiated by religion and economics pulled the two sides apart without any tendency for rapprochement. Partly it was due to the tendency of Hindu leaders to favor the members of their own religion, castes and families to the detriment of the minority Muslims, a tendency that had led to the 1928 fracture. Partly it was due to a deliberate strategy of the Raj to divide the nationalist movement so as to weaken it and perhaps keep India British. Partly it was the rise of Islamic consciousness that forms a major theme in 20th Century history. But mostly it was the growing convictions of Jinnah, fed by all these influences. It did not help that the leading figure of the Hindu-based independence movement (the satyagraha), Mohandas K. Gandhi, chose to adopt the trappings and pose of a sadhu, a Hindu holy man, a posture that did not appeal at all to Muslim Indians.

In 1930 the concept of a separate Muslim state was proposed for this first time, instead of merely a guaranteed political base within a unified Indian state. This hypothetical state was given a hypothetical name "Pakistan" meaning "land of the pure".

The last chance for avoiding partition was a proposal developed by a three-man commission sent by the British cabinet in 1946. The proposal was for a three-tier federal structure with a large degree of self-rule for regions devised along communal lines. Jinnah and the League accepted the proposal, even though it was less than the independent Muslim state they now preferred. But true to form, the Congress leaders - particularly Jawaharlal Nehru - found nothing but difficulty with it, leaving partition as the only option.

So it was that less than 19 years after that fateful Conference, the history of India was irrecovably altered when at midnight on 14-15 August 1947 the calamitous partition of British India into the modern states of India and Pakistan took place.

It is clear to everyone that the legacy of partition is a key driving force behind the nuclear standoff that now exists between India and Pakistan. Partition split apart a region that had been united for millennia amid communal massacres on a scale never before seen, leaving in its wake the unresolved issue of contested Kashmir - a Muslim-majority region held by Hindu-majority India under dubious political and legal circumstances. The skirmishing that has continued now for over fifty years, punctuated by outbreaks of full-scale war (in 1947, 1965, and 1971), and limited war (1999), have given both nations ample motivation to develop potent weapons to gain advantage over -- or restore balance with -- the other.

Origin of Pakistan's Nuclear Weapon Program

Unlike India's nuclear weapons program, that traces back to an early but indefinite time, actual initiation of Pakistan's program can be assigned a very definite date - 24 January 1972. On this date President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto committed Pakistan to acquiring nuclear weapons at a secret meeting held in Multan in the wake of the country's devastating defeat in the 1971 Bangladesh war.

This was meeting, and the program that resulted from it, were initiated by Bhutto himself, the enactment of a long-standing personal agenda executed at the earliest opportunity he had. A proper study of this program thus must trace the history of Ali Bhutto himself, and his developing interest in the nuclear option for Pakistan.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was born on 5 January 1928 into an aristocratic family of the Rajput nobility, which possessed (and possesses) near-feudal power in the Sindh region of what is now Pakistan. Bhutto was very much to the manor born -- his father was prominent in the Raj, the British colonial government, and was even knighted. Bhutto was educated at the best Western universities: Berkeley and Oxford. Brilliant and charismatic, Bhutto felt early that he was a man of destiny. After practicing law and lecturing in England, he returned to Pakistan in 1953 to practice law in Karachi. In 1957 he served as a delegate to the United Nations, and after Mohammad Ayub Khan took control of the government in a coup, Bhutto became a cabinet minister at only 30.

By that time Pakistan had already initiated a national nuclear program, a relatively early date, though later than India. The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) was set up in 1956 so that it could participate in the Atoms for Peace program announced by the Eisenhower administration, but development was slow in its early years.

Things began to pick up in 1960. The nuclear program acquired a new patron -- the Minister of Mineral and Natural Resources, named Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. In 1960 Dr. Ishrat H. Usmani was appointed Chairman of the PAEC. Usmani would be responsible for setting in motion many of the critical programs and institutions that would later give Pakistan nuclear weapons. Usmani started Pinstech (full name variously given as the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Sciences and Technology, and the Pakistan Institute of Science and Technology) and the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant. One of Usmani's most momentous achievement is said to be the training program under which brilliant young Pakistanis were selected and sent for training abroad. Between 1960 and 1967 some six hundred were selected of whom 106 eventually returned with doctorate degrees.

Also in 1960 the US gave Pakistan a $350,000 grant to help prepare Pakistan for its first research reactor which the United States agreed to supply two years later. This reactor, a 5 MW light-water research reactor known as the Pakistan Atomic Research Reactor (PARR-1), began operating in 1965 at Pinstech in Nilore.

In 1963 Bhutto became Foreign Minister, carrying his interest in nuclear capabilities into office with him. He watched with growing concern as China moved closer to nuclear capability, and in response India's domestic rhetoric on the subject grew more bellicose.

During 1964, when China's first nuclear test seemed imminent, factions in India including India's most politically prominent scientist (Homi Bhabha, who also led India's nuclear program), were openly agitating for nuclear weapons. Evidence suggests that India's new interest in the nuclear option was of great concern to Pakistan. Reports from the fall of 1964 into mid 1965 indicate considerable concern by President Ayub Khan, and his Foreign Minister, who was none other than Ali Bhutto [Pervkovich 1999, p. 108]. In March both men met with Chou En-lai in Beijing, a meeting both felt had very positive results and developed Chinese support for Pakistan. It was shortly after this, in mid-1965, that Bhutto uttered his famous and prophetic oath about matching India's nuclear capability (see at the top of this page).

Bhutto elaborated his views on anti-colonialism and the future of Pakistan in his book The Myth of Independence, finished in 1967 and published in 1969. One of the theses of the book was the necessity for Pakistan to acquire nuclear weapons to be able to stand against the industrialized states, and against a nuclear armed India.

But Bhutto did not have the means to put his views into practice then. That would have to wait until he became Prime Minister, which he became on 20 December 1971, 3 days after the end of the Bangladesh War.

This war developed when the bi-regional state of Pakistan, split into East and West Pakistan on either side of India, held its first national election in December 1970. The dominant party of the more populous East Pakistan won a majority of the seats in parliament, but West Pakistan, accustomed to monopolizing political and military power, responded by ignoring the election result. And on 25 March 1971 West Pakistan forces arrested the winner Mujibur Rahman, and launched a campaign brutal military repression on the Bengalis of East Pakistan. This resulted in tens of millions of refugees spilling into India, some of whom took up arms against the Pakistani government. By autumn the Indian-East Pakistani border had become something close to a combat zone, with India and Pakistan trading intense firing across the border, while armed rebels operated from safe havens in India. In late November PM Gandhi authorized Indian forces to cross the border to "pursue" Pakistani forces. Pakistan responded by a massive strike against Indian air bases in western India on 3 December, and declaring war on 4 December. India had spent months preparing for this escalation, indeed had deliberately provoked it, and launched an overwhelming 3-pronged attack into East Pakistan. Unable to hold back the Indian invasion, Pakistan attempted to counter with an attack in Kashmir, gaining several miles of territory before being halted by Indian forces. The Indian army on the other hand had surrounded Dacca, the capital of East Pakistan by 15 December, and its garrison surrendered the next day. On 17 December a cease-fire was accepted by both sides, effectively ending the war.

The war had been a crushing defeat for Pakistan, which had lost more than half its population. Despite the close relationship with China that had developed over the previous decade, Chinese support for Pakistan during the most extreme crisis of Pakistan's existence came to nought. China failed to provide any significant assistance for Pakistan, such as applying pressure on India's border. The net result was that Pakistan suffered both a serious military defeat, demonstrating its inferiority to India in military terms, and a permanent irreparable loss in its strategic position by the new found independence of East Pakistan. And the much feared (by India) Pakistan-China axis had turned out to be a "paper tiger".

Bhutto held the meeting at Multan on 24 January 1972, scarcely more than a month after taking office. The story of the Multan meeting was first made public by journalists Weissman and Krosney for the BBC show Panorama in 1980, and later recounted in their book The Islamic Bomb. Originally organized at Quetta, this convocation by the new Prime Minister brought together Pakistan's top scientists - including the internationally known (and later Nobel Prize winning) Abdus Salam; Ishrat Usmani, head of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission; and future PAEC chairman Munir Ahmad Khan [Weissman and Krosney 1981; pp. 41-44]. When accommodations proved unsuitable at Quetta, the Pakistan Air Force flew the attendees to Multan in Punjab, near the Indian border. Bhutto's objective in holding the meeting was not to consult with the scientists, Bhutto was already set on pursuing nuclear weapons, rather it was to inspire them to committing themselves to the quest. Bhutto addressed the scientists directly, engaging them and exciting them about his vision of a nuclear weapons project.

Bhutto had been concerned with India's pursuit of the "nuclear option" for several years, and this was the first opportunity he had to put his declaration of 1965 into effect. A key motivation for this program was concern over India's well known progress toward having its own nuclear option, and the public declarations by key leaders in India that they must acquire nuclear arms. Years later, after India's 1974 nuclear test, when Pakistan's nuclear program became public knowledge persistent attempts were made to paint the weapons program as a response to the test. It was a response to India's developing nuclear challenge, but not to the Pokhran test per se. To the extent that it was a response to a specific event, it was a response to India's conventional arms superiority as manifested in its victory during the Bangladesh War.

Although Pakistan did not know it at the time, when Ali Bhutto made his decision to proceed with a weapons program in 1972, an Indian team had already been engaged for a few years in developing a prototype nuclear explosive device. In fact, at that moment the basic design for India's first nuclear device was already complete.

The Bangladesh War also helped create a relationship between Pakistan and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) or "North Korea" which would later help Pakistan considerably in acquiring delivery systems for its nuclear arsenal in the 90s.

During mid-1971 Bhutto approached North Korea in an effort to obtain critically needed weapons. An agreement was quickly reached and on 18 September 1971 the first arms shipment from the DPRK arrived in Karachi. On 9 November 1972, only one day after withdrawing from SEATO, Pakistan announced that it was establishing formal diplomatic relations with the DPRK. Military assistance to Pakistan continued through the late 1970s, with the DPRK providing artillery, multiple rocket launchers, ammunition, and a variety of spare parts [Bermudez 1998b].

Support for the nuclear weapons program was far from unanimous among the scientists who assembled at Multan, though it was very broad. Salam in particular did not support the objective, and it was found necessary to neutralize his opposition by concealing the weapons objective of later nuclear projects. Usmanli, the director of the PAEC, also did not support it, but on pragmatic grounds - Pakistan did not have the technology or infrastructure to tackle such a project. As a result Usmanli was soon replaced by a alumnus of Argonne National Laboratory, and a long time staffer at the IAEC, Munir Ahmad Khan [Weissman and Krosney 1981; pp. 46-47].

Acquiring the Means

The foundation of any nuclear weapons program is the production of the special nuclear materials required for weapons - plutonium or highly enriched uranium for a basic program for producing fission weapons. Without these materials no weapons can be made. The initial direction taken by Pakistan was to pursue the use of plutonium.

Whether by intention to prepare a "nuclear option" or not, decisions made in the 1960s already provided a valuable basis for establishing a weapons program. In 1971 the Canadian General Electric Co. completed a 137 MW (electrical) CANDU power reactor for the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP) which went critical in August 1971 and began commercial operation in October 1972. CGEC also provided a small heavy water production facility. These facilities had been contracted for in the mid-60s, thus predating Bhutto's drive for nuclear weapon capability, but perhaps influenced by him in a ministerial capacity. The technology for KANUPP was the same natural uranium/heavy water technology used in the Indian Cirus and later Dhruva reactors used by India for producing weapons plutonium. The facilities were under IAEA safeguards, and have remained so, nonetheless it was the initial intent of the Pakistani nuclear weapons program to use plutonium from this reactor as the key ingredient in their nuclear arsenal [Weissman and Krosney 1981; pp. 67]. But to do that Pakistan required a means of separating plutonium from spent fuel. Some advance preparation had occurred here also. In the late 1960s Pakistan had contracted with both British Nuclear Fuels Limited and Belgonucléaire to prepare studies and designs for pilot plutonium separation facilities. The BNFL design, capable of separating up 360 g of fuel a year. The plans for this plant was completed by 1971 [Weissman and Krosney 1981; pp. 81-82].

As soon as he had come to power Bhutto had reached out to the rest of the Islamic world, particularly the nouveau riche oil states of the Middle East, for financial support. During 1973 and 1974 Bhutto held discussions with Libya and other states such as Saudi Arabia to line up financing for a nuclear weapons program. Bhutto and Libya's Colonel Qaddafi finally met and reached an agreement for a Libyan financed Pakistani weapons program in February 1974 [Weissman and Krosney 1981; pp. 59-62]. In the early seventies billions of dollars also flowed from Iran and Saudi Arabia to Pakistan, most of it for purposes other than the nuclear weapons program, but some of these funds were probably also diverted to support the pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Through at least 1975 there is every reason to believe that Pakistan's intended principal route to the bomb remained the obvious one using plutonium. The centerpiece of their program at this time was the effort to acquire a reprocessing plant to separate plutonium from the fuel of KANUPP. The first step after Multan was to build a pilot reprocessing facility called the "New Labs" at Pinstech. This facility was a larger and more ambitious project than the original BNFL plan. It was built in the early 70s by Belgonucléaire and the French corporation Saint-Gobain Techniques Nouvelles (SGN).

The pilot plant was followed by a contract signed with SGN in March 1973 to prepare the basic design for a large-scale reprocessing plant, one with a capacity of 100 tons of fuel per year, considerably more than KANUPP would generate. SGN was the world's chief exporter of reprocessing technology and had previously built military plutonium facilities for France, the secret plutonium plant at Dimona in Israel, and contracted to provide similar plants to Taiwan, South Korea, and (later) Iraq. The Chashma plant, as it was known, would have the capability to produce 200 kg of weapons grade plutonium a year, if sufficient fuel were available to feed it. It would have provided Pakistan with the ability to "break safeguards" and quickly process accumulated fuel from KANUPP when it decided to openly declare itself a nuclear armed state. The initial design contract was followed by one for the final detailed design and construction on 18 October 1974. The original contract for this project did not include significant safeguards to discourage diversion of the separated plutonium, or controls on the technology [Weissman and Krosney 1981; pp. 75, 171].

India's first nuclear test, known variously as "Smiling Buddha", the PNE (for "Peaceful Nuclear Explosive"), and most recently Pokhran-I, occurred on 18 May 1974. It provided an additional stimulus to the Pakistani weapons program, which had made little headway up to that point. Bhutto increased the funding for the program after the Indian test, but since arrangements to secure lavish funding had been underway for more than a year this would have occurred anyway. One consequence of the test was ironically to hamper Pakistan's program as the test sharply escalated international attention to proliferation and led to increased restrictions on nuclear exports to all nations, not just India. Over the next three years, these restrictions would change the entire course of the Pakistani nuclear program. On the other hand the US also boosted aid to Pakistan, including restarting military aid, which helped to improve Pakistan's conventional military position and released domestic funds for other purposes.

In the fall of 1974 a new avenue for obtaining fissile material opened up. Pakistan began receiving invaluable intelligence about uranium enrichment technology, and the most sophisticated such technology in the world at that.

The intelligence was about the gas centrifuge technology developed by the European uranium enrichment consortium URENCO, made up of Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands. The source of the intelligence was a German-educated Pakistani metallurgist named Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, who could be called the father of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal for without his expertise and assistance the uranium enrichment process would have been beyond Pakistan's means. In addition to being the indispensable source of detailed plans about the technology, he also provided the equally indispensable information on the parts suppliers for URENCO, and later became the driving force behind its development into an industrial scale process in Pakistan. Despite Khan's fame and flair for publicity and self-promotion, which has often led observers to conclude otherwise, he was never the overall leader of the Pakistani nuclear program and was not in charge of the development and testing of Pakistan's actual nuclear weapons.

A. Q. Khan
Dr. Abdul Qadeer
Khan in 1993
A. Q. Khan
204x408, 12 K

A. Q. Khan was employed from 1972 to 1975 by the Physical Dynamics Research Laboratory (FDO) in Amsterdam, which was a subcontractor to Ultra-Centrifuge Nederland (UCN). UCN, located in Almelo, Netherlands, was the Dutch partner of the tri-national European uranium enrichment centrifuge consortium URENCO, made up of Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands. While at FDO/UCN Khan worked with two early centrifuge designs, the CNOR and SNOR machines. In 1974 UCN asked Khan to translate classified design documents for two advanced German machines, the G-1 and G-2.

Shahid-ur-Rehman relates in his book The Long Road to Chagai that Khan wrote to the Prime Minister in September 1974 offering his services to Pakistan. Evidence of the effect of Khan's passing of information on centrifuge technology and design, and on the URENCO component suppliers, to Pakistan can be seen in the initiation of the Pakistani purchase of components for the uranium enrichment program beginning in August 1975.

In January 1976 Khan left the Netherlands for Pakistan abruptly. A.Q. Khan initially worked under the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), headed by Munir Ahmad Khan. Friction quickly developed and in July 1976 Bhutto gave Khan autonomous control of the uranium enrichment project, reporting directly to the Prime Minister's office, an arrangement that has continued since. A. Q. Khan founded the Engineering Research Laboratories (ERL) on 31 July 1976 at Kahuta near Islamabad, with the exclusive task of indigenous development of Uranium Enrichment Plant. Construction on Pakistan's first centrifuges began that year. The PAEC under M. A. Khan went on to develop Pakistan's first generation of nuclear weapons in the 1980s [Perkovich 1999; pp. 308-309].

During 1975 and 1976, uranium enrichment was probably seen as a backup or at most a co-equal program for fissile material production. Having two different technologies for production would Pakistan more resistant to efforts to restrain its program, and producing both U-235 and plutonium would give Pakistan greater flexibility in weapon design.

The developing anti-proliferation regime quickly showed the value of not putting all of Pakistan's eggs in one basket.

The reaction of the nuclear weapons states to India's nuclear test, made using technology imported from abroad for ostensibly peaceful purposes, led to the formation of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, or "London Club", in 1975. In November of that year the group drafted a list of restricted nuclear exports called the "Guidelines for Nuclear Transfer". The primary focus of proliferation control efforts at this time were focused on technology applicable to plutonium production, and emphasized restrictions on complete systems for production - such as reprocessing plants, or in the case of enrichment technology complete gas centrifuges.

The French government began to show increased concern about the Chashma plant during 1976. A safeguards agreement for the plant was brought before the IAEA by France in February 1976, with was approved on 18 March and signed by Pakistan. This at least ensured that the plant would have monitoring so that diversion to military purposes could be made with impunity.

Disturbing developments occurred in Pakistan during 1977 and 1978. As had happened in 1971, an attempt to conduct national elections led to chaos and military action. Though PM Bhutto remained popular, in 1977 the country grew restive under his continuing rule by decree which had continued since the catastrophe of the Bangladesh War (he had for example placed his predecessor under house arrest without charges). As a result Bhutto agreed to hold elections in March 1977, which his party (the Pakistan Peoples Party or PPP) won decisively. The opposition charged him with fraud, and irregularities did occur, though it is doubtful that Bhutto owed his victory to them. Nonetheless, the dispute led to continuing disorder. In April Bhutto declared martial law in three major cities; in June this order was declared illegal by the supreme court and was rescinded, new elections were scheduled for October; on 5 July 1977 in which Army General Mohammed Zia ul-Haq launched a coup that took over the government. The military quickly took control of the nuclear weapons program, control it is maintained to the present day - placing Pakistan's nuclear arms outside of the authority of the civilian government (when it has had one).

The replacement of the man who had instigated the nuclear program did nothing to divert its course. Zia ul-Haq continued the project unabated, and continued to press the French to fulfill the Chashma contract. But France had begun gradually turning against the reprocessing plant. In late 1977 the French proposed to Pakistan to alter the design of the plant so that it would produce a mixture of uranium and plutonium rather pure plutonium. This modification would not affect the plant's suitability for its declared purpose - producing mixed oxide fuel for power reactors - but would prevent its direct use for producing plutonium for weapons. Pakistan refused to accept the modification. But by that time Pakistan had received 95 percent of the detailed plans for the plant, and was thus in a position to secure components and build the plant itself [Weissman and Krosney 1981; pp. 166-169].

The showdown over Chashma finally occurred in 1978. A precursor was the decision in November 1977 by the CEA (the French atomic energy agency) to buy controlling interest in SGN, which had a long history of aggressively pushing international sales of its technology, and thus be able to dictate its policies. On 15 June 1978 the Council on Foreign Nuclear Policy formally decided to abrogate the contract [Weissman and Krosney 1981; pp. 169-171], preventing SGN from completing the plant.

For its part, Canada had decided on 23 December 1976 to break off its nuclear relationship with Pakistan because it had refused to submit to Canadian demands to sign the NPT and accept IAEA safeguards on its entire nuclear program, not just the Canadian supplied facility. This resulted in Canada cutting off supplies of nuclear fuel, heavy-water, spare parts, and technical information. This lack of support may be responsible in part for KANUPP's lifetime energy availability factor being one of the worst in the world (28.6% through the end of 1997).

As the prospect of acquiring Chashma slipped away, the importance of the ultracentrifuge project inevitably grew. In July 1975 physicist-turned-diplomat S.A. Butt, who had been an ardent and outspoken convert to Bhutto's vision at Multan, was posted to the Pakistani embassy to Belgium in charge of science and technology, where he became the center of the purchasing program for the centrifuge project. The first inquiries were made the following month, for the high frequency inverters required to control the centrifuge motors to a company in the Netherlands.

The purchasing program truly took off in 1976. Pakistan found that it could purchase numerous critical components for a gas centrifuge plant openly, in many cases without even having to conceal the intended end use. Under existing export rules, support equipment and individual components were not controlled, even if the device they assembled to make was.

Many of the components for constructing the centrifuges themselves were purchased from suppliers in the Netherlands. Van Doorne Transmissie received an order for 6500 tubes of specially hardened steel, other Dutch manufacturers received orders for large numbers of high strength aluminum and extremely strong martensitic steel, the for the crucial centrifuge rotors. Critical support components and subsystems were purchased from Switzerland (high vacuum valves from Vakuum Apparat Technik of Haag, Switzerland; uranium hexafluoride gassification units from CORA Engineering), and Germany (vacuum pumps and gas purification equipment from Leybold Heraeus of Hanan, Germany; plus thousands of specially formed aluminum parts).

Attempts to purchase yellowcake, refined uranium ore, through Germany failed in 1976, but by this Pakistan has discovered uranium deposits in western Punjab and had begun to exploit them [CIA 1978].

The next year, in 1977, orders were placed in France for 10,000 metal bellows, whose only use was to stabilize the gas centrifuge rotor. France prohibited the sale, but the company shipped part of order through a subcontractor in Belgium, which did not interfere, along with the dies so that Pakistan could make the bellows themselves. Dozens of high frequency inverters were purchased from a British subsidiary of Emerson Electric, which had the same specifications as those used to control uranium enrichment centrifuges by the British Atomic Energy Authority. These were shipped to Pakistan in 1978 [Weissman and Krosney 1981; pp. 182-188].

It was not until July 1978 that this vast and audacious purchasing campaign began to receive systematic scrutiny from intelligence and anti-proliferation agencies. A declassified 1978 CIA analysis shows that the CIA had become aware of nuclear weapon design group operating in Pakistan. The study focuses entirely on Pakistan's potential for producing plutonium (particularly KANUPP) with no attention to the possibility of uranium enrichment as an option (although one entire page was redacted so the possibility of passing mention cannot be excluded) [CIA 1978]. It soon became apparent that unlike many abortive nuclear projects initiated in other nations, Pakistan's program was huge, lavishly funded, well organized, and likely to succeed. It has been reported that a CIA analyses of Pakistan's huge purchasing program showed that they had succeeded in obtaining at least one of almost every component needed to build a centrifuge enrichment plant [Weissman and Krosney 1981; pp. 190].

Due to Khan's efforts, the slow recognition of the program by western intelligence, and the weak export controls at the time, Pakistan made rapid progress in developing U-235 production capability. According to Khan in a 1998 interview, the first enrichment was done at Kahuta on 4 April 1978. The plant was made operational in 1979 and by 1981 was producing substantial quantities of uranium.

In recognition of A.Q. Khan's contributions the ERL was renamed the A.Q. Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) by President Zia ul-Haq on 1 May 1981.

Khan was convicted of espionage in the Netherlands in 1983 in absentia and sentenced to four years in prison. The conviction was later overturned in 1985 for failure to properly deliver a summons to him.

Pakistan also made an effort at applying the same approach for acquisition to obtain components for the canceled Chashma plutonium separation plant. This was made easier by France's approval for SGN to complete the building for the plant, which enabled Pakistan to work on outfitting the plant for production without the work being externally observable. Some of the components had already been delivered to Pakistan, and Pakistan had complete detailed plans for the plant. After the contract cancellation S.A. Butt continued dealing directly with subcontractors, staying on good terms, and attempting to arrange delivery of the materials, even though what he was asking for would now be a violation of French law to provide. One company that made vessels for the chemical processes, Bignier Schmid-Laurent (BSL), attempted to fill an order for 26 vessels by having them made by an Italian subsidiary called Alcom, though the deal was uncovered and quashed before they could be delivered. Going in to the eighties Pakistan was still evidently trying to complete the Chashma plant [Weissman and Krosney 1981; pp. 190; 195-208]. It is not known that the plant has ever reached operational status (as of 2002), although in the intervening 2 decades Pakistan presumably could have developed the capabilities to manufacture any components they lacked, and U.S. intelligence agencies have believed that they are working on this [Koch and Topping 1997].

Preparing to Build the Bomb

Pakistani work on weapon design began even before the start of work on uranium enrichment, under the auspices of the PAEC. In March 1974, Munir Ahmad Khan called a meeting to initiate work on an atomic bomb. Among those attending the meeting were of Hafeez Qureshi, head of the Radiation and Isotope Applications Division (RIAD) at Pinstech, Dr. Abdus Salam, then Adviser for Science and Technology to the Government of Pakistan and Dr. Riaz-ud-Din, Member (Technical), PAEC. The PAEC Chairman informed Qureshi that he was to work on a project of national importance with another expert, Dr. Zaman Sheikh, then working with the Defence Science and Technology Organization (DESTO). The word "bomb" was never used in the meeting but Qureshi exactly understood the objective. Their task would be to develop the design of a weapon implosion system. The project would be located at Wah, appropriately next to the Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF), in the North-West Frontier Province and conveniently close to Islamabad.

The work at Wah began under the undescriptive codename Research and Qureshi, Zaman and their team of engineers and scientists came to be known as "The Wah Group". Initial work was limited to research and development of the explosive lenses to be used in the nuclear device. This expanded however to include chemical, mechanical and precision engineering of the system and the triggering mechanisms. It procured equipment where it could and developed its own technology where restrictions prevented the purchase of equipment [Azam 2000].

The first preparations for eventual nuclear tests also started early - in 1976. Dr. Ishfaq Ahmad, Member (Technical) and Dr. Ahsan Mubarak of the PAEC were dispatched to Baluchistan to conduct helicopter reconnaissance of potential test sites with the assistance of the army 5 Corps located at Quetta. Over a span of three days, the PAEC scientists made several reconnaissance tours of the area between Turbat, Awaran and Khusdar in the south and Naukundi-Kharan in the east.

The PAEC requirement was for a mountain with a completely dry interior capable of withstanding an internal 20 kt nuclear explosion. A likely site was found in the form of a several hundred meter tall granite mountain Koh Kambaran in the Ras Koh range (also referred to as the Ras Koh Hills). The Ras Koh in the Chagai Division of Baluchistan rise at their highest point to 3009 meters. After a one year survey of the site, completed in 1977, plans were finalized for driving a horizontal tunnel under Koh Kambaran for a future test. [Azam 2000]. (It is interesting to note that Azam cites an incorrect height for Koh Kamabaram of 185 m. Comparing the prominent white band on the mountain, which satellite photography shows is 520 m long, to photographs of the actual mountain show that it is over 500 m high.)

Brig. Muhammad Sarfraz, who had provided support to the PAEC survey team, was tasked by (now) President Zia ul-Haq in 1977 with creating and leading the Special Development Works (SDW) which was entrusted with the task of preparing the nuclear test sites. The SDW was formally subordinate to the PAEC but directly reported to the (now) Chief of the Army Staff Sarfraz. Meetings between SDW and PAEC officials and ul-Haq led to the decision to prepare a second site for a horizontal shaft. The site selected was located at Kharan, in a desert valley between the Ras Koh Hills to the north and Siahan Range to the south. Subsequently, the Chagai-Ras Koh-Kharan areas became restricted entry zones and were closed to the public, prompting rumors that Pakistan had given air bases to the United States. The fact that US-AID had set up an office in Turbat, Baluchistan only added fuel to such rumors [Azam 2000].


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