Pakistan's Nuclear Capacity: A Closer Look
The nuclear capacity of a country portrays its potential to pose deterrence. Countries try to acquire nuclear power in terms of managing power balance relative to their potential and possible threats which are defined in the official declared nuclear doctrine of that country. The nuclear acquisition in South Asia by the neighbouring enemies poses a danger due to the earlier history of wars. The historical ground the rivalling neighbours have has evidently been creating an “image” for the official acknowledgment of acquiring nuclear capacity. In the case of Pakistan, the fear of being an unsecure country since her inception has played a very crucial role for the country’s nuclear quest in relevance to Indian nuclear quest. The argumentum sessions being held worldwide due to global concerns regarding the nuclear safety and security issue over the command and control system of Pakistani nuclear weapons are worrying to say the least. The best answer to the arguments is this: if a country is capable of developing and deploying a nuclear weapon, the country definitely possesses the capability to sustain and maintain the safety and security level of its nuclear arsenals.
In order to explore the factual perspectives the capacity of Pakistani nuclear arsenals, it is essential to have an analytical look upon the capability of the classified nuclear weapons programme of Pakistan. Pakistan started its nuclear weapons programme, as HEU (Highly Enriched Uranium) based and later in 1990’s the plutonium production reactor was initiated by the country. Pakistan is developing its nuclear weapons rapidly and is considered to have world’s rapidly-growing nuclear arsenals programme.
Pakistan has been constructing its fourth plutonium reactor near Khushab, which is scheduled to be launched in 2013. This will ultimately increase the production capacity of the country. Pakistan’s rapid progress at its Khushab nuclear site is remarkable and significantly portrays its capacity for producing fissile material, signifying nearly 90% of the country’s nuclear resources. The fact that Pakistan has indigenous sources of uranium gives it the credibility to mark independence – there is essentially no need to import the heavy material. Moreover, the country intends to expand its ballistic missile programme, keeping focusing on plutonium enrichment in Khushab nuclear site. The production of plutonium will enable the country to manufacture smaller warheads with the help of engineers that will make those warheads more feasible in terms of affixing them to a missile.
In 2011, the head of Strategic Plans Division (SPD) Khalid Ahmed Kidwai announced the first test flight of Hatf IX (Nasr), a nuclear battle field range ballistic missile. On March 5, 2012, Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) announced that Pakistan has successfully test-fired ballistic missile Hatf II (Abdali). Hatf II is a short range surface-to-surface ballistic missile and can carry nuclear as well as conventional warheads with high accuracy. Hatf II has enabled Pakistan to have operational capability in regard to its strategic forces. Pakistan had only Strategic and tactical level capability before testing Hatf II.
Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme was founded by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in response to the country’s loss of East Pakistan in 1971. At that time, President and Chief Martial Law Administrator Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto felt the necessity to build nuclear capacity, keeping the developments of India in mind. The neighbour was reported to have secretly developed its nuclear programme. In response, Pakistani Scientist A.Q. Khan played a pivotal role in developing Pakistan’s capacity and capability to produced fissile material. However, he was later unnecessarily accused for underground nuclear proliferation by America.
Recently, Director Arms Control and Disarmament Affairs of SPD, Khalid Banuri, pointed towards the destabilising developments occurring in the region due to Indo-US civil nuclear agreements. It has thus been disturbing the power balance in the region. He further stated that restraint cannot be separated apart from regional fractions and conventional disparities. Khalid Banuri explicitly mentioned that the western analysis regarding Pakistan’s nuclear program is based on uncertainty and misperceptions. He said, “Our nuclear weapons are for deterrence, not for war but if we are threatened, we will response according to our possession of the capability.”
He further marked that “our deterrence is built on the essential three pillars: capability, communication and credibility.” His tone clearly delivered a warning. Khalid Banuri said that Pakistan is not competing in any kind of nuclear arms race but its basic goal is to maintain deterrence against India. The nuclear arsenals program of Pakistan is solely based on security driven factors and not on prestige or political both countries. It is more accurate to say that a security disparity exists in the region. This security imbalance is being fuelled by India’s stockpiling and upgrading of its conventional assets. India keeps its security concerns over China while Pakistan has to react to Indian modernisation of conventional arms accordingly. Pakistan does not have the capability to spend in its conventional assets, which in turn is leading the country to develop nuclear arsenals and fissile material in order to fill the gap and balance the power equation.
The nuclear program of a country also assists in generating power for the country as it can be used for peaceful purposes, according to the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Deal. In this regard, Pakistan also uses its nuclear power plants for power generation. Pakistan has been hit by uncontrollable energy crises in recent years and to solve the power shortage gap, it intends to generate more power for electricity.
Pakistan is in great need of importing nuclear power reactors to meet the growing energy need of the country. In this regard, the plan to buy nuclear power reactors is an addition to the series of attempts made to increase Pakistan’s power production capacity. The government is focusing on developing nuclear energy on a comparatively bigger scale. The Energy Security Action Plan, which was approved in 2011, is envisioned to increase the share of nuclear power by mounting 8,800 MW nuclear power plants by 2030. Pakistan needs to import nuclear power plants in order to lead the energy generation at rates cheaper than thermal resources. It should be marked that the power shortage in the country has been varying around 8,000 MW to 8,500 MW.
The power crisis is disrupting the industrial production and foreign investments in the country, which have an adverse effect on the economic growth of Pakistan. Pakistan is successfully operating three of its nuclear power plants which are capable of generating 300MW. The table below mentions which nuclear power reactors are operating successfully whereas some nuclear power reactors are proposed and under construction in the diagram on the below that tree, which depicts the three operational level nuclear power plants in Pakistan.
Currently, the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) intends to develop Karachi Nuclear Power Plant-2 (KANUPP-2) and KANUPP-3. Both the nuclear power plants are expected and designed to produce 1000 MWs of electricity in order to fill the increasing gap between the demand and supply in Karachi, the largest city and the economic hub of Pakistan. Several resources have indicated that Chinese National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) and PAEC are mutually studying the implementation of the planned project by signing an agreement. After completing a joint study, PAEC and CNNC will start the next phase of negotiating process for the nuclear power reactors of KANUPP-2 and KANUPP-3.
Pakistan has been subjected to power crisis and currently the power demand in the country is increasing at about more than 8% per year. If the percentage of growing power demand increases at the same rate per year, Pakistan will need to emphasise on its nuclear power resource sin terms of enhancing power generation from 462 MWs to 8800 MWs till 2030. Although the efforts conducted by PAEC to develop a large infrastructure to produce essential equipment for power generation are commendable, Pakistan has not yet been able to make substantial progress in the nuclear field due to the increased demand of power. At present, the most suitable option for Pakistan to cope with the energy crisis is by using nuclear power with its realistic potential, after consolation with the international community, enabling the country to gratify future energy demands. It is evident that many developed states rely heavily on their nuclear resources for power generation rather than solely relying upon the conventional resources. Such countries include China, US, Japan and now India, to name a few of the major shots.
It is apparent that Pakistan’s nuclear capacity, if utilised properly, can facilitate the mounting requisite for power generation in light of the factual necessities. The nuclear reactors developed for security concerns are moving towards their usage for the peaceful purpose of manufacturing energy for the country. On the other hand, Pakistan’s nuclear policy is centralised upon Indian nuclear activities. This has the added advantage of hindering mutually assured destruction, courtesy of the incumbent arms race the neighbours are frantically engaged in. Pakistan, therefore, needs to focus upon utilising nuclear plants for energy purposes vis-à-vis India, if she wants to save herself from the growing energy scarcity in industrial, economical, educational and societal (including urban and rural) life.