Nuclear Safety, Pakistan, IAEA, NPT, NSG, Security

Ever since the fateful nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 and the resulting destruction, the nations of the world have strived to prevent it from happening ever again; at least in theory. Instead the aim was to use the nuclear energy for constructive purposes such as energy generation. In this regard, the International Atomic Energy Agency came into being in 1957 with the sole purpose of promoting the safe use of nuclear energy and inhibiting its undesirable military uses. It also serves as a watchdog of the United Nations in its bid to prevent the horizontal proliferation of nuclear weapons among non-nuclear states so as to ensure compliance to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Pakistan entered into the club of nuclear power states in 1998 after it successfully conducted the Chaghi-I tests only a few weeks after India’s Pokhran-II. The country’s nuclear program had been under fire from the international community, particularly the United States, ever since its inception in 1972. However, the intensity of the criticism was not felt until much later in the 1990s courtesy of the Pressler amendment after Islamabad had served its purpose of aiding Washington in dealing a fatal blow to the Soviets in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, the dawn of the 21st century brought a gradual change in the attitude of world powers towards the country’s nuclear program going from strict opposition to a reluctant acceptance, much in part thanks to the overarching need of Islamabad as an ally in the U.S. led war on terror though such acceptance still comes attached with a hint of caution.

The mantra of the global powers since the 9/11 attacks regarding nuclear power has revolved around its protection against terrorist use. International agencies like the UNO and the IAEA led by the United States of America continue to warn against an apocalyptic future where nuclear weapons fall into the wrong hands. Pakistan has been the bulls eye for such discourse as the world continues to eye its nuclear program with suspicion. Given the extent of extremist activities in addition to the militant groups operating in and around the country, one cannot help but lean in favour of arguments that highlight the threat of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal falling into the wrong hands by hook or by crook. Concomitantly, the shady past of the country involving infamous scandal of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan’s dealings does not do much favour to Pakistan’s cause as well.

In this regard, Pakistan has undertaken various steps to signal its commitment to the protection of its nuclear arsenal. Quite recently in February 2018, Islamabad conveyed to the IAEA its willingness to subscribe to “Guidance on the Import and Export of Radioactive Sources.” And from the 12th to 14th of March the IAEA Director General, Mr. Yukiya Amano, visited Pakistan and commended the efforts of Pakistan to safeguard its nuclear assets as the country works its way towards tripling its nuclear power capacity. He was particularly appreciative of the national standards that are maintained at various civilian nuclear sites. In his words, “Everywhere it was clear you [Pakistan] have the knowledge and the pool of people who are dedicated to do this job.” In addition to this, Mr. Amano also approved and published a 4-year project with the aim of ensuring a sustainable, reliable and safe operation of nuclear facilities across Pakistan with the collaboration of some key national institutions. In this regard, Pakistan has adopted the “Export Control on Goods, Technologies, Materials and Equipment related to Nuclear and Biological Weapons and Their Delivery Systems Act, 2004.” Under this act, the individuals or organizations that are deemed guilty of illicit trade of nuclear technology are to be charged with criminal conduct and prosecuted.

The efforts of Pakistan to meet this end can be seen on both the domestic and international level. At the global stage, Islamabad has collaborated with the UN’s 1540 Committee for the security of nuclear technology and actively partaken in the Nuclear Security Summit. Pakistan is also a part of the Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials (CPPNM), the Nuclear Safety Convention, the Convention on Early Notification of Nuclear accidents; the Conventional on assistance in case of a nuclear accident or Radiological Emergency and has been involved with the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT).

On a domestic level, the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) was formed in order to safely secure nuclear material in compliance with international best practices. Its functions revolve around the physical protection of nuclear materials and a timely notification and aid in an event of emergencies. Moreover, under the Strategic Plans Division (SPD) a security contingent was set up in order to train ten thousand personnel for the safety of such materials. A Personal Reliability Program has been installed as well which assists in the physical security of the nuclear weapons. Such a system ensures fool proof security and guards against any sort of insider threat.

There is a little doubt that the country has taken various steps over the last decade to strengthen its nuclear security including the installation of US sponsored scanners on its ports to prevent illicit trade of radiological material. In addition, Islamabad has also partaken in many bilateral and multilateral agreements at the domestic and global level, including the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM). Operational since 1987, the CPPNM focuses on the physical security of nuclear material intended for peaceful use during its transport across borders. However, the CPPNM did not provide for such protection of nuclear material domestically. Hence, an amendment was adopted in 2005 by the states that were party to the convention in order to broaden its scope.

Pakistan’s practical efforts to the cause of nuclear protection and safety were also appreciated during the fourth Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in 2016. In the summit, Islamabad put stress in the discriminatory restraints on the transfer of nuclear technology and other fissile material to the country under the Nuclear Supplier Group. Syed Tariq Fatemi, who is a former special assistant to the PM of Pakistan on matters related to Foreign Affairs, stated in categorical terms: “Pakistan has strong credentials to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and other multilateral export control regimes, on non-discriminatory basis.”  In the light of the biased leniency when it comes to its neighbour India, such claims by Islamabad have plenty of weight.

A natural wariness of India’s hegemonic, hostile ambitions has been embedded in the strategic culture of Pakistan since its very inception and this amplified as New Delhi declared itself as a Nuclear Weapon State (NWS) in 1998, albeit an unofficial one. Pakistan was forced to shed its own nuclear ambiguity in response just few days later via the Chaghi-I tests.

The nuclear program of Pakistan was not meant to provide the country with an “Islamic Bomb” as most critics reiterate. Rather, it was a necessary evil that had to be acquired in order to maintain a balance of power with a hostile neighbour. A natural wariness of India’s hegemonic, hostile ambitions has been embedded in the strategic culture of Pakistan since its very inception and this amplified as New Delhi declared itself as a Nuclear Weapon State (NWS) in 1998, albeit an unofficial one. Pakistan was forced to shed its own nuclear ambiguity in response just few days later via the Chaghi-I tests. The belligerent nature of Pak-India relationship created a nuclear flashpoint in South Asia as a result drawing much criticism worldwide. Islamabad maintains that it would be happily oblige to any nuclear restraint framework as long as Delhi follows suit. Both nations are yet to sign the NPT as each invites the other to take the first step. Instead, both the nations continually proliferate vertically and test the boundaries of patience and nuclear deterrence of the other. The stability-instability paradox in South Asia is exploited most by India thanks to its Cold-Start Doctrine and sporadic breach of the Pak-India border. As a result, Pakistan has had to develop Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs) much to the dismay of the world community as the fears of terrorist control over such weapons continue to amplify. In this context, the on-record appreciation of the IAEA Director General is a welcome development for Islamabad.

Muhammad Saad

Muhammad Saad

is a graduate of School of Economics of Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

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