India-Pakistan n-arms race worries US: report


Washington : The India-Pakistan nuclear arms race, which reminds some in the American establishment of the US-Soviet nuclear competition during the Cold War, has left US officials “increasingly worried”, a report said here Thursday.

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At a time when the reported detonation of a North Korean nuclear device Monday has renewed concerns over that country’s efforts to build up its atomic arsenal, “US and allied officials and experts who have tracked developments in South Asia have grown increasingly worried over the rapid growth of the region’s more mature nuclear programmes, in part because of the risk that weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists”, the Washington Post reported.

Sometime next year, at a tightly guarded site south of its capital, Pakistan will be ready to start churning out a new stream of plutonium for its nuclear arsenal, which will eventually include warheads for ballistic missiles and cruise missiles capable of being launched from ships, submarines or aircraft, it noted.

Engineers in India, on the other hand, are designing cruise missiles to carry nuclear warheads, relying partly on Russian missile-design assistance, the report said.

India is also trying to equip its Agni ballistic missiles with such warheads and to deploy them on submarines and its rudimentary missile-defence capability is slated for a major upgrade next year, according to the Post.

India and Pakistan see their nuclear programmes as vital points of leverage in an arms race that has begun to take on the pace and diversity, although not the size, of US-Soviet nuclear competition during the Cold War, it quoted US intelligence and proliferation experts as saying.

Pakistani authorities said they are modernising their facilities, not expanding their programme; Indian officials in New Delhi and Washington declined to comment, the report said.

“They are both going great guns [on] new systems, new materials; they are doing everything you would imagine,” a former intelligence official who has long studied the region and who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the Post.

While both India and Pakistan say their actions are defensive, the consequence of their efforts has been to boost the quantity of nuclear materials being produced and the number of times they must be moved around, as well as the training of experts in highly sensitive skills, this source and others say.

That would lead to more vulnerabilities, according to Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, formerly the CIA’s top official on weapons of mass destruction and the Energy Department’s director of intelligence during the George W. Bush administration.

US experts are also worried that as the size of the nuclear programmes of India and Pakistan grow, chances increase that a rogue scientist or military officer will attempt to sell nuclear parts or know-how, as now-disgraced Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan did.

Former Indian government officials say efforts are underway to improve and test a powerful thermonuclear warhead, even as the country adds to a growing array of aircraft, missiles and submarines that launch them.

“Delivery system-wise, India is doing fine,” Bharat Karnad, a former member of India’s National Security Advisory Board and a professor of national security studies at New Delhi’s Centre for Policy Research, was quoted as saying.

India first detonated an atomic bomb in 1974. India and Pakistan both tested nuclear devices in 1998.

A senior Pakistani official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said his government has refrained from testing missiles that could carry nuclear weapons because officials do not want to antagonise the Indian and US governments.

The scenario poses a challenge for the US administration as President Barack Obama hopes to complete during his first term a treaty to curtail the global production of fissile materials.