Friday, June 09, 2006

Pakistani Nuclear Program 1-5

Those who obliviously or maliciously profess Pakistan to be a backward country which couldn’t have developed nuclear weapons on its own are sorely mistaken and are well advised to educate their intellectually starved brains.

This is a meticulously detailed article on Pakistani Nuclear Program by M.A.Chaudhri published in the May issue of the It provides the most concise and comprehensive information available in the public arena on the Pakistani Nuclear Program.

The article has opened at least my eyes. It has made me so proud to have realized how thousands of bright Pakistani minds used their ingenuity and hard work to achieve what rest of the world maliciously tried to deny Pakistan. These unsung heroes achieved technical marvels in a technologically backward country like which at one time had almost nil infrastructures to embark on such an ambitious program. Setting up such a cutting edge technological infrastructure against all the odds is an engineered miracle by itself. These people made Pakistan proud. My hat is off to them.

It is a long article so this will part 1 of 5 of the series.



extensive research on our nuclear initiative and puts the record straight.

Part 1 - 5

The 1998 Chaghi tests conducted successfully by the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) were indeed Pakistan’s “finest hour”. But the real story behind Pakistan’s historic accomplishment is shrouded in mystery and ignorance of the real facts, and has hardly found its way into the media, for many years now. Pakistan’s journey to Chaghi was a Herculean team effort in which the PAEC played the leading role.

As most people in Pakistan and abroad still think, Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan brought a “nuclear cook-book” from Holland and people continue to eulogize him as a "nuclear scientist" where as he is a metallurgist, and not a nuclear scientist or engineer.

They have failed to understand and ignored the underlying efforts of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission under Mr. Munir Ahmed Khan and his team of world class nuclear scientists and engineers and Dr. I H Usmani before them. They developed and led the entire nuclear weapons programme including uranium enrichment, the bomb itself, and all related nuclear facilities, training institutions and technologies, and they also mastered the complete “nuclear fuel cycle” and the still largely unknown plutonium programme.

Two eras in the nuclear programme’s history deserve special emphasis.

The first one was under Dr. I H Usmani, who laid the foundation of the civilian nuclear programme in Pakistan, and who remained PAEC Chairman from 1960-71.

The second one was under Mr. Munir Ahmed Khan, who continued as Chairman PAEC from 1972-91, during which the initiation and development of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme took place.

The third era under Dr. Ishfaq Ahmad, who remained Chairman PAEC from 1991-2001, saw the culmination of the nuclear weapons programme, begun under Munir Ahmad Khan, from ‘covert’ to ‘overt’ status at the time of the Chaghi tests in 1998.


In 1956, the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) was established, with the initial target of capitalizing on the U.S President Eisenhower's ’Atoms for Peace Programme’, and its first chairman was Dr. Nazir Ahmed. The initial work mostly focused in fundamental research in high-energy physics and there were less than ten people working on this.

In 1961, PAEC set up a Mineral Centre at Lahore and a similar multidisciplinary Centre was set up in Dhaka, in the then East Pakistan. With these two centers, the basic research work started.

The first thing that was to be undertaken was the search for Uranium. This continued for about 3 years from 1960 to 1963. Uranium deposits were discovered in the Dera Ghazi Khan district and the first-ever national award was given to the PAEC. Mining of Uranium began in the same year.[i] The PAEC in 1970 began work on a pilot-scale plant at Dera Ghazi Khan for the concentration of uranium ores. The plant had a capacity of 10,000 pounds a day.[ii]

The next landmark under Dr. Usmani was the establishment of PINSTECH – Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology, at Nilore near Islamabad. The principal facility there was a 5 MW research reactor, commissioned in 1965 and consisting of the Pakistan Atomic Research Reactor (PARR-1) ,which was upgraded to 10 MW under Munir Ahmad Khan in 1990. A second Atomic Research Reactor, PARR-2, was a Pool-type, light-water, 27-30 kWt, training reactor that went critical in 1989 under Munir Ahmed Khan.

Dr. I H Usmani’s contribution to the nuclear programme is fundamental to the development of atomic energy for civilian purposes as he established PINSTECH, that subsequently developed into Pakistan’s premier nuclear research institution. In addition to sending hundreds of young Pakistanis abroad for training, he laid the foundations of the Muslim world’s first nuclear power reactor KANUPP, which was inaugurated by Munir Ahmed Khan in 1972. Thus, Usmani laid solid groundwork for the civilian nuclear programme.[iii]


On 20 December 1971 Zulfikar Ali Bhutto assumed power in Pakistan. As a first step in the direction of institution of a nuclear weapons programme, Bhutto asked Munir Ahmad Khan, who was working as head of Nuclear Reactor Engineering Division at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Vienna, to prepare a report on Pakistan's nuclear infrastructure.[iv]

I.H.Usmani, however, was reluctant to pursue the nuclear weapons programme, as he believed that it was beyond Pakistan’s ability at that time and he had asked Bhutto at the Multan Conference not to divert the nuclear programme to weapons application.[v]

Given Usmani’s reluctance, he in January 1972, was replaced by a 48 year old nuclear engineer, Mr. Munir Ahmad Khan, at the Multan Conference of senior scientists, held January 20th, 1972 in the historic city of Multan in the Punjab province. Munir Khan had been with the IAEA since 1958 and was the first Pakistani and one of the first Asian scientists to be on the staff of the IAEA. He had vast international contacts and brought rich managerial and scientific experience with him which was derived from his 14 year long association with the IAEA and he in his capacity as head of Reactor Engineering Division at the IAEA had been involved with the nuclear power programmes of many countries at that time. He had also served as Scientific Secretary of the UN Geneva Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy from 1964 to 1971.

It was at this Multan Conference where Bhutto asked the assembled scientists to make the atomic bomb in the shortest possible time. The PAEC would go on to achieve nuclear weapons capability by 1983, under Munir Ahmad Khan . [vi]

The conference was held at the residence of the Punjab Chief Minister Nawab Sadiq Qureshi in Multan. Key invitees included scientists from the Pakistan Institute for Nuclear Science & Technology (PINSTECH), the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, Government College, Lahore, and the Defence Science & Technology Organization (DESTO). Future Nobel laureate and scientific advisor to the Pakistani government Dr. Abdus Salam also attended the meeting. During the meeting, several scientists enthusiastically supported the idea of a nuclear weapons programme. Bhutto endorsed the idea and promised that his government would spare "no facilities and finances" for a weapons programme.Toward the end of the meeting, Bhutto announced that Munir Ahmad Khan would replace Dr. Usmani as Chairman of the PAEC.[vii]

Therefore, what was lacking for a nuclear weapons programme to begin in Pakistan before 1972 was the lack of strategic vision and committment on the part of the political and scientific leadership. Thus, Prime Minister Z.A.Bhutto's vision and political committment to acquire nuclear weapons capability channeled into reality through the winning combination of Bhutto and Munir Ahmad Khan.[viii]

Munir Ahmad Khan had previously tried unsuccessfully to convince President Ayub Khan that Pakistan must acquire the nuclear option. On his way back to Pakistan, President Ayub Khan held a meeting with Munir Ahmad Khan in London, in December, 1965, which was arranged by Z.A.Bhutto. Apparently, Ayub had just returned from a meeting with President Johnson and rejected Munir Khan's advice that Pakistan must also pursue nuclear capability as India was already embarked on this route. Ayub Khan was of the view that Pakistan did not have the resources to acquire nuclear weapons capability and was not a strategic necessity at that time. When Ayub Khan was told by Munir Ahmed Khan that nuclear technology could eventually place in the hands of Pakistan a nuclear weapons option, Ayub Khan simply smiled and said that if needed, Pakistan could get it from China. Bhutto was pacing up and down in the lobby , waiting outside as Munir was meeting Ayub. When Munir came out, Bhutto asked him what had happened. "The President did not agree" Munir told him. "Do not worry -- our turn will come", Bhutto had said.[ix]

It was only after Bhutto left the Ayub Khan cabinet and held some fateful and important meetings with Munir Ahmad Khan in Vienna in the 1960s that Bhutto decided that Pakistan must have the nuclear capability as India had been making great strides in this field, following which Bhutto was to make the historic remark that "We shall eat grass if necessary but build the atomic bomb" and promised full support to Munir Ahmad Khan in this effort after he would come to power, a promise that he kept to the letter.[x]

Thus the nuclear weapons programme truly began in 1972.


There are two routes to a nuclear bomb which provide the “fissile material” for the nuclear weapon itself. One is the plutonium route, in which plutonium is obtained by reprocessing the spent fuel from nuclear power reactors; the other is the enriched uranium route. At the Multan Conference, it was decided that PAEC would pursue both routes simultaneously to protect the programme from becoming handicapped in the wake of any possible sanctions in the future and to provide a greater flexibility in weapon design.[xi]

The Enriched Uranium and Plutonium are integral to the “Nuclear Fuel Cycle”, both ends of which were mastered single-handedly by PAEC under Munir Ahmad Khan.

The success of any nuclear programme depends on many critical, yet interlinked processes and requires trained technical manpower, nuclear facilities, infrastructure, materials, research institutions and testing facilities in addition to nuclear power plants.

To obtain the necessary materials and technologies that were not available inside Pakistan at the time, PAEC had established an elaborate procurement network, under a brilliant physicist-turned diplomat, Mr. Siddique. A. Butt. [xii] Once the required pieces of technology not available in Pakistan were acquired from abroad, many of them had to be reverse engineered and built "in-house", during which Pakistani scientists and engineers learnt the art of developing future generations of machines and technological equipment and plants by themselves. Soon after becoming Chairman PAEC, Munir Ahmad Khan had instituted a detailed survey of the materials and technological expertise and industrial potential available inside Pakistan for the nuclear weapons programme, which helped in identifying the needs for procruing critical technologies from abroad.[xiii]


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