Beijing: The ‘no war, no peace’ mode between Indian and Chinese troops is going on for nearly two months. Right now China and India are glaring at each other across Doklam, the contested ground along the Sino-Indian frontier high in the Himalayas. It was the Himalayan border that prompted their last serious fight, when China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) dealt the Indians a short, sharp defeat in 1962. But any future war might not be fought on the high mountains, but the high seas.
On November 13, 2009, the Washington Post published shocking accounts written by Abdul Qadeer Khan, father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. According to the Post, Khan wrote that China provided 50 kilogram of bomb-grade uranium, which was enough for two atom bombs, to Pakistan in mid-1982. Khan narrated the entire story of sinister China-Pakistan nuclear cooperation, which started right after India tested its first nuclear bomb in 1974.
The terms of nuclear agreement between the two countries were set in mid-1976. India’s test in 1974 had “provoked” Khan, who was then working as a metallurgist at a Dutch centrifuge manufacturer, to offer his services to then Pakistan premier Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. After arriving in Pakistan, Khan worked out the details along with two officials – including former secretary Agha Shahi – before visiting Beijing to attend Mao’s funeral in 1976.
In China, Khan held talks with three top Chinese nuclear weapons officials and shared his knowledge about European-designed centrifuges, that could “aid China’s lagging uranium-enrichment program.” According to Khan, Pakistani officials helped China set up a centrifuge plant at Hanzhong in central China. For this Pakistan had sent “135 C-130 plane loads of machines, inverters, valves, flow meters, pressure gauges.” The Pakistan team stayed in Hanzhong for three weeks to complete their task. In return for the help, China sent to Pakistan “15 ton of uranium hexafluoride (UF6), a feedstock for Pakistan’s centrifuges that Khan’s colleagues were having difficulty producing on their own.”
According to Khan, the uranium hexafluoride gas helped Pakistan to start producing bomb-grade Uranium in 1982. Chinese scientists also helped Islamabad in solving “other nuclear weapons challenges”. However, as Pakistanis’ competence grew, Islamabad started to fear of a preemptive strike on its key nuclear sites by India or Israel.
In 1982, the then Pakistani military ruler Mohammad Zia ul-Haq talked to Khan about the fears of possible Indian or Israeli strike. Haq sent Khan and a Pakistani military general to Beijing “with a request in mid-1982 to borrow enough bomb-grade uranium for a few weapons.” The then Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping okayed Pakistan’s request.
“After winning Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s approval, Khan, the general and two others flew aboard a Pakistani C-130 to Urumqi. Khan says they enjoyed barbecued lamb while waiting for the Chinese military to pack the small uranium bricks into lead-lined boxes, 10 single-kilogram ingots to a box, for the flight to Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital,” the Washington Post reported in 2009.
Interestingly, Pakistan kept the Chinese material in storage until 1985. By that time, they had developed some nuclear weapons on their own. In the same year, Khan got Zia’s approval to ask if the Chinese wanted their material back. However, the Chinese responded to Pakistan that the nuclear material be considered “as a gift… in gratitude for Pakistani help”.
Throughout the period, the US was aware of the Chinese-Pakistani collaboration and also of the fact that Beijing and Islamabad were “worried about India”, according to the post.Khan is believed to have passed of nuclear weapons know how to many states including Iran and Libya. China has officially denied its nuclear weapon collaboration with Pakistan.