Exclusive. Analysis. By Yossef Bodansky and Gregory R. Copley. With input from GIS (Global Information System) Stations Islamabad, Riyadh and Kuala Lumpur.
Pakistan has reached a secret but definitive agreement to station nuclear weapons on Saudi soil, fitted to a new generation of Chinese (PRC)-supplied long-range (4,000 to 5,000km) ballistic missiles which would be under Pakistani command, but clearly with some form of joint Saudi-Pakistani command and control.
The new systems would be able to reach European and Indian targets, increasing Saudi political influence in Europe and giving Pakistan the strategic depth it needs to have a second-strike capability against Indian nuclear capabilities. This radically changes the balance of power in South Asia.
Highly-reliable GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily sources in Islamabad and Riyadh reported on October 21, 2003, that Saudi Arabia's effective ruler, Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister 'Abdallah bin 'Abd al-'Aziz al Sa'ud, reached the agreement with Pakistan Pres. Pervez Musharraf and Pakistani Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Jamali during the visit of the Saudi delegation to Pakistan October 18-20, 2003. The agreement is the culmination of a long and sustained series of Saudi requests to Pakistan. A significant, unreported one-on-one meeting between Pres. Musharraf and Crown Prince 'Abdallah in Kuala Lumpur, at the Organization for Islamic Conference (OIC) on October 15, 2003, was also significant in the process.
It was clearly the fact that the Saudi basing would give Pakistan the capability to credibly deter an Indian nuclear or conventional attack on Pakistan which was the decisive element for the Pakistani leadership. Pakistan's domestically-based nuclear capability is insufficient to deter the threat even of an overwhelming Indian military thrust into the country. However, the basing of an IRBM capability, with nuclear weapons, in Saudi Arabia, adds a complex second-strike capability to Pakistan's deterrence and bargaining power with India.
Pakistani Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Jamali arrived in Tehran on October 21, 2003, for a three-day visit, ostensibly about trade, but the Pakistani Government wished to use the visit to explain the Saudi-Pakistani deal with Iranian officials, in order to ensure that Iran did not see the new arrangement as a threat to Iran. Iran is conscious of the fact that the 1987 Saudi CSS-2 acquisition was specifically designed to deter Iranian attacks on Saudi Arabia.
It was understood that, under the Saudi-Pakistani pact, the nuclear weapons deployed to Saudi Arabia would remain as Pakistani systems, and the new series of ballistic missiles - which would replace the existing Saudi CSS-2 missiles (2,800km+ range), provided by the PRC and based on the DF-3A - would be paid-for by Saudi Arabia while being marked as Pakistani systems. The new systems would have a range of at least 4,000km and possibly 5,000km.
Saudi Arabia acquired its CSS-2s in 1987, principally to counter potential threats from Iran. The Saudi systems, which were obsolescent even then, were fitted with conventional warheads, although it was believed that Saudi Arabia had developed chemical and/or biological warhead capabilities for the missiles. The Royal Saudi Air Force (Al Quwwat al Jawwiya al Malakiya as Sa'udiya) operates a total of 50 CSS-2 IRBMs, in two squadrons; one at al-Joffer, the other at Sulayel (the principal missile base). The CSS-2 is a road-transportable, liquid-fueled IRBM, and can be launched from either permanent launch pads or from portable launch stands, although the RSAF approach appears to be to base the systems at fixed sites.
It was understood that the new systems would replace the CSS-2s at al-Joffer and Sulayel. Ideally, according to the sources, the new systems would be solid-fuel missiles, although it was possible that a derivative of the DF-4 liquid-fueled system (4,750km range) could be obtained, surplus from PRC stocks as an interim measure. The DF-4 operates from fixed bases. No specific timetable was put on the proposed new deployment of Pakistani strategic systems in Saudi Arabia, but a DF-4 acquisition option could make the plan operational within a very short timeframe.
In about February 2002, Saudi workers began a major expansion program at Sulayel. By early March 2002, there were significant numbers of new buildings and fortified storage facilities. New facilities were also built at the nearby King Khalid Military City, to support the Sulayel expansion. New launch pads were created and, significantly, new fortified storage facilities were built for missiles which would be longer than the CSS-2s currently in service. Two underground facilities were also noted.
The implication of the Saudi-Pakistani deal is that it (a) gives Saudi Arabia more credibility and leverage in dealing with European states and the US; and (b) makes Saudi Arabia now a part of the threat matrix for India.
It was no coincidence that, during the three-day Saudi visit to Pakistan that Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Sa'ud al-Faisal bin Abd al-Aziz Al-Sa'ud said in Islamabad on October 19, 2003, that Indian-Israel military cooperation was a "worrying element" which could unleash instability and arms race in the region. Speaking at a joint news conference with Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, he addressed the recently-concluded defense supply agreement in Delhi among India, Israel and Russia, Prince Sa'ud said: "Indeed what we are hearing of this cooperation (Indo-Israel deal) is that it is aimed not at the good of the region, but to inflame the region, to further add to the arms race in the region." In the same context, he recalled how some Israeli think tanks demonstrated "similar sinister designs" in the Middle East concerning the "security of Israel". He observed: "It is a country of four-million or so people that believes its security extends from the Indus River to the Atlantic Ocean."
The Saudi mission to Islamabad - the first at this level since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the US - demonstrated the extent of concern which the Saudi leadership felt about the India-Israel strategic relations which had also blossomed since 2001.
The Saudi Crown Prince held talks with Gen. Musharraf and Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Jamali, and Pakistani official sources said that the visit was as a result of an invitation delivered to the Crown Prince recently by Pres. Musharraf's special envoy. However, Saudi sources said that the visit was as much as a result of Saudi wishes as Pakistani. The visit also resulted in a complete harmony of expressed views on all common foreign policy issues - including whether Pakistan should, or should not, supply peacekeepers to Iraq [the consensus was to wait for an Iraqi invitation] - and a statement that Saudi economic aid to Pakistan would increase from $65-million to $100-million a year "as a token of its appreciation for Pakistan's impressive economic performance over the last four years".
Crown Prince 'Abdullah on October 19, 2003, visited an exhibition of defense equipment in Islamabad, and was accompanied by the Pakistani President and Prime Minister. The extensive display and demonstrations were not, according to Pakistani sources, just for show. There was a direct interest by Saudi Arabia in Pakistani-built systems.
Significantly, however, there were now routine cooperative exercises underway between RSAF and Pakistan Air Force (PAF) units in joint asset protection - air defense - deployments. These, too, were more than routine, and were, according to sources, aimed at developing joint capabilities to defend the proposed new strategic missile facilities in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi-Pakistani nuclear weapons planning and cooperation has been underway for some years, but it had always been felt that Pakistani officials were resisting pressure from Riyadh to provide actual weapons to Saudi Arabia. [Even now, the formula addresses Saudi needs, but keeps the weapons in Pakistani hands, at least nominally and for some purposes.] However, the trail of events makes it clear that Saudi Arabia had consistently worked toward the acquisition of a nuclear capability, provided by Pakistan.
It will be recalled that on May 6-7, 1999, then-Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif escorted Saudi Minister of Defense & Aviation Prince Sultan bin 'Abd al-Aziz al-Saud on a visit to Pakistani nuclear research facilities and the manufacturing facilities for the Ghauri liquid-fueled strategic ballistic missile (a derivative of the DPRK NoDong-1) in Kahuta. This was the first and only visit by a foreign dignitary to the facilities, and only the third by a Pakistani head-of-government. The host was Dr Abdul Qadir Khan, at that time regarded as the "father" of the Pakistani nuclear capability. Prince Sultan at this time was known to have engaged in what were described by sources as "very substantive" discussions with Pakistani officials for the acquisition of both nuclear weapons and Ghauri MRBMs.
The Ghauri, with a range of only some 2,600km, was later to be bypassed, partly because of the range question; partly because it was liquid-fueled and not solid-fueled; and partly because of problems with the NoDong-1s being faced by its originator, the DPRK. Pakistani sources have said, however, that the Ghauri derivatives were likely to resume and were still viable.
Prince Sultan's visit to Pakistan was followed by a visit to Saudi Arabia in mid-September 2000 by a Pakistani strategic policy and nuclear delegation led by Dr Abdul Qadir Khan, Dr Ijaz Shafi Ghilani and Dr M. Younus But. They were guests of Prince Sultan, and at a speech on about September 20, 2000, Dr Abdul Qadir Khan thanked the Saudi Government for contributing to the success of the Pakistani nuclear weapons tests on May 28, 1998. That indicated a Saudi involvement in the Pakistani nuclear weapons program much earlier than Pakistani officials have generally acknowledged. [Saudi financial support for Pakistani nuclear research was, however, assumed even during the Zia ul-Haq era of the 1980s, but without any known understanding of a direct quid pro quo for Saudi Arabia.]
On October 15, 2003, Pres. Musharraf met in Kuala Lumpur with Crown Prince 'Abdallah at the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). The meeting was not reported, and was a one-on-one affair. That night, Pres. Musharraf met with a number of Pakistani officials and Pakistani expatriates, including a number of scientists who had come especially to Kuala Lumpur from China. One GIS source made notes of Pres. Musharraf's remarks, which were not reported, and which were deemed to be private.
The source, who made the notes available to GIS, noted that the President said that he was encouraged and optimistic and that Pakistan was about the spread its wings on the world stage. He said that the world was looking for a rÃ´le for Pakistan, and that it could contributing something which nobody else could. He said that Pakistan was at a crossroads and that it could decide whether it would accept this challenge for the ummah (Islamic world) and Islam.
Pres. Musharraf said that the situation in South Asia was changing, as a result of which Pakistan would not be disconcerted by India's stockpiling of arms. Pakistan, he said, would no longer be cowed in this manner.
By the grace of God, Pakistan was strong and getting stronger, Pres. Musharraf said, and would maintain its deterrence at all costs.
Meanwhile, the Government of Iran was itself maneuvering to continue its nuclear weapons development without a direct confrontation with the international community. On October 21, 2001, the clerical Government of Iran agreed with EU foreign ministers to suspend its disputed uranium enrichment program and sign an agreement allowing more comprehensive inspections of its nuclear sites by the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). An unnamed Iranian official said: "We agreed to will suspend enrichment and sign the protocol" on tougher inspections. A European diplomat had earlier told Reuters news agency that Iran had agreed to halt uranium enrichment and reprocessing of nuclear fuel.
Key Iranian opposition leader Dr Assad Homayoun, of the nationalist Azadegan Foundation, noted, in a report published in Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily on September 25, 2003: "I believe that if the clerical Government, even under political, economic and technical pressures, decided to sign the New Safeguards Measures of IAEA, it would not ratify it. There would be many ways and means to escape from the watching eyes of IAEA, and the clerical Government will never abandon its drive to acquire the atomic bomb."
The new Saudi-Pakistan accord on nuclear weapons deployment provides continued pressure, as far as the Iranian clerical leaders are concerned, to continue their own nuclear weapons program. Indeed, they have committed so much of the national capability toward acquisition of nuclear weapons that it was unlikely that they would stop at this point, particularly given the amount of maneuvering room which the IAEA normally would provide. So the October 21, 2003, statement by Iran constituted the political maneuvering to which Dr Homayoun referred on September 25, 2003. IAEA head Mohamed al-Baradei also flew into Iran and said there on October 17, 2003, that Iranian officials had promised "full cooperation" with IAEA inspectors.
Iranian sources have said that the Iranian nuclear development programs - including the civil programs - were now scattered through so many sites around the country that it would be almost impossible for an IAEA inspection team to get to the most secret facilities in a short time.
The visit by Pakistan Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali to Iran was ostensibly at the invitation of Iranian Pres. Seyed Mohammad Khatami. The Prime Minister was accompanied by Minister of Information and Broadcasting Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Minister of Commerce Humayun Akhtar, Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Nourez Shakoor and other senior officials, and was nominally to discuss the matter of natural gas imports from Iran. At present, three studies were being prepared on the proposed gas pipeline from Iran to India via Pakistan. India had shown reservations on laying of pipeline through Pakistan and has engaged companies for making feasibility reports on deep-sea, shallow waters and offshore pipeline.
Meanwhile, Pakistan on October 14, 2003, fired a medium-range nuclear missile Hatf IV capable of targeting India, its third and last in the current round of testing which began 11 days earlier. The testing of the surface-to-surface Hatf IV or Shaheen 1, which has a range of 700km, from an undisclosed location was the second in six days.
And on October 21, 2003, Pakistan and the People's Republic of China began a joint naval exercise "to further develop bilateral cooperation in the defense sector". It was also the PRC's first naval exercise with any foreign country. The exercise began near the Shanghai coast, involving frontline warships, maritime aircraft and helicopters from both sides, including two Pakistani warships.