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Context of '1983: Pakistan Performs ‘Cold Test’ of Nuclear Weapon, US Learns of Test'

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A. Q. Khan (center of picture) at a test.A. Q. Khan (center of picture) at a test. [Source: CBC] (click image to enlarge)Pakistan carries out a successful test of a nuclear bomb minus the fissionable core, an exercise known as a “cold test.” Pakistan is receiving Chinese help with its nuclear program at this time, and the Chinese may assist with the test. The US learns that the test has been carried out around this time. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 120-1; Guardian, 10/13/2007]

Entity Tags: Pakistan

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

George Schulz, secretary of state in the Reagan administration, says, “We have full faith in [Pakistan’s] assurance that they will not make the bomb.” However, the US, including the State Department, is already aware that Pakistan has a nuclear weapons program (see 1983 and August 1985-October 1990). [Guardian, 10/13/2007]

Entity Tags: Pakistan, US Department of State, George Schulz

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

In 1985, US Congress passes legislation requiring US economic sanctions on Pakistan unless the White House can certify that Pakistan has not embarked on a nuclear weapons program (see August 1985 and August 1985). The White House certifies this every year until 1990 (see 1987-1989). However, it is known all the time that Pakistan does have a continuing nuclear program. For instance, in 1983 a State Department memo said Pakistan clearly has a nuclear weapons program that relies on stolen European technology. Pakistan successfully builds a nuclear bomb in 1987 but does not test it to keep it a secret (see 1987). With the Soviet-Afghan war ending in 1989, the US no longer relies on Pakistan to contain the Soviet Union. So in 1990 the Pakistani nuclear program is finally recognized and sweeping sanctions are applied (see June 1989). [Gannon, 2005] Journalist Seymour Hersh will comment, “The certification process became farcical in the last years of the Reagan Administration, whose yearly certification—despite explicit American intelligence about Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons program—was seen as little more than a payoff to the Pakistani leadership for its support in Afghanistan.” [New Yorker, 3/29/1993] The government of Pakistan will keep their nuclear program a secret until they successfully test a nuclear weapon in 1998 (see May 28, 1998).

Entity Tags: US Congress, White House, Pakistan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Ronald Reagan and Pakistani dictator Zia ul-Haq.Ronald Reagan and Pakistani dictator Zia ul-Haq. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]President Ronald Reagan in 1987 and 1988 and President George Bush in 1989 continue to certify that Pakistan does not have a nuclear weapon, a condition of continuing aid to Pakistan under the law (see August 1985). These certifications began in 1985 (see August 1985-October 1990) and are thought to be important because Pakistan is a key base for the CIA-backed Afghan mujaheddin, and cutting off aid to Pakistan might curtail CIA support for the anti-Soviet forces. According to journalist Seymour Hersh, the rationale behind the certifications is that there is “no specific evidence that Pakistan [has] indeed done what it was known to be capable of doing,” and produced a nuclear weapon. In addition, it is apparently thought that if the US continues to supply conventional weapons, Pakistan will not need a nuclear bomb, although Hersh says this is “a very thin argument, as everyone involved [knows].” However, CIA officer Richard Kerr will later say, “There is no question that we had an intelligence basis for not certifying from 1987 on.” By this time there is mounting evidence of Pakistan’s nuclear program (see 1987, (1987), and July 1987 or Shortly After). [New Yorker, 3/29/1993]

Entity Tags: Seymour Hersh, George Herbert Walker Bush, Richard Kerr, Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

A. Q. Khan.A. Q. Khan. [Source: CBC]A. Q. Khan, father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, tells an Indian reporter that the program has been successful (see 1987). “What the CIA has been saying about our possessing the bomb is correct,” he says, adding, “They told us Pakistan could never produce the bomb and they doubted my capabilities, but they now know we have it.” He says that Pakistan does not want to use the bomb, but “if driven to the wall there will be no option left.” The comments are made during a major Indian army exercise known as Brass Tacks that Pakistanis consider a serious threat, as it is close to the Pakistani border. In fact, at one point the Indian commanding general is reported to consider actually attacking Pakistan—an attack that would be a sure success given India’s conventional superiority. According to reporter Seymour Hersh, the purpose of the interview is “to convey a not very subtle message to the Indians: any attempt to dismember Pakistan would be countered with the bomb.” This interview is an embarrassment to the US government, which aided Pakistan during the Soviet-Afghan War, but has repeatedly claimed Pakistan does not have nuclear weapons (see August 1985-October 1990). Khan retracts his remarks a few days later, saying he was tricked by the reporter. [New Yorker, 3/29/1993]

Entity Tags: Seymour Hersh, Abdul Qadeer Khan, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

President George Bush and Secretary of State James Baker decide that the US will cut off foreign aid to Pakistan because of its nuclear weapons program. Pakistan was a major recipient of foreign aid during the Soviet Afghan war, when the US channeled support to the mujaheddin through it, but Soviet forces began withdrawing from Afghanistan in February (see February 15, 1989). It is decided that aid will be provided for 1989, but not for 1990 (see October 1990). [New Yorker, 3/29/1993]

Entity Tags: George Herbert Walker Bush, Pakistan, James A. Baker

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Richard Barlow, an analyst who has repeatedly insisted that Pakistan has a nuclear weapons program (see July 1987 or Shortly After and Mid-1989), is fired from his position at the Pentagon. Barlow will later say, “They told me they had received credible information that I was a security risk.” When he asks why he is thought to be a security risk, “They said they could not tell me as the information was classified,” but “senior Defense Department officials” are said to have “plenty of evidence.” His superiors think he might leak information about Pakistan’s nuclear program to congressmen in favor of the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. He spends the next eighteen months in the Pentagon personnel pool, under surveillance by security officers. Apparently, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby and two officials who work for Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz are involved in the sacking. It is also rumored that Barlow is a Soviet spy. Barlow’s conclusions about Pakistan’s nuclear program are unpopular with some, because if the US admitted the nuclear program existed, this would lead to a break between the US and Pakistan and endanger US aid to the anti-Soviet mujaheddin and US arms sales (see August 1985-October 1990 and August-September 1989). After he is fired, rumors are started saying that Barlow is a tax evader, alcoholic, adulterer, and in psychiatric care. As his marriage guidance counseling is alleged to be cover for the psychiatric care, the Pentagon insists that investigators be allowed to interview his marriage guidance counselor. Due to this and other problems, his wife leaves him and files for divorce. [New Yorker, 3/29/1993; Guardian, 10/13/2007] Barlow will later be exonerated by various investigations (see May 1990 and Before September 1993).

Entity Tags: Paul Wolfowitz, Pakistan, US Department of Defense, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard Barlow

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

In a letter handed to Pakistani Foreign Minister Sahibzada Yaqub Khan, the US demands that Pakistan destroy the cores of its nuclear weapons, thus disabling the weapons. Pakistan does not do so. The US then imposes sanctions on Pakistan (see October 1990), such as cutting off US aid to it, due to the nuclear weapons program. However, it softens the blow by waiving some of the restrictions (see 1991-1992). [New Yorker, 3/29/1993] The US has known about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program for some time, but continued to support the Pakistanis during the Soviet-Afghan War (see August 1985-October 1990).

Entity Tags: Sahibzada Yaqub Khan, Pakistan

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

October 1990: US Imposes Sanctions on Pakistan

Since 1985, US Congress has required that sanctions be imposed on Pakistan if there is evidence that Pakistan is developing a nuclear weapons program (see August 1985-October 1990). With the Soviet-Afghan war over, President Bush finally acknowledges widespread evidence of Pakistan’s nuclear program and cuts off all US military and economic aid to Pakistan. However, it appears some military aid will still get through. For instance, in 1992, Senator John Glenn will write, “Shockingly, testimony by Secretary of State James Baker this year revealed that the administration has continued to allow Pakistan to purchase munitions through commercial transactions, despite the explicit, unambiguous intent of Congress that ‘no military equipment or technology shall be sold or transferred to Pakistan.’” [International Herald Tribune, 6/26/1992] These sanctions will be officially lifted a short time after 9/11.

Entity Tags: John Glenn, Pakistan, United States, George Herbert Walker Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

May 28, 1998: Pakistan Tests Nuclear Bomb

Pakistan’s first nuclear  test take place underground but shakes the mountains above it.Pakistan’s first nuclear test take place underground but shakes the mountains above it. [Source: Associated Press]Pakistan conducts a successful nuclear test. Former Clinton administration official Karl Inderfurth later notes that concerns about an Indian-Pakistani conflict, or even nuclear confrontation, compete with efforts to press Pakistan on terrorism. [US Congress, 7/24/2003] Pakistan actually built its first nuclear weapon in 1987 but kept it a secret and did not test it until this time for political reasons (see 1987). In announcing the tests, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declares, “Today, we have settled the score.” [New York Times, 5/4/2003]

Entity Tags: Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan, Karl Inderfurth

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, US International Relations, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

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