North Korea drew worldwide condemnation on Tuesday after it staged its third and most-powerful nuclear test yet and defiantly warned of “stronger action” if tougher sanctions were to follow the criticism.
India, which expressed deep concern, sees a possible Pakistan hand in the test. It could bring North Korea a step closer to developing a nuclear warhead small enough to be mounted on a long-range missile and possibly bringing the west coast of the US within striking distance.
If Pyongyang used uranium, it is almost certain Pakistani-derived centrifuges were used for enrichment.
“When North Korea conducts a nuclear test, the role of Pakistan cannot be far behind,” said a source in New Delhi.
The test was carried out at 11.57am (8.30am India time) in the country's north-east. The world learnt of it when an artificial earthquake with 4.9 magnitude was detected from Punggye-ri nuclear test site, close to the Chinese border.
The confirmation from the state media came almost three hours later.
Uranium can be enriched for bombs by using centrifuges that might have come from the disgraced Pakistan nuclear scientist AQ Khan's “nuclear Walmart”. The North tested plutonium devices in 2006 and 2009, and the next logical step would be a highly-enriched uranium explosion.
In his memoir, In the Line of Fire, former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf says the nuclear scientist transferred centrifuges to North Korea and Iran. Last year, Khan, the architect of Pakistan's nuclear programme, accepted transferring nuclear technology to “two countries” on the orders of the then PM Benazir Bhutto. North Korea in return gave missile technology to Islamabad.
Indian officials also see a link between the test and Pakistan stalling a discussion towards a treaty banning production of fissile material.
The test, which violates UN resolutions and Pyongyang's nuclear non-proliferation treaty obligations, is first since the North's new, youthful leader Kim Jong-un took over from his father, Kim Jong-il.