Pakistan’s continued use of front companies and other deceptive methods to obtain dual-use goods for its nuclear programme means it cannot “expect to be welcomed” into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a new report by experts at King’s College of London has said.
The report contends that the scale of Islamabad’s procurement of sensitive material from Beijing is “so substantial that it must be concluded that the Chinese state is either complicit in supplying Pakistan’s programmes, or negligent in its control over state-owned enterprises”.
“Pakistan’s strategic nuclear and missile industries”, prepared by Project Alpha of the Centre for Science and Security Studies at King’s College, concluded Pakistan has a “deliberate strategy of using deceptive methods to obtain dual-use goods” that has been demonstrated by its “systematic use of front companies to supply its strategic industries”.
Islamabad also maintains a network of at least 20 trading companies in mainland China, Hong Kong, Dubai and Singapore that it uses to “covertly funnel dual-use goods to its strategic programmes”.
“While the full extent of their overseas operations are not clear, these trading companies probably purchase goods from manufacturers in China, Europe, the United States and elsewhere and then arrange their export to Pakistan,” the report said.
The deceptive methods of acquiring dual-use goods undermines “Pakistan’s claim that it is a responsible actor in the non-proliferation domain: Pakistan cannot expect to be welcomed into the NSG when it continues to secretly and systematically undermine NSG members’ national export control systems by targeting companies through the use of front companies and other deceptive techniques,” the report said.
The conclusion is significant as Pakistan recently applied for entry to the NSG, an elite club that controls trade in nuclear technology and materials, soon after India’s bid for membership. However, Pakistan’s close ally China effectively blocked India’s application.
Project Alpha was established in 2011 with funding from the British government to counter illicit nuclear proliferation-related trade. It is headed by Ian Stewart, who was seconded to King’s College from Britain’s defence ministry.
The researchers analysed information that was till now “fragmented and uncollated”, including trade data, academic papers, contractor websites and corporate newsletters, and developed a representation of the organisational structure of Pakistan’s strategic industries and their procurement entities.
Some of the material is so sensitive that Project Alpha only made public a redacted version of its report.
China is the most important supplier of all forms of goods to Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programmes, and most procurements from China are “probably from unwitting private suppliers”.
“But, on a smaller scale, Chinese state and private entities continue to knowingly supply Pakistan’s strategic programmes with sensitive equipment,” the report said.
Islamabad’s reliance on Beijing for sensitive technologies is “not surprising” as Pakistan is a strategic ally of China. “However, it does nonetheless raise questions about China’s commitment to the principles of the export control regimes which it claims to subscribe,” the report added.
Pakistan wants to expand its civil nuclear programme with outside assistance and “perhaps even to become a nuclear exporter” and “yet does not want to accept the international rules associated with responsible non-proliferation behaviour”, the report said.
Islamabad has rejected the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty and not signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. “It continues to keep most of its nuclear fuel cycle off-limits to IAEA inspection. These refusals in themselves make Pakistan’s push to join the NSG hard to accept,” it added.
Pakistan’s extensive procurements of dual-use goods from abroad suggests its “strategic industries are not as self-sufficient as Islamabad has long claimed”, the report said. Pakistan has named less than a dozen of the main organisations involved in its nuclear and missile programmes and it “has certainly not made reference to the web of clandestine front companies that these organisations use to conduct procurement activity”, it said.
Islamabad “continues its forty-year history of covert procurement for its nuclear weapon programme largely unabated” and Project Alpha’s study showed that Pakistan “continues to engage in deceptive procurement tactics aimed at defeating national export controls in countries across the world in order to build strategic capabilities at home”.
“Pakistan has questions to answer about how it will reconcile these activities with its goals of joining the NSG – and most NSG members are likely to be sceptical of any response. Islamabad has only a few allies in its quest to build strategic capabilities, albeit ones whose commitment is not wholly known,” the report said.
“Our analysis shows that China continues to aid Pakistan’s missile programmes through repeated sales of sensitive dual-use technology. If Beijing has intended for these exports to be clandestine, it has failed in its tradecraft. If Beijing is unaware of the extent that its state-owned enterprises are supplying Pakistan’s missile industries, then it has failed in its oversight.
“Either way, Beijing will need to adjust its sales relationship with Pakistan in order to avoid international criticism.”
Pakistan, which is said to have the world’s fastest growing nuclear arsenal, also continues to improve its fissile material production facilities, develop tactical nuclear weapons and work on enhanced nuclear delivery systems, “probably including submarine-based second strike capability”.
It added, “In secret...Pakistan continues to procure dual-use technology from abroad for its nuclear weapon and missile programmes on a vast scale.”
Pakistan targets companies worldwide for nuclear and missile-related dual-use equipment, often through “layers of middlemen and front companies”. Virtually all state-controlled entities in Pakistan’s strategic programmes “maintain front companies, most likely for the purpose of defeating export control efforts in other countries”.
Analysis by Project Alpha of Pakistani procurements revealed hundreds of imports over the past five years, with most imports made by front companies not obviously affiliated with strategic industries.
“It has been possible to identify these as procurements for nuclear- and missile-related end-users mostly because of poor tradecraft on the part of Pakistani procurers: they use common addresses; common telephone numbers, and repeatedly use the same, limited network of suppliers abroad for dual-use technologies that can be clearly identified as for missile-related or nuclear-related purposes,” the report said.
IAEA safeguards too have limited reach in Pakistan, which has an agreement with the UN watchdog whereby only six facilities and specific materials are subject to safeguards.