The United States and Britain launched a secret campaign in the late 1970s to stop Pakistan from acquiring material and technology for a nuclear bomb, according to declassified US state department documents released on Wednesday.
Starting 1978, the US issued 300 demarches — formal diplomatic communication from one country to another — over the next three years to members of European, East Asian and West Asian government urging them to deny Pakistan access to sensitive technology.
These documents are said to be many times more confidential than those leaked to Wikileaks. They can be accessed only by a select few strictly on a need-to-know basis. They were obtained by the National Security Archive of the George Washington University, through a mandatory declassification request.
And they show that the two allies had some success. France, for instance, backed out of constructing a plutonium reprocessing facility at Chashma, which Pakistan tried to complete on its own.
To prevent a "particularly dangerous risk of nuclear proliferation," the US state department asked each of the 12 member-countries of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to "exercise vigilance and appropriate control to deter" Pakistan.
According to the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, these efforts caused a two-year delay in the uranium enrichment programme. But Pakistan was not to be denied completely.
Pakistan’s nuclear programme continued; by this time it had been joined by AQ Khan, who went on to be known as the Father of the Pakistani bomb to Pakistanis and the architect of a nuclear Walmart to the world outside.
Though driven by the desire to catch up with India, which first tested a bomb in 1974 — a project codenamed Smiling Buddha — Pakistan did not announce its own bombs till May 1998, after India had announced its second tests.
Now, Pakistan is understood to have the world’s fastest growing nuclear arsenal.
Back then, it was struggling. And then dictator Zia ul Haq let the US ambassador in Islamabad know that Washington’s efforts have led the relations between the two countries to touch the “lowest ebb”.