India decries ‘baseless allegations’, while Pakistan says the Indian side is upsetting the strategic balance in the regionNew Delhi: India on Thursday dismissed Pakistan’s claim of a “secret nuclear city” as a “figment of Pakistani imagination”, describing the allegations as a “diversionary tactic” from its support for cross-border terrorism.
Earlier in the day, Pakistan foreign office spokesperson Nafis Zakaria said at his weekly press briefing that India had built a “secret nuclear city”. Giving no further details on this claim, he added that India was also conducting tests on inter-continental missiles. These steps were impacting on the existing balance of power in the region, Zakaria asserted.
“These are obviously complete baseless allegations. The so-called “secret city” is a figment of the Pakistan imagination,” responded MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup in Delhi.
He said that it was a “strange statement” as it came “from a country which has (a) not declared or prepared a separation plan [between its civilian and military nuclear facilities] and (b) has a very strong record of proliferation”.
Pakistan had shown an “complete lack of understanding” and a “complete lack of appreciation of India’s own very, very strong credential in the area of nuclear non-proliferation”, Swarup added.
Besides, he noted that Pakistan’s new allegation was only a smokescreen. “Furthermore, we believe that this is a diversionary tactic by Pakistan which aims to deflect attention from the real issue on hand – the continued state sponsorship of terrorism by Pakistan and its harbouring of international designated terrorists,” said the MEA spokesperson.
This is not the first time that Zakaria has claimed that India has a “secret nuclear city”. At the January 19 foreign office weekly briefing, he said, “International reports about new nuclear facilities being built in India only confirm the concerns expressed by Pakistan in 2008 that without appropriate non-proliferation safeguards the NSG exemption would lead to expansion in the Indian capacity to produce fissile material for military use”.
The answer was in reply to a question from a reporter that “according to a US Foreign Policy magazine, India has recently built two top-secret facilities in Challakere, Karnataka to enrich uranium in pursuit of its hydrogen bomb plans”.
The Foreign Policy article mentioned by the journalist was published in December 2015, therefore, it suddenly re-surfacing at the Pakistan foreign office briefing over a year later is a bit unusual.
Incidentally, Pakistan and India just one month ago had exchanged their lists of nuclear installations and facilities – as per the 1988 Agreement of the Prohibition of Attack Against Nuclear Installations.
In this annual confidence-building measure, both South Asian countries exchange list of nuclear installations in a bid to avoid build-up to an accidental nuclear war. If there are any clarifications sought by either countries on the veracity of the list, it is usually taken up through diplomatic channels.
The operative part of the agreement states:
1. (1) Each party shall refrain from undertaking, encouraging or participating in, directly or indirectly, any action aimed at causing the destruction of, or damage to, any nuclear installation or facility in the other country.
(2) The term “nuclear installation or facility” includes nuclear power and research reactors, fuel fabrication, uranium enrichment, isotopes separation and reprocessing facilities as well as any other installations with fresh or irradiated nuclear fuel and materials in any form and establishments storing significant quantities of radio-active materials.
Official sources confirmed that the annual exercise on January 1, 2017 was completely normal and routine.
Though the government has not officially confirmed its plans for Challakere, retired atomic scientists confirmed to the Indian Express in 2016 that a uranium enrichment facility is being planned there.
The lists that India and Pakistan exchange are meant to limit the temptation to hit targets that have no military utility but would spread nuclear contamination if attacked. Challakere will not be on it till there is nuclear material present and it is a functional facility.