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Pakistan, Turkey Nuclear Partnership takes centre stage again

The nuclear link between Turkey and Pakistan goes back to Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan

Thursday October 3, 2019 3:00 PM, IANS

Imran Khan Erdogan N Connection

[Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in a file photo. (Embassy of Pakistan, Ankara)]

New Delhi: Is there a highly secretive N-connection to the burgeoning relations between Pakistan and Turkey, besides of religion, that is making Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan so sharp in his comments against India?

Erdogan has never made secret his desire for Turkey to become a nuclear-armed nation. As recent as last month, he declared that it was unacceptable for nuclear-armed countries to forbid Ankara from obtaining its own nuclear weapons.

"Some countries have missiles with nuclear warheads, not one or two. But (they tell us) we can't have them. This, I cannot accept," he was quoted as having said to his ruling AKP party members. "There is no developed nation in the world that doesn't have them," he said, but did not reveal whether his country has plans to obtain them.

Qadeer Khan sold N-secrets to Iran, N Korea

The nuclear link between Turkey and Pakistan goes back to Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme, who was found to have sold thousands of centrifuges to Iran, North Korea, Libya and possibly others between 1987 and 2002. Khan's network offered buyers a menu of both technical expertise and the materials to make a bomb. The electronics parts of the centrifuges were from Turkey.

After the 1980 military coup in Turkey, the US had voiced suspicions about Turkey helping Pakistan acquire nuclear know-how. Many of the components used by Pakistan for its nuclear programme were smuggled via Turkey.

In 1981, the US State Department, in a secret cable to its embassy in Ankara, had asked the Turkish government to end its secret shipments of nuclear weapon-making equipment to Pakistan. According to the cable, Turkish companies were re-routing American-made electric equipment, known as inverters, from Europe to Pakistan. Inverters transform electrical current to charge batteries and operate instruments and are used in nuclear plants.

Gen Zia ul Haq, Turkey and US

The cable also suggested that Pakistan's ruler General Zia ul Haq might have offered nuclear technology to Turkey in exchange for the trans shipments. The cable also said that Pakistan was seeking technology and material to produce fuel for explosive devices. The US had then threatened to cancel its proposed military and economic aid to Islamabad.

The Turkish government did not act on the US request and insisted that the inverters, which then cost $100,000 a piece, were not covered under existing export control regulations.

At the time, NATO had put a halt to Pakistan's uranium enrichment programme, and Islamabad turned to Turkey for help.

'Nuclear Partnership'

Turkey's neighbour and strong rival Greece too has accused Ankara of developing nuclear weapons. As far back as in the 1980s, then Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou had said that Turkey and Pakistan are cooperating to produce a nuclear bomb.

In a sign of their close ties, A.Q. Khan had even contemplated moving his entire illegal production capacity of centrifuges to Turkey.

Also Read | As Turkey cosies up to Pakistan, India cements ties with its neighbours

In 1998, then Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif had offered Turkey a "nuclear partnership" on nuclear research. Turkey had also backed Pakistan's nuclear programme.

With this backdrop, it does not come as a surprise when intelligence services report that to this day there is a dynamic scientific exchange between both countries with their nuclear scientists secretly visiting each other's facilities.

Malaysia's link to A.Q. Khan

According to a report, German intelligence had pointed out that in May 2010, Erdogan had ordered to secretly start preparing for the construction of sites to enrich uranium, and that Turkey had started to produce Yellowcake, needed for nuclear programmes.

There are also reports that Turkey might be the long-sought "fourth customer" of Khan. In mid-2003, a shipment of centrifuge parts and tools sent by A.Q. Khan and intended for Libya "disappeared" during a journey from Malaysia via Dubai to Tripoli.

Malaysia's link to the A.Q. Khan tale comes from the revelations to police by a Malaysian nuclear middleman, Buhary Syed Abu Tahir, who had allegedly organised the shipping of enriched uranium from Pakistan to Libya. Tahir told police he had obtained the centrifuge components from a public listed company controlled by then Malaysian PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's son Kamaluddin Abdullah, and two other investors.

US hydrogen bomb

Tahir had also named Turkish nationals among others as being "among the middlemen" alleged to have had links with Khan.

Turkey is a signatory to the NPT.

There are also fears that besides buying fuel or even a nuclear weapon from friend Pakistan, Turkey could also resort to stealing a US hydrogen bomb from the Incirlik Air Base in southeast Turkey. The US has stored around 50 nuclear bombs in Incirlik, and the air base has played a key role in its operations against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

Besides the secretive Nuclear factor, Turkey and Pakistan have a burgeoning defence relationship, which has seen an upward trajectory since Imran Khan came to power.

Turkey is not only making a warship for Pakistan, it is also selling its T129 ATAK multirole combat helicopters to Islamabad.

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