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India and Pakistan’s nuclear supply networks larger than expected, study finds

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Hundreds of foreign companies are actively purchasing components for Indian and Pakistani nuclear programs, taking advantage of loopholes in global industry regulations, according to a report from an American research group.

Using open-source data, the non-profit Center for Advance Defense Studies (C4ADS) report provides one of the most comprehensive overviews of the networks fueling competitors in a region considered to be the one of the most dangerous nuclear flash points in the world.

India and Pakistan are taking advantage of the loopholes in global non-proliferation regimes and export controls to get what they need, said Jack Margolin, C4ADS analyst and co-author of the report.

It is rarely possible to determine whether individual transactions are illegal using publicly available data, said Margolin, and the report does not suggest that the companies mentioned have violated national or international laws or regulations.

But previous reports from the think tank, whose donors include the Carnegie Corporation and the Wyss Foundation, have often led to actions by law enforcement.

Spokespersons for the offices of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan did not respond to requests for comment. The Pakistani military, which plays a major role in making decisions about the nuclear weapons program, also declined to comment.

To identify the companies involved, C4ADS analyzed more than 125 million data records and documents on public trade and tenders, then compared them with already identified entities listed by the export control authorities to United States and Japan.

Pakistan, which is subject to strict international export controls on its program, has 113 alleged foreign suppliers listed by the United States and Japan. But the C4ADS report found 46 more, many in shipping centers like Hong Kong, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.

In the case of Pakistan, they have much tighter controls and bypass them using transnational networks and exploiting opaque jurisdictions, said Margolin.

The father of the Pakistan atomic bomb, AQ Khan, admitted in 2004 that he had sold nuclear technology to North Korea, Iran and Libya. He was pardoned a day later by the Pakistani authorities, who refused to allow international investigators to question him.

India has a waiver which allows it to purchase nuclear technology on international markets. The Indian government authorizes inspections of some, but not all, nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Neither India nor Pakistan has signed the International Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, to which most nuclear powers adhere. Consequently, they are not obliged to submit to the IAEA the monitoring of all their installations.

C4ADS identified 222 companies that do business with nuclear facilities in India and have no IAEA oversight. Of these, 86 companies have done business with more than one of these nuclear facilities in India.

It’s proof that more needs to be done and that a more sophisticated approach needs to be taken in India, said Margolin. It is not because the product is not explicitly intended for a military installation that the due diligence process stops there.

India and Pakistan have gone to war three times – twice over the disputed Kashmir region – since independence from British colonial rule in 1947.

Having secretly developed nuclear weapons capabilities for years, the two declared themselves nuclear powers following tit-for-tat atomic tests in 1998.

A few years later, in 2002, the two enemies almost went to war for the fourth time, following an attack by Pakistani activists against the Parliament in New Delhi. And a year ago, a suicide attack by a militant group based in Pakistan in a part of Kashmir controlled by India started a new outbreak of tensions.

According to the Federation of American Scientists, a non-profit group tracks nuclear weapons stocks, according to estimates by the Federation of American Scientists, these two countries have around 150 usable warheads.

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