Washington, Aug 4: The new reactors coming up in Khushab nuclear complex in Pakistan would not add to the country's nuclear arsenal, but would be used for "military purposes" as well as for civilian power needs, says Islamabad's new envoy to Washington Mahmud Ali Durrani.
Dismissing as "grossly exaggerated" a private Washington-based think tank's report on the reactors' capacity under construction Ambassador Mahmud Ali Durrani denied that the new plant could produce enough weapons-grade plutonium to boost the country's production from an estimated two bombs a year to as many as 50.
In an interview with the Washington Times, the envoy also acknowledged for the first time that the heavy-water reactor will bring some increase in Pakistan's military nuclear capability at a time of heightened fears of a South Asia arms race with rival India.
"The plutonium may certainly be used for military purposes, but it is simply not the case that it will increase our capability X-fold," said Mr Durrani, a former top defense adviser to the Pakistani president and chairman of the country's military industrial complex for much of the 1990s.
He however declined to give production figures for the new plant, but said it would be far less powerful than the 1,000-megawatt estimate given last month by the Institute for Science and International Security. Pakistan's current reactor, located near the new one, is a 50-megawatt unit completed in 1998.
But the Khushab site has sparked international concerns as United States and India move to ratify a nuclear cooperation deal that critics warn could allow India to accelerate its own military nuclear programme.
On the US-India civil nuclear deal, he said Pakistan had conveyed its "deep concerns" about the India accord to the Bush administration, while saying it was unlikely that the deal could be derailed.
"We know your administration is very keen on this deal, but we also don't want to see an imbalance with India that we would have to match," Mr Durrani said.
The Pakistani envoy, who had presented his credentials to President George W Bush about a month ago said he hoped to end what he called the "yo-yo," up-and-down relationship his country has had with the United States.
Regarding the A Q Khan network of blackmarketing sensitive nuke technology to rouge regimes like Iran and North Korea, Mr Durrani openly said that the case of Pakistan nuclear pioneer Abdul Qadeer Khan and his smuggling ring did the greatest damage to Pakistan.
He acknowledged that it was "An absolute, total, unmitigated disaster for my country," raising doubts in Washington and other capitals about the reliability of Pakistan's non-proliferation controls. "It pulled our image down very badly and it will take us time to get out of this mess," he said. He also denied that the Pakistan's army and intelligence services are less than fully committed to the war against al Qaeda and global terrorism, saying the military "is perhaps the most liberal institution in the country today." The Army, Mr Durrani noted, has suffered 600 deaths in difficult campaign to flush out Taliban and al Qaeda operatives in the country's tribal provinces on the border.
He also stated there were signs of rising Islamic fundamentalist activity in the region -- a "blowback" from continuing insecurity across the border in Afghanistan -- but said US and Pakistani officials are planning special reconstruction zones as part of a campaign to undercut the appeal of extremists.
The ambassador said there was "no sympathy" in Pakistan for Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders, but he added it was more likely Bin Laden was holed up on the less-populous Afghan side of the border. "I think if he was in Pakistan, he would be caught by now," he said.
Meanwhile in an editorial the Washington Times says that the envoy thinks that the "core" of the US-Pakistan relations is still counter terrorism. However, Pakistan would like to expand that relationship, particularly economic and trade relationship as what Mr Durrani calls the "best binder" between two countries.
For Washington, however, cooperation on counter terrorism efforts is still first and foremost, and this is a commitment that the ambassador understands, it said.
Mr Durrani also spoke of how in these religious areas, militant Islamic forces have fomented extremism, creating both a hideout for al Qaeda leadership and fertile recruiting ground for militant extremists. In addition to military forces, Durrani outlined a plan that would include a strong focus on economic development and infrastructure improvements, designed to bring the areas more in line with the rest of Pakistan.
According to Mr Durrani it is essential to address the radical Muslim schools, or madrassas, which number around 14,000 and harbor violent militants while providing a forum for the perpetuation of extreme Islamic teachings. Pakistan will not be able to get rid of the madrassas, but Mr Durrani noted that changing the curriculum to include practical, job-oriented instruction would be an important step.
The times editorial also said that the critics of the US-India civil nuclear deal are using the report of the new reactor as fodder, claiming that India will use nuclear material previously used for civilian purposes to increase its nuclear arsenal, prompting Pakistan, in the name of deterrence, to do the same.
Mr Durrani however disagreed with this view saying that while Pakistan has some concerns about the deal, but it will not seriously effect India-Pakistan relations.