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Uranium Theft: India Endangered the Global Security

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By Sajjad Shaukat

It is surprising that international media did not give appropriate coverage to the recent cases of uranium theft, occurred in India, which are likely to endanger the global security.

In this regard, Indian police have arrested seven people in Jharkhand state on June 3, this year and seized more than 6 kilos of uranium from two of the accused, as they were trying to sell it in the market.

Police Superintendent Chandan Kumar Jha stated: “The uranium can be used to make nuclear weapons…Seven mobile phones and a motorbike were also seized.”

The uranium seizure is the second such incident in India in less than a month, after the Indian police’s Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) had arrested two men with at least seven kilogrammes of natural uranium in Mumbai on May 7. One of the suspects, an uranium dealer also tried to sell the material.

In this respect, Pakistan’s Foreign Office (FO) spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said in a statement that Pakistan has demanded a thorough investigation into the reports of illegal uranium trade in India, after seven more people were arrested for possessing radioactive material.

He elaborated that these incidents are “a matter of deep concern as they point to lax controls, poor regulatory and enforcement mechanisms, as well as possible existence of a black market for nuclear materials inside India.” FO statement added that Pakistan reiterated its call “for strengthening the security of nuclear materials to prevent their diversion…to ascertain the intent use of the attempted uranium sale its relevance to international peace and security as well as the sanctity of global non-proliferation regime.”

Notably, The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) make it binding on states to ensure stringent measures to prevent nuclear material from falling into wrong hands.

While, Indian past record proves various kinds of incidents of safety lapses regarding various nuclear plants and sites—leakage and theft, including smuggling of the related sensitive materials.

Indian media reported on July 5, 2018 that the Kolkata police arrested five men with 1 kg. of uranium.

In 2016, police confiscated almost 9 kg. of depleted uranium in the Thane area of Maharashtra.

In October 8, 2014, at Kalpakkam, a soldier of Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) responsible for protecting nuclear materials, went on a rampage to destroy the security of the facility, leading to nuclear material theft by criminals.

Besides other similar events, in July 1998, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) seized eight kg. of nuclear material from three engineers in Chennai, which was stolen from an atomic research center.

On November 7, 2000, IAEA disclosed that Indian police had seized 57 pounds of uranium and arrested two men for illicit trafficking of radioactive material. IAEA had revealed that Indian civil nuclear facilities were vulnerable to thefts.

On January 26, 2003, CNN pointed out that Indian company, NEC Engineers Private Ltd. shipped 10 consignments to Iraq, containing highly sensitive equipments entailing titanium vessels and centrifugal pumps.

In December 2006, a container packed with radioactive material had been stolen from an Indian fortified research atomic facility near Mumbai.

In June 2009, India’s nuclear scientist, Lokanathan Mahalingam missed from the scenario and after a couple of days; his dead body was recovered from the Kali River. Indian police concocted a story that Mahalingam had committed suicide by jumping into the river. It was a big joke to hide some real facts behind his death because wisdom proves that if an educated person decides to commit suicide, he will definitely adopt a soft way. Afterwards, Dr. Haleema Saadia said that death of the scientist was a conspiracy.

However, such events continued in India, putting the security of atomic components and their related materials at high stake.

It is notable that during his first visit to New Delhi on November 6, 2010, the then US President Barack Obama announced the measures, America would take regarding removal of Indian space and defence companies from a restricted “entities list”, and supported Indian demand membership of four key global nuclear nonproliferation regimes.

As part of the double standards in relation to India and Pakistan, America set aside the Indian poor record regarding the safety of nuclear weapons and their related materials. Despite, Indian violations of various international agreements and its refusal to sign Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and Additional Protocol with the IAEA, Washington signed a pact of nuclear civil technology with New Delhi in 2008.

During President Obama’s visit to India, on January 25, 2016, the US and India announced a breakthrough on the pact which would allow American companies to supply New Delhi with civilian nuclear technology.

America also pressurized IAEA and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to grant a waiver to New Delhi for obtaining civil nuclear trade on larger scale.

Evidence indicates that India has not fulfilled the conditions of the NSG waiver. At least, eight of India’s nuclear reactors are outside safeguards which are a big question mark on the credibility of its nuclear safety and security standards.

In fact, US supports Indian nuclear programme in the pretext of anti-China and anti-Pakistan approach.

It is mentionable that President Obama had hosted the fourth Nuclear Security Summit in Washington on March 31, 2016 to check the spread of nuclear weapons, showing concerns about the ambitions of terrorist outfits such as ISIS or Daesh in acquiring a nuclear weapons or radioactive material and prospects of using them inside America or other western countries.

Since then, a number of the western countries’ leaders have emphasized upon tight security measures so that these atomic weapons or their related materials cannot reach terrorist groups. 

In this connection, in November, 2020 at a joint press conference and a joint press briefing, Director General of ISPR Major-General Babar Iftikhar and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi unveiled a dossier containing “irrefutable evidence” of India’s sponsorship of terrorism in Pakistan. They revealed: “We have apprehended a RAW-sponsored sleeper cell in Karachi, which wants to create unrest in the country…India united Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan [TTP] with banned dissident [Terror] organizations…Indian intelligence agencies are also trying to establish Daesh-e-Pakistan…has recently shifted 30 terrorists of Daesh to Pakistan.”

Afterwards, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the UN Munir Akram handed over the dossier to the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

In its 27th report, dated February 3, 2021, the UN Security Council’s monitoring team for tracking terrorist groups verified Pakistan’s dossier, while acknowledging Pakistan’s efforts in arresting individuals engaging in terrorism financing and noting the threat from the TTP—the reunification of splinter groups [of TTP] in Afghanistan, which enhanced the threat of terrorism not only to Pakistan but the entire region.

According to the UN report of July 26, 2020, “The banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and its splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar continue to target Pakistan from their bases in Afghanistan…the significant presence of ISIL-K (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Khorasan) in Afghanistan”, which the UN warns “now pursues a global agenda.”

Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations

Email: [email protected]

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