November, 2009 ▪ Interviewed by Viktor Kaspruk
Priyanka Bhardwaj is an independent journalist and risk analyst based in Gurgaon/New Delhi, India. Over the last 8 years, she has written about diverse matters related to the Indian subcontinent, with her work appearing in reputed publications across America, Europe, South East Asia and Pacific. Apart from analyzing South Asian political and strategic issues she has interest in the marginalized social strata, women, children, climate-change, business, defense and energy related subjects, all of which and a lot more define the purview of her blog.
Fluent in more than 8 languages she enjoys aerobics, running, yoga, movies, singing, embroidery and traveling. She dabbles in photography, intermittently and at the insistence of her parents meets ‘prospective grooms’. For now she is married to her work. She is a merit rank holder with post graduate in History from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi.
– Ms. Bhardwaj, in your article «Pakistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh look at nuclear option» you touched problem by nuclear selection. But where a guarantee that Bangladesh, like its immediate neighbors India and Pakistan do not want to have nuclear weapons?
– There is definitely no guarantee that Bangladesh like its neighbour, India, may not want to have nuclear weapons.
This is despite the fact that Bangladesh is a signatory to the Non Proliferation (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), important milestones towards nuclear disarmament and non proliferation, and is under the safeguard measures of the IAEA and additional protocols.
As a member of the NPT, Bangladesh may be allowed to carry out nuclear activities for civilian purposes.
It is indeed a fact that the impoverished country faces acute power shortage and this may be the reason for it to work towards 600-1000MW nuclear power plant at Roopur, Pabna by 2015.
For the civil nuclear power plant Bangladesh has also gained approvals from IAEA, the nuclear watchdog, and several countries like Russia, China, South Korea and France have been solicited for help in construction and financing of the plant.
– Unlike India and Pakistan, Bangladesh is a signatory to the Non proliferation Treaty (NPT) and feels that it has every right to pursue nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. But is there a guarantee, that having mastered nuclear technology, Bangladesh does not want to go further. And will want to have nuclear weapons, as North Korea. Not talking about Myanmar, where the military junta ruling.
– As I mentioned already Bangladesh seeks nuclear power plants to boost up its power capacity in face of the rising demand.
There is enough political and public will to support this power addition program in Bangladesh.
However it remains a fact that as other countries like North Korea and Iran have reportedly flouted NPT rules in the past, Bangladesh too may be prompted in the future to divert its nuclear know how to stockpile nuclear weapons.
It is important to note that Bangladesh has serious border disputes with Myanmar.
Myanmar is also under the scanner for wanting to acquire nuclear know how (military or civilian) indigenously or with the help of North Korea or even China.
Then India, another neighbour of Bangladesh, with which the country has not had the best of relations also possesses military nuclear technology.
Surrounded by two such nations may be a reason for Bangladesh also to have military nuclear ambitions.
– If Bangladesh wants to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, this has led many in the West to wonder why it wants to have.
– There have been many instances in the past when countries that have been signatories to the NPT and CTBT have used their civilian nuclear technology and fuel for reprocessing it into material for nuclear weapons.
The situation in South Asia and South East Asia has become very tricky.
There have also been many instances where it has come to light that ‘jehadi elements’ have had bases in Bangladesh.
The country also has a past of not powerful governments and political strife from time to time.
Moreover, China has also been showing interest in Bangladesh and in the Indian Ocean to establish its influence and have its operative bases.
In the coming future the alliance between China and Bangladesh may bring them together in military nuclear matters.
But to assume that nuclear know how will always remain for peaceful purposes is expecting too much.
Thus there may be a valid reason for the West to be concerned on such lines that things may go out of hand.
– There is information that Myanmar is building a secret nuclear reactor and plutonium extraction facilities with North Korean help, with the aim of acquiring its first nuclear bomb in five years. If the report is correct, then Bangladesh will have two immediate neighbours which have nuclear weapons. The scenario does not seem comfortable for people of Bangladesh?
– Certainly Myanmar with its intended nuclear weapons stockpile will be a real threat for the people pf Bangladesh.
Unlike Iran, Myanmar has never faced similar heat from USA and its efforts to have such weapons means Bangladesh could follow suit.
– And a recent report from Washington-based Radio Free Asia and Myanmar exile media said senior Myanmar military officers made a secret visit late last year to North Korea, where an agreement was concluded for greatly expanding cooperation to modernize Myanmar’s military, including the construction of underground installations.
Thus we can speak about North Korean nuclear and missile exports?
– There have been multiple reports on a possible military relationship between North Korea and Myanmar in nuclear matters.
Investigations have been on to look into possible nuclear transfers to other non nuclear states and the nuclear test that Pyongyang carried out.
It could be Myanmar wants to acquire conventional weapons or missile parts or technology in lieu of its uranium ore and not necessarily nuclear armed missiles from North Korea.
Though these are all possibilities and we cannot conclusively issue any statement, yet there remains every cause for concern.
The weak North Korea has been trying hard to generate revenue from weapons export and the nuclear test that it conducted could have been a way of advertising to the rogue states of its nuclear capability.
– This nuclear weapon move jeopardises the security and wellbeing of immediate neighbours Myanmar?
– A military junta and devoid of any democratic political set up in Myanmar has always been a concern despite various democracies engaging with the country at various levels.
There have been serious border disputes between Bangladesh and Myanmar.
It is a fact that Bangladesh has had a history of a disturbed polity and presence of hardliners who have held political sway.
In this context the future is uncertain given the friction between Myanmar and Bangladesh there may be a chance that the nuclear capacities may be used militarily.
– If Bangladesh and Myanmar will have nuclear weapons, then Japan did not will follow their example?
– In Asia there are already two nuclear powers, China and India.
Myanmar is also reportedly following nuclear ambitions.
Bangladesh is moving towards building a civil nuclear power plant.
If proliferation takes place in the nuclear free zone of South East Asia then it is doubtful how Japan could be assured of a fool proof security without it being in possession of any nuclear weapons.
It may be natural progression to see Japan follow other nuclear states in such a situation.
– Japan can not abandon nuclear weapons, when her have India, Pakistan, Myanmar and Bangladesh?
– As I mentioned above Japan with its nuclear energy infrastructure has the capacity to come up with its nuclear weapons at any time.
There are no doubts in referring it as a de facto nuclear state.
Though it has desisted from doing so till now, the policy of non-weaponisation of its nuclear technology can be revised in response to perceived threats especially from rogue states like North Korea.
– And then this chain reaction will extend to the Thailand or Malaysia. Such developments will have serious repercussions across Asia, in particular in South East Asia?
– The geo political chess board of South East Asia is very unstable right now.
Many countries in the South East and South East Asian regions are not structured democratically and continue to remain fissiparous and unstable politically.
Bangladesh has a weak polity, Myanmar remains ruled by the military junta, Thailand has had mixed rule.
These can be breeding grounds of rogue states and in such an eventuality resources could be channelized into misuses.
There needs to be a serious rethink at the international level to get all countries to genuinely bind them towards a real disarmament in all ways possible.
The international community has to come up with rigid, real, uniform and acceptable criteria for safe atomic uses and non-weaponisation of technology to make our globe safe and liveable.