Some highly contentious claims were made by a contributing writer to The Diplomat, an international current affairs magazine in the Asia-Pacific region. The article ‘The Fallout from Pakistan’s Nuclear Tests” was written for an international audience, the writer Shah Meer Baloch tried to twist the facts as much as possible and made the mistaken claim that unlike other Pakistanis who celebrate the May 28, 1998, nuclear tests as Youm-e-Takbir or Day of Goodness, the people of Balochistan treat it as a black day. Now, where did that come from? How can an international publication carry an article based on little else but fabrication and lies? If the truth is known, Balochistan is full of patriots who are proud of their country’s acquisition of nuclear powers some 19 years ago and in that they are no different from any other Pakistani.
The inaccurate, flawed, and politically influenced piece starts with an intuitive statement which supports to be part of a popular narrative of a group of the population in Balochistan. No serious attempt was made in order to authenticate the claim of course. Several additional over-generalizations were made as well.
For instance, the writer portrays as if the district or the entire provincial population was influenced by the release of radiation from the 28th May 1998 Chagii nuclear tests. Would Pakistan and China have elected to build their prized infrastructure project, CPEC, in a radiation-rich region? Certainly not, right?
Factually, there is no radiation exposure in the area; neither in Chagai nor in nearby areas. After reading the article the first thing that comes into one’s mind is that Indian Navy Commander Kulbhushan Jadahav and Indian-backed terrorist groups were wearing gas masks while planning and executing their sabotage plots in Balochistan.
He claimed without representing the fact that the locals of Balochistan still suffered because of the nuclear explosion that the government set off in the Ras Koh mountains 19 years ago. Ras Koh is an entirely unpopulated area and situated in Chagai district, where Western NGOs are active. Never monitor the fact that nobody has ever filed a genuine complaint that local residents are being affected by the radiation fallout of nuclear testing in 1998.
It is extremely important to discuss here that underground testing is much safer than above ground testing. With underground testing, it is simple to contain the radiation. In Pakistan’s case, this was not made in haste though these came in response to India’s own 12 May tests. The choice of site, deep digging of the hills, preparations for detonation, etc. had been made long before 1984. Besides, all collateral damage, aftershocks, effects, and causes had already been evaluated and calculated.
A team of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) including Dr. Ishfaq Ahmad, Member (Technical), and Dr. Ahsan Mubarak started operational reconnaissance of some areas in Balochistan in 1976. Over a span of three days, PAEC scientists made several reconnaissance tours of the area between Turbat, Awaran, and Khuzdar in the south and Naukundi-Kharan in the east.
They found a mountain which matched their specifications after a painstaking search. This was an 185-metre high granite mountain in the Ras Koh Hills in the Chagai Division of Balochistan which at their highest point rise to a height of 3,009 meters. Ras Koh Hills are independent of and should not be confused with the Chagai Hills further north on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, in which, to date, no nuclear test activity has taken place.
The PAEC need was that the mountain should be “bone dry” and capable of withstanding a 20-kiloton nuclear explosion from the inside. Tests were undertaken to measure the water content of the mountains and the surrounding area and to measure the capability of the mountain’s rock to withstand a nuclear test. Once this was confirmed, Dr. Ishfaq Ahmed started to work on a three-dimensional survey of the area. Only after an extensive and hectic survey, the Pakistani government commenced work on the tunnel buildup and rescue plans were prepared in advance. The rescue plans are said to be still ready but the detonations of 1998 were so sophisticated like that of the highly-upgraded technology Pakistan utilized that not a single individual of the population was affected.
Shah Meer should have taken some radiation readings from a simple device like a Geiger counter before publishing the article. Rather than publishing fake stories, regarding Pakistan’s nuclear testing, The Diplomat must consider the aggravated fears of the villages in the vicinity of the Pokhran test range, which have long fallen out of the international spotlight.