Exchange of nuclear installation lists in South Asia

Is it a real step for ensuring the safety of nuclear facilities?

Exchange of nuclear installation lists in South Asia

The only thing that two arch rivals India and Pakistan adhere to and are obeying in true spirits is the exchange of their nuclear installations under the agreement, which prohibits them from attacking each other’s atomic facilities. The ‘Agreement on the Prohibition of Attack against Nuclear Installations’ was actually signed on December 31, 1988, and entered into force on January 27, 1991. It was signed by the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and his Pakistani counterpart, Benazir Bhutto. This bilateral agreement signed between India and Pakistan restrains them from carrying out any surprise attack and also impedes foreign assistance in attacks on each other’s nuclear installations and facilities. It also bounds them to inform each other whenever any change occurs in their nuclear installation. For this reason, both countries have to update each other about their nuclear installations and facilities.

In addition to the Agreement on the Prohibition of Attack against Nuclear Installations, Pakistan and New Delhi have also signed the Agreement on Consular Access. The latter was signed between the two countries on May 21, 2008. It facilitates the exchange of a comprehensive list of nationals, which include civil prisoners, and fishermen of each country lodged in their respective jails, as per the provisions of the agreement twice every year— on January 1 and July 1.

Since the first such exchange took place on January 1, 1992, this year marks the 26th consecutive exchange of the nuclear installation lists — a part of the treaty signed between the two countries. This exchange is always carried out through a proper diplomatic channel in both New Delhi and Islamabad. Both the lists were delivered to the high commissions on either side.

While analysing relations among both the countries, it is evident to narrate that tension generally prevails in the geostrategic environment of South Asia. Previously, Indian security forces had committed a mayhem in occupied Kashmir after the death of freedom fighter, Burhan Wani. After Wani’s killing, thousands of protesters in held Kashmir took to the streets and protested against the Indian government. Thousands were injured by the Indian security forces’ usage of pellet guns. On the other side, the bilateral relations also suffered when 19 Indian soldiers were killed in the Uri attack. India blamed this incident on Pakistan, which Pakistan vehemently denied. Since the past couple of months, both countries have continuously exchanged fire across the Line of Control; suffering casualties.

The term ‘nuclear installation or facility’ according to the agreement’s language includes nuclear power and research reactors, fuel fabrication, uranium enrichment, isotopes separation and reprocessing facilities as well as any other installations with fresh or irradiated nuclear fuel and materials in any form and establishments storing significant quantities of radioactive materials.

Despite having so many skirmishes with each other, both states kept up with the years-old traditions of exchanging installations lists by developing it as an exercise in faith. But paradoxically narrating, only this exchange of lists does not ensure the safety of all nuclear assets. There is a need to comprehensively analyse this aspect as well. Keeping in mind the rivalry and nuclear competition of both South Asian armed states, the facilities that come under the exchange umbrella are not too open to either side. For instance, if the uranium enrichment is taken into account, India is reportedly enriching it in secret and off-the-record. The separation of isotopes and reprocessing facilities is also kept secret. India is also engaged in the illegal export of thorium from Tamil Nadu and Europe as shown by the Indian media reports early last year.

Moreover, with regard to the nuclear power and research reactors, India’s regulatory framework for the safety of nuclear power plants, when analysed by IAEA in 2015, was declared in a need of further action with regards to the nuclear regulation as it was not independent enough to take internal emergency arrangements. It is also clear that India has a poor nuclear materials safety record. The Nuclear Materials Security Index (NTI) ranks India below Pakistan, and only above North Korea and Iran. Thus, when assessing altogether, this does not only depict the poor state of export controls in the country but also intricates the associated concerns of nuclear proliferation and misuse, which are generally not elaborated by the Western media.

It would not be wrong to narrate that the exchanged list is merely a list that depicts what it wants to show to the world. Despite the fact that the 1980’s CBMs were effective initiatives, there should still be a mechanism to move ahead from those CBMs by working towards a focus on the safety and the transparency of nuclear installations and facilities on both sides.


The writer is associated with the Strategic Vision Institute and can be contacted at