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Mumbai: Security agencies seize consignment meant for Pakistan's nuclear programme

Updated on: 02 March,2024 04:02 PM IST  |  Mumbai

A Karachi-bound ship from China was stopped by Indian security agencies at Mumbai's Nhava Sheva port on the suspicion that it contained a dual-use consignment that could be used for Pakistan's nuclear and ballistic missiles programme

Mumbai: Security agencies seize consignment meant for Pakistan's nuclear programme

Representational Picture/iStock

A Karachi-bound ship from China was stopped by Indian security agencies at Mumbai's Nhava Sheva port on the suspicion that it contained a dual-use consignment that could be used for Pakistan's nuclear and ballistic missiles programme, officials here said on Saturday.

The customs officials, based on an intelligence input, halted a Malta-flagged merchant ship -- CMA CGM Attila -- at the port en route to Karachi on January 23 and inspected the consignment, which included a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine, originally manufactured by an Italian company.

CNC machines are basically controlled by a computer and produce a scale of efficiency, consistency and accuracy not possible manually.

A Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) team also inspected the consignment and certified that it could be used by the neighbouring country for its nuclear programme.

According to the experts, the equipment would be useful in manufacturing critical parts for Pakistan's missile development programme.

Since 1996, CNC machines have been included in the Wassenaar Arrangement -- an international arms control regime aimed at stopping the proliferation of equipment with both civilian and military uses. India is among the 42 member countries that exchange information on transfers of conventional weapons and dual-use goods and technologies.

The CNC machine was used by North Korea in its nuclear programme.

The port officials, with specific intelligence, had alerted the Indian defence authorities who inspected the heavy cargo and reported their suspicions, after which the consignment was seized, the officials said, adding that the seizure falls under the prevention of possible proliferation by Pakistan and China.

According to documents such as bills of loading and other details of the consignment, the consigner was mentioned as "Shanghai JXE Global Logistics Co Ltd" and the consignee was "Pakistan Wings Pvt Ltd" of Sialkot.

However, a deeper investigation by the security agencies indicated that the consignment, weighing 22,180 kilogrammes, was shipped by Taiyuan Mining Import and Export Co Ltd and meant for Cosmos Engineering in Pakistan, the officials said.

This is not the first instance when Indian port officials have seized such dual-use military-grade items being shipped from China to Pakistan.

Cosmos Engineering, a Pakistani defence supplier, has been on a watchlist since March 12, 2022, when Indian authorities intercepted a shipment of Italian-made thermoelectric instruments, once again at the Nhava Sheva port.

The officials said there have been concerns that Pakistan might be utilising China as a conduit to acquire restricted items from Europe and the US, masking identities to evade detection.

Concerns have intensified over Chinese support for Pakistan's nuclear and missile programmes, exemplified by a 2020 case where an industrial autoclave, crucial for missile production, was concealed as industrial equipment on a Chinese vessel bound for Pakistan.

The ongoing investigation aims to determine if the suspected Pakistani entities receiving these dual-use items are supplying these to the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DESTO), responsible for much of Pakistan's defence research and development.

Despite assertions of commitment to international conventions by both Pakistan and China, the interception of such covert shipments underscores a persistent cooperation in potential proliferation activities, contravening global agreements and regulations, the officials said.

In February 2020, China was supplying autoclave to Pakistan under the cover of "industrial dryer".

The autoclave was seized from a Chinese ship -- Dai Cui Yun -- that carried a Hong Kong flag and had left Jiangyin port on the Yangtze river in Jiangsu province of China, bound for Pakistan's Port Qasim.

The seizure of the autoclave, possibly meant to be used in the missile programme of Pakistan, strengthens apprehensions that Pakistan is unabashedly indulging in illegal trade of missiles and violating the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

In June 2023, the US Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) sanctioned three Chinese companies -- General Technology Limited (autoclave supplier to Pakistan), Beijing Luo Luo Technology Development, and Changzhou Utek Composite Company for its involvement in supplying missile-applicable items to Pakistan's ballistic missile programme.

The officials said China's assistance to Pakistan has come in two ways -- supplying sensitive materials/equipment of proliferation concerned clandestinely and acting as a conduit in facilitating the country to procure dual-use/military-grade items/equipment from overseas, especially Europe and the US.

Additionally, China has assisted Pakistan in constructing civil nuclear power plants. China has constructed four 300 MWe nuclear power plants in Chashma and two 1,000 MWe plants in Karachi, violating Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) guidelines. China has plans to construct anothet 1,000 MWe nuclear power plant in Chashma, they said.

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