The Pakistani Foreign Ministry on Thursday rejected a British news report that it had a secret understanding with Saudi Arabia to provide the kingdom with nuclear weapons if asked, saying the story was "entirely baseless and mischievous."
"As a responsible nuclear state, Pakistan is fully aware of its responsibilities," the ministry said in a statement. "Pakistan's nuclear program is purely for its own legitimate self-defense and maintenance of a credible, minimum deterrence."
The BBC report said Saudi Arabia believes it could acquire a ready-made nuclear deterrent from Pakistan should it choose to request one in return for its years of generous financial support to the South Asian country's military. Top Saudi officials have warned repeatedly in recent years that if Tehran acquires a nuclear weapon, their government could be moved to respond similarly.
For years, the head of Pakistan's nuclear-weapons program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, operated a black market ring that sold nuclear-weapon technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya before the scheme was discovered and disrupted in 2004. Islamabad now insists it is not a source of nuclear proliferation but it has refused repeated U.S. and International Atomic Energy Agency calls to make Khan available for questioning about the details of his operation. The former nuclear scientist has defended his actions on the grounds the Pakistani government knew what he was doing.
Former U.S. State Department official Mark Fitzpatrick told the London Guardian it is "probably true" that Riyadh believes "they were given a promise that the weapons [they reportedly helped finance in Pakistan] would be used to defend the Saudi kingdom if need be." Less credible, said Fitzpatrick is the theory that Islamabad would actually give Saudi Arabia some of its nuclear arms.
"Pakistan's reputation suffered greatly the last time they assisted other countries with nuclear weapons technology," Fitzpatrick said. "Pakistan knows that transferring nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia would also incur huge diplomatic and reputational costs."