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Connecting the Arabian puzzle on Kirana Hills

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Ashutosh Sharma
Ashutosh Sharma
Ashutosh Sharma is a first-year engineering student who has exhibited a keen and avid interest in defence, history, diplomacy and geopolitics. He has a unique style of writing which vehemently analyses global scenarios from India's perspective. He has also written pieces on spirituality and dharma.

Over the past few days, the Pakistani airspace is replete with military planes, visibly logistics, transport, special carriers, and reconnaissance aircrafts belonging to the Pakistan Air Force and the Royal Saudi Air Force.

The ‘Aces Meet 2021’, a joint military exercise between the air forces of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States is underway at Mushaf Air Base in Punjab, Pakistan. This exercise would continue till 10th April 2021 and aims to provide an ‘exchange of experiences and expertise in the fields of planning, combat readiness, and support in air operations.

Although joint military exercises are a common fashion, Saudi Arabia has attached great importance to this particular exercise. This may seem anomalous considering Riyadh’s recent overtures towards closer cooperation with New Delhi, particularly in defence, including the Indian Army General M.M. Naravane’s visit to Saudi Arabia, its interest in buying weapons from India, and the scheduling of a joint bilateral exercise. It is easy to partner with India by hitting the right notes on its sensitivities. The Kingdom has extended measured yet unprecedented support to India, but this might merely be an effort to add New Delhi to the list of defence partners. Nevertheless, it fancies the interests of both nations.

Attempts made by the world’s largest arms importer to diversify its vendors and patrons are quite standard since Saudi Arabia is the cytoplasm to facilitate the immense strategic ambitions of various States in this region and successfully incorporating its own into them.

Therefore, a close analysis must sharply consider the wider goals of the regime. Both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are radical states, aiding and financing international terrorism, and enjoying special alliances with the USA and Britain vis-à-vis securing the regional interests of these Western ‘utopians’. Particularly through Chapter 7 in his book “The Ultimate Goal”, former R&AW Chief Mr. Vikram Sood gives exclusive insights into how the West had been effectively nurturing Islamists via countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in the name of freedom and democracy.

I have made the following observations that point towards something possibly significant: The PAF Mushaf Air Base is located in Sargodha, where the ‘Aces Meet 2021’ military exercise is currently in process. The Pakistani aircrafts have been flying around Sargodha to Rawalpindi. On 5th April 2021, a distinct Lockheed C130H Hercules military transport aircraft of the Royal Saudi Air Force tagged ‘RSF9963’ landed before Sargodha, in Sillanwali at around 01:00 hrs local time.

Miles ahead of Silanwali lie the Kirana Hills, where Pakistan happens to store their nuclear arsenal and missiles such as the Chinese M-11 (aka DF-11) Short-Range Ballistic Missiles (SRBM).

Hours after the landing, an unknown Pakistani aircraft tagged ‘PAF029’ took off from the same location in Silanwali. With a speed of 314 knots (approx. 581.5 kmph) at 22000 feet, the aircraft could mostly be a VIP transport aircraft such as the Boeing 707, Citation V, or an Airbus A310.

Around 17:00 hrs local time, the RSF9963 was already airborne and had left Sillanwali for King Abdulaziz Airbase. The RSF C130 topped 330 knots at 19000 feet while going to Pakistan whereas while travelling back its speed the same geometrical altitude capped around 210 knots, indicating load carriage.

It further flew to an extremely isolated location near Ti’af, in western Saudi Arabia. Hours later, another Lockheed C130H Hercules tagged “RSF8116” landed around that area.

According to Arab News, Saudi Arabia has identified two possible sites for power stations, on the eastern Gulf coast at Umm Huwayd and Khor Duweihin. Some reports say that at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, the Saudi government is constructing a small nuclear research reactor. Considering that efforts to develop a nuclear bomb are kept in extreme secrecy and any hint could invite harsh reactions particularly from the sharp-eyed West, this could only mean the following: Either the western nations are surprisingly ‘satisfied’ with the civility of this program, and are hence silently promoting it or that this might be the glorious diversion tactic, on the lines of which, Iran has trudged the nuclear path.

Countries such as Iran have tried to simultaneously develop a secret nuclear bomb while portraying to the world their ‘peaceful’ reactors elsewhere, supposedly built for civilian purposes. Riyadh would be concentrating its weapons programme in the West Gulf and the Central Arabia regions or acquiring and storing them here. The argument is further strengthened by the possible role of and interests held by China, Israel, the US, and Pakistan. Notably, Riyadh has been systemically acquiring skills such as uranium exploration, nuclear engineering, and ballistic missile manufacturing that would position it to develop its weapons.

China has exponentially increased its interest in the Middle East, beyond the lucrative oil. In August 2017, Saudi Arabia and China agreed to cooperate on nuclear energy in areas of exploring and extracting uranium and setting up joint nuclear plants. According to “classified analysis”, Saudi Arabia is working with China to build industrial capacity to produce nuclear fuel that could later be enriched to weapons-grade level. The Kingdom has planned 16 ‘commercial’ nuclear power reactors by 2030 with China. Despite Beijing’s cozy relations with Tehran, if Saudi Arabia has approached China, it shows its desperation and lack of acquiring partners in this regard. This may also be China’s entry into the Middle Eastern double games. Additionally, Saudi Arabia continues to have an arsenal of Chinese long-range missiles, and its interest in developing its ballistic missile programme with China is well known considering it also has the DF-5, DF-21, and maybe DF-11 missile systems.

Knowingly, Saudi Arabia had aided Pakistan’s nuclear programme which was hailed as the first in the ‘Islamic world’, thereby giving Islamabad an important role as a security provider to the Arabs. Various reports have conjectured Pakistan helping Saudi Arabia in procuring nuclear weapons and that some of them have already been shipped. In fact, the Saudis might believe in having moral rights and diktat over Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, as they are the de facto ‘leader’ of the Muslim world order. This has always been Pakistan’s dilemma on lending the sole designation to the Kingdom while not disappointing the Iranians, thereby it has ‘mis’managed to suitably please none.

In March 2006, a German magazine reported that Saudi Arabia had received assistance from Pakistan to acquire nuclear missiles and warheads. Satellite photos allegedly reveal an underground city with nuclear silos containing Ghauri rockets in Al-Sulaiyil south of Riyadh.They may be exploring stealthy storage points now. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has probably realised the lack of activity from its junior partner Pakistan and its policy of keeping the interests of its elites over the ‘Ummah’. He realises the importance of being self-sufficient in security issues. Also, his recent snubbing of Pakistani leadership and ‘orders’ to return loans has made Islamabad run for Riyadh to keep the friendship afloat, especially after Pakistan impatiently deepened relations with Turkey. This situation is particularly dangerous as Saudi may go to any extent to ask for something to keep the trajectory going. The Chinese might keep the Western intelligence agencies busy on its nuclear plants and missile factories near Al Watah in Saudi, while Pakistan supplies nuclear bombs or DF-11 missile parts: the indicator points at RSF9963 and Ti’af.

Israel and Saudi Arabia have a common consensus towards their nemesis Iran. Though Mossad has successfully kept Tehran at bay over its vicious nuclear programme, a contingency plan of arming the enemy of a historical ‘enemy turned friend’ is feasible especially over shared interests. Israeli writer Ami Dor-on had said that “the joint intention is to make sure that Iran will not be the only country in the region that possesses such weapons which threaten the security and safety of the Kingdom.” Though feeble, possibilities exist.

The ‘unwavering’ New York Times had published a report titled “U.S. Examines Whether Saudi Nuclear Program Could Lead to Bomb Effort”. Such reports have been excessively used by the CIA for narrative building, winning bargaining chips, and whitewashing the underlying facts. Washington and Moscow are in talks with Riyadh for cooperating in nuclear technology, even trilaterally. Besides, U.S President Joe Biden has hurt its “ally” far too much by revoking the ‘terrorist’ designation of Houthis, signalling a return to the JCPOA, imposing sanctions on the aides of Crown Prince MBS over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, and suspending arms sales worth billions to Riyadh as well as Abu Dhabi. These actions seem like a certification to the Biden administration’s ‘human rights approach’, driven by a reversal of former President Donald Trump’s policies due to personal aversions and a desire to bring Tehran to the table.

Also, Saudi has not responded with very strong words. Possibly carrying Chinese missile parts over which the US has voiced concern since long, from an exercise in which it reports attendance might be a subtle warning. If Washington D.C is firmly concerned about its partnership with Riyadh, this cannot go without giving latent concessions and what may happen here is extortion, for Iran is close to reaching its destination if there is a return to the 2015 nuclear deal. In an interview to ‘60 minutes’, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had hinted, “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”

‘The Saudi calculation likely stems from the view that nuclear energy is a powerful geopolitical instrument in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia and Iran are on opposite sides of conflicts in Syria and Yemen, and Riyadh is concerned by Tehran’s influence in other Middle Eastern nations such as Iraq and Lebanon. Moreover, the Kingdom can no longer count on Washington’s willingness to counter Iran, and might well have determined that it will have to deter Iran on its own. Therefore, until the Iranian nuclear program is permanently terminated, the Saudis will most likely keep the option open to produce their fuel, thereby providing a pathway to a weapon.’

Noting these various reports, analyses, and conflicting arguments, though it is over conclusive to point fingers, yet the presence of various ‘sources’ and possibilities is a common intelligence tactic to wade away uncertainties or rather create them so that the accurate facts remain inconspicuous and the underlying complexities create unclarity. But this itself is enough to generate apprehensions and a likelihood for the existence of a weapons programme.

The RSF9963 certainly carries lethal mysteries if not lethal weapons.

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Ashutosh Sharma
Ashutosh Sharma
Ashutosh Sharma is a first-year engineering student who has exhibited a keen and avid interest in defence, history, diplomacy and geopolitics. He has a unique style of writing which vehemently analyses global scenarios from India's perspective. He has also written pieces on spirituality and dharma.
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