PAKISTAN became the first Muslim nuclear power on 28 May, 1998 by detonating nuclear devices in the Chagai district, Baluchistan. Almost 24 years after the first detonation of Indian nuclear device, as a sequel and expected consequence of India’s 1998 nuclear tests, despite immense international pressure especially from the US, Pakistan was compelled to conduct at least six nuclear tests on May 28 and 30, 1998 in response to Indian grand scheme. Pakistan’s nuclear tests were widely criticized though Pakistan’s nuclear programme is part of its self defence against India. Nuclear Pakistan is deterrence against nuclear India.
Be it a democratic government or military rule, Pakistan’s nuclear program was never unheeded but the acclaim goes to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who initiated Pakistan’s nuclear program in 1972. India tested its first nuclear device in 1974 under its nuclear program named “Smiling Buddha”. This initiative by India gave momentum to Pakistan’s nuclear program and Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan who was German trained metallurgist and nuclear physicist came to Pakistan and gave a boost to Pak nuclear programme. Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan established Kahuta Research Laboratories in 1976 which worked under the supervision of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission.
ZulIfiqar Ali Bhutto once said on Pakistan’s nuclear programme that “if India builds the bomb, we will eat grass and leaves for a thousand years, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own. The Christians have the bomb, the Jews have the bomb and now the Hindus have the bomb. Why not the Muslims too have the bomb?” Many scientists of Pakistan including Chairman PAEC of that time Munir Ahmad Khan, Abdus Salam, Dr. Ishrat Usmani, Dr. Samar Mubarak Mundd and several others have played a pivotal role in making Pakistan first Muslim and seventh nuclear power of the world.
Nawaz Sharif who was also Prime Minister at that time stated after the nuclear tests that they were in effect forced by the present Indian leadership’s reckless actions and that it was in the interest of national self-defense including to deter an external aggression, whether nuclear or conventional. After the reciprocal nuclear explosions of both states, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution advising India and Pakistan to stop their nuclear programs. The United States and other Western states imposed economic sanctions against Pakistan. The U. N. Secretary General, Kofi Annan, urged both the countries to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which Pakistan agreed to sign if India did the same.
Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are widely criticized by overlooking Indo-US deals and Cold Start Doctrine. From a military standpoint, doctrine for the use of tactical nuclear weapons must be operationally credible so as to enhance deterrence. Pakistan’s need for doctrine refurbishing with specific regard to tactical nuclear weapons is rooted in challenges, which are all genuine due to growing Indian conventional as well as nuclear capabilities. With the introduction of low-yield or tactical nuclear weapons our doctrine has not changed principally but now it is defined as Full Spectrum Deterrence. These low yield nuclear weapons are under sharp focus of US and west and often say that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals are under high risk of theft, which surely is a wrong postulate.
Another matter of concern for Western powers is the fact that Pakistan developed these weapons despite bearing the international sanctions after its 1998 nuclear tests. There is a belief that much of this technology has been attained from China, a channel which will be difficult to block unless Pakistan is brought into the nuclear mainstream. Therefore, in such a pressing environment the strategy of wider the conventional asymmetry, the lower the nuclear threshold would be the wise option for Pakistan to respond and deter India from crossing any of the threshold be it military, economic or domestic subversion.
Pakistan has the required credentials that entitle it to become part of all multi-lateral export control regimes including the Nuclear Suppliers Group in which Pakistan strive for a non-discriminatory approach. Not a single nuclear radiation accident in Pakistan has occurred since it became nuclear and all its reactors are ensured under IAEA safeguards. Pakistan has always acted sensibly while avoiding arms race in region and India’s hostile intentions forced Pakistan to go for nuclear tests. 28 May was announced as “Youm-e-Takbeer” or” The Day of God’s greatness” and every year it honours the contribution of those scientists and heroes which made Pakistan stand out and shine as a first Islamic nuclear power.
Pakistan must stand firm in its current approach of carrying forward development of low-yield short-range missiles to not only flop Indian designs of undermining Pakistan multilaterally but also to shield its political and economic interests alongside country’s security and sovereignty. Pakistan’s policymakers must continue good relations with the US and west without compromising on the promising relations with China and Russia. Our foreign policy, governments’ role and people of Pakistan’s behaviour as a First Muslim nuclear power must portray our potentials and viable enough to maintain the spirit and essence of Youm-e-Takbeer.
— The writer works for Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, a think-tank based in Islamabad.