In the 1970s, the then prime minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, famously declared that, “We will eat grass, even go hungry, but we will have our own,” while referring to the attainment of nuclear weapons. Forty years after that declaration, we attained this capability by ensuring the neighbors that national security would not be compromised.
In late May of 1998, Pakistan revealed its nuclear capability by conducting six nuclear tests, a move necessitated by the India’s nuclear tests on 11th and 13th May respectively. With those tests, India, the arch rival of Pakistan, had tilted balance of power in its own favor, making necessary for Pakistan to reciprocate in same manner.
Pakistani reaction to India’s test of a nuclear explosive was the need of the time as both countries shared a history of conflicts. This testing by Pakistan worked as a balancer of power in the nuclear domain which further eradicated the chances of future wars. Given the asymmetry that exists between both the countries, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons become a crucial component of overall security architecture against India.
On the 20th anniversary of Pakistan’s nuclear tests, one must be clear enough that the peaceful nuclear explosion (PNE’s) in 1974 conducted by India and then yet again in 1998, there became a need to maintain balance of power and necessary deterrence in the region keeping in mind the ever untrustworthy relations between India and Pakistan. Hence, it may be useful to assess Pakistan’s role of nuclear weapons in ‘national security’ and how safe these weapons are from external threats.
Evidently, the term ‘national security’ is a broad concept which includes elements of national power i.e.; geography, economy, diplomacy, leadership of a country in strengthening national security and the geostrategic environment. These all elements in sum play their part in guaranteeing and safeguarding the national interests of a country.
It is also evident that the nuclear weapons of Pakistan not only helped in reducing the military asymmetry between India and Pakistan but have also prevented several wars in the region. Since after the acquisition of nuclear weapons capability by Pakistan, there have been no major wars, except for the Kargil crisis of 1999 that does not fall under the category of a conventional war.
So it is observed that acquisition of nuclear weapons by Pakistan worked as an effective nuclear deterrent against India, where latter having a qualitative and quantitative edge in conventional power. These weapons also helped in reducing major events that could have led to wars in the region i.e. 1985-86 (Brasstacks), 1990 (Kashmir uprising), 1999 (Kargil conflict), 2001-02 (military stand-off), and 2008 (Mumbai attacks).
Since after the event of 9/11, the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons has been a focus of international attention. Several Western researchers and scholars continue to agitate out scenarios portraying Pakistan as a fragile state, incapable of handling its nuclear assets. This is disturbing, Pakistan has always been admired for its role in the realm of nuclear safety and security. More recently, the IAEA chief expressed satisfaction over implementation of the agency’s safeguard measures in the country. While realising the potential and efforts Pakistan has taken for the safety and security, it is being still subjected to renewed propaganda.
Pakistan attaches highest significance to its nuclear safety and security and complies with all international and domestic obligations. Pakistan adheres to several international resolutions aimed at prevention of nuclear terrorism and proliferation of nuclear material to non-state actors, such as UNSC Resolution 1540, (aimed at the prevention of transfer or assistance to produce nuclear weapons); Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT), Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) and Container Security Initiative (CSI).
Lastly, Pakistan supports peace, and recognizes that war is not an option despite challenges on its borders. The history of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme is a story of national resilience and tremendous sacrifices. Pakistan’s nuclear program is solely for deterrence against India, and to stabilize the subcontinent. So, rather than using politicized sentiments to down play Pakistan’s nuclear capability, international community must mainstream Pakistan as a responsible nuclear state.