India started nuclear program soon after independence. The Atomic Energy Act was passed on 15 April 1948, leading to the establishment of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC). The Prime Minister (PM), Jawaharlal Nehru declared: “We must develop this atomic energy quite apart from war indeed;I think we must develop it for the purpose of using it for peaceful purposes. … Of course, if we are compelled as a nation to use it for other purposes, possibly no pious sentiments of any of us will stop the nation from using it that way.” Indian intentions to develop a nuclear device for military use under the garb of ambivalence were there since independence. Dr. Homi Bhabha was the first secretary who is considered the founder of this program.
The IAEC established a new facility in January 1954, the Atomic Energy Establishment, Trombay (AEET); later in August 1954 the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) was created with Dr. Bhabha as Director to function directly under PM. The AEET facility was renamed asBhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in January 1967 after the death of Homi Bhabha. On May 18, 1974, India conducted an underground nuclear test at Pokharan in the Rajasthan desert, codenamed “Smiling Buddha.” The government of India claimed it a peaceful test, but it was actually part of an accelerated weapons program. The world reaction was not strong as expected. United stated and Canada criticized the test as they had provided aid to India for nuclear project which was supposed to be for peaceful purposes. Later on due to violation of understanding between two countries, Canada withdrew assistance to India. Chinese stance was that it would affect the stability in South Asia. After this event, Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) was established which gives guidelines to regulate the transfer of sensitive nuclear material. However, India continued pursuing vigorously its nuclear program to develop weapons of mass destruction.
During election campaign in February 1998, the Bhartia Janata Party (BJP) had announced in its manifesto that if elected it would seek to “exercise option to induct nuclear weapons”. The PM, Atal Bihari Vajpayee of BJP, gave orders to conduct nuclear tests on 11 and 13 May 1998. A total 5 nuclear devices were exploded. The Indian PM, very proudly claimed that India has become sixth nuclear weapon state and should be treated by the world. Indian stance towards Pakistan drastically changed. The senior Indian hierarchy started giving provocative statements against Pakistan. The Indian home Minister L.K Advani said, “Islamabad should realize the change in the geo- strategic situation in the region and the world. It must roll back its anti- India policy especially with regard to Kashmir.” The Corps Commander in Indian occupied Kashmir held an unprecedented news conference and advocated his plans to attack Azad Kashmir across the LOC. The world reaction to Indian nuclear explosion was not as strong as envisioned. Extracts from the President Clinton speech from CNN broad cast of 12 May 1998, are,“I am deeply disturbed by the nuclear tests which India has conducted and I do not believe it contributes to a safer 21st century. The action by India not only threatens the stability of the region, it directly challenges the firm, international consensus to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”The other major world powers also showed reluctance in penalizing India.
2.The Pakistan atomic energy program was started much later as compared to India. The Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) was established in 1956 to participate in Atoms for Peace Program announced by the US administration. The program continued at slow pace for peaceful use till detonation by India in 1974. This strategic development was perhaps the first that pushed Pakistan in the direction of nuclear tests in May 1998. Dr A Q khan joined the program in 1976and founded the Engineering Research Laboratories (ERL) later renamed Khan Research Laborites ( KRL) at Kahuta near Islamabad, with the exclusive task of indigenous development of Uranium Enrichment Plant. According to Carey Sublette, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons Program Development,” Nuclear Weapons Archive, January 2, 2002, the nuclear program of Pakistan developed speedily in 1980s and it had conducted the first cold tests of its nuclear device in 1983. According to Presseler amendment of 1985, Pakistan was required to get a certificate from the President of USA that it did not possess nuclear device for getting economic and military aid from USA, which was not signed by the President in 1990. Hence the aid to Pakistan was stopped. It happened soon after former USSR left Afghanistan.
3.On 11 may 1998 when India conducted first 3 nuclear tests, the PM of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, was on official visit to Kazakhstan. The Defense Committee of the Cabinet(DCC) convened on 13 May was chaired by PM, attended by the federal ministers and three services chiefs (Gen Jahangir Karamat was CJCSC as well). Dr. Samar Mubarakmand represented PAEC in place of Dr. Ishfaq, the chairman who was abroad, and Dr A Q Khan, the KRL. At closing of the meeting it was informed that India has conducted another nuclear test. The political, military, economic and technical considerations were obviously discussed thread bare. The political and military leadership was on the same page in the decision making process. Gohar Ayub the foreign minister present in the meeting writes in book, “Testing Times”, page 35, that when Raja Zafar ul Haq asked General Jahangir Karamat for his views, he said “we could match India, but the decision to do so would have to be a political one”. Dr. Samar Mubarakm and gave ten days’ time for preparations to conduct the tests. The site and tunnel had already been selected.
On 18 May, after a lot of deliberations with different segments of the society and the opposition parties, the PM gave go ahead to Chairman PAEC to test nuclear bombs on 28 May 98. This was a unanimous decision of national importance. The government and military leadership, opposition parties, and general public were firmly on the same page. The PAEC team headed by Dr. Samar under the supervision of Army Corps of Engineers sealed the tunnels on 25 May. On the evening of 27 May the site was made ready for tests and conveyed to PM. Seventeen days starting from 11 May when India conducted first test till Pakistan responded on 28 May were very critical for the PM, Foreign office and GHQ. They were mulling over ways and means to allay the international pressure in the form of sanctions, and attimes lucrative offers for economic aid in lieu. The President of USA called, PM several times to convince him not to go nuclear.
On 27 May a day before nuclear detonation he called our PM several times. A presentation by the participants of War and National Defence Courses,(1997-98), was scheduled on 28 May at 1000 in National Defence College (NDC) now NDU for the PM which was attended by the ministers and services chiefs. The writer of this article was undergoing war course and present in the auditorium. The topic words to affect was “Should Pakistan Conduct Nuclear Explosions or Exercise Restraints”. Points against the detonation were, weak economic conditions, will further worsen after slapping of economic sanctions. Points given by the panel to conduct explosions were much stronger. The panel concluded presentation saying, “Now or Never”. There was a big applause. The environments prevalent in the auditorium, and smiling faces of the senior hierarchy indicated that Pakistan will carry out nuclear tests very soon. The same evening at 3:15pm, Pakistan gave befitting response to 5 Indian nuclear explosions conducted on 11 and 13 May 98, by exploding 5 nuclear bombs and sixth on 30 May at 11:55am. After successful explosions the PM claimed that Pakistan has become seventh nuclear state.