The introduction of nuclear weapons in South Asia was a result of covert activities by Indian scientists, who diverted the Canadian nuclear supplies given for research and development to make these deadliest weapons in 1974. However, it took over two decades for India to openly test nuclear weapons in May 1998. The Indian objective behind testing was to achieve prestigious status internationally and implement its hegemonic policies in the South Asian region. The intent became clear when the former Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee during his national election campaign on February 25, 1998 declared that with nukes he will “take back that part of Kashmir that is under Pakistan’s occupation.”
Such policy intent rose a tremendous challenge for Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Pakistan bilaterally proposed India to limit the manufacturing or acquisition of nuclear weapons and assure adherence to the Treaty of Nuclear Non-proliferation (NPT). However, India refused to negotiate any disarmament or restraint pact with Pakistan and the onus of initiating the nuclear arms race in the region rests on India. If it would have not been for security and deterrence, Pakistan would have not tested nuclear weapons. When it comes to a matter of national honor and survival, there is no Pakistani that would not play his part to make impossible tasks possible. Pakistan responded to Indian aggression with equal number of nuclear tests at Chaghi, Balochistan on May 28, 1998. The signal was clear and loud by former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that “If India had not exploded the bomb, Pakistan would not have done so. Once New Delhi did so, we had no choice because of public pressure.”
The decision to respond to Indian nuclear weapons tests was not made in haste. It was a well-prepared, timely, safe and secure decision. The technical and operational reconnaissance by Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) had been made long before 1984. For instance, the tests were conducted underground to easily contain the radiation, the selection of site, deep digging of the hills, preparations for detonation, collateral damages, aftershocks, effects and causes had already been evaluated and calculated. Pakistan’s demonstration of detonating its indigenous nuclear weapons was, indeed, a technological feat by all accounts.
One of the lessons from the disintegration of East Pakistan was that the country must self-rely to ensure its security against Indian hegemonic designs. Therefore, it was crucial to make sure the acquisition of required weapons capability to ensure deterrence against security threats. In this regard indigenously developed technology is the key to achieve the essential defensive and offensive capability. Pakistan earlier in 1974 had sensed the risks associated with Indian ambitions to acquire nuclear weapons, because such capability was going to complicate the traditional regional security environment. Therefore, Pakistan proposed the establishment of Nuclear-Free Zone to the 29th session of UN General Assembly, which has yet not been materialized.
Pakistan has acted more responsibly ever since nuclear weapons have been tested in the region. It has acquired the relevant technology to maintain minimum deterrence capability in the domains of air, land and sea. This strategy has restrained Indian political and military objectives of coercion, despite of its conventional superiority.
In 1998 and today, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is governing Indian policies and there is not much difference in offensive posture towards resolving conflicts with Pakistan. In both tenures, the leadership of BJP has threatened to use nuclear weapons if Pakistan would not submit to Indian policies. For instance, former PM Vajpayee in May 1998 said that “Pakistan should adopt a more conciliatory attitude that recognizes India’s newly enhanced military power,” and incumbent PM Modi in April 2019 threatened to use weapons of mass destruction, if Pakistan would not release the captured Indian pilot.
Pakistan’s choice of going nuclear and further acquiring robust nuclear capability, therefore, justifies its policy of opting full-spectrum deterrence to avoid any kind of military adventurism and escalation. However, Indian acquisition of conventional arms and pace of developing strategic weapons like ballistic missiles, including intercontinental and anti-satellite technology, pose a serious challenge to both regional and global strategic stability.
Youm-e-Takbir has helped Pakistani leadership to make sensible decisions and further becoming more active proponent of nuclear nonproliferation regime. Pakistan has maintained strict physical protection and export control measures to efficiently operate its nuclear program. Its scientists and engineers have accomplished a lot in research and development of nuclear technology to employ it in peaceful uses. For instance, power generation, agriculture, medicine and environment. It is quite evident that the need of the hour is to mainstream Pakistan in the global nuclear order.