Pakistan’s threat perception makes India its primary threat since 1947. When India started working on its nuclear programme, Pakistan for obvious reasons could not have
ignored this development as it was to have dire consequences for Pakistan’s national security if countermeasures were not taken. The strongest advocate of Pakistan’s nuclear weapon programme was the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who can rightly be called the architect
of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. It was he who advocated the requirement for a nuclear weapon when no one was willing to consider it. As Pakistan’s foreign minister under Field Marshal Ayub’s regime, Bhutto stressed the
need for the development of a nuclear weapon. There is no other alternative to a nuclear bomb, he pointed out. He failed to convince Ayub Khan who was under the impression that he would buy one from the shelf if and when required. However, in 1972, when Bhutto became the president of Pakistan after the break-up of Pakistan, he ordered his scientists to start working on a nuclear weapon in a meeting with key scientists in Multan. In the meeting, then young Munir Ahmed Khan, who later oversaw the development of the nuclear program and who is the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, assured him that Pakistan can build a nuclear bomb. This meeting set the future direction of Pakistan’s nuclear program. After the Indian nuclear explosion in 1974, Pakistan’s own quest for nuclear weapons began in earnest.
As the main motivation of a Pakistan’s nuclear weapon programme was security, over the years, Islamabad offered India a number of arms control proposals such as the creation of a nuclear weapons-free zone in South Asia; simultaneous signatures to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) by India and Pakistan; mutual acceptance of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards; bilateral inspections of each other’s nuclear facilities; joint declaration to renounce the development of nuclear weapons; and signing of a regional test-ban treaty. As it is a matter of record now, all of these proposals were rejected by India as its nuclear programme was not only Pakistan specific, it also had a China factor in it. Therefore, in India’s calculation and threat perception it was not possible to get into such agreements with Pakistan. This left no other option for Pakistan but to intensify its own quest for a nuclear deterrent to ensure its security.
President Zia continued Pakistan’s nuclear program despite many difﬁculties. In 1987, he declared that Pakistan had achieved the capability to make a nuclear weapon. According to certain media reports that appeared in February 1992, the Pakistani Foreign Secretary admitted that Pakistan could produce weapon-grade uranium and weapon cores and could assemble a nuclear device. Despite making considerable advances in the ﬁeld, Pakistan refrained from testing till 1998.
After an interval of 24 years, India once again shook the world when it conducted a number of nuclear tests on 11 and 13 May 1998. Pakistan called this a “death blow to the global efforts at nuclear non-proliferation” and called upon the international community to issue a strong condemnation. Contrary to the American view that it was only a matter of when, and not why or why not, before Pakistan would respond with its own nuclear tests, an “intense public debate on the appropriate Pakistani response to the Indian nuclear tests followed”.
Though the pro-testing lobby was very vocal and visible, there was a signiﬁcant and politically influential group of people who emphasized “Pakistan’s precarious economic position and warned that the country would not be able to withstand the burden of economic sanctions that would ensue in the post explosion period.” They therefore counselled restraint. This group included people such as Abdul Sattar, who later became Pakistan’s Foreign Minister after the 1999 coup. In an article published in May 1998, he pointed out that, “Pakistan, with reserves of only a little above one billion dollars, heavy repayment obligations on a huge debt mountain, and an economy teetering on the brink, is hardly in a position to emulate India’s daredevil posture. Living on a thin margin, it has to weigh its options with much greater care and calculation.” In fact, even Prime Mini
ster Nawaz Sharif was initially reluctant to commit himself in favour of Pakistan conducting nuclear tests and was willing to explore other options. A noted expert on Pakistan’s nuclear affairs has adopted the view that “The top brass of the Pakistan military, including Chief of Army Staff, General Jehangir Karmat, at least initially, seemed supportive of the Nawaz government’s decision to keep the testing option open.” The statements from the Indian leadership between 11 and 28 May and the American inability to engage Pakistan innovatively, other than just offering Pakistan peanuts, persuaded the Defence Committee of the Pakistan Cabinet to approve its going overtly nuclear.
On 28 May 1998, Pakistan conducted ﬁve nuclear tests, followed by a sixth two days later on 30 May.
Rizwan Zeb is consulting editor of Pakistan Review. He is also associate editor of the Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs (Sage). He is a former Benjamin Meaker professor, University of Bristol, UK; visiting scholar India-South Asia Project, Foreign Policy program of the Brookings Institution, Washington DC, USA. He specializes in South Asian Security Affairs and has researched and published extensively on Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine, security and learning. Few of his publications on the subject (and used for preparing this article) include Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons: How Safe is Safe Enough? Transparency versus Opacity, Defence and Security Analysis, Volume 30, Issue 3, 2014; Pakistan’s Nukes: How Safe is Safe Enough? Swords and Ploughshares, Vol XVIII / No. 1 / Fall 2010, Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security (ACDIS), University of Illinois; Deterrence Stability, Nuclear Redlines and India-Pakistan conventional Imbalance, Spot Light on Regional Affairs, Vol. XXVIII, No. 4, 5, April-May 2009; David versus Goliath? Pakistan’s Nuclear Doctrine: Motivations, Principles and Future, Defense and Security Analysis, Vol. 22, No. 4, pp. 387–408, December 2006. He holds a PhD from University of Western Australia. He also studied at Gordon College Rawalpindi, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan and the Uppsala University, Sweden.