It is no secret that Pakistan’s nuclear program is viewed with suspicion abroad and that Pakistanis think this is entirely unfair given that India has a similar nuclear posture and is the West’s darling right now. What is important to acknowledge, when India is very close to joining the Nuclear Supplier’s Group (NSG), is that we messed up. It has been known since early 2004 that the illicit proliferation network headed by A.Q. Khan supplied the nuclear programs of Iran, North Korea, and Libya. This is a stain Pakistan has not been able to wash off for the last fourteen years, coupled with overblown fears that our arsenal could fall into the hands of terrorists. But had it not been for AQ Khan, Pakistan had maintained itself as a responsible nuclear power.

In the 1960’s Pakistan was a supporter of total disarmament. Once it had intelligence of Indian plans, ZA Bhutto also started lobbing for a nuclear bomb. This is all in a context of the five UN Security Council permanent members having nukes and themselves not disarming, but asking everyone else to conform to rules on nuclear non-proliferation under the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

When India became a nuclear power in 1974, Pakistan was still in a very early stage of its journey. That it only tested in 1998 after Indian tests does show some restraint on our part. While sanctions were slapped onto Pakistan, India in 1974 was hardly chided, with aid being resumed after a year. While in the 1980’s the US let Pakistan carry on with its program as it needed support in the war in Afghanistan, it took a U-turn with the Pressler Amendment enforced in 1990 that the United States first implemented its most comprehensive set of non-proliferation sanctions against Pakistan. There were no congressional acts passed against India. After 2004 Pakistan increased its domestic and international non-proliferation efforts. This included legal reforms, a rigid export-control regime and a new nuclear-security mechanism.

By any reading of our nuclear story, it has been India that has taken a step and Pakistan that has followed. The Indian Cold Start Doctrine makes an all out stand-off worse, stoking fears that because such a doctrine of conventional war exists, India is an enemy to watch out for. Our response is Full-Spectrum Deterrence, i.e. we will use our nukes, and not just on military and strategic targets. In response, India will respond in kind. This is an unequal and unstable strategy and has become cause of calls on Pakistan to switch to strategic deterrence, where only the military is a target. However, there are few calls on India to get rid of its Cold Start doctrine.

As much as there are reasons to hate the bomb, the pressure is only on Pakistan to disarm and deescalate. India gets away with very effective lip service paid to its “principled” stands as a good player and responsible power. This lack of a rhetoric about moral superiority is where Pakistan has failed. The facts are that Pakistan is often ranked higher in terms of the safety of its nukes that India in indices like the Nuclear Security Index and India may well have been the fourth customer of the AQ Khan network. India also doesn’t have a squeaky-clean non-proliferation record. Indian entities, officials and other nationals were involved in the proliferation activities of Iraq and Iran. The US imposed proliferation-related sanctions on five Indian entities and four individuals.

Yet India has been able to get the NSG waiver in 2008 that allows it work with the NSG without signing the NPT. India is perceived to have followed the norms of non-proliferation, and afforded acceptance. India has also been able to separate its military and civilian nuclear programs, open the latter up to International Atomic Energy Agency for monitoring, something Pakistan has lagged on. Why the NSG issue keeps cropping up and is a thorn in Pakistan’s side is because India can potentially trade with the NSG and use its indigenous fissile material for military purposes and import new material for civilian purposes. This means greater stockpiles and more missiles rather than less- unless the NSG doesn’t know how to count.

In this situation, when Indian stockpiles can be seen to only grow, Pakistan is being pressured to sign the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT). The FMCT is a good step to halting the production of warheads, but if both Pakistan and India sign it, Pakistan will still lag behind India. Out national security policy has always been searching for some kind of parity with India, and being a nuclear power brought us closer. It is impossible that Pakistan could sign such a treaty. As expected, our reluctance is not sitting well with the powers that be.

The way Pakistan has been treated when it comes it its nuclear non-proliferation is unfair, when its aspirations vis-a-vis India have been the same India has had vis-a-vis China. But not only has the treatment of Pakistan been unfair, it has also been inconsistent with the US playing hot and cold. In such a situation, was it not expected that a country like Pakistan would arm itself as best it could?

With India being granted waivers, it means that global norms do not matter and can be flouted. This only signals to Islamabad that there may be nothing Pakistan can really do to get into the good graces of the Western hegemons. If its not nukes, its terrorism. If it is not that, its something about democracy.

Nuclear weapons are a terrible idea for any state. They are expensive, they escalate regional conflict, and are more trouble than they are worth. But, when rich and developed countries like the US and France cannot keep their post-World War II promises to disarm, and every one of the nuclear states hug their bombs like pillows they sleep on, Pakistan also has no choice but to love the bomb.


The writer is studying South Asian history and politics at the Oxford University and is the former Op-Ed Editor of The Nation.