On May 28, 1998, Pakistan was forced to conduct a series of nuclear weapon tests as a direct response to Indian nuclear aggression, becoming the world’s seventh nuclear weapon state. The decision to conduct these tests was not made lightly and was not an immediate reaction made without thinking.
India exploded six nuclear devices between May 11 and 13 in 1998. Pakistan waited for the international community to take action against India for proliferating and for upsetting the established nonproliferation norms. But soon after India’s tests, it became clear that the international community was unwilling to take any kind of disciplinary action. This was nothing new, considering the fact that after India had illegally diverted nuclear material in 1971 to conduct its first nuclear explosion, there was no massive outcry in the international community. Instead, business continued as usual. Pretty much what happened after the 1998 tests as well. In 1998, while the international community seemed at ease with India’s new nuclear developments, fear and insecurity grew in Pakistan. After all, India and Pakistan had gone to war three times since independence. In 1947, India illegally occupied parts of Kashmir that it still occupies to this day; in 1965 India tried to invade and take control of Lahore; and in 1971 India succeeded in splitting a sovereign Pakistan in half.
Disappointed with the international community’s lack of response, policymakers in Pakistan began debating the implications of not countering India’s nuclear belligerence. After a grueling two weeks of arguments, a clear consensus emerged that Pakistan needed to address the strategic imbalance to ensure peace. Despite immense pressure by the international community, on May 28, 1998, Pakistan succeeded at ensuring strategic parity with India by carrying out five underground nuclear tests in the barren Chagai district of Baluchistan. Looking at the current global environment and dangerous regional developments, if Pakistan had not responded, perhaps today the country would not exist, as we know it.
Pakistan’s nuclear weapons have played a vital role in deterring Indian aggression and coercion post-1998. The first case in point – in 2002, the Indian military placed half a million troops on Pakistan’s border. This was done in response to the devastating attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001, for which the Indians wrongfully held the government of Pakistan responsible. After eleven months, hundreds of lives lost, and billions of dollars wasted, the Indians finally retreated. If Pakistan did not have a credible nuclear deterrent, the Indian soldiers would have marched across the border, all five hundred thousand of them. It was the same scenario following the 2008 Mumbai attacks, and the Pathankot incident. India was forced to show restraint because of the parity created by Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.
May 28 is celebrated as Youm-e-Takbeer, which translates to the day of greatness—greatness not only because of the significant scientific achievement, but also because Pakistan succeeded at creating an environment of peace and stability in the region by deterring the threat of India’s nuclear bomb. By taking the tough decision of testing in response to the Indian nuclear explosions twenty years ago, Pakistan effectively reduced the chance of an all out war with India to zero.
Instead of taking this chance to try and work towards a permanent and lasting peace, the Indians seem adamant at wanting instability in the region. Case in point: the recent sea test of a submarine launched ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, from a nuclear powered submarine, and the test of the interceptor missile—not to mention the development of Karnataka, an entire city devoted to solely enriching uranium for future nuclear weapons. Once again, this kind of out of control vertical proliferation, nuclearization of the Indian Ocean, and the maturity of a ballistic missile defense program are all dangerous developments that risk upsetting the balance of power in the region. Unfortunately, history seems to be repeating itself. India is on a dangerous path and the international community is taking no action. Instead, this time around, the Americans, blindly motivated by greed, are actually enabling India to continue down this treacherous path by openly supporting them for membership into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which is ironic, because the group was created in response to India’s nuclearization of the subcontinent, with the aim of preventing future proliferation.
Pakistan’s development of advanced military technologies, focus on nuclear diplomacy, and commitment to preserving the balance of power - are all examples of the country’s scientific, diplomatic, and strategic communities working hard to try and neutralize India’s nuclear aggression, all the while committing themselves to promoting peace and stability in South Asia as a responsible nuclear weapon state.
The writer is an assistant professor at NUST in Islamabad.