Why Pakistan went nuclear

The dawn of 28th May, 1998 saw Pakistan emerging as a seventh nuclear power of the world when in response to the Indian nuclear explosions on 11th May, 1998, it also exploded five nuclear devices followed by another detonation two days later. Since then 28th May is celebrated as ‘Yaum-e-Takbeer’ (exaltation of God’s name) and rightly so as it was the second most important day in the history of Pakistan, after Independence day.

When India, which had fought three wars with Pakistan over Kashmir and played an active role in its dismemberment, conducted the nuclear test in 1974, the latter had perforce to take the option of going nuclear, in view of the new security threat. It was by all means a defensive response to the aggressive designs of the enemy.

Regrettably, the USA instead of appreciating the security concerns of its ally, did everything within its power, including sanctions, to pressurise Pakistan to abandon its nuclear programme. But the Pakistani leadership refused to succumb to the threats and pressure exerted by US and continued with its efforts to attain nuclear parity with India. By the early eighties as revealed by Dr. Qadeer Khan, it had acquired the nuclear capability but refrained from conducting the nuclear test. When India took the plunge to show its nuclear prowess on 11th May and the Indian home minister L.K. Advani, following the nuclear tests urged Pakistan to realise the change in the geo-strategic situation in the region and refrain from intensifying the separatist movement in the Indian-controlled Kashmir, Pakistan was left with no choice but to respond to the Indian challenge with a befitting response.

Our supposed friend USA again tried the combination of threats and offer of huge financial assistance to stop Pakistan from responding to the Indian indiscretion and aggressive action. But it must be admitted that Nawaz Sharif who was the Prime Minister of Pakistan at that time, brushed aside the pressure and the lucrative offer for financial assistance from the US and as a leader of the self-respecting nation, made the right choice in the supreme national interest and did the nation proud by conducting the nuclear tests. The USA again imposed sanctions against Pakistan. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in his address to the nation after the nuclear tests said, “We never wanted to participate in this race for nuclear weapons. The enemy in its extreme arrogance forgot the rules of communication and is openly threatening us. We have proved to the world that we will not accept what is dictated to us.” This adequately explained the rationale for Pakistan to go nuclear in exercise of its right to safeguard its security in the face of a grave threat.

In 1994 when India tested its medium range Pirthvi missile it was taken as a clear indication and warning that the Indian nuclear and missile technology could be used against Pakistan. Those apprehensions were duly corroborated when in 1997 India started deploying missile along Pakistan’s border. This created a very tense situation and both the countries deployed troops along the border which created a real chance for an armed conflict between the two countries.

Pakistan rightly believes that nuclear deterrence is a factor of stability in South Asia. However it is pursuing a policy of minimum nuclear deterrent. Weakness invites aggression and the best way to keep the would-be aggressor at bay is to acquire the defence capability which would force it to think many a times before committing any aggression. Pakistan does not harbour aggressive designs against any of its neighbours and has no hegemonic designs in the region. Development of nuclear weapons by Pakistan is purported to ensure territorial integrity, political harmony and peace. Though Pakistan is not a signatory to NPT and other nuclear regimes but it has worked with the global community to promote nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Needless to emphasise that South Asia needs stability which necessitates a serious dialogue to achieve nuclear restraint, conventional balance and conflict resolution. The present government has gone the extra mile to get the dialogue going inspired by the vision to build an ambience of amity with neighbours and ensuring regional connectivity for shared economic prosperity, especially with India. But unfortunately India has not given a positive response to Pakistani peace overtures. It remains a hostile neighbour with hegemonic designs and least interested in the conflict resolution.

Encouraged and supported by USA and its western allies, India is feverishly engaged in expanding its nuclear arsenal and conventional weapons. Its ‘ cold start’ doctrine, civil nuclear deal between US and India, NSG waiver to India and the recent development of interceptor missile and submarine based K4 ballistic missile by her have disturbed the nuclear and conventional weapons balance between the two neighbours. Pakistan therefore justifiably feels concerned over these developments which might have very serious ramifications as far as peace in the region is concerned. Pakistan has already announced to upgrade its defence after this latest development.

Pakistan’s missile programme designed to produce short range missiles capable of carrying small nuclear warheads was started in response to the ‘cold start’ doctrine as a defensive measure to forestall the possibility of even a limited war between the two countries. As is evident Pakistan has only been reacting to neutralise the Indian threat.

There is strong lobby in Pakistan which keeps advocating Pakistan restraining itself from nuclear race with India. Conceptually speaking there is much substance in their argument. Nuclear arms race between Pakistan and India is indeed harmful for the teeming millions on both sides of the border and peace and security in the region. There could not be a better proposition than this if its sinks into the minds of the Indian leadership. Pakistan wants to resolve the core issue of Kashmir with India through dialogue and live like good neighbours with her. But as they say it takes two to tango. Mere wish by Pakistan to normalise relations with India and resolving all disputes through dialogue is not going to bring peace. The choice for Pakistan under the prevailing circumstances is either to accept Indian hegemony and compromise its security or keep pursuing its doctrine of minimum deterrence. Unfortunately the choice for the self-respecting nation like Pakistan has to be to give priority to the second option. Pakistan cannot afford to show slackness on its security till such time the other side and its supporters who cry from every convenient roof top to see South Asia as a stable region, instead of indulging in rhetoric show sincerity of purpose by adopting concrete measures to promote peace in the region and refrain from discriminatory treatment against Pakistan viz-a-viz India as well as help in the resolution of the Kashmir issue which is the cause of conflict between the two countries.

The writer is a freelance columnist. He can be reached at ashpak10@gmail.com.

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