National Pride or Strategic Necessity? Decoding Pakistan’s 1998 Nuclear Tests

by Nazia Sheikh

When it conducted its first nuclear weapon test in 1974, India wooed the whole community with the auspicious label “Smiling Buddha.” By successfully introducing the new test to the world under the well-known American concept of “Atoms for Peace,” the nation intentionally contributed to the subsequent global proliferation of nuclear weapons, especially in South Asia. India’s nuclear obsession led to five nuclear weapons tests on May 11 and 13 1998, in the Pokhran range in Rajasthan state, which borders the southern province of Sindh, Pakistan. This prompted Pakistan to develop a nuclear deterrence strategy against threats emanating from its adversary.

Two weeks later, on May 28 and 30, 1998, Pakistan carried out six “successful” nuclear tests in the remote Chaghi area of the southwest Baluchistan province. History keeps a perfectly accurate account of the arrival of nuclear weapons to South Asia by India. Pakistan was forced to construct a nuclear deterrent against antagonistic threats originating from South Asia due to Indian hegemonic plans.

To understand Pakistan’s nuclear testing and its pursuit of them is seen in the context of India’s nuclear testing. Pakistan had no choice but to react in response to India’s actions, both for its interests and the strategic stability of South Asia. A state decides to set out on an expedition and test its capacity in response to an external threat to its security, which is typically in the form of nuclear weapons. A series of incidents that included the 1965 war, India’s division of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), and the alleged “peaceful nuclear explosion” or “Smiling Buddha” solidified India’s status as an existential threat to Pakistan. Therefore, following the Indian tests in May 1998, Pakistan’s tests were merely an instance of “logic fluxus rerum,” or the orderly sequence of events required to bring about the restoration of strategic stability.

India currently has one of the fastest-growing nuclear weapons programs, and the country has purposefully covered its dangerous and malevolent nuclear initiatives from the international community under the pretense of dangers to national security. India’s reckless and ambitious nuclear policies have put billions of South Asian lives in jeopardy and started an arms race. Pakistan, on the other hand, suggested creating a Strategic Restraint Regime (SRR) across South Asia. The three interconnected and mutually supporting pillars of conventional balance, nuclear and missile restraint, and conflict resolution form the foundation of the SRR. This concept, if pursued, has the potential to establish enduring peace and stability in the region.

The rising number of nuclear material theft and loss occurrences in India presents significant risks of nuclear terrorism and proliferation, which are likely to extend beyond India and throughout the world. The world community’s reaction to these tragedies is unexpectedly callous. Major nuclear countries have sought nuclear cooperation in many areas, including India while pushing for IAEA safety regulations and a robust security framework. Of course, this is a discriminating tactic directed towards India, a reckless nuclear-weapon state.

Nuclear-armed states  may readily use force and leverage to intimidate other governments into behaving in a way that suits them. These states are motivated by pride and the desire to show power. Since one state has a weapon capable of unimaginable damage and the other does not, this potential is further enhanced by the fact that no other state can equal its relative strength. By using nuclear weapons in response, it is feasible to counter it and establish an equilibrium, which would allow for the restoration of strategic stability. The 28th of May 1998 is honored as Youm e Takbir because this is what Pakistan accomplished on that day.

With the Indian Accidental Missile Launch episode on March 9, 2022, Pakistan’s responsible actions were clearly shown to the world. Pakistan also demands a non-discriminatory approach to resolving nuclear matters and emphatically rejects any notions of an arms race. The nuclear program of Pakistan protects the lives of billions of people in South Asia, hence Pakistanis are rightfully delighted to celebrate Youm-e-Takbeer (May 28).

Pakistan decided to seek the option of nuclear weapons to bridge the conventional capability gap and protect itself from any nuclear blackmail by India. Pakistan was further driven to pursue its own nuclear weapons program by the international community’s apathetic reaction to India’s alleged 1974 peaceful nuclear explosions (PNEs). For Pakistan, however, the acquisition of nuclear weapons was a question of national security rather than prestige because the May 1998 tests were intended to rebalance the strategic ties with India. Pakistan was able to obtain nuclear capability despite socio-economic problems and an insufficient industrial capacity because of the country’s strong will and unanimity across all divisions. Pakistan has demonstrated throughout the years that it is a responsible nuclear weapon state that values responsibility and restraint.

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