Navigating the Tightrope: Pakistan’s Commitment to Arms Control as a Nuclear Power

by Tayyaba Khurshid

Pakistan’s nuclear weapon program was more a strategic necessity than a mere symbol of pride. The initial journey of Pakistan towards nuclear program began with its research on the peaceful use of nuclear technology in 1950s. Since the use of nuclear bomb in 1945 by United States, the global politics essentially changed and cold war era was marked by discussions and deliberations on possible deterrence nuclear weapons can offer. The notion that nuclear use in war or conflict will assure mutual destruction as narrated by discourse on Mutually Assured Destruction became more popular. The Major Powers like Soviet Union, UK, France and China tested their nuclear weapons after US, and cold war era saw proliferation of nuclear weapons both horizontally and vertically. The cold war nuclear rivals have also realized the possible destruction nuclear use can bring not only to them but to the entire regions they inhabit and both US and Soviet Union agreed on various bi-lateral arms control mechanisms like signing of Limited Test Ban Treaty(LTBT) in 1963 that banned nuclear weapon test in atmosphere, outer space and underwater. Pakistan adheres to arms control initiatives and behaves as a responsible nuclear weapon state despite being a non-member of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and other arms control and export control arrangements.

Pakistan’s perception of nuclear arms control has been shaped by Indian advancements. Shift from Pakistan’s peaceful use of nuclear technology to its 1998 nuclear weapon tests were greatly influenced by Indian nuclear tests of 1974 and 1998, the 1971 War and role of India, and the growing conventional asymmetry between India and Pakistan. Pakistan had no choice but to ensure its security through nuclear tests as it was believed that the notion of Mutually Assured Destruction would play its part to avoid a major confrontation and stability would be maintained. Nuclear tests by both states had significantly changed South Asian Strategic Dynamics forever.

Despite being a nuclear power that celebrate its nuclear weapon programme with zeal and zest, Pakistan has never been entirely against arms control initiatives. Pakistan being the initial members of International Atomic Energy Commission, availed benefits in peaceful use of nuclear domain. Pakistan also adheres to the IAEA protocols specially the facility specific protocols and abides by agency’s safeguard system. Pakistan sincerely supports the discourse on arms control and non-proliferation by participating in multi-lateral forums such as Conference on Disarmament.  Pakistan President in 1962, Muhammad Ayub Khan when addressed the 17th session of United nations General Assembly, proposed a treaty against proliferation. He suggested devising strict arrangements to make it impossible for non-nuclear states to acquire nuclear weapons. It was in 1965 when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto warned the world that if 6th state will acquire nuclear weapons then no one can stop horizontal proliferation.

For Pakistan LTBT was a ray of hope in dark horizon but that couldn’t be materialized due to major powers mistrust. Pakistan remained active in all negotiations taking place for NPT, but it was the reluctance of India to accept IAEA safeguards and resistance to NPT, that compelled Pakistan to refrain for signing NPT. Pakistan since its inception has faced a bigger stronger enemy that always wanted to undo Pakistan and therefore Pakistan couldn’t become a part of treaty that would refrain it from acquiring weapons when its adversary has already done a nuclear explosion in 1974.  The reason of not signing NPT as explained by then leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was that because India has not signed the treaty, Pakistan cannot act on moral considerations only. Despite being a non-member, Pakistan has always stood in front to collaborate with International organizations and assist states directly in peaceful applications of nuclear technology.  Prior to India’s test of 1974, Pakistan interest and policy was to make South Asia a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone ( NWFZ). In 1972, it proposed to denuclearize South Asia which got support from UNGA Secretary General Kurt Waldhiem. But Pakistan proposal was rejected by Indian Counterpart and the dream of Nuclear Weapon Free Zone was ended forever after May 1998.

Along with that, Pakistan policy of nuclear restraint in 1989 included a minimum credible nuclear deterrence, no hot tests to be carried as the cold tests had proved success but when India conducted hot tests this policy held no relevance. US diplomats after nuclear testsin 1998 presented Pakistan a paper called Minimum deterrence posture asking for various initiatives, one being the geographical separation of nuclear arsenals and their delivery means. Pakistan utilized those proposals and made a regional framework called the Strategic Restraint Regime which was proposed to India in October 1998. The proposal asked for prevention of nuclear and ballistic missile race, establishing a risk reduction mechanism and that nuclear deterrence should be pursued at the lowest possible level by preventing destabilizing modernization, but this proposal was not successful as both sides couldn’t agree on its terms and India also rejected the proposal.

Pakistan has also been active to support and implemented the United Nations Security Council resolution (UNSC 1540) that advocated domestic controls to prevent proliferation for terrorist purposes and called all states to implement export controls related to nuclear weapons and other mass destruction weapons. The Pakistan 2004 Export Control Act shows a strong export control system on all items that can be used in developing nuclear chemical and biological weapons and Pakistan since 2004 vigorously enforced 1540 resolution. In 2020, Pakistan submitted a six country report that contains an update on additional statutory and operational control measures.

Pakistan actively seeks membership of Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) and applied for full membership in 2016. Pakistan aims to increase its nuclear energy production from present capacity of 725MW (e) to 40,000 MW (e) according to its vision 2050. This can only be materialized with NSG support. Pakistan has always faced discrimination and discrimination reached its peak when in 2008, 48 member states of NSG granted a special trade waiver to India as per DG Arms Control and Disarmament Zahir Kazmi. Pakistan’s export control regime meets the standards set by NSG, Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Wassenar Arrangement (WA) and the Australian Group (AG).

As per former DG SPD Lt General (retired) Khalid Kidwai, “Pakistan has taken its nuclear security obligations seriously…. And we have invested heavily in terms of money, manpower, equipment, weapons, training and preparedness and smart site security solutions.” Nuclear Security in Pakistan is a non-issue….. Our nuclear weapons are safe, secure and under complete institutional and professional control.

Hence, Pakistan maintains a robust and secure nuclear command and control system. Overtime Pakistan has faced obstacles, sanctions but it participates and supports the multilateral arms control arrangements. As long as India maintains its nuclear weapon arsenals Pakistan cannot and will never come under any pressure to denuclearize. Even being a non-party to NPT and other arms control arrangements, Pakistan acts as per the treaty requirements and has also suspended nuclear weapon tests for time being. Pakistan holds importance for arms control and disarmament initiatives and struggles since 2016 to become member of NSG. It is essential that international community should acknowledge the robust safety and security protocols of Pakistan nuclear programme and grant membership to it viewing the responsible behavior Pakistan has shown since May 1998. The discriminatory policies of West will only further complicate the regional dynamics and arms race in South Asia. Therefore, the objective approach is required for regional peace and stability

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Center for International Strategic Studies AJK, King Abdullah Campus Chatter kalas Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir