Twenty years ago on May 28, Pakistan made the difficult decision to overtly go nuclear by detonating five devices as a direct response to India’s nuclear tests, conducted the same year on May 11 and 13.
This was an unparalleled scientific and strategic achievement. The day is annually celebrated as Youm-e-Takbeer (The Day of Greatness). However, the decision to develop nuclear weapons and eventually testing them was not an easy one to make. Pakistan was compelled to develop its nuclear weapons programme because of a lifetime of Indian hostility and the threat of nuclear blackmail.
Pakistan and India have gone to war three times since Independence. Even though the reasoning for developing nuclear weapons was largely driven by India’s nuclear test initially carried out in 1974 and then in 1998, other important factors included the separation of East Pakistan, continued Indian intransigence, and India’s creeping occupation of Kashmiri territory. All of this created an environment of fear and insecurity for Pakistan.
Months after independence, India and Pakistan fought their first war over Kashmir. The war ended after the UN passed a resolution stating that Kashmiris be given the right to vote and determine their future. To this day, India refuses to implement the resolution and continues its reign of terror over the local population of the occupied territory.
Less than two decades later, on September 6, 1965, Indian troops crossed into Pakistan in an attempt to take over Lahore. Despite a larger army, India failed in its mission. Then in November 1971, taking advantage of the political conflict between the East and West Pakistan the Indian army attacked East Pakistan. But this time India succeeded in splitting the nation on December 16, 1971.
A year after this humiliating and devastating loss, Pakistan received credible intelligence that India was pursuing a nuclear weapons programme. Pakistan’s then leadership was fearful of what India might try to do considering it now possessed nuclear weapons. Would they try to forcefully take Kashmir? Or would they try to further break-up Pakistan?
In his book, ‘The Myth of Independence’, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto stated that it was necessary for Pakistan to acquire the fission weapon, to deter a nuclear-armed India. After the experience of three wars, Pakistan feared that it would not be long before India launched another attack in an attempt to disintegrate Pakistan. In 1972, Bhutto decided to bring together a group of people and began exploring the possibilities of pursuing an indigenous nuclear weapons programme.
It wasn’t long before Pakistan’s fears were realised on May 18, 1974, as India tested its first nuclear bomb in an operation code named ‘Smiling Buddha’. The Indian nuclear tests forced Bhutto, who was the prime minister at that time, to let the world know that: ‘Pakistan was exposed to a kind of ‘nuclear threat and blackmail’ unparalleled elsewhere. If the world’s community failed to provide political insurance to Pakistan and other countries against the nuclear blackmail, these countries would be constraint to launch atomic bomb programmes of their own! Assurances provided by the UN were not ‘Enough!’
Unwilling to be blackmailed, Pakistan made it its mission to develop a nuclear weapon for the sole purpose of deterring India’s nuclear aggression. And then 24 years later India tested five nuclear bombs. These tests were conducted at a time when the conflict in Kashmir was escalating again, and the tension between Pakistan and India was on the rise.
There was an environment of insecurity all over Pakistan. Pakistan feared that now that India had demonstrated its nuclear capability, what would stop it from blackmailing or bullying Pakistan in an attempt to take control of Kashmir? And what guarantee would Pakistan have that India would stop at Kashmir?
After the Indian nuclear tests, Pakistan had a tough decision to make: to not respond to India’s tests and thereby risk Indian aggression and the possibility of a military confrontation, or respond and deter any belligerent designs towards Pakistan? The decision was made and, despite tremendous amount of international pressure, Pakistan tested its nuclear devices as a direct response to Indian action.
Following Pakistan’s response, an eerie silence took over the whole of Kashmir. Not a single shot was fired across the Line of Control. Pakistan successfully demonstrated its scientific capability and brought stability to the region by deterring the threat of a nuclear attack by India.
By carrying out the test, Pakistan made a full-scale war with India impossible. Although the latter did deploy more than 500,000 troops at Pakistan’s eastern border during Operation Parakram in 2001, its dream of capturing any part of Pakistan, including Kashmir, is now dead.
Pakistan’s scientific achievements continue to keep India at bay, ensuring peace and stability. Pakistan’s most recent development of the ‘Nasr’ short-range nuclear capable missile and the ‘Shaheen-III’ land-based surface-to-surface medium range ballistic missile are examples of just that.
Because of Pakistan’s tireless efforts and its scientists’ hard work, the country has plugged all of the gaps in its deterrence capability, ensured peace and made war with India impossible.
The writer is a defence analyst in