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Fifty years ago, in May 1974, India tested its nuclear weapons codenamed “Smiling Buddha.” The explosion device was made using CIRUS nuclear reactor provided by Canada and heavy water was supplied by the United States. Before that India was part of eighteen nations committee on disarmament which negotiated the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Similarly in 1954 Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru called for a “standstill agreement.” Although India actively participated in negotiating both the agreements, India refused to sign and ratify them. Finally, In May 1998, South Asia became brazenly nuclearized with the Indian test of its nuclear device in Pokhran codenamed “Operation Shakti”. Given the apparent significant conventional asymmetry, Pakistan followed suit on 28th May and tested its own weapons to re-establish nuclear deterrence in the region.

Many argue the need for Indian nuclear test claiming that India had to compete with China in the long run that may be true. However to say that India did not considered Pakistan would also be untrue. Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee sent a letter to U.S. president Bill Clinton which was leaked to NY times, in the letter the Indian prime minister focused more on Pakistan than China. Similarly, in Lok Sabha, where the document titled “Evolution of India’s Nuclear Policy” was submitted on May 27th, contained belittling comments about Pakistan. Indian Prime minister’s speech that same day also projected the same declaration.

Why Pakistan Conducted Nuclear tests?

The 1971 war led to an imperative that Pakistan will restore the lost power equilibrium to deter further Indian aggression. These apprehension were strengthened by anti-Pakistan statements made by BJP leaders immediately after Indian nuclear tests. L.K Advani, India’s Home minister called on Pakistan to roll back its anti-India policy and also hinted hot pursuit military raids into Azad J&K. Similarly, Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Madan Lal Khurana also threatened Pakistan with war. These threatening statements were coupled with intense clash at Line of Control (LOC) in Kashmir. This clearly intended that India now want to adopt more forceful approach in Kashmir. India’s hawkish attitude immediately after their nuclear test was more than enough for Pakistan to understand that it needs to communicate its own deterrent. Pakistan’s nuclear test was merely a response to India’s, as Pakistan refuses to accept regional hegemony in South Asia. Pakistan feels as threatened by India as India claims to feel by China, especially given the troubled history between both nations.

Western silence towards Indian nuclear tests was another contributing factor as states within G-8 refused to condemn Indian tests. India was too big of a market to lose by imposing strict sanctions. It became clear to Pakistan that whatever approach of sanction will west take, it will lose its affect over time. Pakistan in response was given empty promises of general economic assistance rather than any specific package. U.S. provided no real incentives not to test nor was willing to fulfil any security guarantees Pakistan demanded. This hawkish Indian behavior along with western silence forced Pakistan to conduct its own nuclear tests and finally re-balance the strategic stability in South Asia.

What does the Future Hold?

Pakistan is of the view that nuclear discourse cannot be separated from regional politics. U.S-India nuclear deal is the prime example as it creates an environment of discrimination and imbalance in South Asia. It gave India an unprecedented advantage to further their nuclear technology for civilian development and gave India space to further their military nuclear ambitions. This fosters undue confidence in India, similar to the incident where India failed to inform Pakistan about the so-called accidental firing of a BrahMos missile into Pakistani territory. Pakistan exhibited restraint, preventing a significant escalation of the situation. However, this kind of restraint cannot be demonstrated every time.

Nuclear deterrence played a role in discouraging full scale war in South Asia. However, inevitable nuclearization should not be taken any further than necessary. Change in one state automatically affects its neighbor due to inescapable proximity. Nuclear tests were the pinnacle of this change. Nuclear tests by Pakistan became a necessary to humble the overconfident Indian leadership and to communicate capability. Unfortunately, under the current BJP-led leadership, the situation has not improved. Indian leaders, particularly around national elections, frequently make threatening statements towards Pakistan. This along with aggressive military modernization with the help of its allies and partners especially the United States. This will not solve the outstanding bilateral issues between both states nor will Pakistan accept the Indian hegemony in Subcontinent. The only solution to resolve issues are mutually beneficial negotiations and Confidence Building Measures to reduce distrust.

 Publication link: https://southasiajournal.net/pakistans-nuclear-test/

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