On 28th May 1998, Pakistan had detonated six nuclear devices at Chaghi (Balochistan) in response to five nuclear explosions conducted by India – three on 11th May and two on 13th May, to become the seventh nuclear state of the world.
India is six times larger in landmass as well as in size of the population, and has an edge over Pakistan in conventional weapons. After disintegration of Pakistan in 1971, Pakistan’s civil and military leadership tried to identify the causes that led to the break up of the country, and at the same time focused on the measures to strengthen Pakistan to frustrate the evil designs of the enemies of Pakistan.
In 1984, Pakistan had attained the nuclear capability and conducted ‘cold tests’. Had India not detonated nuclear devices, Pakistani nukes would have remained in the closet. After India conducted nuclear tests, Pakistan had no choice but to respond to India’s tests in order to achieve nuclear status and maintain minimum credible deterrence. Of course, Pakistan has become invincible.
The US had pressurized Pakistan not to conduct nuclear test, but then Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif, in consultation with his cabinet and military leadership, decided to detonate nuclear devices, disregarding the incentives and defying threats from the sole super power and western countries. In 2005, the US started negotiating a ‘civil-nuclear deal’ with India, which is a misnomer because in reality it has military connotations. The mere fact that it had extracted fissionable material for its first nuclear bomb testing in 1974 from its Cirus reactor was enough to condemn and punish India.
The Indians were committed to use this facility only for peaceful purposes, but were clandestinely employing it for bomb making. Canada had therefore rescinded the agreement with India at that time; however after the US signed civil-nuclear agreement with India, Canada is also in the run to benefit from India’s shopping spree by selling nuclear-related equipment to India.
After concluding agreement with India, the US had given green signal to Nuclear Suppliers Group to give India all the benefits of a state that had signed Non-Proliferation Treaty without signing it. And by doing so, they created asymmetry and imbalance in South Asia. After disintegration of Pakistan with the active support, funding and training to Mukti Bahini in former East Pakistan, there was a sense of insecurity in Pakistan.
It was in this backdrop that the then prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had decided to go nuclear “even if the nation had to eat grass”, he had declared. The credit for consistency in the policy to make an atomic device goes to all the subsequent governments, be it late General Zia-ul-Haq, Benazir Bhutto and last but not the least Mian Nawaz Sharif’s government. After India conducted five nuclear tests in 1998, Indian leadership had started flexing muscles and vowed to take Azad Kashmir from Pakistan.
There was consensus in Pakistan that despite pressure from international community, Pakistan must conduct nuclear tests to give message loud and clear that Pakistan would brook no nonsense. Pakistan also declared its policy of first use option, if the need be. Since 2008, the US has been expressing concern that Pakistani Taliban or militants may come to power and control the nukes. In May 2009, President Barack Obama went to the extent of saying that the US would take all the steps to secure Pakistan’s nuclear assets and nukes. Being a visionary and well-informed leader, he must be aware that nuclear devices are not stacked in the shelves of the warehouses that anybody can pick these up.
There is, indeed, a multi-layered system of command and control, and even the US would not know the exact location of Pakistan’s nuclear devices and delivery system. However, in 2006 a small group of US military experts and intelligence officials, convened in Washington for a classified war game, explored strategies for securing Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal if the country’s political institutions and military safeguards began to fall apart.
Later, there was a leak in the press that the secret exercise conducted was one of several such games the US government had conducted to examine various options and scenarios for Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. They tried to work out: “How many troops might be required for a military intervention in Pakistan? Could Pakistani nuclear bunkers be isolated by saturating the surrounding areas with tens of thousands of high-powered mines, dropped from the air and packed with anti-tank and anti-personnel munitions? Or might such a move only worsen the security of Pakistan’s arsenal”? America and NATO and for that matter India should not remain under the illusion that they could use militants to cause harm to Pakistan’s nuclear installations.
To attack GHQ and Mehran Naval Base located in congested cities like Rawalpindi and Karachi is different than attacking Pakistani nukes that are scattered and under multi-layered command and control system.
Since big powers wish to have the monopoly of nuclear devices they do not have moral high authority to tell other countries not to produce atomic bombs especially when they are being threatened by hegemonic regional and world powers. The problem is that the US – the sole super power – has double standards, one for its strategic partners and the other one for rest of the world. Israel is an undeclared atomic power yet America would not like to see Iran or any Arab country develop nukes to meet the challenges from it.
The US itself entered into a civil nuclear agreement whereby India would enjoy all the benefits accruing to a state having signed Non-Proliferation Treaty. This has disturbed the balance of power in South Asia. At the time of concluding agreement with the US India had conveyed an impression that further nuclear tests would not be necessary, yet it started paving the way to conduct such tests by questioning the effectiveness of its nuclear weapons.
Former head of India’s main nuclear body PK Iyengar once told the BBC that he had made it clear already in 2002 that India’s nuclear tests were inconclusive and ambiguous.
India should therefore conduct further tests to establish itself as a true nuclear power. His comments came as atomic scientist K. Santhanam, who was associated with India’s 1998 nuclear tests, said on 27th August 2009 that nuclear tests were not as successful as claimed. PK Iyengar also said that India’s 1998 nuclear test was not a deterrent against China but against Pakistan. He said one of the tests – on a hydrogen bomb – had not worked and that India would have to carry out more tests for a credible nuclear deterrent. “In nuclear parlance, a test is described as a fizzle when it fails to meet the desired yield”, Santhanam had said. Though the Indian government has rejected scientists’ conjectures yet there is a perception that scientists had stirred the controversy at the behest of Indian government to conduct more tests to improve the ‘yield’.
On the other hand, members of US administration, government functionaries and think tanks continue propaganda against Pakistan that terrorists could get control of its nuclear assets in the event the state fails. In 2006, Pakistani press quoting Indian news agency had published news that National Intelligence Council, a think-tank organ of CIA in its 114-page report, among other observations, presaged that the world would need America’s help in resolving conflicts, and the US will have to intervene with a view to stopping Kashmir dispute from taking an ugly turn.
It observed that in case India commits aggression against Pakistan, and gets initial success due to its edge in conventional arms, Pakistan could use atomic weapons. It is strange that the US needs Pakistan to win war on terror or at least a safe exit from Afghanistan, yet it expresses concerns that terrorists could lay their hands on Pakistani nukes knowing full well that Pakistan has a multi-layered system, which was put in place with the cooperation of the US.