Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons and the First Nuclear War: Revelation 8

Pakistan test launches a Ghaznavi missile. Photo: ISPR Pakistan

Pakistan test launches a Ghaznavi missile. Photo: ISPR Pakistan

By Dr. Rahat Iqbal and Dr. Muhammadi

The notion of deterrence in South Asia triggered, after the acquisition of nuclear capability by Pakistan in May 1998. The two states that are India and Pakistan had an informal deterrence before becoming the nuclear power states. The Indian nuclear programme had been commenced since 1970s, after the explosion of nuclear test in 1974, under the garb of Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy. Thus, compelling Pakistan for achieving the nuclear weaponry capability. India openly declared itself as a nuclear weapon state after conducting the nuclear test on May 11th and 13th 1998 while Pakistan on May 28, 1998.

Pakistan’s quest for nuclear weaponry capability has played a significant role in limiting the conventional war with India as has been experienced in the past. Hence, captivating India for indirect postures in order to achieve national interest. Again, capturing of Kulbhushan Yadav, a serving commanding officer in the Indian Navy and an agent of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) from Baluchistan province (Pakistan) indulged in terrorist and spying activities for India, is the evidence to support the argument on any forum.

It may be assumed that minor conflicts as occurred in the recent past such as the Balakot incident in February 2019 and Brahmos Missile Incident in March 2022 may infiltrate the conviction of deterrence between the two states, however, this might not be the reality.  In broader spectrum, the possession of nuclear arsenal is the constant factor in maintaining the equilibrium among the conflicting states particularly between India and Pakistan. During Kargil crisis of 1999, both India and Pakistan adopted the ladder of de-escalation from escalation, as both were the nuclear power states by that time. Since then, it’s been almost 24 years that both the states did not venture full-fledged or limited war. 

Not only this, the significance of nuclear weapons can be also assessed from the perspective of Russian-Ukraine crisis. Ukraine, the newly independent country with the disintegration of USSR in 1991, was the third largest nuclear weapon state. By 1996, Ukraine had given up all its nuclear weapons in the exchange of security assurance and economic assistance. Pertinent to Budapest agreement on Memorandum of Security Assurance in 1994, US, UK and Russia itself, were key players for ensuring the security against any emerging threats from within and outside boundaries for Ukraine. Sadly, the countries that promised the security assurance to the poor country failed to compliance with the memorandum, leading the country to suffer with Russian invasion since March 2022. Hence, proving the nuclear weapons as an ultimate deterrent posture to the invasion, not only in case of India and Pakistan but also weaker state such as Ukraine. Analyzing strained relations with India, Pakistan is blessed to have its nuclear weaponry capability.

Some of the Indian officials did claim to have change their nuclear policy after the Balakot incident from a no first use to the first use.  That is from preventive strike to pre-emptive strike. Despite this move, to initiate a nuclear assault by any of the South Asian state is a hard decision to make, as the fear of retaliation exists. This has already been experienced at the episode of Operation Swift Retort. The use of nuclear weapons and capability will not have a severe repercussion on India and Pakistan only but will endanger other peripheral states of the region as well. 

Since the nuclearization of South Asia, both India and Pakistan are indulged in the nuclear arms race. US-Indo strategic partnership signed in 2008, may give an edge to India for flourishing and furnishing much advance technology in security perspectives as it is in developing stature both economically and strategically. Even so, the use of nuclear weapons in uncertain situation against Pakistan is a difficult decision to take at the Indian end. Pakistan has and is trying hard to equally compete India in the technological advancement. The development of several missiles such as Shaheen-III, Ababeel, Babur, Nasr and some other could be considered as a tool of deterrence for the state. Therefore, a stabilize nuclear deterrence is intact and do exist in South Asia. 

There is a possibility that scenarios such as Balakot incident, revocation of article 370 and 35A, illegal annexation of Kashmir and Brahmo Missile incident may have its negative implications in the region and also on the strategic stability of the South Asian which can lead to minor military retaliations. But even during the heightened tensions internally and externally, Pakistan has always responded as a mature and responsible nuclear state. 

Pakistan is a state that got independence with limited resource and with a disputed border confronting three full-fledged wars with India. It is a state which is striving for progress through self-help with several challenges at different fronts. While discussing the Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, one must not forget the remarkable efforts and contribution made by the two legends that is late President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and late Dr. Abdul Qadeer as well as his team in making the program successful. For instance, if there had been no nuclear weapons, the existence and sustainability of Pakistan would have become difficult as like Ukraine.

About the authors

  • Dr. Rahat Iqbal is currently working as an Associate Director Research at the Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS), Islamabad, Pakistan. She holds a Ph.D. Degree in International Relations from University of Peshawar, Pakistan. She can be reached at Rahat-iqbal@hotmail.com
  • Dr. Muhammadi is currently working as an Associate Director of Research at the Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS), Islamabad, Pakistan. He holds a Ph.D. in Politics and International Relations from Shanghai International Studies University, Shanghai, PR China. He can be reached at muhammadi_mcs@hotmail.com

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