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Pakistan becomes a nuclear power in 1998, Why Pakistan went Nuclear?

The hardcore right-wing extremist BJP has a long-held desire to make India a member of the nuclear club. After being sworn in as the Prime Minister in 1998, the nationalist leader, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee announced his national plan of governance in March 1998. Since making India a ‘nuclear power’ was among the key promises that BJP had made during the election campaign, Mr. Vajpayee didn’t take much time to reaffirm that. In pursuit of this, he declared India’s determination to conduct nuclear tests. Pakistan was quite concerned with this Indian warmongering and aggressive mindset. The then Foreign Minister, Mr. Gohar Ayub Khan, appealed to the international community to take notice and put sanctions on India to forbid it from following its nuclear ambitions. This was also intended to make the world realize the BJP-led government’s developing nuclear threat that would put at stake the peace of the world in general and the region in particular. Specifically, when it was reported in The New York Times that as per the Western Intelligence sources “India has stored around 100 nuclear bombs and can rapidly assemble them,” Pakistan’s deliberation was quite significant and timely.

Subsequently, on April 2, 1998, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif wrote letters to the international leaders, including President Clinton, urging his support for India’s declarations, which he described as a huge leap toward fully operationalizing the Indian nuclear capability. He also asserted that “Pakistan would be forced to take notice of these alarming trends, and it will have no choice but to exercise its sovereign right to take adequate security measures.” Unfortunately, all of these efforts went in vain because not only did the world community turn a blind eye to India’s nuclear tests, but international agencies were unable to prevent India from demonstrating its nuclear weapon capability. Then ultimately, Pakistan had no choice but to conduct a nuclear test in 1998 in order to reestablish the balance of power in the region; that India was trying to tilt in its favor under its great power aspirations. Pakistan, unlike India, never desired to be regarded as a global power; instead, its nuclear capability is purely meant to provide a credible and reliable defence.   

Pakistan has practiced strategic restraint for a long time. However, with a frightening desire to dominate South Asia, India has been dramatically involved in an extensive and all-encompassing modernization of its conventional and nuclear capabilities. Despite still being reluctant to indulge in an arms race, Pakistan was well aware of the sensitivity that such Indian adventurism would bring large-scale military modernization to the region. 

While being a responsible state, Pakistan believes in peaceful coexistence but it requires serious efforts to settle long-standing disputes such as Kashmir; since peace and prosperity in the region are directly associated with the Kashmir dispute. However, even after 23 years, Since the Indian nuclear tests in May 1998 the current extremist government in India led by Mr. Modi is following the same legacy of the BJP yet in a more aggressive way.

About the author

Muhammad Shakir Baacha

Muhammad Shakir Baacha is a former Research Fellow of South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI) University Islamabad. He is a graduate from Department Strategic and Nuclear Studies, National Defense University Islamabad. His areas of interests include Arms Control & Disarmament, Nonproliferation of WMDs, and Nuclear Discourse in South Asia.