COMMENTARY
 
Why Pakistan Went Nuclear
The Nation
May 29, 1998
After India’s five nuclear explosions of May 11 and 13, Pakistan was left with no choice but to give a corresponding response to India’s nuclear tests. The only choice left with the Pakistani nation was either to give in to India’s long-cherished hegemonic ambitions in the region or stand up and fight against it. Pakistan chose the right path by conducting as many nuclear test explosions as was done by India, to whom still goes the blame for blowing apart the global arms control and non-proliferation regime.

Hindu nationalists’ threat of aggression

India’s Hindu nationalist leaders had shown by their consistent arrogant behaviour ever since India’s serial nuclear testing that they did not even deserve to be in possession of nuclear weapons. As soon as prime minister Vajpaee declared India a nuclear state, BJP hardline leaders, including BJP president Thakre, started issuing aggressive statements on Kashmir, an issue which is integral to Pakistan’s territorial integrity and independence. In such circumstances, how could Pakistan restrain itself?

Only when it came to Kashmir

The world community, particularly Western powers, were constantly asking Pakistan to exercise restraint and not to conduct tit-for-tat nuclear tests. Pakistan did exercise restraint for over two weeks. But during this period, despite Pakistan’s repeated calls to the international community that it should impose credible sanctions against India, major Western powers did not bother. Not just this, they also failed to warn India against adopting a hostile posture on Kashmir. Left on its own to face potential Indian aggression against Azad Kashmir, Pakistan finally had no option but to go nuclear. Islamabad’s message to the world is that when it comes to Kashmir, it will fight till the end-come what may.

After a long, unbearable restraint

Throughout the nuclear crisis that gripped South Asia, Pakistan behaved in a very responsible and democratic manner. Even though it was caught off guard by India, Pakistan could have gone ahead with nuclear testing within a week of India’s nuclear tests but prime minister Nawaz Sharif acted on the advice of world leaders, including president Clinton. He kept on assuring and re-assuring them that Pakistan would go by the will of the world community.

At the same time, however, prime minister Sharif stayed away from making any commitment to them about his government’s decision regarding nuclear tests. That was something he could not, in the face of Hindu nationalists’ growing arrogance over Kashmir, which had suddenly come to surface after Indian nuclear weapons declaration.

An act in self-defence, & after democratic debate

Pakistan has acted only in self-defence. Its nuclear act is not reckless, nor is its leadership erratic-as India’s Hindu fundamentalist BJP leaders are. It is still India which has destroyed what the comity of nations had achieved after decades-long efforts-the CTBT, the NPT. Another important thing about Pakistan’s nuclear testing is that it is an outcome of an open public debate as expressed through the country’s print and electronic media in over two weeks following Indian’s nuclear tests. If some supported the nuclear testing, many opposed it.

The Gallop Poll survey also estimated that the majority of countrymen were in favour of Pakistan giving a response in kind to Indian nuclear testing. Unlike Pakistan, Indian nuclear tests were conducted in so secret a manner that only five top BJP leaders and Indian nuclear scientists were aware of it. It was an act that shocked the world. Pakistan’s act in no way even surprises the world, which has before it several examples of nuclear India’s belligerency against Pakistan, especially BJP leaders’ daily offensive statements on Kashmir.

What great powers should do now?

For seventeen long days, the period between India’s nuclear tests and Pakistan’s nuclear response, the subcontinent faced a real danger of war, which could have started either with a pre-emptive Indian strike against Pakistan’s nuclear facilities or India’s act of aggression in Azad Kashmir. The possibility for both eventualities were widely reported in Pakistani and foreign media.

Thanks to Pakistani nuclear tests, that danger has gone, once and for all. Islamabad’s five nuclear tests of May 28 re-established nuclear deterrence between India and Pakistan and would prevent the occurrence of even a limited war between the two countries, which remained a near possibility in the aftermath of India’s nuclear tests. It is, therefore, about time the world community, especially leading world powers like the United States, realized Pakistan’s genuine security interests in South Asia and helped tackle the nuclear crisis in the region caused by India in a realistic way. The only way left for the world powers is to help stabilize nuclear deterrence between India and Pakistan, which stands restored since Pakistan’s twin series of nuclear testing.

Access column at globalsecurity.org