In late May of 1998, Pakistan conducted six nuclear tests and overtly demonstrated its nuclear weapon capability. This was a move necessitated by the testing of nuclear weapons by its traditional enemy, India, a few weeks earlier. As a country with a history of conflicts and insecurity vis-à-vis its bigger neighbour, attaining nuclear weapon capability was understood to work as the key balancer of power on the nuclear level, with the hope that chances of future war on conventional level would be eradicated. Given the conventional power imbalance between Pakistan and India, the former could not hope to secure itself against the latter in the event of a full-blown war. Thus, at the end of the twentieth century and some fifty years after Pakistan’s inception, nuclear weapons came to become a crucial component of Pakistan’s overall security architecture against India.
Since the fateful year of 1998, the nuclear strategy of Pakistan has been driven by changes in India’s posturing, both nuclear and conventional, and arms buildup. Technological developments allowed Pakistan to upgrade its nuclear posture to accommodate threats on all levels of the spectrum of threat. This is, in short, the doctrine of full-spectrum deterrence. In 2017, Pakistan developed a MIRV capability as well as a submarine-launched cruise missile, bringing Pakistan’s doctrine greater flexibility and adaptability to a range of developing threats.
However, many analysts have been engaged in criticising and undermining the authenticity of cause and execution of the nuclear program of Pakistan, asserting that its development is superfluous and counter-productive. Many arbitrary slurs and misleading statements, such as terming Pakistan’s nuclear program the “fastest growing” in addition to casting doubts about safety and security of Pakistani nuclear weapons have emerged and found place in the nuclear debate over the past decade.
There are quite a number of examples of such commentary. One instance is the labelling of Pakistan in an article published in the Atlantic in 2011 as the “The Ally from Hell”, whose nuclear arsenals are not secure and likely to fall into terrorist hands, claiming “vans with a modest security profile are sometimes the preferred conveyance” for both nuclear material and mated and de-mated weapons. This is preposterous. Laxity in safety and security measures concerning nuclear weapons is something no country would indulge in. A 2015 report by two American scholars, Dalton and Krepon, titled “Normal Nuclear Pakistan” expresses cynicism of Pakistan’s nuclear policies and suggests Pakistan would do best to cap its nuclear capabilities, and an article that was published in New York Times this year, called for the world to “secure Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.” It claimed that they are susceptible to falling into terrorist hands because of sloppy security mechanisms.
As a result of such rhetoric, which includes alarmists accusing Pakistan of fomenting nuclear proliferation and likely nuclear terrorism in the region, Pakistan remains at odds with the international community and unable to integrate into the international nuclear order.
The probability of nuclear weapons falling into wrong hands and nuclear terrorism occurring is non-existent. Soon after the nuclear tests, institutional mechanisms were established and put into place to ensure the proper safety and security of nuclear weapons. There is a large, highly trained force in place for protection of nuclear facilities in the country. Pakistani nuclear establishment and the government is conscious of the difficulties with which the country has been able to achieve nuclear deterrent against its larger adversary. They have therefore taken all the possible measures to protect them.
In addition, Pakistan adheres to several international resolutions aimed at prevention of nuclear terrorism and proliferation of nuclear material to non-state actors, such as UNSC Resolution 1540, (aimed at the prevention of transfer or assistance to produce nuclear weapons); Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT), Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) and Container Security Initiative (CSI), all of which require states to put mechanisms into place to prevent nuclear proliferation.
Pakistanis have every reason to be a confident nuclear nation. First, the security of nuclear weapons is guaranteed because of a number of well-established, large institutions that exist to control and take care of nuclear weapons. The Pakistan Centre of Excellence on Nuclear Security, which provides training to professionals in Pakistan periodically on nuclear technical security-related issues, is internationally renowned. Courses are also conducted for training of personnel from friendly countries.
Second, Pakistan’s nuclear capability has come to constitute a major part of the country’s identity, and people have ownership of their nuclear program. It is a major component of the country’s security and is seen as its central pillar. It is also a source of pride for the average Pakistani. Hence, despite pressures that began in the 1990s, there are no chances of a rollback or capping of Pakistan’s nuclear program. This is not only because Pakistan is a sovereign country, but because people of Pakistan would never accept the notion of giving up its hard-earned capability. No Pakistani leader can therefore hope to remain in power if people suspect that it may compromise on the country’s nuclear weapon program.
Third, and in connection to earlier discussion, despite rumours and speculations, there is no chance of another country, such as Saudi Arabia, buying nuclear weapons from Pakistan. For one thing, there is no precedence of such a thing happening anywhere in the world. The perception in certain quarters about the Pakistani nuclear bomb being “Islamic” and thus eligible for sharing among other states is ludicrous and farcical.
It is in the interest of the entire international community to mainstream Pakistan as a nuclear capable state, rather than using politicised sentiments to downplay or malign its nuclear capability. Contrary to how it is made to sound, Pakistan is not a suicidal state and priorities the security of its weapons as much as any other. It has developed a nuclear program that it is capable of continued sustaining, and has no interest in allowing it going into wrong hands. The sooner Pakistan is accepted as a normal nuclear weapons state, the better it would be for regional peace and stability and if accepted, Pakistan could play a constructive role in regional stability of the region.
A version of this article appeared in The Nation, online platform.
Maryam Zubair is a Research Assistant at the Center for International Strategic Studies. Ms Maryam holds a Masters degree in International Relations from National Defence University, Islamabad. Her research interests include foreign policy analysis, Politics of the Middle East and dynamics of the US foreign policy. She wrote her Masters thesis on the US-Iran Detente and its Implications on the Middle East, completed in January 2016.