Twenty years ago today, Pakistan made the difficult decision to overtly go nuclear by detonating five nuclear devices as a direct response to Indian nuclear aggression. This was an unparalleled scientific and strategic achievement. We celebrate this day today as the National Science Day or as Youm-e-Takbeer, the day of greatness.
The decision to develop nuclear weapons and eventually test them was not easy to make. Pakistan was compelled to develop a nuclear weapons program because of a lifetime of Indian hostility and the threat of nuclear blackmail.
Pakistan and India have gone to war three different times since independence. And even though the reasoning for developing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons was largely driven by India’s explosion of the nuclear bomb in 1974, and subsequent explosions of 1998— other important factors considered were the loss of East Pakistan, the continued Indian intransigence, and its creeping occupation of territory in Kashmir, all of which created an environment of fear and insecurity for the country.
Months after independence, India and Pakistan fought their first war over Kashmir. The war ended in the United Nations, where a resolution was passed demanding that Kashmiris be given a vote to determine their future, which India, to this day, refuses to implement and continues with its reign of terror over the local population of the occupied territory.
Less than two decades later, on September 6, 1965 Indian troops crossed the international border into Pakistan, attempting to take control of Lahore. Despite having the larger army, India failed in its mission.
November 1971, the Indian army, taking advantage of a political conflict between East and West Pakistan, attacked East Pakistan. This time, India succeeded at splitting the nation in half. East Pakistan was lost to Indian interference in a sovereign country on December 16, 1971.
A year after this humiliating and devastating loss, Pakistan received credible intelligence that India was pursuing a nuclear weapons program. The leadership at the time in Pakistan was fearful of what India might try to do to Pakistan under the threat of nuclear weapons. Would they try to forcefully take Kashmir? Or would they try to further break up Pakistan?
In his book, The Myth of Independence, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto stated that it was necessary for Pakistan to acquire the fission weapon, to deter a nuclear-armed India. After the experience of three wars, Pakistan feared that it would not be long before India launched another attack in an attempt to disintegrate Pakistan. In 1972, Bhutto decided to put together a group of people and began exploring the possibility of an indigenous nuclear weapons program aimed at deterring India.
It wasn’t long before Pakistan’s fears were realized, on May 18, 1974; India tested their first nuclear bomb in an operation code named Smiling Buddha.
The Indian nuclear device detonation forced then Prime Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to inform the world that “Pakistan was exposed to a kind of ‘nuclear threat and blackmail’ unparalleled elsewhere (…) If the world’s community failed to provide political insurance to Pakistan and other countries against the nuclear blackmail, these countries would be constraint to launch atomic bomb programs of their own! (…) Assurances provided by the United Nations were not ‘Enough!'”
Unwilling to be blackmailed, Pakistan made it its mission to develop a nuclear weapon for the sole purpose of deterring India’s nuclear aggression.
Twenty-four years later, on May 11, 1998 India tested five nuclear bombs. These tests were conducted at a time when conflict in Kashmir was once again escalating, and tensions between Pakistan and India on the rise.
There was an environment of insecurity all over Pakistan. The fear in Pakistan was that India had demonstrated their nuclear capability, what would now stop them from blackmailing or bullying Pakistan in an attempt to take control of Kashmir? And what guarantee would Pakistan have that India would stop at Kashmir?
The Indian explosions forced Pakistan to make a tough decision. Do not respond to India’s tests and thereby risk Indian aggression and the possibility of a military confrontation, or respond and deter any belligerent designs towards Pakistan?
A decision was made, and on May 28, 1998, despite a tremendous amount of international pressure, Pakistan tested its nuclear devices as a direct response to Indian action.
Following Pakistan’s response to India, there was an eerie silence in the whole of Kashmir, with not a single shot fired across the line of control. Pakistan successfully demonstrated their scientific capability, and brought stability to the region by deterring the threat of India’s nuclear bomb.
By testing the bomb Pakistan made full-scale war with India redundant. Although India did amass more than 500,000 troops to Pakistan’s Eastern border during Operation Parakram in 2001, the Indian dream of capturing any part of Pakistan including Kashmir, by force, is now dead.
Pakistan’s scientific achievements continue to keep India at bay, promoting peace and stability. Pakistan’s most recent development of the Nasr short-range nuclear capable missile and the Shaheen-III land-based surface-to-surface medium range ballistic missile are examples of just that.
Pakistan is now well equipped to deter India at all levels. Because of the tireless efforts and hard work of Pakistan’s scientific community, the country has plugged all of the gaps in its deterrence capability, ensuring peace and making war impossible.
The writer is an assistant professor at NUST. He tweets @umarwrites.