India and Pakistan – From British Colonial Rule To Nuclear Weapons

By |2019-10-01T11:47:52-07:00October 1, 2019|

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Colonialism does lasting damage. In order to understand the current international (dis)order, it is necessary to make the effort to understand the past, and the animosity that stemmed from it through the course of centuries. India and Pakistan are two countries that possess nuclear weapons and, like Israel, have refused to sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). They are also countries deeply entrenched in animosity towards each other. The enmity that characterizes their relations can be explained by looking at the history of European expansionism.

On December 31, 1600, Queen Elizabeth I established the East India Company (“the Company”) in India. It comprised London merchants who were interested in the trading of cotton, silk, tea and other spices with the islands that form present-day Indonesia. After conflicts erupted with the Dutch and Portuguese merchants, the East India Company restricted its trading deals to the Mogul rulers of the Indian sub-continent. Therefore, in order to defend its trade, the Company hired its own military and soon became a military and diplomatic enterprise, in addition to a commercial one.

One century after its establishment, with the collapse of the Mogul Empire in India, the East India Company had to defend itself against Persian, Afghan and, most importantly, French traders who wanted to enter India. In 1757, the British took over India by defeating the Indian army that was backed by the French, and started to acquire more Indian territory, setting the foundation for it to become an English colony.

In the mid-nineteenth century, deep tensions occurred between the Company and the Indian population. Not only was the Company relentlessly advancing in the acquisition of Indian territory, it also lifted restraints on Christian missionary work in the subcontinent, thus opening the way to aggressive Christian campaigns that attempted to convert Hindu and Muslim locals. The Company was ended by the 1858 Government of India Act, following the suspicion that it had introduced a new type of cartridge for rifles wrapped in paper coated with grease, derived from cows and pigs, whose killing is forbidden in Hindu and Muslim culture. Outrage over the blasphemy led to the Sepoy Mutiny, a bloody uprising by the Indian population, after which the Company was ended and the British Crown declared it would govern India establishing the so-called Raj, namely the British Empire in India. Years later, in 1876, Queen Victoria declared herself “Empress of India,” and Britain retained control of India until it gained independence in 1947.

The colonial domination of India extended to three-fifths of its territory, with the remaining independently governed by 560 principalities that entered into mutual cooperation with the Raj, and lent economic and military support to Britain during the two world wars. However, at least within Raj, the British put in place a “divide et impera” rule, separating Muslims and Hindus and pitting them against each other. During WWI and WWII, the Indian population suffered tens of thousands of losses and since the First World War, in particular, voices requesting independence from the British Crown became louder under the lead of Indian lawyer and prophet of nonviolence, Mahatma Gandhi.

Since 1920, the Indian National Congress (INC) became the principal leader of the Indian independence movement. Even more so in 1924, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi who was revered for leading non-violent boycotts of British policies and products. In 1922 Gandhi was arrested on charges of sedition against the British Crown. He was released from prison in 1928, and several years after, Britain appointed the Simon Commission, a constitutional reform commission with the mandate to introduce constitutional reforms. The Commission was composed of members of the British Parliament, but no Indian was included. The outcome was the Government of India Act 1935, through which the Commission granted independence to Indian rule only at the provincial level, while denying it at the national level. Moreover, it recommended that separate communal electorates between Muslims and Hindus be retained, but only until tensions between them had died down, and granted the right to vote to only 10% of the Indian male population. The Indian National Congress boycotted the Commission, and Gandhi demanded complete dominion status for India from the British government within a year, which was refused.

During WWII, Britain begged India for help in recruiting Indian soldiers, offering promises of future independence in return. The Indian National Congress (INC), and Gandhi himself, didn’t trust Britain, and demanded immediate independence, which was refused again. On the occasion of the mass demonstrations that sparked, many proponents of the INC, including Gandhi and his wife, were arrested. By this time, the anti-colonial movement was very strong. However, by the end of the war, India counted almost 90,000 deaths. Moreover, through the years, the tensions between Muslims and Hindus grew deeper and, at the end of WWII, Britain found itself not able to continue. This would lead to the end of the British Raj and to the partition of India.

The partition of India

In August 1946, a violent clash between Hindus and Muslims occurred in Calcutta, and then spread across the rest of the country. Britain, having suffered large economic losses during the world wars, announced that it would leave India by June 1948. In fact, a year after the eruption of clashes in June 1947, the Parliament of the United Kingdom issued the Indian Independence Act through which India was partitioned into two dominions: India and Pakistan, comprising West (now Pakistan) and East (now Bangladesh). It took effect in August 1947, setting off a period of religious turmoil in both India and Pakistan that would result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, including Gandhi, who was assassinated by a Hindu fanatic in January 1948 during a prayer vigil in an area of Muslim-Hindu violence. The partitioning of India caused one of the worst exodus in human history:[1] 10 to 12 million refugees flooded across the border in each direction, and between 250,000 and 500,000 people were killed in sectarian violence. Moreover, the violent nature of the partition between India and Pakistan created an atmosphere of hatred between the two countries that still exists.

The partition of India, and the ethno-religious clashes that stemmed from it, brought Pakistan and India to a dispute over Kashmir, a region located at the northwest of the Indian subcontinent, which had strategic importance during British colonial domination. In fact, Kashmir functioned as a buffer zone for Great Britain, protecting the Crown against the Soviet and Chinese empires. During the process that led to Indian independence, Kashmir was given the option to decide whether to belong to Pakistan, or to India, or to opt for independence. The revolution of the Muslim population along the western border of Kashmir motivated the maharaja Hari Singh to sign the Accession to India in 1947, sparking a war between Pakistan and India. The war lasted until January 1949, and was terminated only by a ceasefire declaration made possible by the intercession of the United Nations. Shortly after the ceasefire, in January 1949 the Kashmiri area was divided by a ceasefire line – which would be renamed ‘Line of Control’ in 1972 under the terms of the Simla Agreement – defining the areas controlled by India and by Pakistan. The areas of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan in the northwest of Kashmir are administered by Pakistan; while the southern and southeastern areas – Jammu and Kashmir – are administered by India.[2] The Line of Control, which is still in place today, left Pakistan with a portion of the Kashmiri territory that is thinly populated, difficult to access and economically underdeveloped. Moreover, the biggest portion of its Muslim population lives in the part of the country that is administered by India. Since the declaration of the ceasefire in 1949, tension remained high, causing India and Pakistan to enter into a six-month war against each other again in April 1965. Another war flared up in 1971, which resulted in the creation of Bangladesh (in what was then East Pakistan, the eastern provincial wing of Pakistan). Through time, the series of conflicts that affected this region, in addition to the development of movements that attempted to merge Kashmir with Pakistan, rendered Kashmir a highly militarized area. Since the end of 1980s India has maintained a strong military presence alongside the Line of Control to contain Pakistani forces and its subversive movements. Moreover, India’s stronghold was aimed to administering the region. In the 1990s, Pakistan paramilitary movements became an insurgency and began to infiltrate into Indian territory, despite India’s suppressive military campaign. Only in 2004 were India and Pakistan able to reach a new ceasefire. Some form of cooperation was achieved in October 2005 when an earthquake shook the region: it shook both India and Pakistan, making millions of people homeless. Despite their animosities, the two governments facilitated transportation and rescue operations across the Line of Control. In 2008, some trade operations resumed, but conflicts and infiltrations along the border continued unabated.

Since 1989, more than 70,000 people have been killed in the uprisings along the Line of Control. One of the most violent episodes took place on February 14, 2019, when a car with explosives rammed a convoy of vehicles carrying Indian Central Reserve Police Force personnel travelling from Jammu to Srinagar. The blast caused forty deaths and injured many others. The episode, whose responsibility was claimed by a Pakistani-based Islamist militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, received the condemnation of Pakistan. However, India blamed the Pakistani government for the human loss suffered, thus igniting more animosity between them.

India’s nuclear program

The partition of British India didn’t cause only sectarian and religious conflicts. Shortly after the British left, a group of Indian scientists, led by physicist Homi Bhabha, who was referred to as ‘the Indian Oppenheimer,’ convinced Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to invest resources in a nuclear program. With the 1948 Atomic Energy Act, India created the Indian Atomic Energy Commission with the intent of developing nuclear energy. The development of nuclear weapons was not India’s prime concern at this time. Prime Minister Nehru displayed profound ambivalence regarding the aim of the nuclear program – whether it should be only for civilian purposes or also for military purposes. He was shocked by the explosion of the A-Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and referred to the atomic bomb as “the symbol of evil.” He also stated: “As long as the world is constituted as it is, every country will have to devise and use the latest scientific devices for its protection. I have no doubt India will develop her scientific researches and I hope Indian scientists will use the atomic force for constructive purposes. But if India is threatened she will inevitably try to defend herself by all means at her disposal. I hope India in common with other countries will prevent the use of atomic bombs.”[3]

Prime Minister Nehru largely supported Bhabha’s vision on the development of India’s nuclear program. As George Perkovich comments: “Atomic science and technology assumed a special place in the overall plans for the technological development and modernization of India. The need to increase availability of electrical power was a paramount objective, and Nehru saw atomic energy as the most dramatic means of achieving it. Thus, in 1948, the Indian government took direct responsibility for the atomic energy sector, one of three industrial sectors over which public monopoly was established.”[4]

It was Bhabha who turned the focus of nuclear energy from civilian to military use, merging western militaristic attitudes in the defence policy’s sphere, and India’s nationalistic aspiration to grow as a world power. He earned his Ph.D. in Physics at the University of Cambridge, and, while in Europe, had the opportunity to visit some of the greatest European institutes and laboratories where he met with famous physicists, some of whom played an important role for the development of nuclear weapons in the Manhattan Project in the U.S. In his view, which was largely supported by the India government, both ideologically and financially, mastery over nuclear technology would accelerate India’s development after decades of British colonialism.

India’s nuclear program was dual-purposed and the nuclear program was modeled on Britain’s Atomic Energy Act. However, unlike those of Britain and the U.S., India’s program was supported by legislation that allowed more secrecy. Any attempt by the international community to establish a network of control over nuclear material was rejected. After refusing to be part of the Baruch Plan – a proposal written in 1946 by the United States for the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission to own and operate all nuclear material and facilities worldwide – India started its own development of atomic energy production in 1954. In the same year the Indian government built the equivalent of the Los Alamos research facility – the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) – in Trombay. This was facilitated by a nuclear cooperation agreement that had been established with France. In addition to this, India benefitted by a generous provision from the Canadian government of a nuclear reactor based on the National Research Experimental Reactor (NRX) at Chalk River; and some heavy water from the United States under the auspices of the Atoms for Peace program. Finally, India also secured a trade agreement on nuclear material with Canada and the U.S., which extended to Great Britain as well.

Two major factors prompted India to develop a nuclear weapon. Neither India nor Pakistan were of any interest to the United States. Moreover, Prime Minister Nehru had always refused to let the U.S. dictate any rule of conduct to India. However, in the early 1950s, Pakistan started asking for military and economic assistance from the U.S. to counteract India’s predominance. Pakistan highlighted that its own strategic position, near the Persian Gulf to the south and near the Soviet Union and China to the north, could benefit the U.S. in its fight against communism. Desperate to obtain American military aid, Pakistan’s army chief, General Mohammad Ayub Khan, paid a visit to Washington in the fall of 1953 and found Washington sympathetic to his request. This prompted an outcry in India, and Nehru emphasized that U.S. aid to Pakistan would export the Cold War to the Asian continent, changing the balance of power in the region, and exacerbating threats between India and Pakistan. One year later, in 1954, U.S. President Eisenhower reassured India that he would do everything possible to prevent Pakistan from using the aid against India, and offered military aid to India itself, which was refused. Nehru’s refusal would be re-evaluated in 1962, when India and China entered into a war against each other over a disagreement regarding the Himalayan border. Two years later, on October 16, 1964, China tested its first atomic weapon, prompting Homi Bhabha to ask the Indian Government to approve an atomic weapons program. The physicist traveled to Washington the following year with the intent to establish a program of nuclear cooperation with the U.S., which was refused.

The year 1966 marked a turning point for India’s nuclear ambitions. Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister of India, and strongly advocated for the military use of nuclear technology. In the same year, Homi Bhabha passed away and his successor, Raja Ramanna, was tasked by Indira Gandhi to develop India’s military nuclear program further to protect India’s sovereignty from interference. In its pursuit of the atomic weapon, India refused to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty for two main reasons. First, because it found the NPT discriminatory inasmuch as the Treaty established the U.S., the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom as recognized nuclear weapons states, while urging the non-nuclear signatories not to develop a nuclear weapons program. Second, because the Treaty did not distinguish between military and peaceful nuclear explosions.

In 1971, when India signed the Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union, the Cold War had a direct impact on the Indian subcontinent. When war broke out with Pakistan over the separatist movement that would lead to the creation of Bangladesh, India was backed by the Soviet Union, while Pakistan received the support of China and the U.S. The victory of India at the end of the war complicated its relationship not only with Pakistan, but also with West. It was in this climate that India secretly proceeded toward its first nuclear test. On May 18, 1974, the Indian government exploded a 3,000-pound device with a force equivalent to 8 kilotons at its Pokhran test site, located in the Jaisalmer District of the Indian state of Rajasthan, very close to the border with Pakistan. It was given the infamous name of ‘Smiling Buddha’ (though it’s official one is Pokhran I), and was ironically exploded on the day in India that celebrates the birth of Gautama Buddha. Suddenly, India’s nuclear intentions became clear.

The test elicited criticism from other countries of the international community, particularly from those Western countries that already possessed nuclear weapons. The United States condemned the Indian nuclear program as a violation of the Atoms for Peace program. India built its nuclear arsenal and a military system capable of military deployment in over twenty years, even though the country encountered difficulties in obtaining nuclear materials because of the hostility that reigned within the international community after its first test. The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre built India’s current biggest nuclear plant, namely the Dhuva reactor based in Trombay, capable of producing most of the plutonium for its nuclear weapons program. It was established in 1977 but didn’t reach its full power until ten years later. During this time, India managed to build the short-range Prithvi missile and the long-range Agni missile, equipping both of them with nuclear warheads.

In 1996, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) that had the aim of banning all nuclear explosions, both civilian and military, including underground tests. India, like the United States, did not ratify this Treaty. Two years later, Operation Shakti, also known as Pokhran II, took place. On this occasion, India tested five nuclear devices, but not all of them detonated. This second test certified India as a nuclear weapon state, and attracted a large amount of condemnation by the international community. The United States, in particular, condemned India with sanctions, which consisted of the cutting off all assistance to India except for humanitarian aid; the banning of export of certain defense material and technologies; the ending of American credit and credit guarantees to India; and opposition to lending by international financial institutions to India. With the establishment of its nuclear program, India established its National Security Advisory Board, which opted for a no-first use policy for Indian nuclear weapons. In 2005, the Indian government signed the India-United States Civil Nuclear Agreement, which allows India to access civilian nuclear technology and fuel from other countries. The signing of this treaty established placing India’s nuclear program under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguard agreement, while the U.S. agreed to engage in civil nuclear cooperation with India.  It was operationalized in 2008, the same year when India established a similar agreement with France. Since then, the relationship between India and the most powerful possessors of nuclear weapons became warmer, and a similar agreement to the one with the U.S. and France was signed with other countries including Australia, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan, with prospects of establishing the same deal with Canada and the United Kingdom. It is estimated that India has a stockpile of 130 to 140 nuclear weapons.

Pakistan’s nuclear program

Pakistan’s nuclear ambition has been evolving around its perception of India as a threat, and by its desire to acquire equal standing. The impact of regional and extra-regional alliances was another determining factor that contributed to Pakistan’s nuclear policy. In the pursuit of its nuclear program, prior to the testing of its first nuclear device, the factors that contributed to Pakistan’s achievement were its alliance with the United States, its military link with China, and consequences of the Cold War in South Asia. The U.S. was for Pakistan a source of military and economic assistance, which allowed Pakistan’s military establishment to expand and consolidate within the country. Its interest in nuclear energy was, in fact, prompted in large part by the United States’ Atoms for Peace program, which sought to spread nuclear energy technology across the globe. In 1956 Pakistan established the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) to lead the new program. PAEC chairman, Ishrat Usmani, devoted government resources to training the next generation of Pakistani scientists by sending students abroad for training purposes. The military took power in 1958, and Army Chief General Mohammad Ayub Khan took direct rule of the country, politically and militarily. The defense and security policies he formulated were, on one side, a tool to fulfill his own interests internally, and, on the other, a reflection of the perception of the threat India represented externally. Pakistan relied predominantly on conventional arms for defense, which were largely obtained from the U.S., and officially proclaimed interest in nuclear power only for its peaceful use. In 1965, the United States gave Pakistan its first nuclear reactor—the five megawatt Pakistan Atomic Research Reactor (PARR-1), based in Nilore, Islamabad. In the same year Ishrat Usmani, together with Abdus Salam, founded the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology (PINSTECH). In 1972 operation of the first unit of its research reactor based in Karachi – the Karachi Nuclear Power Complex (KANNUP-1) began under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. Although Pakistan claimed its interest in the nuclear program was only to pursue the peaceful applications of atomic energy, there were signs that its leadership had other intentions. When the 1965 Indo-Pakistani War ended in victory for India, then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, declared: “If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own.”[5]

The continuous deterioration of the relationship with India, and the serious conflict that took place in Kashmir, induced General Ayub and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to direct the country toward the adoption of a harsher anti-India position. As a foreign minister in charge of atomic energy, Bhutto urged General Ayub to build a nuclear weapon, which he refused, in the conviction that, if needed, Pakistan could buy directly from a western ally.[6] In the same year, however, the United Stated sanctioned both Pakistan and India because of their war over Kashmir, but India ended up having more conventional weapons than Pakistan. Moreover, as a consequence of the Cold War, Pakistan had less strategic significance for the U.S. than before. China replaced the U.S. in becoming the major source of conventional weapons for Pakistan, but these weapons were believed to be less adequate than those supplied by the U.S. Prime Minister Bhutto, who became very suspicious that India was developing a nuclear program aimed at building a bomb, renewed pressure on his government: he wanted Pakistan to have a nuclear bomb to counter-balance the disparity of power with the Indian subcontinent. Moreover, when India refused to sign the NPT, Pakistan followed suit. At this point, it became evident that Pakistan was working on developing its own nuclear weapons program.

In 1971, in the aftermath of the war between India and Pakistan that gave rise to Bangladesh, General Ayub was removed from his position and replaced by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who became president and martial law chief, and then Prime Minister. Samina Ahmend describes this pivotal moment in Pakistani history, stating: “Domestically, Bhutto faced the dual challenges of creating a new identity for a traumatized nation and salvaging the prestige of a defeated yet politically powerful military. Using nationalistic, anti-imperialistic, and anti-Indian rhetoric to build popular support, Bhutto embarked on a program expanding the size of the armed forces. And in March 1972, with the support of the military and the civil bureaucracy, he adopted a nuclear weapons program.”[7]  In order to purchase a nuclear reprocessing plant for plutonium enrichment he initiated negotiations with France, and India’s testing of its first nuclear device in 1974 reinforced his decision.

The leader of Pakistan’s nuclear program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, was a metallurgical engineer, and was given the task to enrich uranium by Prime Minister Bhutto following India’s first nuclear test. It is allegedly believed that he stole the necessary technology and blueprints at the Amelo plant in the Netherlands and that Pakistan entered a clandestine trade with Western Europe to acquire the technology and hardware to build ultra-high-speed centrifuges.[8] Pakistan’s plans and negotiations with France worried the U.S., which in 1976 passed through Congress the Symington amendment to the International Security Assistance and Arms Export Control Act. With this Act, the U.S. denied any military and economic assistance to countries that were importing unsafeguarded technology for enrichment or reprocessing, and urged Pakistan and France to cancel their deal.[9]

In response to this pressure, Pakistan notified the international community that the country was pursuing a program for a peaceful use of nuclear energy, and invested some efforts to advocate for a nuclear weapons-free zone in South Asia as an alternative measure to counteract India’s predominance in the region. In the aftermath of a visit to Pakistan by U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in August 1977, aimed at convincing Prime Minister Bhutto to renounce to his nuclear program, France decided to honor the U.S.’s request.[10] In response, Bhutto established a closer relationship with Libya that was based on strong anti-imperialistic sentiments. When the military, led by Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq, ousted Bhutto in July 1977 through a coup, and had him hung in April 1979, many Pakistanis started fearing U.S. interference and Pakistan’s nuclear program became a symbol of national sovereignty and prestige.[11] Motivated by anti-imperialistic feelings, Pakistan would illicitly transfer nuclear technology and expertise to country such as Iran, Iraq, Libya, and North Korea during the following years.[12] Although the deal with France ended, Western Europe remained a reliable source of nuclear material and technology. It was predominantly a clandestine network, but some loopholes in the legislation of these countries allowed Pakistan to openly obtain material from Germany and the Netherlands. On the Asian front, China was the major supplier for Pakistan of most of its weapons-grade uranium, and technical information on the enrichment process. Moreover, it was thanks to China that Pakistan could build the Kahuta ultracentrifuge uranium enrichment plant, which became operational in the mid-1980s.[13]

To reduce pressure from the international community, and to soothe the very tense relationship with the U.S., Pakistan agreed to allow further control by the IAEA. In 1980, the Cold War’s effects in South Asia turned in Pakistan’s favor. In fact, following the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. revalued Pakistan’s role in the region and eased its adversity toward Pakistan’s nuclear program up to the point that all the sanctions imposed were lifted by the Reagan administration, and military and economic assistance was offered again. In this way, Pakistan’s position was strengthened against regional opponents such as India, and it pursued further its nuclear weapons program with the help of China. Although its nuclear program had been formally placed under IAEA’s control, Abdul Qadeer Khan would later reveal that Pakistan, by this time, had a clandestine uranium enrichment facility.[14] In 1985 U.S concerns for Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation were renewed, and it re-imposed economic and military sanctions on Pakistan for its supposed willingness to build an atomic bomb. The U.S. then adopted a very ambiguous stance toward Pakistan: Reagan admonished Pakistan not to cross the 5-percent uranium enrichment mark, but when it became clear that Pakistan had crossed it, the U.S. administration denied that Pakistan was pursuing a nuclear weapons program and continued to supply military and economic assistance.

In August 1988, Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq was assassinated and succeeded by Army Chief General Mirza Aslam Beg. Pakistan attempted to reestablish a democratic system, but the military retained control over defense and security policies and, by the end of the year, Pakistan became de facto a nuclear state. Following India’s development of short-range and intermediate-range nuclear-capable missiles, Pakistan invested in developing its own ballistic missile program. In 1989, Pakistan succeeded in testing two short-range nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, with a range of 70 and 200 kilometers, respectively.[15] Once again, the fall of the Soviet Union and decreased value of importance of Pakistan as a U.S. ally increased the pressure over Pakistan’s nuclear program. In reaction to U.S. and civil society pressure, Pakistan’s military establishment accelerated the development of its nuclear program and interrupted the consultations with the political leadership of the country. Moreover, in 1990, Chief General Beg openly threatened the use of an atomic weapon in case India crossed the Line of Control, causing the U.S. to intervene to mediate and India to back off. This episode further reinforced the belief “in the value of nuclear weapons both as a deterrent and as a tool of diplomatic bargaining,”[16] but prompted the U.S. to impose sanctions that little affected Pakistan. The sanctions didn’t prevent Pakistan from asking for loans and grants from international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank. Moreover, Pakistan could still engage in dealing with other economically advanced countries for the purchasing of nuclear technology and material.

Pakistan’s nuclear weapons policy became even more India-centric in the first half of the 1990s in its attempt to ease international pressure over its program. Pakistan openly declared support of nonproliferation efforts, but under the condition that India would cease being a nuclear threat. It also expressed approval for the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty under the condition that India also signed it. Finally, Pakistan agreed to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty only on the condition that its Indian neighbor approved it. This conduct inflamed the Indo-Pakistani relationship, but prompted the renewal of the negotiating efforts with both Pakistan and India by the Clinton administration with the aim of inducing them to freeze their nuclear weapons programs. For a brief period in 1997, the relationship with India morphed into open dialogue – including on issues over Kashmir – and seemed to be heading out of perennial confrontation. This possibility was undermined by the victory of the Bharativa Janata Party in India, whose stance was categorically against any compromise on the Kashmiri issue and in favor of an overt nuclear policy. On its side, Pakistan insisted on the centrality of Kashmir to any resolution with India, a position that further entrenched the two countries in a diplomatic stalemate. It was in this climate that, on May 11 and 13, 1998, India conducted its second and third nuclear test, which was followed by Pakistan’s test on May 28 and 30, despite the promise by the U.S. that Pakistan, together with India, would receive sanctions if it tested a nuclear device. However, for Pakistan the prospect sanctions didn’t prevent it from testing its first nuclear device. The sanctions that were imposed by Japan and the European Union, in addition to the U.S. destabilized Pakistan’s fragile economy. They excluded the possibility of obtaining credits and loans from international financial institutions, and prevented capital outflow, eroding Pakistan’s market self-sustainability and its ability to obtain commercial loans from the International Islamic Bank, which was subject to IMF’s approval.

State of emergency

The 1998 testing of nuclear devices by India and Pakistan not only dramatically increased the tension between them, but threw the whole world into a state of emergency, even though the economic pressure on Pakistan prevented the country from achieving full-scale nuclear weaponization and deployment that not even China’s assistance could overcome. China itself was concerned over the possibility that a nuclear arms race could happen between two of its closest neighbors, and openly condemned the two countries. Together with the rest of the P5, China urged Pakistan and India to join the NPT and the CTBT as nuclear-free powers.

The strict regime of sanctions morphed through time and Pakistan obtained the lifting of some stringent ones, such as the ability to obtain multilateral lending. However, the sanctioning system very harshly affected civil society without really influencing policymakers and politicians, and without warming the Indo-Pakistani relationship. Though India’s conventional military forces are far bigger that Pakistan’s, the two countries possess similar nuclear arsenals. Estimates believe that India currently has between 130 and 140 warheads, while Pakistan possess between 140 and 150 nuclear warheads. The factor that makes India more powerful than Pakistan is that it possesses a nuclear triad, namely the ability to launch nuclear strikes by air, land and sea, while Pakistan’s sea-launched cruise missiles system is still incomplete. Moreover, unlike Pakistan, India has a strict no-first use policy, although high-level officials have recently threatened pre-emptive strikes to eliminate Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities. This situation is causing the region to dwell in uncertainty, and both countries to rely heavily on conventional attacks against each other, confirming that the possession of nuclear weapons does nothing but increase the militarization of their relationship.


[1] Dalrymple, William, “The great divide. The violent legacy of Indian partition,” The New Yorker, June 22, 2015 (Accessed on September 12, 2019

[2] China, also, occupies a portion of Kashmir, namely Aksai Chin and Trans-Karakoram Tract.

[3] Newman, Dorothy (1965) (1st ed.) Nehru. The First 60 Years, Vol. 2, New York: John Day Company, p. 264.

[4] Perkovich, George (1999) India’s Nuclear Bomb. The Impact On Global Proliferation, Berkley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, p. 15.

[5] “Eating Grass,” The Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists, Editor’s note, Vol. 49, no. 5, June 1993, p. 2.

[6] Ahmed, Samina, “Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program: turning points and nuclear choices”, International Security, Vol. 23, no. 4 (Spring 1999), pp. 178-204.

[7] Ibidem., p.183.

[8] Ibidem.

[9] Ibidem., pg.184.

[10] Ibidem.

[11] Ibidem., p.185.

[12] International Institute for Strategic Studies (2007) Nuclear Black Markets: Pakistan, A.Q. Khan and the Rise of Proliferation Networks, London: IISS. See also (Accessed on September 12, 2019)

[13] Ahmed, Samina, “Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program: turning points and nuclear choices”, International Security, Vol. 23, no. 4 (Spring 1999), p. 186.

[14] “Interview with Abdul Qadeer Khan,” The News (Islamabad), 30 May 1998, (Accessed on September 12, 2019

[15] Spector, Leonard (2018) Nuclear Ambitions. The Spread Of Nuclear Weapons 1989-1990, London and New York: Routledge, p. 107.

[16] Ahmed, Samina, “Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program: turning points and nuclear choices”, International Security, Vol. 23, no. 4 (Spring 1999), p. 190.