Editorial: Nuclearized peace in South Asia


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India was on the nuclear-weapon path since mid-1960s. Having tested its nuclear potential in 1974 it set about exploiting its capability into a full-fledged weapon of war, culminating in a series of nuclear tests 24 years later in the first week of May 1998. By then Pakistan too had acquired this capability, but to carry out matching tests was a diplomatic challenge given tremendous international pressure not to follow suit. There were threats of economic sanctions as well as assurances of generous supplies of conventional weaponry and economic rewards. But at the end of the day, the then government decided to give India a matching response. Pakistan conducted five testes on May 28, 1998 and one two days later at the Chagai mountain in Balochistan. Both in terms of sophistication and yield the tests conducted by Pakistan were more efficient than India’s. According to a statement released by the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, five blasts measured 5.0 degree on the Richter scale and produced a yield up to 40 kilotons of TNT. These tests were all boosted fission devices using uranium 235. The answer to the question how Pakistan acquired technology to enrich uranium to weapon-grade specification, which by then was an exclusive preserve of only four counties and these did not include India, is the saga of Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan’s genius. As India conducted its first nuclear tests in 1974, nicknamed “Smiling Buddha”, he felt it as a direct threat to Pakistan as a nation. “This emboldened me to write a letter to [ZA] Bhutto stressing that we need to give a fitting response,” says he in a recent op-ed marking the 29th Yaum-i-Takbeer. And as the Chagai mountain glittered like a nugget of gold under the impact of explosions in the tunnel underneath that was the emergence of world’s seventh and Muslim world’s first nuclear weapon state.

As India conducted its nuclear tests in 1998, it warned Pakistan to conform to the “new reality” in South Asia. And it didn’t take Pakistan a month to turn that arrogance into an idiot’s dream. By conducting matching nuclear tests Pakistan acquired strategic equilibrium in South Asia. And as this equilibrium lasted it has persevered peace and maintained stability. It has raised threshold of nuclear use and in that the possibilities of peace have increased. Should that nuclear parity get disturbed the regional stability would come under threat of violence and war. Since that strategic balance has worked and discouraged moves towards any conflict Pakistan would like to persevere in that mode. When India warned of a “limited war” Pakistan responded by waging a war along full spectrum. And it also produced war zone-specific tactical weapons, and tested enabling missiles. But as nuclear balance in South Asia has worked there are forces outside the arena who are bent upon disturbing this balance. Their approach is multi-pronged but the strands that clearly stand out are supply of fissile material to India, which would help her divert its indigenous production to weapon-manufacturing, and its unilateral induction as member of Nuclear Suppliers Group. India’s unilateral entry as member of NSG has not materialized so far mainly because of China’s highly praiseworthy approach to the membership issue. But should that entry become a reality Pakistan would be left with no option but to further augment its nuclear armory. That India has abandoned its no-first use commitment that too has lost its relevance. Pakistan has developed its second-strike capability, which in reality is as good and devastating as the first-use. Pakistan has a huge reservoir of nuclear scientists, with proven regard of meeting the challenges as and when they come. When Canada walked out of the KANUPP after India carried its “Smiling Buddha” tests Pakistani scientists took over the plant. Not only did they make it run, they also prolonged its life. When India conducted nuclear tests in 1998 Pakistani scientists responded by the Chagai tests. And should India go for a ‘limited war’ it would find Pakistan waiting for the occasion.