Pakistan’s nuclear tests of 28 May 1998 not only demonstrated the resolve of the Pakistani nation to safeguard the country's territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty but also the desire to preserve strategic balance in South Asia.
This month marks 25 years since the nuclearization of India and Pakistan. In the years that followed, there have been multiple crises, from Kargil to the most recent Balakot incident that highlighted the potential for nuclear escalation between India and Pakistan. Nuclear deterrence that was established after the overt nuclearisation of both countries prevented these two nuclear-armed countries to get involved in a full-fledged war; instability, however, continues to exist below the nuclear threshold.
It cannot be disputed that nuclear deterrence is the key strategic factor safeguarding Pakistan’s national security. To better appreciate the significance of Youm-e-Takbeer (28 May 1998), one has to understand the existential factors that compelled Pakistan to develop a nuclear weapons program in the first place.
Factors leading to nuclearisation
The development of nuclear weapons gave Pakistan the renewed confidence as it ensured the security of the homeland. India’s tests in 1974, and subsequent ones in May 1998 were among the most critical factors. Then there are other episodes, the loss of East Pakistan and the continued dispute over Kashmir further strengthened the environment of fear and insecurity for Pakistan. These factors forced Pakistan to develop a nuclear weapons program. Additionally, given the asymmetry of conventional forces that exists between both countries, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons become a crucial component of the overall security architecture against India.
Application of nuclear technology and even the weapon programme have contributed to Pakistan’s socioeconomic, indutrial and defense base that could ultimately secure overall national security objectives of the country. Although, Pakistan’s peaceful application of nuclear technology for the well-being of its people and its human security development is a lesser-discussed aspect, the country is effectively using peaceful nuclear technology to ensure long-term energy security and other uses of nuclear technology.
Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) has, over the years, built an extensive infrastructure to exploit nuclear technology for contributing to the socio-economic uplift of the country. Its activities span a wide spectrum: from nuclear power generation to minerals development, developing high-yielding, stress-tolerant crops for the treatment of cancer, and from design and fabrication of industrial plants/equipment to human resource development by setting up training institutes/centers, fully equipped with latest and state-of-the-art facilities.
Nuclear energy for agriculture and biotechnology
PAEC is playing a vital role in embracing nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. The utility of nuclear technology in Pakistan isn’t confined to the domain of energy and power production alone. For instance, PAEC has created a variety of cotton, NIAB-78, which produced an additional income of Rs 90 billion for Pakistan since its cultivation began in 1983. PAEC has also established agricultural and biotechnological institutes that are working in areas of crop improvement, insect pest control, animal production and health, food and environmental protection, and soil-water and plant nutrition management.
On 16 February 2023, DG IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) Rafael Grossi visited Pakistan and pledged IAEA’s support to increase collaboration in peaceful applications of nuclear science and technology with Pakistan, particularly in fields of agriculture and medicine, to the benefit of the country and its neighbors. Grossi highlighted that the opportunities for peaceful use of nuclear science and technology in Pakistan were plentiful. Pakistan believes sharing peaceful nuclear technology can overcome food shortages by improving the agricultural and benefit industrial sectors. Such recognition itself speaks of Pakistan's pursuit of a peaceful nuclear programme.
Pakistan has taken important steps to strengthen its nuclear security and safety as well as develop and enhance its nuclear security culture under IAEA guidelines and safeguards. For this purpose, the country has established its Centers of Excellence to promote and share best practices in nuclear security through three affiliated institutes: The Pakistan Centre of Excellence for Nuclear Security (PCENS), the National Institute of Safety & Security (NISAS), and Pakistan Institute of Engineering & Applied Sciences (PIEAS). Pakistan has also adopted international legal instruments including the Amended 2005 Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) and has endorsed “Regulations on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Installations PAK/925.”
Perfecting safety and security procedures
Pakistan has incorporated several important programs including the Personnel Reliability Program (PRP), Human Reliability Program (HRP), and physical protection of nuclear material and facilities, and systems for Nuclear Material Accounting and Control. These programmes have further perfected safety and security procedures in the entire nuclear domain. This all is a reflection that the country has made a phenomenal contribution to establishing scrupulous nuclear safety and security culture.
Pakistan’s nuclear tests of 28 May 1998 not only demonstrated the resolve of the Pakistani nation to safeguard the country's territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty but also the desire to preserve strategic balance in South Asia. Pakistan is committed to the promotion of an environment of peace and stability in South Asia, while preserving its capability to ward off aggression or misadventures in any form. Pakistan remains an active partner in international efforts to strengthen the global non-proliferation regime based on the principles of non-discrimination and equal security for all states. It adheres to the latest international standards on export controls while maintaining the highest standards of nuclear safety and security.
(The author is MPhil Scholar, Senior Visiting Research Fellow, Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad. Views are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)