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Pakistani Nuclear Program Development and Factors Term Paper


As a developing nation after its independence, Pakistan initially sought to harness nuclear power for peaceful purposes. However, as India tested nuclear weapons, and regional territorial conflict threatened the country’s sovereignty, Pakistan re-focused on creating a weaponized atomic bomb as a method of deterrence against the superior Indian military. On a geopolitical scale, Pakistan felt isolated and abandoned by the United States during the war. Despite calls for regional disarmament and non-proliferation, India continued to develop nuclear weapons. In response, using nuclear espionage and investment in atomic research, Pakistan successfully developed the atomic bomb. China, also interested in holding India back, helped develop the program. Despite a moderate response from the international community and periodic pressure from the US, Pakistan faced practically no setbacks in developing its nuclear weapon. After Pakistan acquired full nuclear capabilities, it was evident that the non-proliferation policy had failed in South Asia. This has raised concerns for security in such a volatile region. Since Pakistan established a nuclear doctrine, it has failed to adopt any conventions of non-proliferation and maintains an ambiguous nuclear stance.


On May 28th, 1998, Pakistan conducted its first nuclear test in the Chagai Hills. It was a critical turn of events for the global community that suspected but sincerely hoped, that Pakistan had not weaponized its nuclear program. Various government figures and agencies had been instrumental in designing the nuclear program and had been faced with legislative, financial, and security challenges. Pakistan was confronted with austere measures and security constraints in the complex circumstances of its evolving nuclear program. The country was driven by historical trauma of the conflict with India and a combination of cultural beliefs and idiosyncrasies that were exhibited in domestic politics revolving around nationalism and ensuring national security.

Despite facing regional conflicts, geopolitical crises, international pressure, and financial difficulties, Pakistan was able to develop a nuclear weapon. This suggests that the lack of technological advancement, as well as evident global opposition or sanctions, does not deter countries who fear for their national security from adopting a nuclear hedging strategy (Khalid & Bano, 2015). The Islamic Republic of Pakistan covertly developed a weaponized nuclear program in defiance of international efforts of non-proliferation. Pakistan acquired the technology through nuclear espionage, significant investment in atomic research, and aid from China even despite facing pressure from the United States and India, who both feared the emergence of another rogue nuclear state.

Initial Development

From the very beginning, the Pakistani government asserted that the country’s nuclear program was focused on enhancing the country’s energy sector. It adhered to the assessment by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Pakistan required new sources of electricity production to fulfill national and population needs in the coming years. According to the assessment, the soaring petroleum prices jeopardized Pakistan’s energy production, which lacked infrastructure development, supplies, or significant funding. Nuclear energy could be an alternate economic substitute for fossil fuels. This was a popular approach in the new atomic age, seeking to spread nuclear energy to developing countries as well (Khalilzad, 1976). However, it was questionable whether the nuclear alternative had the economic and security benefits in geopolitically volatile regions such as Pakistan.

Peaceful Atom Program

Initially, Pakistan’s intentions were focused on the peaceful development of nuclear energy. After the country’s independence in 1947, it experienced a close relationship with the US; Pakistan received aid and the US enjoyed the benefits of having such a close ally in strategic proximity to China, India, and the Middle East. Pakistan hoped to acquire nuclear energy through Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program and created the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) (Thomas, 2001). In 1965, an agreement was signed with Canada to purchase a heavy water reactor. The deal was approved and supported by most international organizations. The reactor was installed and activated in a newly built nuclear power plant in 1972.

By the following year, Pakistan discovered uranium deposits. The peaceful program was successful, and additional reactors were planned for construction a decade ahead. Additionally, the country began negotiations with France to build a chemical separation plant in Pakistan. From the inception of any international nuclear negotiations, Pakistan emphasized that all facilities were necessary to fulfill the country’s growing energy demand. However, unlike plutonium reactors, chemical separation plants are directly associated with weapon production, which indicated the desire of the country to eventually militarize its nuclear power (Khalilzad, 1976). During this time, practically nobody voiced concerns for Pakistan’s ambitions. Every purchase was approved and monitored by the IAEA.

The use of reactors does not directly correlate with weapon development as there are numerous technical challenges, including obtaining the plutonium, that must be addressed before being able to produce nuclear power. However, the possession of a reactor, which Pakistan was able to secure, is a critical prerequisite for any military purpose. Canadian heavy water reactors produced plutonium as a by-product. Radioactive plutonium is a fissionable material critical for sustaining a chain reaction in a nuclear weapon and the reactor can be modified to focus on plutonium production rather than maximizing energy output. (Khalilzad, 1976). It is assumed that India obtained the plutonium by-product for its first nuclear explosive device, “The Smiling Buddha”, from similar Canadian heavy water reactors. At a time when industrialized nations freely sold energy reactors to developing nations, such events caused a reconsideration of proliferating peaceful nuclear power (Thomas, 2001). Pakistan experienced more difficulty in securing further reactors. Subsequently, under the pressure of US opposition, based on concern for Pakistan’s nuclear future, Pakistan failed in its negotiations with France over the building of a chemical processing plant.

Indo-Pakistani Tensions

Pakistan achieved its independence in 1947 after British-controlled India was split up. There were clear geopolitical animosity and tense competition between the two countries. Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, there were numerous deadly conflicts and periods of crisis recorded; a key example being the war of 1971, which ended in a humiliating loss of territory for Pakistan and resulted in the formation of Bangladesh. Lacking robust protection from allies and the global community, Pakistan as a nation-state developed outright antagonism towards any adversary that threatened its national security, but most specifically, India (Khalilzad, 1976). The country adopted the stance to never again allow the humiliation of defeat and loss of territory.

Up until 1974, when India conducted the “Smiling Buddha” test, Pakistan was suspicious of India’s intentions. During the Cold War, many countries attempted to secure nuclear weapon technology which is a prerogative of an elite circle of nations. The Pakistani Prime Minister at the time, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, famously exclaimed in 1965:

If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass and leaves for a thousand years, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own. The Christians have the bomb, the Jews have the bomb and now the Hindus have the bomb. Why not the Muslims too have the bomb? (Burns & Philip, 2015, p.15)

This announcement suggested the desperation and resentment that Pakistan felt towards India. Although officially the country held the position of a victim that requires a means of defense, it was evident that the ambition to have ‘the bomb’ was based on nationalistic ideology. Such an ambitious desire to militarize nuclear power had the dual effect of exhibiting Pakistan’s disregard for the status quo and displaying the instability of a nation on a path to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

India’s proclamation that the “Smiling Buddha” was a peaceful test was regarded as a lie by Pakistan’s leadership. It was practically a weapons test since there is no fundamental difference between a bomb and a nuclear “peaceful” device that detonates except for which it is utilized. If the explosion occurred over an urban area in Pakistan, the death and destruction would have been devastating. In combination with the accelerated development of a medium-range missile, India’s intentions were clear to the global community. Pakistan felt directly threatened by this turn of events and chose to interpret it as “nuclear blackmail.” Bhutto stated that the detonation was a “fateful development…a threat…a more grave and the serious event has not taken place in the history of Pakistan” (Khalilzad, 1976, p. 589). As the situation unraveled, Pakistan made its position clear in what it saw as challenging India’s attempt at domination on the subcontinent. The geopolitical crisis in Kashmir would not be resolved in a truce with India as this would essentially declare capitulation under the current circumstances.

Pakistan’s Purpose and Strategy

If Pakistan were to obtain a nuclear weapon, it would be the first Muslim state to do so. It would drastically boost the prestige and influence of Pakistan in the Muslim community, something it lacked as a relatively new, and poor, country. Besides, it would serve as a method of combatting the superiority of conventional military means of its regional neighbors and adversaries. Pakistan planned to adopt a politically aggressive stance to pressure India in the international community. Many countries were surprised and furious at India’s nuclear test. Therefore, Pakistan hoped to play on the fears of nuclear proliferation by demanding a “nuclear-free zone of peace” in South Asia (Khalilzad, 1976). Pakistani leaders knew that India would reject all demands or attempts of cooperation which would create significant pressure on their adversary while drawing attention away from Pakistan’s nuclear weapon program. Even if the nuclear weapon development was noticed, Pakistan hoped that India’s aggressive defiance would help it gain international support.

Each country undergoes different historical experiences, but certain events and decisions are strikingly similar. The critical strategic doctrine held by Pakistan was innately similar to other countries seeking nuclear weapons. The most common characteristics in such cases involve political humiliation, global isolation, and a crisis of national identity. Pakistan experienced drastic changes in leadership throughout the late 20th century, that had varying approaches to governance, but all agreed on obtaining nuclear weapons for the country. It was a recurring cycle in Pakistan’s brief history, from the conceptual foundation to the reasoning which the government used in the decision to develop a nuclear weapon.

The acquisition of nuclear weapons automatically results in heightened nationalism within the populations and its leaders. However, the primary obligation was to address the security risk to the state by contesting any threats, political, economic, or military, made by the enemy. This crisis could only be resolved by acquiring a deterrent through technological development or forming alliances (Khalid & Bano, 2015). Pakistan already felt abandoned by its allies during the armed conflict with India which resulted in the humiliating loss of territory. Despite the US and China’s attempts to intervene and pressure India through military means, India had the support of the Soviet Union. Attempting to pacify the conflict in a situation where five nuclear powers were involved, Pakistan’s allies chose to accept the defeat for the country. This left Pakistan with only the choice of creating a deterrent through the development and eventual deployment of nuclear weapons.

The primary reason for Pakistan’s weapon ambitions is based on the regional tension with India which sparked the necessity of adopting a hostile nuclear approach. Pakistan began to expand its nuclear program rapidly. Immediately, funds were allotted to establish a 500MW reactor in the Chashma Baghage area. The project has been in development for a considerable time, but the Indian test provoked a sudden determination to begin rapid nuclearization of the country by investing in nuclear reactors. Despite the IAEA recommendations for optimal energy production, Pakistan sought to implement one reactor every two years for the next two decades. This rapid expansion completely surpassed any possible projections of energy needs, as determined by IAEA (Khalilzad, 1976). As it became evident that Pakistan no longer had peaceful ambitions for its nuclear program, this brought forward tremendous pressure, both domestically and internationally, to cease the development. History shows that countries choosing to pursue nuclear weapons cross a threshold at some point in development which has a point of no return and carries a tremendous burden of responsibility. However, Pakistan would argue that it was the Indian nuclear test that brought Pakistan directly to the brink in its attempt to secure options to ensure national security.

Path to Acquiring Nuclear Weapons

The ability to develop atomic weapons depends on the available opportunities for external assistance from a country already in possession of the advanced nuclear technology. Countries such as the US who developed the bomb alone had to enlist the most brilliant scientific and engineering minds and invest an enormous amount of money. Despite possessing blueprints and rudimentary technologies, Pakistan lacked the professionals or funds to achieve the feat on their own. Due to the sophistication of nuclear science, any state attempting to pursue a weapons program encounters a plethora of difficulties. A country with a mature program in place can offer precise guidance and tacit knowledge to overcome potential technical and strategic complications (Kroenig, 2009).

Nuclear Espionage

On January 20th, 1972, Pakistani Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, invited a group of scientists to a meeting: the national scientific advisor, Dr. Abdus Salam, chairman of PAEC, Dr. Ushmani, the Secretary of Education, Dr. Hashmani, along with other distinguished researchers from around the country. Munir Ahmad Khan, who ran the nuclear power reactor department of IAEA, was appointed as the new chairman of PAEC. Also, a new Ministry of Science and Technology was formed with Dr. Ushmani in charge. In a collaborative effort, Munir Ahmad Khan decided to create the Centre for Nuclear Studies (CNS) as part of PAEC to provide professional guidance to promising nuclear specialists. This enterprise produced approximately 2000 remarkably educated and expertly qualified experts for Pakistan (Khalid & Bano, 2015). It was the first significant step of Pakistan’s investment into its nuclear program. The leadership understood that to sustain the long-term progress of technological development, there was a strong need for competent and qualified specialists that the country simply lacked at this time.

Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan is a critical figure in Pakistan’s nuclear weapon development. He studied across Europe and fulfilled a doctorate requirement in physical metallurgy in Belgium. At the time, Khan was working at the Almelo factory in Holland. Fluent in several languages, he volunteered to translate material. Khan was enthusiastically interested in nuclear physics and had technical training in the discipline. The classified schematics and instructions that he was translating were for a revolutionary technology being developed by European scientists. It focused on extracting fissile material by spinning a derivative of uranium in a centrifuge at extreme speeds.

The process was innovative and never attempted before as Khan would later find out, it required meticulous technical expertise to construct. The unique aspect of the whole project was based on the fact that the sophisticated process of nuclear fission could be accomplished with conventional components. The industrial parts used were available for open purchase by anyone and had no direct correlation to nuclear power (Levy & Scott-Clark, 2007). Dr. Qadeer Khan was a patriot that believed in Pakistan’s grand ambitions in the standoff with India and, therefore, he wanted the nuclear bomb for his country. The innovative technology which Khan encountered could be implemented in Pakistan without drawing suspicion from IAEA or international watchdogs as the components could be imported without restrictions.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto sought out Dr. Quadeer Khan for his specialization in metallurgy that was necessary for the creation of a centrifuge. Khan had extensive knowledge and was familiarizing himself with the new European technologies of uranium enrichment. After written exchanges, Khan returned to Pakistan in 1975. He brought along three suitcases full of paperwork and notes with stolen classified information. During the time of collecting the data, Khan violated several protocols by attempting to photograph or access classified information outside his security clearance level. Despite arousing suspicion from colleagues who attempted to report it to superiors, all allegations of espionage were ignored. Only years later, the Dutch government admitted to knowing Khan’s plan and allowing the information to leave for Islamabad (Levy & Scott-Clark, 2007). European and US intelligence knew Pakistan’s attempts of attracting nuclear experts and the shifting focus towards weapon development. The fact that blueprints were allowed to be transferred to Pakistan suggests the intention of covertly supporting the program as indicated by the US double-sided foreign policy regarding Pakistan’s nuclear program.

Acquiring Technology

Upon arrival in Pakistan, Dr. Qadeer Khan was delegated to begin the construction of a uranium enrichment plant. Earlier discussions with Bhutto resulted in an agreement to attempt enriching uranium rather than collecting plutonium by-products from reactors. The gas centrifuge method which Khan stole was extraordinarily technical and unprecedented for military-grade uranium enrichment. In 1976, Qadeer Khan was put in charge of the laboratory and enrichment plant that was the foundation of Pakistan’s nuclear ambition, given the code name Project 706. It was the “threshold of nuclear capability” according to Bhutto (Khalid & Bano, 2015). Khan established a seven-year goal of building a nuclear device. He began to seek out talented and qualified scientists and engineers in any field of study that could be helpful for the project. They were offered astronomical salaries and benefits, which helped to attract Pakistani specialists working in Europe. Khan communicated with some of his trusted colleagues that he had befriended during his time in Europe. Using his contacts, he was able to develop a network of information sharing and acquire equipment across Europe and America to be shipped to Pakistan (Levy & Scott-Clark, 2007).

Instead of focusing on obtaining plutonium as a by-product of heavy water reactors, Khan chose a dedicated facility’s uranium enrichment method. It was necessary to develop an independent source of fissile material without being reliant on by-products which were limited in amount and took a long time to obtain. The organization used deception by publicly searching for plutonium-based reactors but using back channels to acquire equipment for the construction of a centrifuge in a uranium enrichment facility. Fake corporations and offshore accounts were used for such covert purchases (Marwah, 1981). The Pakistani network of purchases was well organized and extensive, geographically and financially, tapping into competitive global markets. In retrospect, it highlights the inadequacy of nuclear technological controls. Nuclear and international trade regulators simply could not follow the intricate pattern of exports (Craig, 2017). Also, most components ordered were not considered nuclear-sensitive equipment by the IAEA (since Khan used a developing technology that was unconventional for military use) and were approved for export by European governments.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto instructed the minister of information, Kauser Niazi, to broadcast national propaganda about the chemical reprocessing plant in an attempt to divert the scrutiny of the international community. Pakistan’s agreement with France for the reprocessing plant was under pressure from the US, who was publicly voicing concern about the nuclear program. Pakistan completed a small commercial reprocessing plant at the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology and, later, at Sinhala to create a public perception of its peaceful intentions.

The public statement focused on Pakistan’s energy needs and experimenting to increase the efficiency of the peaceful atom reactors. The agreement with France included a clause of operating all plants under international safeguards which gave the country credibility. Meanwhile, the plan was to construct a full-fledged gas centrifuge uranium enrichment facility at Kahuta. Covertly, Pakistan was eventually able to successfully launch the enrichment facility using a variety of equipment including stainless steel vessels, aluminum rods, vacuum pumps, and electrical inverters (Khalid & Bano, 2015). Imported from various Western countries, the equipment could not be easily traced to uranium enrichment. However, examining the machinery on an individual basis, an expert could conclude which stage of weapon development Pakistan was attempting to achieve.

The most challenging process of nuclear weapon development is to acquire weapons-grade fissile material which serves as the core of the bomb. Approximately 8kg of plutonium and 25kg of highly-enriched uranium is necessary for the most simplistic device. Assistance is often required from advanced nuclear states with fuel-cycle facilities and construction of key components such as centrifuges in plutonium reprocessing plants. Uranium enrichment procedures included jet-nozzle, gas-centrifuge, and laser isotope enrichment (Kroenig, 2009).

Acquiring the equipment was only the initial step. It had to be adequately adapted and constructed to designs. The sophisticated process of weapons-grade uranium enrichment required complicated operational functions such as synchronization of the cascade series (Marwah, 1981). Khan suffered setbacks and recognized the numerous challenges to the program, ironically commenting:

It was an uphill task with every step being marred by a new set of intricate problems … A country which could not make sewing needles, good bicycles, or even durable metalled roads were embarking on one of the latest and most difficult technologies (Levy & Scott-Clark, 2007, p. 19).

Engineering Research Laboratories were renamed with Khan’s name (KRL) in 1981 by Zia-ul-Haq in recognition of his contribution to the national program. Dr. Qadeer Khan was instructed to develop a weapon configuration for a cold test. Additional funding was poured into KRL. The whole concept of an underdeveloped and relatively poor country, such as Pakistan, attempting military-grade uranium enrichment, with untested civilian technology, was unprecedented. Besides, PAEC and KRL were attempting to develop nuclear technology concurrently but at distant facilities. This was an insurance protocol in case of an attack or sabotage so that nuclear production could continue in case the other location was destroyed. However, a variety of government agencies and scientific organizations maintained the responsibility for specific tasks in the nuclear development process. Despite forced cooperation, there was an aggressive rivalry between PAEC and KRL. The whole project was eventually taken over by the army as Pakistan became a nuclear-capable state in 1987 (Khalid & Bano, 2015).

International Cooperation and Response

US-Pakistani relations

The hostile international climate directly impacted on Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine and influenced its perception of various foreign policy approaches. The political aspects of domestic, regional, and international proportions are definitively interconnected. Examining them on a separate basis would not establish a comprehensive narrative of events. Pakistan experienced a coup d’état led by General Zia-ul-Haq in 1979. The new government was radical and considered unstable by the West. Soon after, US President Carter signed the Symington Law which limited assistance to Pakistan (Khalid & Bano, 2015). Unsuccessful in convincing Bhutto to abandon Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions, Washington had no hopes or patience for Zia’s leadership.

General Zia’s government faced extensive international challenges while attempting to reaffirm the support for Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions. At first, the US State Department was firmly asked to provide assurances that Pakistan would not enrich uranium past 5% and maintain its peaceful nuclear stance. By 1985, the level of enrichment was surpassed with the help of China that was collaborating with Pakistan to deter India’s expansion. During this period, the US Congress passed a series of laws attempting to enforce non-proliferation. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978 sought to implement stronger mechanisms for cross-border transfer of sensitive technology. The Pressler Amendment directly targeted Pakistan’s nuclear program, eliminating military and financial aid if the US President does not certify that Islamabad has shifted its policy. This law highlighted the differences between the two countries and significantly challenged international relations (Khalid & Bano, 2015). Pakistan felt that the US was accepting India’s illegal procurement of nuclear weapons while unfairly targeting them for attempting to ensure national security.

The international concern for Pakistan’s nuclear program was both ideological and political. As an Islamic nation, led by radical leadership, the acquisition of the atom bomb is inherently dangerous. Furthermore, there was an increased chance of proliferation to other, even more, unstable Muslim states. The political issue was based on Islamabad’s rapid and defiant uranium enrichment program which had full government support. The West was attempting to inhibit the program while negotiating political solutions, thus holding off Pakistan from achieving nuclear status. Carter found himself in a position where the knowledge of Pakistan’s rapidly developing program was interfering with his political goal to reduce global nuclear armaments. Meanwhile, there was also Soviet meddling in Afghanistan, and potential outreach into a politically volatile Iran. Pakistan represented the critical buffer to Soviet influence in the region. Thus, began an era of willful ignorance of Pakistan’s nuclear aspirations by US leadership (Levy & Scott-Clark, 2007). In 1979, the conservative government, led by Jimmy Carter, which was a harsh critic of nuclear proliferation, shifted its foreign policy approach. It was evident that Pakistan would not abandon its nuclear program, so Carter hoped that the most dangerous aspects could be mitigated (Craig, 2017).

In 1981, Israel publicly denounced Pakistan at the UN, exposing nuclear espionage by Dr. Qadeer Khan. US intelligence had substantial information on Pakistan’s nuclear activity but remained silent to its partners internationally, and the public domestically. Israel was sent a classified memo detailing that the US believed that Pakistan lacked operational centrifuges and could not efficiently enrich uranium. The letter also forecasted that by the time Pakistan overcame its technical challenges, it would take years to gather the fissile material for a nuclear device, and another decade to develop a missile system. The US continued its blatant misrepresentation of the intelligence data in an attempt to mislead one of its closest allies. Ironically, Dr. Qadeer Khan published several of his works which exhibited the progress of Pakistan’s nuclear program (Levy & Scott-Clark, 2007). The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1981 drastically shifted US strategic priorities in the region. Immediately, aid to Pakistan increased from $400 million under Carter, to $3.2 billion under Reagan. The United States chose to ignore its laws by disregarding the Solarz Amendment, despite being aware of Pakistan continuing to pursuit nuclear-sensitive equipment. Another non-proliferation policy, the Pressler Amendment, was also conveniently ignored (Khalid & Bano, 2015).

In the public eye, the US administration maintained its commitment to non-proliferation. After an airstrike by Israel on reactor construction in Iraq, President Reagan once again focused on nuclear non-proliferation. At the time, Israel and India were planning to launch an airstrike on Pakistan’s nuclear installations. However, the US feared that the attacks would strongly destabilize an already volatile geopolitical region and damage its relationship with Pakistan. Diplomats and intelligence officials were continuously sent to Islamabad to establish back-channel communication that could be used to signal the US President’s actual intentions and continue the dialogue on current issues. Headquarters instructed the regional CIA station chief to inform all agents to ignore Pakistan’s internal affairs, and the nuclear program, as the issue was to be handled by the State Department (Levy & Scott-Clark, 2007).

US financial aid and CIA diversions to Pakistan were tremendous in scale. Agents traveled back and forth, carrying literal bags of money and messages on how Pakistan could conduct its nuclear operations without getting flagged. The CIA, along with a few officials, controlled the whole process. It turned into an elaborate conspiracy as the State Department actively limited investigations or audits. Evidence and files were destroyed. The Pakistani government was provided with information that helped its agents to avoid capture and sneak equipment through US Customs. The American public, and even Congress, were lied to, assuring America’s stance on non-proliferation and Pakistan’s peaceful atom program. Aid money was distributed to fake agencies that were run by the Pakistani army and then fueled directly into maintaining or supplying the nuclear program.

The fraud is estimated to have been close to $1 billion throughout the Soviet-Afghan war. It was a well-rehearsed scheme that nobody cared to notice. Reagan was convinced that the deceit was necessary for the fulfillment of America’s larger geopolitical goal of defeating the Soviet Union. It was justified because, with Pakistan’s help, the US-supplied Mujahedeen were pressuring the crumbling Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Also, the money spent on the operation was small in proportion to the CIA’s global annual budget of $30 billion. To Reagan and other involved US officials, the choice was either defeating the Soviet Union or cutting off Pakistan, which was an extremely controversial foreign policy approach. Pakistan began to gain confidence, skimming more money off US funds, including those going to Afghanistan. Despite Congressional suspicion of Pakistani fraud, the administration repeatedly dismissed any claims (Levy & Scott-Clark, 2007).

At the end of the Cold War, the international world order transformed and Pakistan was no longer a strategic priority to the United States. In 1995, the US reaffirmed its support by awarding a $368 million transfer for the Pakistani armed forces, once again neglecting the Pressler amendment. It was given under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. The aid was established under the Brown amendment, focusing on counterterrorism cooperation and encouraged from nuclear restraint. The United States was mainly concerned with nuclear security, widely fearing a proliferation of nuclear designs to other Muslim states which increasingly shared a negative perspective of US foreign policy and values. Meanwhile, the Indian nuclear program which had more stability could be used to balance China’s expansion. Pakistan’s government was used to function under official sanctions. Many feared that if Pakistan was to abandon its nuclear ambitions, the US may completely lose strategic interest in the country and never reinstate official assistance programs (Khalid & Bano, 2015)

Cooperation with China

The initial heavy water reactors at the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant were supplied and maintained by Canada. Despite following IAEA regulations and safeguards, Canada chose to abandon maintenance in 1976. At this time, Bhutto was able to negotiate with China to take over the technical management of the power plant. It was considered a step towards cooperation and trust between the two countries. PAEC experienced a critical shortage in fuel supply for its reactors after Canada cut all nuclear activities. Pakistan was suffering the consequences of India’s nuclear ambitions. With China’s aid, PAEC maintained a functioning reactor at Karachi by compensating the sanctioned fuel supply (Khalid & Bano, 2015).

Starting in 1981, China supplied copious amounts of highly enriched uranium and nuclear technology to Pakistan, including an atomic bomb design. Without Chinese assistance, Pakistan would have encountered significant challenges in developing the implosion-type nuclear weapon which is part of the country’s arsenal. As military-grade uranium enrichment technology was provided through the 1980s, Chinese technicians remained in Pakistan to ensure full operation (Kroenig, 2009). Uncovered documents suggest very close collaboration that primarily led to Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities (the uranium enrichment cycle was perfected and tested by China). Although initial agreements focused on non-sensitive technology with IAEA safeguards, there was significantly more covert activity. The assistance that China provided was a counterweight to Pakistan’s internal issues and international sanctions attempting to inhibit the program. Over the decades, China has violated non-proliferation and nuclear supplier agreements. Its political ambitions seem to have been focused on undermining the global status quo and nuclear agreements with consistent non-compliance.

Beijing’s primary motivation in offering Pakistan nuclear assistance stemmed from Chinese attempts to equalize the regional balance of power. China and India have a unique historical rivalry as well which led to the shift of Chinese policy towards containment of India’s expansion via the proxy state of Pakistan. New Delhi had been racing to gain influence through the development of nuclear weapons, revamping its economy, and forming new alliances. During an era of superpowers, India was attempting to become a regional power in Asia. China adopted a dual approach; maintaining the system of non-proliferation but at the same time exploiting it for geopolitical purposes. China’s somewhat unexpected alliance with Pakistan comes as a reaction to Indian “imperial tendencies to annex and develop a territory, which Beijing deems too close to its borders” (Paul, 2003, p. 24).

Becoming a Nuclear Power

The conflict around the Kashmir region was the critical point of Pakistan’s development into nuclear power. Pakistan lagged behind India in raw nuclear materials, financing, technological development, and infrastructure. However, the Kashmir crisis forced Pakistan to seek security options and began the militarization process aimed at attaining nuclear deterrents. Throughout its weapon development, Pakistan’s nuclear stance had been one of ambiguity and speculation. However, it was a challenge to India. The Pakistani foreign minister threatened, “if India wants to prove its manhood by conducting a nuclear test, then we can prove our manhood” (Khalid & Bano, 2015). After India conducted two tests in May 1998, Pakistan retaliated and demonstrated to the world its capabilities through a series of six reactive nuclear explosions.

International Treaties

Nuclear treaties of regional and multilateral capacity have been in negotiation regarding South Asian proliferation since 1974. Pakistan has annually proposed the denuclearization of South Asia at the United Nations General Assembly since India conducted the “Smiling Buddha” test. The assumption that it would result in international pressure on India was inconclusive. India rejects any calls for nuclear disarmament. Pakistan binds its participation in any non-proliferation or disarmament treaties to India’s willingness to engage. While it enables Pakistan to justify its nuclear ambitions by hiding behind India’s political defiance, it also inherently holds the country’s doctrine accountable if the situation were to change. The failure of nuclear non-proliferation is based on US indecisiveness, national recalcitrance, and geopolitical manipulation through “sticks and carrots” policies (Craig, 2017).

The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has several fundamental issues. It is based on the simplistic ideology of limiting nuclear proliferation, with loose guidelines to include as many countries as possible and ensure ratification. While the first two articles call for measures to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, articles 4 and 5 encourage the sharing of atomic energy technology, including the “peaceful explosion” conducted by India. This lack of apparent technical disjunction between military and civilian technologies results in a contradiction that can be politically manipulated. It becomes an issue with most international proliferation and disarmament treaties since practically all sophisticated technological development has a dual-use based on its application (Thomas, 2001). Since the treaties cannot regulate intentions or ambitions of national programs, they limit such aspects as materials and infrastructure. However, if the technology of civilian use is closely correlated with military applications, it creates a loophole for states to take advantage through means of covert development. Since tense geopolitical situations, such as the one between Pakistan and India, are inevitable, countries will begin to abuse the treaty.

Pakistan has never opposed the NPT since its inception. However, it was reluctant to sign the document. Pakistan held the position that the NPT was inherently discriminatory towards individual states, especially those lacking geopolitical influence. The choice to justify India’s abstention has been increasingly aggravating to the international nuclear community pressuring Pakistan. A similar stance is evident in the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). Pakistan decided to abstain after India’s 1995 nuclear test. Signing the treaty created a severe restriction on nuclear tests which, at the time of the treaty’s inception, have not been conducted by Pakistan (Khalid & Bano, 2015). As a result of Pakistan’s position on international nuclear treaties, it has faced continuous international pressure and sanctions as major powers focused a large portion of foreign policy towards non-proliferation.

Pakistan’s Nuclear Policy

Pakistan’s nationalism and national security are directly linked with its nuclear program. The country achieving nuclear status has resulted in a change to the geopolitical status quo in South Asia. Fearing military intervention by India, Pakistan maintains a defense doctrine based on its nuclear weapon. It believes that India will avoid military altercations as long as Pakistan is perceived as a “threshold” state (Ahmed, 1995). After a series of nuclear tests in 1998, Pakistan chose to adopt a nuclear policy of minimum deterrence. Since the country maintains a status of nuclear ambiguity, lacking official documentation or comprehensive doctrines, very little is known about Pakistan’s approach.

Traditionally, minimum deterrence implies the maintenance of a small number of nuclear weapons but not directly deploying them. It is meant to be a sufficient force structure capable of enhancing the chances of survival in case of conflict. The policy should outline the necessity to utilize these forces and emphasize negative control as a preventive measure to avoid accidental or unauthorized use. Minimum deterrence may include publicly announcing the intended use of nuclear force, ensuring the deterring capability that guarantees national security. This nuclear policy is most useful for smaller countries as they lack significant resources. A small, efficient nuclear force can ensure security while reducing risks. The minimum deterrence approach eliminates the possibility of an arms race, particularly in a rivalry situation that exists between India and Pakistan (Khan, 2014).

In addition to being cost-effective, minimum deterrence helps manage international pressure. An ambiguous stance held by Pakistan, without the release of details, results in the doctrine to be subject to interpretation. The strategy of calculated ambiguity is a critical aspect of the deterrence policy. The lack of information can cause speculation from potential adversaries. As intelligence is a necessary function of any military operation, an enemy lacking concrete information may choose to reconsider at the risk of suffering heavy losses. From a strategic perspective, ambiguity presents political and operational benefits. In the case of Pakistan, while maintaining public ambiguity, the operational capacity of the nuclear force is more available (Khan, 2014). This ensures credibility that the nuclear weapon is functional and can continue to serve as a reliable deterrent.


It has continued to be a subject of speculation whether Pakistan would have focused on acquiring nuclear weapons, or at least accepted the international non-proliferation policies, if not for the “Smiling Buddha” test conducted by India. Since Pakistan and India are such fierce rivals, the government in Islamabad seeks to devise its policy around matching or exceeding India in various aspects of development. Therefore, it may be assumed that Pakistan had begun its nuclear weapon ambitions well before 1974. However, the public demonstration of India’s nuclear capabilities played a supportive role for Pakistan’s government to fund the effort to obtain similar military capacity.

Since Pakistan’s approach of using dedicated facilities began with Project 706, the international community attempted to persuade both countries to adopt appropriate safeguards and non-proliferation. Pakistan continuously cited India’s lack of reciprocation as the reason for its defiance. However, it is unlikely that the adoption of safeguards by India would have made a difference in Pakistan’s ambition. Almost every year Pakistan has proposed a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the South Asia region while vehemently continuing its weapon development process. Pakistan continued to adopt a public stance of a peaceful atom program at its Kahuta laboratories.

This directly mimicked the Indian posture with the “Smiling Buddha” that detached intent from capability. There was no choice for India and the rest of the international community after acknowledging India’s nuclear status but to accept Pakistan’s declarations based on the consequences of fallacious political deception (Marwah, 1981). Considering the security conditions in South Asia, strategic stability could be defined as the lack of incentive to begin a military conflict that could intensify to nuclear warfare, either purposefully or inadvertently. Until the introduction of nuclear weapons, India and Pakistan engaged in a conventional military conflict that was asymmetric based on military size. However, in the nuclear era of the post-1980s, any crises between the two nations have been limited to political tensions and military standoffs (Khan, 2015).

In 1979, the political approach to addressing the Pakistani nuclear program shifted dramatically. Under the Carter administration, the US changed its policy from harsh non-proliferation to attempts at mitigation. Pakistan remained utterly defiant of any international pressures under the military dictatorship of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq which refused to make any concessions regarding the nuclear program. Pakistan had not yet tested a nuclear device which would be a declaration of the country’s nuclear status. This is something the US wanted to publicly avoid as the test would result in yet another failure of non-proliferation in the region which would be politically humiliating. It is evident that radical Islam, which the US cited as its concern for Pakistan’s nuclear program, was not the fundamental reason. It was a matter of maintaining the credibility and influence of the superpower’s foreign policy. In an attempt to preserve the desired narrative, the US diplomatic establishment relied on coercion and bribery to deal with proliferation issues (Craig, 2017). This resulted in poor foreign policy and a lack of credible solutions to such crises. Pakistan, with its defiant stance, was able to overcome the pressure.

Pakistan’s strategic geographic location served a key role as an agent of geopolitical coercion throughout the Cold War. Its proximity to the USSR and China, as well as having a central Asian location, making it ideal for the US to use it as a base for the Communism containment policy in the region. Furthermore, in the 1980s, Pakistan maintained a critical role in the US operations to fund and supply the Mujahedeen in the proxy war with the Soviet Union. The strategic position of Pakistan possibly enabled it to achieve a nuclear status while defying international pressure (Khan, 2015). The US saw its ambitions to defeat the Soviet Union as more critical than Pakistan’s nuclear program. Pakistan’s geographical position and allied status ensured the US had a foothold to oppose the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. As a result, Pakistan continued to receive American aid from the Reagan administration. It may be assumed that by covertly funding and supervising the program, the US hoped to achieve a degree of influence and control as it was evident that Pakistan was very close to becoming a nuclear power at that time.

The assistance of more technologically advanced states is necessary for the progress of any nuclear program. Nuclear suppliers can produce proven designs for enrichment, reprocessing, or bomb technology. Engineers with blueprint designs can avoid the difficult and arduous process of technical planning by focusing on replicating a compelling concept. There is a significant reduction in the trial and error experimentation stage of nuclear operations operation. The tacit knowledge of the scientific and engineering teams of the advanced nuclear state can be shared with aspiring countries that lack qualified specialists. Furthermore, importing sensitive information regarding weapon development can significantly reduce expenditures. Such instances result in economization on materials and infrastructure as the supplier usually has strategic interest or motivation to provide the technology at a low cost. Finally, nuclear assistance directly mitigates international pressure. The rapid development of a basic nuclear weapon with the provided technology “presents the international community with a fait accompli and preempts international efforts at dissuasion” (Kroenig, 2009).


The nuclearization of South Asia has contributed a unique lesson to the concept of global nuclear nonproliferation. Despite harsh restrictions on the availability of nuclear technology and materials, even for civilian purposes, states can develop a dedicated facility approach to uranium enrichment. There will always be a method of obtaining materials on the black market or through espionage as various negligence, political or commercial factors come into play. The extraordinary financial expenditures of a nuclear program will be ignored in favor of the ideological or security needs of countries with the ambition to create an atomic bomb. With the availability of equipment from more advanced states, the country does not even require a complex infrastructure to institute necessary production facilities (Marwah, 1981).

In its striving to achieve a nuclear status, Pakistan was confronted with various complications, ranging from the scarcity of materials to the lack of proper infrastructure that was incited by the firm export controls of nuclear resources. Additionally, there were international objections, exhibited in the form of political pressure, propaganda, sanctions, and open adversity from allies and enemies alike. A program, which began as a peaceful civilian project, was turned into a military weapon development based on the perceived security risks faced by the country. India’s nuclear ambitions, in combination with the vulnerable and volatile geopolitical position of Pakistan, served as a provocation to adopt the doctrine of minimum deterrence (Khalid & Bano, 2015). Pakistan came to place its entire survival and the country’s sovereignty on nuclear deterrence. Therefore, nuclear development became the critical function of Pakistan’s security agenda. The transformation to holding a significant nuclear arsenal was achieved through a variety of political, economic, scientific, and strategic means in the international arena.


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