“The weak and the defenceless, in this imperfect world, invite aggression from others.”
Youm-e-Takbeer, 28th May 2023 has been commemorated as the 25th anniversary of an important milestone in Pakistan’s history. On this day in 1998, Pakistan conducted nuclear tests in the Chagai district, Balochistan. The decision to conduct the nuclear tests was taken in response to India’s nuclear tests on 11 and 13 May 1998. It is important to note that it was the second series of nuclear tests by India in 1998, the first being the so-called ‘Smiling Buddha’ in May 1974. This unique event marked a turning point in Pakistan’s security posture and regional dynamics. The tests not only demonstrated the resolve of the Pakistani nation to safeguard its territorial integrity, independence, and sovereignty but also the desire to preserve strategic balance in South Asia. As a result of successful nuclear tests, Pakistan became the seventh nuclear power in the world and the first in the Muslim world. Since then Pakistan remembers this day as Youm-e-Takbeer; ‘The Day of Greatness’ as a reminder of the tough choice Pakistan made to ensure its defense despite the immense international pressure for not conducting the tests.
The Indian nuclear tests left no option for Pakistan but to demonstrate its nuclear capability to restore strategic stability. After conducting nuclear tests in May 1998, Indian politicians and the public were convinced that they had a monopoly over nuclear technology and capability in the region. Important political leaders in India made veiled threats toward Pakistan. Indian Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani at the time said, “Islamabad should realise the change in the geo-strategic situation in the region and the world. It must roll back its anti-India policy especially with regard to Kashmir. Any other course will be futile and costly for Pakistan.” Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee too after visiting the Indian nuclear test site had warned Pakistan saying, “It should adopt a more conciliatory attitude that recognizes India’s newly enhanced military power.” Therefore, Pakistan had no other option but to conduct its tests due to the lack of international guarantees against the nuclear threat from India. Unlike the U.S., which extended its nuclear umbrella to its European allies during the Cold War, Pakistan had to depend on its own capabilities.
The onus of promoting the nuclear arms competition in South Asia rests on India. As Pakistan has been regularly proposing various solutions to India aimed at maintaining peace and nuclear restraint in South Asia. Starting in 1974, Pakistan suggested the establishment of a nuclear-free zone in the region, followed by a joint Indo-Pakistan declaration in 1978, renouncing the acquisition and manufacture of nuclear weapons. In 1979, Pakistan proposed mutual inspections of nuclear facilities, simultaneous adherence to the NPT, and full-scope IAEA safeguards. In 1987, Pakistan proposed a South Asian nuclear weapon Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and a mutual conference under the UN auspices on Nuclear Non-Proliferation in South Asia. In 1991, Pakistan suggested the commencement of a multilateral conference on nuclear proliferation in South Asia. In 1993, Pakistan also proposed creating a missile-free zone in South Asia, a strategic restraint regime (SRR) in 1998, and a joint agreement to reduce the threat of nuclear war and missile race. In 2006, Pakistan proposed a prohibition on missile defense systems and restraint in deploying nuclear weapons and missiles. In 2011, Pakistan yet again proposed a Strategic Nuclear Restraint Regime (SNRR) that pertains to missile restraint, peaceful resolution of conflict, and conventional balance. Finally, in 2016, Pakistan proposed a bilateral arrangement for the non-testing of nuclear weapons. India’s response to these proposals has been disappointing, as it did not show any interest in pursuing these proposals.
According to SIPRI 2022 report, India is the largest arms importer in the world. It is developing a diverse range of nuclear arms comprising short-range missiles, inter-continental ballistic missiles, and anti-ballistic missile systems to establish its dominance as a regional power. On the other hand, Pakistan’s leadership, both political and military, understands the possibility to promote security and peace in the region through arms control rather than an arms race.
Pakistan has been proactively involved in global initiatives aimed at reinforcing international regulations concerning arms control, non-proliferation, and disarmament, and has implemented contemporary international guidelines on national nuclear safety, security, and export controls.
The other bright side of Pakistan’s nuclear power is the advancement in peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Over the years, Pakistan continues to utilize the enormous potential of nuclear technology for socio-economic development and achieve sustainable development goals (SDGs). The utility of nuclear technology in Pakistan isn’t confined to the domain of energy and power production alone. Pakistan has been successfully utilizing nuclear technology in various sectors including agriculture, medicine, and scientific research and development. Recently, in February 2023, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, visited Pakistan and praised its “impeccable” nuclear safety record, stating that he foresees a bright future for nuclear power in Pakistan.
Hence, Youm-e-Takbeer holds a significant place in Pakistan’s history and serves as a reminder of the determined efforts of the nation in developing a robust defense mechanism to counter India’s aggression. Furthermore, Pakistan has always been committed to promoting peace and stability, not only within its borders but also at the regional and global levels. The country firmly believes in the principles of mutual respect, cooperation, and peaceful coexistence with its neighbors and the international community.
The Author holds a Masters Degree in Strategic & Nuclear Studies and is working as Visiting research associate in Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad. His research interests include nuclear politics, nuclear deterrence, proliferation and non-proliferation regimes, and changing nuclear strategies in South Asia. He regularly contribute opinion editorials in local newspapers and national & International blogs. He Tweets @sharjeel502