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The SC

Feb 13, 2012
Confronting the Bomb: Pakistani and Indian Scientists Speak Out



Contributors viii

Poem ix

Author Biographies xi

Acknowledgements xv

Preface xvii

John Polyani

Introduction xxi

Pervez Hoodbhoy

1. Scientists and India’s Nuclear Bomb 1

M. V Ramana

2. The Coming of the Atomic Age to Pakistan 38

Zia Mian

3. Pakistan: Climbing the Nuclear Ladder 68

Pervez Hoodbhoy

4. Pakistan: Understanding the ‘World’s Fastest

Growing Arsenal’ 90

Pervez Hoodbhoy

5. Kashmir: From Nuclear Flashpoint to South Asia’s

Bridge of Peace? 117

Pervez Hoodbhoy

6. Nationalism and the Bomb 134

Pervez Hoodbhoy

7. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the ‘Islamic Bomb’ 151

Pervez Hoodbhoy

8. Post bin Laden: The Safety and Security of

Pakistan’s Nuclear Arsenal 168

Pervez Hoodbhoy

9. Commanding and Controlling Nuclear Weapons 204

Zia Mian

10. The Infeasibility of Early Warning 237

Zia Mian, R. Rajaraman, and M.V. Ramana

11. Pakistan’s Battlefield Use of Nuclear Weapons 253

Zia Mian and A.H. Nayyar

12. What Nuclear War Could Do to South Asia 267

Matthew McKinzie, Zia Mian, A.H. Nayyar, and M. V. Ramana

13. Pakistan’s Nuclear Diplomacy and the Fissile 277

Material Cut-off Treaty

Zia Mian and A.H. Nayyar

14. Speculations on the Future of Nuclear South Asia 295

Pervez Hoodbhoy and Zia Mian

15. America, Global Domination, and Global Disarmament 308

Pervez Hoodbhoy and Zia Mian

16. Nuclear Electricity is Not the Answer for Pakistan 326

Pervez Hoodbhoy

17. Nuclear Electricity is Not the Answer for India 348

Suvrat Raju


1. Pakistani Missile Force 102

2. Total Military and Nuclear Weapons

Spending 2010-2011 112

3. Estimated Duration of some Plausible

South Asian Missile Flights 240

4. Estimated Nuclear Casualties for each of 10 Large Indian and Pakistani Cities 275

5. Energy Profile of Pakistan 2011 327

6. PAEC’s projections for Nuclear Electricity


John Polyani

Nuclear weapons are a plague on the earth, differing from earlier
plagues in that they are visited upon us not by God but by man. A
plague that is man-made has its origins in a mix of fear, pride and

At the outset of the nuclear age fear dominated. The fear was
that Hitler’s Germany might secretly arm itself with these ultimate
weapons: deadly and indiscriminate. When Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf
Hess, parachuted into England on 10 May 1941, it was with a
message to the King George VI that ‘new bombs with stronger
explosives’ 1 would make inevitable the destruction of Britain. Hess
was regarded as mad, and was imprisoned. Meanwhile, the few
people who understood the importance of the discovery by Otto
Hahn and Fritz Strassmann, made at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in
Berlin in 1938, that they could split uranium atoms with neutrons,
were seriously considering the possibility of a devastating new form
of explosive.

Within months of Hess’s warning, Leo Szilard and Enrico Fermi,
European refugees working at Columbia University in New York,
demonstrated the practicability of a nuclear chain-reaction. This
demonstration led to the Manhattan Project and thereafter to the
two atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

As for Rudolf Hess, whose predictions weren’t too far off the mark,
he was still considered to be a lunatic and was transferred to a
German prison where, forty-two years later, he succeeded in hanging
himself at the age of ninety-three. The future comes slowly if, like
Hess, you are at the mercy of the bureaucracy, but with the speed
of an express train if, like Szilard, you are a free spirit. When things
change fast it is because there is a willingness to challenge accepted


Accepted thinking when Szilard turned his attention to the
possibilities of a nuclear chain reaction, was emphatically
discouraging. Lord Rutherford, pre-eminent among the founders of
nuclear physics, had just stated [London Times, 1933) that obtaining
energy from atomic fission ‘was a very poor and inefficient way of
producing energy, and anyone who looked for a source of power in
the transformation of atoms was talking moonshine.’

For Szilard, the contrarian, this was a call to action. There had
to be a way. He knew enough chemistry to introduce the concept of
a branched nuclear chain-reaction, in which every nuclear parent
gave rise to two energetic offspring — with Malthusian consequences.
At that moment the atomic express train left the station. It will
require a similar feat of imagination to stop it.

I was with Leo Szilard in Moscow at an earlier Pugwash
Conference in December of 1960, when he described his preferred
terminus for the nuclear express, to a Soviet and American elite. He
could not resist a Delphic utterance. What was needed, he declared,
in order to end the Cold War, was an atomic bomb beneath Moscow
wired to an actuator under Washington, and, reciprocally, a second
such bomb in Washington wired to a trigger in Moscow. At that
level, armament could stop. I was young and callow enough to ask
him whether he was serious. What I got in return was an impish

Following World War II the nuclear contagion spread quickly
from the United States to the USSR, then on to the UK, France and
China. It moved more slowly to India, Pakistan, Israel and North
Korea. Nine nations in all — less than had been feared. But the
disease remains contagious. With Iran added to the list, expect
Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which, with Israel, would comprise
five nuclear weapons states in, arguably, the most turbulent area of
the world.

It is not just fear that renders nuclear weapons contagious. There
is pride of possession, ironically most prominent among those
within the Nuclear Club, attempting at the same time to limit its


I spoke at the outset of three driving forces: fear, pride and folly,
of which folly remains. It resides in the fact that nuclear weapons,
though acquired for ‘security’, heighten insecurity.

In German composer Wagner’s Ring Cycle the possessors of gold
are similarly cursed by their fear of losing their treasure. Day and
night, underground, the Nibelung toil to increase the precious
stocks. Fortunately, this folly is no longer entirely unconstrained:
the United States and Russia, which together possess 95 per cent of
the world’s nuclear weapons, have reduced their armory from 70,000
in the 1980s, to 23,000 nuclear weapons today.

Why such a stupendous number, one asks? That was Szilard’s
question in Moscow. Today, sixty years into the nuclear age, there is
serious talk of reducing U.S.-Russian stockpile to a few hundred
weapons on either side. What feat of imagination will be required in
order to make this a reality? It is no new thought to the military
that, with the advent of nuclear weapons, we have left behind the
age of Clausewitz. War is no longer diplomacy pursued by other
means, since suicide lies outside the domain of the diplomatic.
Between nuclear armed powers there is no longer any alternative to

Keeping thousands of nuclear weapons a few minutes away from
firing — as is currently being done in the U.S. and Russia — is folly.
It does not represent in any sane person’s view an alternative to
negotiation. Nor is keeping thousands of ballistic missiles aimed at
opposing ICBM’s (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles) in the hope
of ‘winning’ a nuclear war, an alternative to diplomacy. This too we
presently do, though the dream of victory is rendered totally fanciful
by the destructive power aloft in aircraft, and sheltered from view
beneath the sea.

It is an extraordinary failure of the democratic process that these
fantasies of winning nuclear wars have been, till now, so ineffectively
challenged. Perhaps the time has finally come when the voices of
reason and responsibility can contain the nuclear express.

In this remarkable book, the result of a most civilized Pakistan-
India collaboration, we have the opportunity to see Wagner’s story


of the lure of nuclear gold played out on a smaller stage. The story
is, if possible, even more terrifying than the posturing between the
greater powers. First there are the clearly visible patriotic impulses,
heralding the mythical nirvana of ‘security’. Then comes the
realization of the appalling power of these weapons (this part of the
book, hair-raising as it is, was written prior to discovery of the
dreadful environmental consequences of a dust-cloud from a limited
nuclear war — though one would prefer not to think of the
eventuality, the authors of this book confront it unblinkingly). One
source of nuclear folly that the present account brings out in the
India-Pakistan context — but it is endemic — is the investment of
great influence in a few people. There is a deficiency, oftentimes an
absence, of public debate where matters relating to a nation’s ‘secret’
arsenals are concerned. Thus, India appears to have committed itself
to the nuclear path before there was any consideration of the likely
Pakistani response.

As a Canadian, I am well aware that my country’s record for
foresight is less than stellar. Canada, along with the U.S., equipped
India with a research reactor under the Eisenhower ‘Atoms for Peace
Program’. Contrary to the agreement, this provided the plutonium
for India’s first nuclear weapon. This bomb was tested in 1974. In a
pathetic bow to the country’s historic contribution to pacifism, it
was officially designated a ‘Peaceful Nuclear Explosion’. The
decisions that underlay this test were made secretly at the prime
ministerial level. In similar secrecy Pakistan rushed to match India’s
feat, exploding its first nuclear weapons in 1998 just after India’s
second nuclear test.

All this is by way of introduction to the present far-sighted
volume, in which Pakistani and Indian scientists join together to
illustrate the predicament of their two countries. Here we find a
superb and well-informed catalyst for the debate that has till now
been largely lacking.


1. Camp Z, Stephen McGinty, Harper Collins, 2011; p. 84.


Pervez Hoodbhoy

Scientists made the first atomic bomb. These men of exceptional
brilliance discovered the physics of subatomic particles, and found
just how a few atomic nuclei could be coaxed and cajoled into
releasing their enormous energy, and then explicitly calculated
everything down to the last detail. Their forbiddingly difficult
mathematical formulae were based upon the newly created
disciplines of relativity and quantum mechanics. The scribbled
symbols seemed utterly abstract, but the deadly fireballs over
Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan showed just how real they were.

All those who created the bomb and its physics are now dead.
Some, like Edward Teller, never regretted their role. Avidly sought
after by military generals and national leaders, they happily kept
on inventing ever more terrible weapons. But some were appalled,
realizing that they had brought humankind to the brink. Robert J.
Oppenheimer, the Manhattan Project’s scientific leader, famously
quoting the lines, ‘I have become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds’,
turned against the bomb and fell under suspicion of being disloyal
to America. His security clearance was revoked and he was accused
of being a communist, a serious matter in those hysterically anti-
communist times. Albert Einstein, whose mass-energy equivalence
formula lies at the very foundation of the bomb, became convinced
that desperate danger lurked around the corner. Einstein teamed
up with Bertrand Russell, the twentieth century’s pre-eminent
philosopher and mathematician, to write the Einstein-Russell
Manifesto. This became the basis of a post-World War II movement
for eliminating nuclear weapons.

The opposition to the bomb by some of twentieth century’s
greatest scientists caused many around the world to reflect and
ponder upon the social responsibility of scientists. The authors of


this book are among them. Hailing from both sides of the Pakistan-
India border (with the exception of one, who comes from far away!),
they are scientists who reject nuclear patriotism; that misplaced
belief which says hurting an adversary country is somehow
equivalent to loving your own.

What prompted these scientist-authors to venture into the world
of nuclear weapons, war, strategy, and politics? This, after all, is not
their job and can only be distantly connected to the work that they
actually do as scientists. In fact, the monopoly of scientists over
nuclear weapons evaporated some decades ago. To kill millions in
minutes, it is now no longer necessary to have a nuclear physicist
in residence. In modern times, nuclear weapon design and construc-
tion has steadily descended from high-brow theoretical physics
towards mundane issues of engineering, management, and logistics.
Seventy years ago the detailed physics of nuclear explosions was a
matter of the highest conceptual difficulty. But today, a graduate
student with a solid grounding in physics, and access to internet
literature, could, as a PhD thesis, design a crude but workable
nuclear explosive. Computer codes allow accurate simulations of
nuclear explosions, eliminating the earlier need for the intricate
numerical procedures used by the early atomic scientists.

And yet, in dealing with thorny issues of war and peace, scientists
possibly still have some residual advantage. In part this comes from
knowing the physical principles behind modern weaponry. But it
comes still more from the nature of scientific education. Scientists
are trained to recognize and analyze a wide variety of problems of
the physical world. Of course, this does not mean that they are
always right when they work outside their own domains. It also does
not guarantee that scientists always behave rationally or humanely
in their personal lives. But the cultivation of scientific habits is
undeniably an asset that allows one to think through various issues
of war and peace plainly and logically; identify that which are rooted
in fact; and propose ways out of difficult situations. It is this hope
that brings the present authors out into a domain which, in reality,
does not belong to any single discipline.



Once the first bomb was ready, the scientists who conceived and
built it became peripheral. They were no longer courted by the
political and military leaders who now ‘owned’ it. These leaders
would decide how and when it would be used, and against whom.
They now had a calculated strategy for putting terror into the hearts
of men.

The decision to incinerate Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not taken
in anger. White men in grey business suits and military uniforms,
after much deliberation, decided the U.S. ‘could not give the
Japanese any warning; that we could not concentrate on a civilian
area but that we should seek to make a profound psychological
impression on as many of the inhabitants as possible . . . [and] the
most desirable target would be a vital war plant employing a large
number of workers and closely surrounded by workers’ houses .’ 1
They argued it would be cheaper in American lives to release the
nuclear genie. Besides, it was such a marvellous device to show to
the Soviet leader Josef Stalin.

And so one fine morning, banner headlines such as ‘Jap City No
More’ brought the news from across the ocean. Joyous crowds
gathered in Manhattan’s Times Square in New York to celebrate.
There was less of the enemy left. Rarely are victors encumbered by
remorse. President Harry Truman declared: ‘When you have to deal
with a beast you have to treat him as a beast. It is most regrettable
but nevertheless true .’ 2 It is a disappointing truth that six decades
later even American liberals remain ambivalent about the morality
of nuking the two Japanese cities. The late Hans Bethe of the
Manhattan Project fame, and Nobel Prize winner in physics, became
a leading exponent of arms control some decades later. Yet, in a
speech at the Cornell University, he declared that, ‘the atom bomb
was the greatest gift we could have given to the Japanese .’ 3

Even as the United States dusted off its hands and moved on,
elsewhere the radioactive rubble of the dead cities spawned not only
a sense of dread, but also an obsessive desire for nuclear weapons.
Stalin raced ahead with his program, while Charles de Gaulle


conceived his ‘force de frappe’. Mao Tse-Tung quietly decided that
he too wanted the bomb even as he derided it as ‘a paper tiger’. In
newly independent Israel, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion
apparently ‘had no qualms about Israel’s need for weapons of mass
destruction’, writes Avner Cohen, the historian of Israel’s nuclear
bomb. Ben Gurion ordered his agents to seek out East European
Jewish scientists who could ‘either increase the capacity to kill
masses or to cure masses.’ 4

The wind blew the poisonous clouds of fear and envy over other
third world countries as well: In 1948, while arguing to create
India’s Department of Atomic Energy, Prime Minister Jawaharlal
Nehru told parliament, ‘I think we must develop [nuclear science]
for peaceful purposes.’ But, he added, ‘of course, if we are compelled
as a nation to use it for other purposes, possibly no pious sentiments
of any of us will stop the nation from using it that way.’ 5 Just three
years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, those ‘other purposes’ were all
too clear.

Days after Pakistan’s nuclear tests in May 1998, Japan invited the
country’s foreign minister to visit Hiroshima’s peace museum. The
minister was visibly moved after seeing the gruesome evidence of
mass devastation. His reaction: ‘we made our nukes precisely so that
this could never happen to Pakistan.’

The world is awash with terrible inventions, now in the control
of generals and politicians, very few of whom can be trusted with
public funds or keeping solemn promises. Can they be trusted with
the instruments of mass annihilation? And, if not them, then just
who should one trust?


Logically, those in charge of a nation’s nuclear affairs should be
selected from amongst the wisest, most capable, and best informed
people who also have a calm temperament and capacity to withstand
extreme pressure. But in reality these conditions remain unfulfilled.
In India and Pakistan, leaders have rarely weighed the consequences


of their actions. Instead, they have simply reacted to events and

India started the nuclear race, so let me start with India, from
circa 1974. After it chose to test a supposedly ‘peaceful nuclear
device’, there was little care or concern about how Pakistan would
respond. The Indian leadership under Indira Gandhi was naive in its
nuclear thinking. It could not imagine that Pakistan too could
develop nuclear bombs and, ostrich-like, chose to remain ill-
informed of Pakistan’s capabilities or ponder upon the different
options it had at that time. With eyes fixed towards China, perhaps
it did not even care. Having dismissed Pakistani technical capability
as inconsequential, the thought that India’s military advantage could
be eventually nullified by a nuclear Pakistan probably never crossed
the minds of those Indians who mattered at the time. As it turned
out, Indira Gandhi’s successors proved as unenlightened as her.

A personal experience: Two months before the May 1998 nuclear
tests conducted by India and Pakistan, a delegation from the
Pugwash Movement met in Delhi with Prime Minister Inderjit
Kumar Gujral. I was one of the delegates. As we sat around a table
in the Prime Minister’s House, I expressed my worry about a possible
nuclear catastrophe befalling the subcontinent. To my surprise, Mr
Gujral twice assured me — first in public and later in private — that
there was no cause for concern. As we prepared to depart, he came
by and, upon learning that I was from Karachi, grew nostalgic about
the city he had grown up in. Putting his arm around me he
confidently and earnestly told me, speaking in Urdu/Hindi, that
Pakistan lacked the competence to make atomic bombs. For quite a
while, I felt very confused . . . could he be right?

The Prime Minister was scarcely alone in being mistaken. Senior
Indian defense analysts like P.R. Chari had also published articles
before May 1998 arguing this point, as had the former head of the
Indian Atomic Energy Agency, Dr Raja Ramanna. The Indian
intelligence agency RAW, which Pakistanis generally believe to be
ubiquitous and infinitely cunning, was also confused and gave
contradictory reports. In fact the confusion went all the way up to


the top. This became apparent at the time when India was in a state
of euphoria in the days after the Pokharan tests. Mass celebrations
were still in progress when, brimming with hubris, Home Minister
L.K. Advani advised Pakistan to give up its claim on Kashmir
because the ‘geostrategic’ context had decisively changed in India’s
favour . 6 At a time when Pakistan was supposed to be just a
‘screwdriver turn away from the bomb ’, 7 Indian newspapers taunted
Pakistanis: had the Chinese forgotten to send the screwdriver over
with the bomb? Or were the instructions written in Chinese? Most
Indians firmly believed that Pakistan did not possess the bomb.

But they could not have been more wrong. Pakistan’s bomb-
makers had long been craving for an opportunity to show their own
prowess. Six months after the tests, one of their leaders gave a public
speech expressing his delight at the Indian test:

We had spent our lifetime on the project and still there was no chance
of a hot test. And on the morning of the eleventh of May this year, one
of our friends in the armed services phoned me and he said, ‘Have you
heard the news today?’ I said. ‘What?’ He said, ‘The Indians have
conducted the explosion in Pokharan.’ So I said, ‘Congratulations.’ I was
genuinely happy. He said, ‘You are congratulating us on the Indian
tests?’ I said, ‘Yes, because now we would get a chance to do our own
tests .’ 8

The confidence was well-placed. Only seventeen days later, with a
thunderous roar, the mountains of Chagai shook and then turned
white as five nuclear devices were simultaneously detonated inside
a deeply drilled tunnel prepared years earlier. Two days later, for
good measure, one more device was set off under the Ras-Koh hills.
India’s good cheer was suddenly shattered. Instead, recriminations
and excuses started flying.

Mistaken notions extended into the Indian military as well. India’s
late ‘nuclear visionary’ and army chief, General K. Sunderji, had
preached for years from a thick tome that came to be known as the
‘Sunderji Bible’. His principal claim was that nuclear weapons would
bring stability to the subcontinent, and that there would be no Cold
War type nuclear racing. Certainly he had Pakistan on his mind —
not China — when, in the 1980s, he pressed hard for weaponizing
India’s nuclear capacity. With infectious enthusiasm, Sunderji
lectured that India needed only a handful of fission weapons to ‘take
out’ major Pakistani cities. More was not better, he said. Like the
other military men of his time, this rather simple and likeable man
thought that these terrible weapons had now made war impossible.

My single encounter with Sunderji was at a Carnegie conference
in Washington in 1993. He had just finished speaking on the
absolute security that nuclear weapons would bestow upon the
world. I had never before seen a man who loved the bomb more; his
eyes would light up upon its mere mention. So, when I introduced
myself to him as a Pakistani nuclear physicist, he was overjoyed and
hugged me warmly saying: ‘I was commanding officer at Pokharan
in 1974 when the damn thing went off. Right away I told the bug
that we should give it to them [the Pakistanis] because war will then
become impossible.’ I did not have the heart to tell him that
Pakistan, inspired by India, was indeed well on its way to having
more than a few of its own. Nor, for that matter, that his (Sunderji’s)
dangerous initiative, ‘Operation Brasstacks’, had nearly brought the
two countries to blows in 1987. For all his heartiness and bonhomie,
this man’s irresponsible and dangerous antics could have led to the
deaths of thousands.

Sunderji’s infectious nuclear enthusiasm had already made its way
across the border. In March 1990, long before the nuclear tests had
been carried out, Pakistan’s General K.M. Arif wrote in The Globe :
Let India and Pakistan both become nuclear weapon states openly
and without reservations. They are both mature nations which need
no counselling on their international responsibilities and conduct.

Top Pakistani generals, whose mannerisms scarcely differ from
that of Indians, are fairly nonchalant about nuclear weapons. They
seem to view these bombs as just another kind of bomb, albeit an
oversized one. They had no appreciation of what would happen to
the country after a nuclear war, apart from a rather dim
understanding that many people would die.


I have many tales to tell.

In late 1989, a group of seven senior military officers, then
studying operational matters at the National Defense College, came
to meet me at the physics department of Quaid-e-Azam University.
Their term project was to write a paper on nuclear strategy and
posture in the Pak-India context. Although Pakistan did not
officially acknowledge possessing such weapons then, the process of
inducting them into the forces had already begun. It was also a time
when there was almost zero understanding of nuclear matters in the
military and, quite sensibly, they were keen to learn technical details
from every available source.

Since this group was larger than could fit into my little office,
I led them to the physics department conference room (still called
the ‘tea room’ by everybody because that’s where we have our 10:30
am tea everyday). We spent the next two hours there, discussing
everything: from blast radii and firestorms to electronic locks and
PALS (Permissive Action Links). The officers took copious notes
and appeared satisfied. As they prepared to leave I asked what
circumstances, in their opinion, would warrant the use of nuclear
weapons by Pakistan. After some reflection one officer spoke up:
‘professor’, he assured me, ‘they shall be used only defensively if
at all, and only if the Pakistan Army faces defeat. We cannot allow
ourselves to be dis-honoured.’ Around the table, heads nodded in
agreement. Significantly, the calculus of destruction — that cities
and populations would be obliterated on both sides — was not what
mattered. Instead it was ghairat — the protection of honour — that
was primary. Preserving a tribal value, probably acquired around
Neolithic times, was considered more important than preserving life.

The same question put to Indian military officers would probably
elicit the same answer. Historically, honour has driven armies to
fight battles. Even as the officer spoke, my thoughts wandered to
the charge of the Light Brigade. During the Crimean War of 1854,
wave after wave of honour-charged British soldiers rode their horses
into the mouths of Russian guns which, of course, promptly mowed
them down. Tennyson later immortalized the slain men in his
famous poem: All the world wonder’d. Honour the charge they
made! Honour the Light Brigade.

In the same year that I encountered General Sunderji, I also met
with General Shamim Alam Khan. He was then Chairman, Joint
Chiefs of Staff. Frankly, it’s a little scary to receive a call from the
GHQ in Rawalpindi. Our generals usually don’t deign to talk to
professors, especially dissident ones. But here was a staff car, with a
smart uniformed officer, that had been dispatched to fetch me from
the university. I had to wait for an hour outside Gen. Alam’s office.
Dr A.Q. Khan, who walked past me (he did not know me at the time)
had suddenly dropped in to meet him.

Once Dr Khan left, the general had many questions for me. He
told me that the army was just learning to operationally integrate
its newly acquired weapons into the command structure, and so
wanted to know all about Permissive Action Links; command and
control issues; possibilities of accidental nuclear war, etc. Although
he was certainly aware of my opposition to the bomb, he was still
sufficiently curious.

General Alam was a tough, short man who passionately hated
India. He regaled me with various episodes. Once he had excused
himself in 1985 from an order received from President General Zia-
ul-Haq. Zia was about to embark for Delhi on his famous cricket
diplomacy stint and had ordered Alam to accompany him there.
Alam asked to be excused saying: ‘Sir, if I ever enter Delhi it shall
be only if I am sitting behind the turret of my tank.’ He then told
me how, borrowing a small propeller-driven army reconnaissance
plane from his Army Aviation Unit, he had piloted it into Indian
territory and flew around for a full half an hour before returning to
base. The Indians duly protested; Pakistan duly denied. His purpose
for this stint was to spite Zia for his peace initiative.

After Gen. Alam had quizzed me on technical matters for over
two hours, towards the end I said something to the effect that
nuclear war should never even be contemplated because it would
wipe out Pakistan. Alam was visibly irritated: ‘professor, what you
are claiming is nonsense.’ He then asked me to calculate roughly


how many would die if one hundred Indian bombs were dropped on
Pakistan. My rough estimation satisfied him: Pakistan would lose 13
per cent of its population of 130 million (as it was then; it’s 200
million now). Gen. Alam was triumphant — this was a tolerable
injury, and hence not sufficient reason to hold back from a nuclear
war. In time Pakistan would recover!

General Alam’s thinking was not very different from that of the
late K.S. Subrahmanyam, India’s most influential Indian defense
analyst in the 1980s and 1990s. In one of his articles, Subrahmanyam

Even the failure of deterrence will cause vast, but still finite damage,
considering the kind of arsenal the two sides are likely to have for a long
time to come, with the advantage being in favour of India if India were
to exercise its option (to arm with nuclear weapons). It will not mean
nuclear winter, rapid escalation involving the use of hundreds of
warheads and loss of control over the war. It will be analogous to the
situation between the superpowers in the early fifties. That situation will
still be preferable to one of India remaining non-nuclear, facing the
threat of humiliation, defeat and disintegration . 9

In the early days of Indian and Pakistani nuclear development,
minimal deterrence or ‘just enough’ had been the mantra of the
times. South Asian nuclear proponents were wont to take personal
insult upon mention of an arms race, which they debunked as fear
mongering. Hawkish Indian defense strategists, following
Subrahmanyam, vehemently asserted that arms racing is a Cold War
concept invented by the western powers and totally alien to
subcontinental thinking. Their Pakistani counterparts agreed. In the
late 1980s and early 1990s, the nuclear philosophy of Mutually
Assured Destruction (MAD) and of steady escalation were believed
to be products of twisted western minds. South Asians were
supposedly wiser and would limit destructive powers only to ‘what
was needed’.

Subrahmanyam and I had first clashed on the subject of India’s
nuclear intentions at a meeting held at the University of Chicago in

1992, held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Enrico Fermi’s
nuclear reactor. We then crossed swords off and on at various
meetings over the years. The last time, just before he died of cancer,
I was in Delhi at a meeting held in 2010 at IDSA (Institute of Defense
and Strategic Analysis) of which he had been director. I reminded
him of his earlier belief that Pakistan could not develop nuclear
weapons, and then argued that India’s decision to test had shorn
it of its earlier massive military advantage over Pakistan. Perhaps
because of his illness, his response was weak and unconvincing. But
the real reason is that events had proved the great guru of Indian
nuclearization to be plain wrong.

Even if many Indians still refuse to see it that way, the fact is that
India has been essentially paralyzed after choosing to go nuclear; its
ability to respond to Pakistan was enormously reduced. Take for
example the events of early 2002, when the build-up of troops had
escalated on both sides of the border. The Indian Parliament had
been attacked weeks earlier, on 13 December 2001, and a Pakistan-
based group, Jaish-e-Muhammad, had taken responsibility before
suddenly denying it. India growled threateningly again and again.
But faced by the awful prospect of nuclear destruction, it failed to
make any moves.

Still, those were tense times. Nuclear threats had started flying
in all directions. As Pakistan Air Force fighter aircraft loudly circled
Islamabad, in a public debate with me at SDPI (Sustainable
Development Policy Institute), General Mirza Aslam Beg, former
chief of the Pakistan Army, declared: ‘We can make a first strike, and
a second strike, or even a third.’ The lethality of nuclear war left
him unmoved. ‘You can die crossing the street,’ he observed, ‘or you
could die in a nuclear war. You’ve got to die someday anyway.’ Of
course, there was no war and, thanks to the hectic efforts of U.S.
and British officials and diplomats, the crisis was eventually defused.

Times of tension have brought out the steel claws again and again.
Mumbai had just been attacked (26 November 2008), and I was on
the same television talk show as General Hamid Nawaz (retd.), who
had also served as Federal Interior Minister and Defense Secretar

of Pakistan. The general angrily attacked me for suggesting that one
of the many Pakistan-based jihad groups could have been involved
because, indeed, I said that attacking India is exactly what they had
long promised and said they would do. But Gen. Nawaz recommended
readying Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, and said that a nuclear first-
strike should be among Pakistan’s preferred options.

Clearly it didn’t take much for this particular general to want to
push the button. Hopefully others are very different from him, but
then that is just a hope.


Pakistan and India are, of course, different countries. When visitors
say that they are similar, they risk offending their local hosts. But
there is undeniably a critical symmetry between their peoples,
politicians, and generals that overpowers their differences.
Operations ‘Brasstacks’ and ‘Cold Start’ may have had different goals
from that of Gibraltar and Kargil, but they competed in recklessness
and readiness to needlessly provoke and kill. The symmetry in
military minds is also present in the thinking of highly paid
Pakistani and Indian diplomats and negotiators. The protagonists
can often only be distinguished by their names — and that too not
always because some Indian diplomats are Muslim!

Suave and westernized, their job is to don the mask of nuclear
respectability. Having watched them at close quarters in arms
control workshops and seminars for nearly two decades, I can vouch
that they meet with amazing civility (and even a forced cordiality),
and seem like men of the world. Fluent in the jargon of confidence-
building measures and nuclear risk reduction measures, they have
honed their skills to conceal their multi-layered mistrust and inner
hostility towards the other side. Tasked to show that their country’s
nuclear weapons are in responsible hands, they will repeat their
myth even if their leaders have screamed nuclear threats just days
earlier. They must also perforce claim that their countries do not
proliferate weapons; that their government is fully in control of its
nuclear arsenal; and that they can handle nuclear weapons just as

well as any western nation. Each side says it is a hapless victim of
terrorism. But when the going gets rough; off come the velvet gloves
and out comes the iron fist. Most diplomats probably believe their
own national fiction. Only the rare exception among them is honest
to his inner self, introspects, and takes an independent position —
and that too mostly after retirement!


The message: Pakistanis and Indians should not trust their
respective establishments when it comes to nuclear matters. Nor
should they look to the United States (or, now, China!). Instead,
objective reality, self-protection, and self-observation need to be our
guide. It is for my Indian friends to look at the reality on their side
of the border; they will see something similar though not identical.
As a Pakistani, I am obligated to look upon my side.

Here is what the facts around me say: Pakistan has just about
every kind of problem that there is. At the core lies an exploding
population without employable skills, and thus a perpetually
staggering economy. Day after day, and for year after year, newspaper
headlines and the audio-visual media have been consistently
broadcasting some new disaster: suicide bombings, brutal
assassinations, public lynchings, pogroms, and riots.

Less dramatic but more tragic is that the population is seriously
deprived of essential needs. A 2011 Oxfam report says that nearly
two-thirds of the Pakistani population spends between 50 to 70 per
cent of its income on food. 10 A staggering 36 per cent are
undernourished. This places Pakistan among the 21 undernourished
nations of the world. In 2011, the London-based Legatum Institute
‘Prosperity Index’ ranked Pakistan at 107 out of the 110 surveyed:
above Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and the Central African Republic. 11 India,
in spite of its booming economy and relative internal peace, does
only marginally better.

Farrukh Saleem, an astute observer of Pakistan’s economic scene,
puts it this way:


For the first time in recent memory, net borrowing of the private sector
has been negative — Rs81 billion — indicative of a shrinking private
sector. For the first time ever every Pakistani man, woman and child is
indebted to the tune of Rs61,000 . . . the day Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani
was taking oath of office, there were an estimated 47. 1 million Pakistanis
living in extreme poverty. Over the past three years an average of 25,000
Pakistanis per day — every single day of the past three years — have been
driven into extreme poverty. The total now stands at an estimated 72.9
million below the poverty line. ... For the first time in recent memory
Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) has suffered such a drastic fall over
such a short period of time — from $5.4 billion in 2008 to around a
billion. Public Sector Enterprises are now losing RslOO crore a day,
every day of the year, and no one is worried. Pepco, just by itself, is
losing Rs50 crore a day, every day of the year, and no one is worried.
The Pakistan Railways is about to add a colossal $600 million to our
national debt . . , 12

For Pakistan’s political and military establishment, all this bad news
is like water off a duck’s back. It still glows with enthusiasm about
its nuclear weapons and keeps making more. For them, these are
Pakistan’s greatest assets. General Musharraf called them ‘our crown
jewels’, and commentators refer to the May 1998 tests as ‘our finest
hour’. But the truth lies elsewhere.


Napoleon, in an enthusiastic moment, is said to have once remarked:
‘Bayonets are wonderful! One can do anything with them except sit
on them!’ Indeed, following the 1998 nuclear tests, Pakistan’s
military and political leaders saw the bomb as a panacea for solving
Pakistan’s multiple problems. It became axiomatic that, in addition
to providing total security, this would give Pakistan international
visibility, help liberate Kashmir, create national pride and elevate
the country’s technological status.

The mass euphoria following the tests led to the emergence of
new nuclear goals. Earlier, Pakistan had only one large reason for
wanting the bomb — Indian nuclear weapons had to be countered by
Pakistani ones. But a second purpose now emerged: a super-
confident military saw the bomb as a magic talisman. Having nukes-
for-nukes became secondary; the bomb could strip India of its
military advantage and neutralize its larger conventional land, air
and sea forces.
Last edited:

The SC

Feb 13, 2012
Thereafter, just months later, Pakistani troops and militants,
protected by a newly activated nuclear shield, were to cross the Line
of Control (LoC) in Kashmir into Kargil. 13 Earlier, across the length
and breadth of Pakistan, militant Islamic groups had organized
freely and built up a fearsome strength. They did so, protected by
an impregnable nuclear Pakistan that made impossible an Indian
strike on militant camps safely ensconced within Pakistan’s borders.
When the Mumbai attacks eventually followed in 2008, India could
do little more than froth and fume. Then, years after the tests, a
third purpose was to emerge. No book or scholarly article talks
about it much because it operates only at the subjective level. But
this reason competes with earlier ones for having bombs. Bluntly
put: Pakistan’s rulers began to see nuclear weapons as money
spinners — they could help generate income for a stumbling
economy and act as insurance against things going too far wrong.
But how so? Like North Korea, Pakistan feels the world shall not
allow a nuclear country to fail — no matter what. Indeed, hard times
have befallen the country: electricity and fuel shortages routinely
shut down industries and transport for long stretches; imports far
exceed exports; inflation lies at the double-digit level; foreign direct
investment is negligible because of concerns over physical security;
tax reform has failed; corruption remains unchecked; and the
country essentially survives on remittances earned by Pakistanis
abroad. And yet the feeling is that international financial donors
cannot afford to stop pumping funds into Pakistan’s dysfunctional
economy. In the world’s eyes, Pakistan is not some African country
like Somalia or Congo. Their collapse would be a local matter;
Pakistan’s could be a global catastrophe.

Surely it would be the world’s darkest nightmare if a collapsing
Pakistan was unable to prevent its 100 plus Hiroshima-sized bombs
from disappearing into the night. The bailout packages currently


given to Pakistan would be a pittance compared to the cost of
dealing with loose weapons. The moral: keep the cash flowing!

Therefore, over time, Pakistan’s nuclear bayonet gained more
than just deterrence value; it became a dream instrument for its
ruling oligarchy. The silent menace of the weapons is enough to
make the faint-hearted quail. Napoleon’s bayonet was painful to sit
upon, but nuclear weapons offer no such discomfort. The world has
no option but to support Pakistan and prevent it from a fate like
that of Somalia. General Musharraf was an authentic spokesman for
the Pakistani establishment when he declared that our ‘crown
jewels’ were to be protected at all costs — even if this meant
accepting American demands to dump the Taliban after the 9/11


Pakistan’s frequently argued position is that it needs to produce still
more bombs — and hence more bomb materials — because of India.
Its representatives in Geneva have, along with older issues related
to verification problems and existing stocks, frequently cite the
Deal 14 — a wide-ranging accord signed in 2008.

Indeed, the Deal is a strong argument: the U.S. has committed
itself to nuclear cooperation with a state that is not a signatory to
the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) — and one that made
nuclear weapons surreptitiously. Moreover, it is currently using its
new-found economic gains to expand its military capability, both
nuclear and conventional. Reports exist that India, with support
extended by the U.S., is inching towards membership of the Nuclear
Suppliers Group. This would increase Pakistan’s sense of
embattlement by yet another notch. 15 Now that the sanctions
imposed after the 1998 tests are long gone, India can import
advanced nuclear reactor technology as well as natural uranium ore
from diverse sources, Australia included. Although imported ore
cannot be used for bomb-making, India can divert more of its scarce
domestic ore towards military reactors.


But the Deal may actually be a fig leaf. Pakistan’s rush for more
bombs also comes from its changed relationship with the United
States. The killing of Osama bin Laden on 2 May 2011 sharply
increased the sense of vulnerability in Islamabad. American invaders
had come and gone without even being challenged. The world’s most
prized fugitive had been discovered ensconced in an army town
within walking distance of the famed Pakistan Military Academy in
Kakul, and his dead body whisked away.

In spite of what columnist Ayaz Amir called the ‘mother of all
embarrassments’, introspection and remorse were noticeably absent
in the corps commanders conference held three days later. Threat
and bluster dominated. America would get a befitting response
should it once again violate Pakistan’s territorial integrity through
its ‘unilateral military action’. Military chief, General Ashraf Parvez
Kayani, said he would demand a 25-40 per cent cut in the number
of U.S. Special Operations personnel based in Pakistan; soon
thereafter U.S. military trainers were withdrawn from Pakistan. 16
Only a handful trickled back a year later.

The downward spiral became dizzyingly fast after the 2011 NATO
attack on two Pakistani military check-posts along the Afghanistan-
Pakistan border on Saturday, 26 November 2011. According to
reports, two NATO Apache helicopters, an AC-130 gunship and two
F-15E Eagle fighter jets entered the Pakistani border area of Salala,
killing 24 Pakistani soldiers. The Americans later expressed regret,
but refused to apologize. Pakistan cut off NATO land routes to
Afghanistan, and refused permission for drones to be launched from
Pakistani soil. It took eight months for supplies to resume, and then
too only partially, after Secretary Hilary Clinton’s rather ragged
apology in early July 2012.

In the Pakistani military’s mind, the Americans pose a rising
threat, one that may become as serious as India’s. They are certainly
considered more of an adversary than the Pakistani Tehreek-e-
Taliban (TTP) jihadists who, although, they have killed thousands of
Pakistani troops and civilians, are not reviled with any comparable
intensity. Even as the TTP released its gory video-taped executions


of Pakistani soldiers, the Salala incident was freely allowed by the
military to inflame public opinion.

Pakistani public views about the United States are easier to poll
and document than those of the men in khaki: three quarters of
respondents polled over the internet said ‘the U.S. government does
not respect Islam and considers itself at war with the Muslim world.’
Only 16 per cent believe that A1 Qaeda had anything to do with the
9/11 attacks, and 75 per cent disapproved of the killing of Osama
bin Laden. 17

Pakistani animosity rises as it sees America tightly embracing
India, and standing in the way of a Pakistan-friendly government in
Kabul. Once again ‘strategic defiance’ is gaining ground, albeit not
through the regional compact suggested by General Mirza Aslam
Beg in the early 1990s. This attitudinal shift has created a strong
non-India reason that favours ramping up bomb production — the
perceived threat emanating from the U.S. to Pakistan’s nuclear
weapons. This perception has been reinforced by the large amount
of attention given to the issue in the U.S. mainstream press, and by
war-gaming exercises in U.S. military institutes. Thus, redundancy
is considered desirable — an American attempt to seize or destroy all
warheads would have smaller chances of success if Pakistan had
more. And America would have more to fear if there were more
nukes left over.

But can Pakistan’s nukes lose their magic? Get stolen, rendered
impotent or lose their menacing image? More fundamentally, one
must ask how and when they could fail to be the perfect protection
they are imagined to be.


One can easily imagine that a Pakistan-based cross border attack on
India could cause a series of self-elevating crises. The military
establishment’s reluctance to clamp down on anti-India jihadi
groups, or to punish those who carried out the 26/11 attacks in
Mumbai, suggests that this lies well within the realm of possibilities.
Although not officially assisted or sanctioned, a second Mumbai


would raise fury in India and call for revenge. What then? How
would India respond?

There cannot, of course, be a definite answer. But it is instructive
to analyze ‘Operation Parakram’, 18 and India’s response to the attack
on the Indian parliament on 13 December 2001. This ten-month-
long mobilisation of nearly half-a-million soldiers and deployment
of troops along the LoC was launched to punish Pakistan for
harbouring the Jaish-e-Mohammad, which, at least initially, had
claimed responsibility for the attack.

A seminar held in August 2003 in Delhi brought together senior
Indian military leaders and top analysts to reflect on Parakram. To
quote the main speaker, Major General Ashok Mehta, the two
countries hovered on the brink of war and India’s ‘coercive
diplomacy failed due to the mismatch of India-U.S. diplomacy and
India’s failure to think through the end game.’ 19 The general gave
several reasons for not going to war against Pakistan. These included
a negative cost-benefit analysis; lack of enthusiasm in the Indian
political establishment; complications arising from the Gujarat riots
of 2002; and ‘a lack of courage’. That Parakram would have America’s
unflinching support also turned out to be a false assumption. The
bottom line: when Parakram fizzled out, Pakistan claimed victory
and India was left licking its wounds.

A second important opinion, articulated by the influential former
Indian intelligence chief, Lt. Gen. Vikram Sood, was still harsher on
India. He expressed regret at not going to war against Pakistan and
said that India had ‘failed to achieve strategic space as well as
strategic autonomy.’ 20 He went on to say that Musharraf never took
India seriously after it lost this golden opportunity to attack a
distracted Pakistan that was waging war against the Taliban on the
Durand Line. Using the word ‘imbroglio’ for India’s punitive attempt,
he pointed out that no political directive had been provided to the
service chiefs for execution even as late as August 2002. On the
contrary, that month the Chief of Army Staff was asked to draw up
a directive to extricate the army.


Now that the finger-pointing, recriminations, and stock-taking
are over, one can be fairly sure that India will not permit a second
Parakram. Indeed, a new paradigm for dealing with Pakistan was
invented and embodied into the Cold Start doctrine. 21 This calls for
quick, salami-slicing thrusts into Pakistan while learning to fight a
conventional war under a ‘nuclear over-hang’ (by itself an interesting
new phrase, used by General Deepak Kapoor in January 2010).

Revelations by WikiLeaks about Cold Start are worthy of
consideration. In a classified cable to Washington in February 2010,
Tim Roemer, the U.S. ambassador to India, described Cold Start as
‘not a plan for a comprehensive invasion and occupation of Pakistan’
but ‘for a rapid, time- and distance-limited penetration into
Pakistani territory.’ 22 He wrote that, ‘it is the collective judgment of
the U.S. Mission that India would encounter mixed results.’ Warning
India against Cold Start, he concluded: ‘Indian leaders no doubt
realize that, although, Cold Start is designed to punish Pakistan in
a limited manner without triggering a nuclear response, they cannot
be sure whether Pakistani leaders will in fact refrain from such a

Roemer is spot on. Implementing Cold Start, which might be
triggered by Mumbai-II, may well initiate a nuclear disaster. Indeed,
there is no way to predict how such conflicts will end once they
start. Recognizing this, Gen. V.K. Singh came closer than any other
Indian government official towards denying such an aggressive
strategy: ‘There is nothing like Cold Start. But we have a “proactive
strategy” which takes steps in a proactive manner so that we can
achieve what our doctrines and strategies (demand).’ 23 A rational
Indian leadership — if one exists at the crisis moment — is unlikely
to opt for a Cold Start type of operation. But even if the Indians do
not attack, another major Pakistan-based attack upon India would
bring disaster to Pakistan. Yes, Pakistani nuclear weapons would be
unhurt and unused, but their magic would have evaporated. The
reason is clear: an aggrieved India would campaign — with a high
chance of success — for ending all international aid for Pakistan, a
trade boycott and stiff sanctions. The world’s fear of loose Pakistani


nukes hijacked by Islamist forces would likely lose out against the
revulsion of yet another stomach-churning massacre.

An international trade boycott alone would cause Pakistan’s
economy, which has little fat to spare, to collapse like a pack of
cards. The initial bravado, intense at first, would fast evaporate.
Foodstuffs, electricity, gas and petrol would disappear. China and
Saudi Arabia would send messages of sympathy and some aid, but
they would not make up for the difference. With scarcity all around,
angry mobs would burn grid stations and petrol pumps, loot shops,
and plunder the houses of the rich. Today’s barely governable
Pakistan would become ungovernable. The government then in
power, whether civilian or military, would exist only in name.
Religious and regional forces would pounce upon their chances;
hellish anarchy would be unleashed. It would be the end of Pakistan
as a nation-state.

Napoleon’s bayonet ultimately could not save him, and Pakistan’s
nuclear bayonet has also had its day. It cannot protect Pakistan.
Instead, the country needs peace, economic justice, rule of law, tax
reform, a social contract, education and a new federation agreement.


Many of this book’s chapters are new and intended to reflect realities
as of the present time (2012). Others have been published elsewhere
but were included because they have staying power and will be
pertinent for years to come. They have been updated and modified
to include new facts and developments. Original sources have been
duly acknowledged.

India’s development of a ‘nuclear priesthood’, and the tireless
efforts of Dr Homi Bhabha to create an appetite for the bomb, is the
subject of the first chapter. M.V. Ramana relates in detail how
Bhabha consciously worked to overturn the notion of a Gandhian
India by enthusing — and forcing — Indian nuclear scientists to work
towards building the bomb. Rather than any external threat, the
notion that great nations need big bombs was the driver. Decades
later, the rise of Hindu nationalism, or Hindutva, led to India’s quest
for ‘international status’ through the May 1998 tests.

While there were only a few Indian scientists who opposed the
bomb, some of these dissidents had exceptionally strong scientific
reputations. Among them were Meghnad Saha, C.V. Raman, and D.
Kosambi. In their view, Bhabha’s efforts were misdirected and would
lead India in the wrong direction. Ramana notes that, ‘despite this
relatively long history of opposition, anti-nuclear scientists in India
have, for the most part, not made much use of their technical
expertise. This has both good and bad consequences.’ He says that
dissident scientists tend to be of disparate backgrounds and are
concerned with a huge range of social problems, which necessarily
dilutes their impact. Well, maybe! One wonders if they had, or have,
an alternative.

Zia Mian, in the second chapter, details how the atomic age came
to Pakistan by way of the United States’ Atoms for Peace program.
His erudite essay recalls those heady days when atomic energy
seemed to hold boundless promise. Pakistan’s elite jumped upon the
idea, receiving the country’s first reactor in 1965. Although the U.S.
now views Pakistani nuclear weapons with great alarm, this was not
so earlier. According to Stephen P. Cohen, who has been an insider
with the U.S. establishment for decades, Pakistani military officers
were visited by an American nuclear-warfare team in 1957. He says
that, ‘Present-day Pakistani nuclear planning and doctrine is
descended directly from this early exposure to Western nuclear
strategizing; it very much resembles American thinking of the mid-
1950s with its acceptance of first-use and the tactical use of nuclear
weapons against onrushing conventional forces.’ 24

Mian also gives important details of just how nuclear enthusiasm
was created in Pakistan, at a time when the country possessed less
than a handful of persons who had at least some understanding of
nuclear technology. Although he does not specifically mention Prof.
Abdus Salam — who went on to win a Nobel Prize in 1979 for his
work in high energy physics — the fact is that Salam had an essential
role in convincing policy makers about nuclear energy, and later


nuclear weapons as well. The idea that progress required nuclear
development caught on: eventually it created a Pakistan that has
nuclear weapons, nuclear power plants, and a nuclear complex that
dwarfs all other areas of science and technology.

Pakistan’s nuclear trajectory is the subject of the two subsequent
chapters They trace the early development of Pakistan’s nuclear
weapons; discuss how nuclear philosophy has evolved over time; and
go on to discuss the recurrent crises subsequent to their operation-
alization after the 1998 tests. As a crisis escalates, both countries
would walk up a nuclear escalation ladder. What might the rungs of
that ladder look like? It is argued that false assumptions, mission
creep, and high levels of risk-taking have made deterrence less
effective over time. Using publicly available information, the current
state of the nuclear arsenal, missiles, and aircraft is presented,
together with a discussion of what constrains Pakistan’s further
nuclear expansion. An intriguing question is addressed: Pakistan has
been surprisingly successful in creating a fairly large and diverse
intermediate range missile force in a very short time. What made
this possible, given its weak industrial and scientific infrastructure?

The third chapter discusses the topic of Kashmir and the bomb.
Kashmir has almost always been quoted as a key reason, if not the
reason, for Pakistan to want the bomb. What has been Pakistan’s
strategy in this dispute, and what kind of change did Pakistan expect
could happen once the bomb came along? This essay argues that
while Pakistan botched its chances of securing Kashmir —
particularly after Kargil — India has not won either. Today’s relative
calm along the Line of Control could turn into a blaze of artillery
any time. So what could be the long-term solution for Kashmir? An
opinion will be found towards the chapter’s end.

The essay ‘Nationalism and the Bomb’ explores whether public
enthusiasm for the bomb can be strong enough to create a national
identity around it. As a symbol of power, it can be used along with
national holidays, anthems, flag carrying airlines, and displays of
military might to build a national spirit. But will all this serve as
acting positively or negatively towards alleviating Pakistan’s multiple


difficulties? Will it heal splits that exist within the country?
Pakistanis have been told that if the country had a bomb in 1971,
East Pakistan would have never been lost. But this is pure fantasy;
the crisis of East Pakistan was fundamentally a political one and had
no military solution. The bomb could not have saved Pakistan from
breaking up. Certainly, Bangladeshis — who were Pakistanis in 1971
and formed the country’s majority — are delighted that Pakistan did
not have a bomb at the time! They show little regret at no longer
being East Pakistanis. The chapter concludes with steps that would
be needed for Pakistan to become a viable nation at peace with itself
and the rest of the world.

Religion and the bomb are the focus of the next chapter. When
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto introduced the term ‘Islamic Bomb’ into the
nuclear lexicon, he seriously misled everyone. Pakistan had made
its bomb to counter India’s, not for the glory of Islam. But later,
things took an interesting new twist. Pakistan’s religio-political
parties soon claimed the bomb for Islam, and a means of defending
the ummah (Islamic Brotherhood).

More significantly, as religion played a greater role in the matters
of Muslim states everywhere, the bomb began to acquire a sectarian
touch. This may soon acquire even more prominence. Iran is at the
threshold of making its own. What then? Certainly, this would be a
powerful stimulus pushing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to follow
and seek the first Sunni bomb.

Although Pakistan is the only Muslim country in the world
specifically created in the name of religion, it built its bomb not for
Islamic reasons but to counter India’s nuclear arsenal. On the other
hand, Sunni Saudi Arabia perceives Shi’a Iran as its primary enemy,
not Israel. The two theocracies are bitter rivals after the Iranian
revolution, and have been vying for influence in the Muslim world.
Willy-nilly, Pakistan would then enter into yet another nuclear race,
having to decide between two Middle Eastern Muslim countries. It
is easy to see which side Sunni Pakistan would choose. Less easy is
to guess the kind of assistance it would provide.


The safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal comes up for
scrutiny next. Since 2004, Pakistan military officers, installations,
equipment and weapons have been targeted by those it had trained
to fight against the Soviet Union and, later, India. Hidden inside the
ranks of the Army and ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) are shadowy
groups of various persuasions. It is therefore unsurprising that the
hijacking of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, or fissile materials, is
considered a serious possibility by much of the world.

The Pakistan Army, that has physical custody of nuclear weapons,
and the various secret organizations that participate in their
production process, all swear that this is impossible. While one
fervently hopes that they are correct, nagging worries remain. The
army was indeed a tightly disciplined force in earlier times and such
worries could have then been dismissed outright. But its secular
culture has dissipated over time, a direct cost of waging covert war
against India with the help of religious proxies. This had opened the
doors to the barracks of many Islamic organizations, each with its
own political agenda. Some — such as the Tablighi Jamaat and
Jamaat-i-Islami — operate freely within military ranks. Others, such
as the banned Hizb-ut-Tahrir, are underground. They dream of
establishing their own version of an Islamic state in Pakistan and
have helped kill their own colleagues. Spectacular attacks from
extremists, in collusion with inside partners, have forced attention
on this issue. One striking example which caused alarm within
Pakistan as well as globally, was that of the revenge attack on the
Mehran Navy base subsequent to bin Laden’s killing. The attack on
the Pakistan Air Force base at Kamra in August 2012 reportedly also
had support from insiders.

The issue of how nuclear weapons are commanded and controlled
is taken up by Zia Mian in the subsequent chapter. At one level, this
is a technical matter and involves setting up a military command
structure with small response times and the smallest possible sig-
nalling error. Mian discusses the extensive, although, not completely
foolproof procedures developed by the Americans and Russians over
half a century. These embody much thinking and technology and


therefore Pakistan and India have both sought technology, such as
Permissive Action Links (PALs), from the other nuclear weapon
states. This would reduce the possibility of unauthorised use. But,
as the chapter points out, in the fog and friction of war the decision
to unleash nuclear destruction ultimately may not be for South
Asia’s generals or prime ministers to make.

Four subsequent chapters by Zia Mian and his collaborators look
at various technical aspects: whether early warning of a nuclear
attack is technically possible in the Pakistan-India situation; the
implications of introducing tactical (or theatre) nuclear weapons
(TNWs) as part of Pakistan’s war fighting strategy; the effect of
nuclear war in South Asia; and Pakistan’s nuclear diplomacy in
relation to the fissile material cut-off treaty.

The ‘Early Warning’ chapter draws from the experience gained
during the Cold War. It was extremely challenging, even with
satellites stationed overhead, to decide whether a missile attack was
imminent. But, on the subcontinent, with missile flight times of
5-10 minutes needed for traversing any two points, the technical
challenges are much harder. The authors conclude: ‘it appears that
early warning satellites in South Asia will serve little useful purpose.’
Even if the warning was communicated to decision-makers, there
would be almost no time to consult or deliberate after receiving this
warning. They note that an early warning system could actually be
counter-productive because false alarms, combined with the short
decision time involved, could increase the chances of an accidental
nuclear war.

Short flight times become still shorter once nuclear weapons are
deployed on the battlefield. This has become of high contemporary
relevance now that Pakistan plans to deploy Nasr, a short-range
battlefield missile, in the coming years. Therefore the next chapter
considers the scenario where Pakistan deploys tactical nuclear
weapons. Indeed, it has already sent signals that, in response to a
quick thrust of Indian tanks into Pakistani territory, it may consider
using nuclear weapons in response. But, quite apart from asking
whether this use would escalate into a full-blown nuclear war, one


can inquire about its efficacy. This is an interesting physics question:
tanks are radiation hardened and, therefore, difficult to destroy in
large numbers even with a nuclear weapon unless packed together.
Using different inter-tank distances, the authors conclude that
unless Indian tanks disperse widely — which then reduces their
concentration of firepower — Pakistan may be able to destroy a
significant proportion of any invading Indian armoured force.
However, most of its arsenal would then be exhausted. This, of
course, calls for building still more bombs!

The next chapter is on the effects of a nuclear exchange between
Pakistan and India. Abstractions can hinder comprehension of
reality. Therefore, it is important to have some understanding of
what might actually happen. Being explicit is necessary because even
generally well-informed people, including political strategists, know
surprisingly little about the effects of nuclear weapons. On one end
are extreme, apocalyptic views — that such a war would end all life
on the subcontinent. The other end sees nuclear weapons as
powerful but not catastrophic, and that nuclear war would leave
manageable destruction behind.

These extreme views are deeply flawed. Instead, a scientific
analysis is needed. Using physics formulas developed in the 1940s,
a scientific assessment of casualty estimates is provided by McKinzie
et. al. Their figures, clinically presented, do not convey the horrors
of a nuclear war — it has to be imagined. They conclude that, The
ultimate impact on both societies would extend well beyond the
bombed areas in highly unpredictable ways. . . . Nothing would ever
be the same again.’

In a more recent study, scientists assess the potential damage and
smoke production associated with the detonation of small nuclear
weapons in a modern megacity. They find that low yield weapons,
roughly Hiroshima-sized, if targeted at city centres, can produce
hundred times as many fatalities and hundred times as much smoke
from fires per kiloton yield as previously estimated in analyses for
full scale nuclear wars using high-yield weapons. 25 They also analyze
the likely outcome of a regional nuclear exchange involving 100


15-kt explosions, which is roughly what one might expect in an
Indo-Pakistan war. They find that such an exchange could produce
direct fatalities ‘comparable to all of those worldwide in World War
II, or to those once estimated for a “counterforce” nuclear war
between the superpowers. Megacities exposed to atmospheric fallout
of long-lived radionuclides would likely be abandoned indefinitely.’
Nuclear explosions have global effects because the explosions throw
up major concentrations of soot into the stratosphere. These could
remain up there long enough to cause unprecedented worldwide
climate cooling, with major disruptive effects on global agriculture.
While blast effects are relatively easily estimated, it is harder to
calculate the impact of fires following an Indo-Pak nuclear war. That
collateral damage may be capable of killing substantial parts of the
Earth’s population by injecting large quantities of soot into the
upper atmosphere. Indeed, global dust storms on Mars and Titan are
being studied with this in mind.

More bombs require more fissile materials — highly enriched
uranium and weapons-grade plutonium. It appears that Pakistan has
dug its heels in and will do all it can to prevent a global agreement
for cutting off fissile material production from coming into effect.
Its sustained diplomatic efforts to this end are taken up by Mian and
Nayyar in their detailed article. They state what is obvious: Pakistan
is blocking talks on an FMCT so that it may build up its fissile
material stockpile. It wishes to highlight to the international
community its concerns about a fissile material gap with India and
the consequences of India’s current military build-up, especially
India’s search for missile defenses, and the consequences of the
U.S.-Indian nuclear deal. Faced with Pakistan’s road-block, other
states are exploring possible ways outside the framework of the
Conference on Disarmament.

An uncertain situation leads to a cloudy crystal ball. Still, as in
the next chapter, an attempt is made to anticipate probable futures
of nuclear South Asia. This is increasingly wrapped up in great
power politics. As U.S. and India move closer in their strategic
partnership, a natural response will be for Pakistan to move towards


China and further away from the U.S. Beijing is considered an ‘all-
weather’ friend in Islamabad, while Washington is considered a
fickle ally — if at all an ally now. But China has also shown no sign
that it is willing to shoulder the financial burden of propping up
Pakistan that America has so far been willing to bear. Nor does it
want too close a relationship — Pakistan’s usefulness is limited to
South Asia, whereas China has global aspirations. One can expect
enhanced military and nuclear assistance, but Chinese caution will
kick in if it sees the Pakistani state weakening and jihadism gaining

The last chapter on nuclear weapons on the subcontinent takes
up the issue of global zero. This is an initiative by a Washington-
based group for the total elimination of nuclear weapons and,
doubtlessly, an utterly laudable goal. Yet, it encounters deep
suspicions. Given massive U.S. supremacy in conventional weapons,
is global zero a means by which countries would be deprived of an
equalizer? And, given that its proponents include former stalwarts
of the American imperium, such as Henry Kissinger, does this
announce a renewed desire for empire rather than a more equal
world? In the South Asian context, Pakistan would be loath to give
up its equalizer against India. Surely it is important to deal with
these difficult issues upfront rather than just sweep them under the

The book concludes with two chapters on nuclear electricity
generation: one each for Pakistan and India. Although its focus is
the bomb, to include the topic of power generation in the book is
entirely appropriate. First, both countries built their weapon-
making capacity around the civilian nuclear infrastructure. Second,
the impetus for increasing the size of the two nuclear arsenals
comes, to a large extent, from the two huge national nuclear
establishments. Their large budgets were secured by the promise of
delivering energy. But how real are these promises? Is nuclear
energy cheap, reliable, and safe? While these questions can be asked
anywhere in the world, in the subcontinent’s context there are new
elements involved that merit a closer look.



It is unlikely that this will be a popular book. Books published from
Pakistan on the subject generally extol the virtues of the bomb while
others, at best, feign to be analytical and neutral. Some are officially
sponsored, whether secretly or openly, and others reflect the
personal enthusiasm of their authors. They dwell upon the
supposedly heroic efforts needed to create the bomb, its role as a
stabilizer and strategic equalizer, and the absolute safety it
supposedly brings. They also assume that the sleeping nuclear
monster shall never wake up, which is a matter of faith and not fact.
The inevitable conclusion is that the other side should disarm first.
But since nobody believes this will happen, both sides continue to
indefinitely possess, and expand their nuclear capabilities.

The perspective here is frankly different. The authors believe in a
moral universe, where human life is to be valued and its destruction
en masse to be abhorred. They do not, therefore, use the language
of strategic double-speak which rarely adds nuance or encourages
deeper discussions. Rather, pseudo-academic discourses often serve
as a pretext for justifying nuclear weapons, and for increasing their
numbers and potency. Depressingly often one sees scholars acting
like policemen and soldiers in the service of their respective states
instead of providing objective and analytical accounts. Nevertheless,
while taking a position against nuclear weapons, it is not our intent
to needlessly moralize. Facts are stated exactly as they happen to be.
This is a responsibility that we owe both to our profession as
scientists, and to our own selves as well.

To conclude, the intent of the book is to provide readers in
Pakistan and India with a counter narrative that, hopefully, is well
considered and well argued. If it has succeeded in raising questions
in the reader’s mind and increases self-scrutiny, then it shall have
served its purpose.



M.V. Ramana

The bomb cult . . . [is] the rebellion of the rebelled against an
insurgency of an elite.

Amitav Ghosh 1

Speaking at the 1971 annual meeting of the American Association
for the Advancement of Science, Alvin Weinberg, then the director
of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, United States, called for
setting up an elite ‘priesthood’ that would manage the nuclear
energy enterprise. 2 In India, a similar priesthood was set up in the
late forties by Homi Bhabha, a theoretical physicist and architect of
India’s nuclear program. Starting at a small scientific laboratory, the
Indian nuclear establishment progressively moved onto becoming
the creators of India’s ‘nuclear option’ and, more recently, a nuclear
arsenal featuring weapons with varying destructive capabilities.
Together with the Defense Research and Development Organization
(DRDO), the designers of the missiles that would carry these
explosives to their targets, the nuclear establishment constitutes
what Itty Abraham has aptly termed a ‘Strategic Enclave’. 3 The
pressure exerted by this strategic enclave has been an extremely
important factor in India’s quest for nuclear weapons and shaping
nuclear and security policy. 4 In this paper we will trace the history
of the strategic enclave’s involvement with the bomb in India and
some prognosis of the future. Then we briefly chronicle opposition
to nuclear weapons and militarisation on the part of Indian
scientists. We first start with a quick overview of the involvement of
scientists around the world in making nuclear weapons and defense
policy, a short discussion of the political economy of science, and a


brief overview of the sociological factors specific to the scientific
community in India.


From the beginning of the Manhattan Project, scientists in general,
and physicists in particular, have been seen as the makers of the
bomb. 5 Given the prominence accorded to scientists, it should not
be surprising that they have had an enormous influence, in different
capacities, on nuclear policy around the world. This influence has
been best studied in the case of the United States. 6 For the most
part, what is available in the case of other countries that have
developed nuclear weapons are general histories from which the role
of scientists can be inferred. 7

Among scientists the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki led to
two opposite reactions. 8 On the one hand, there was greater concern
among scientists about the results of their activities and what uses
it was put to by the state. 9 On the other hand, scientists were also
seduced by the enormous increase in access to power that came
about if they played along with, or better still, drove the state’s
obsession with using the latest technological devices for militaristic
purposes. 10 As Solly Zuckerman argued: ‘In the changed relationship
between science and military affairs that has prevailed since the
Second World War, the military man has never ceased to urge the
scientist to intensify the technological exploitation of his knowledge
in order to improve the armoury of available weapons; and within
the economic restraints set them, the scientist and engineer have
been only too ready to oblige, to the full extent of their abilities.’ 11

An example of how scientists not only obliged, but in fact actively
promoted the application of science to military uses comes from the
United States during the First World War. In 1916, upon instigation
by George Ellery Hale, a distinguished astronomer and foreign
secretary of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences (NAS), a
delegation of scientists met with President Wilson. The meeting
resulted in the setting up of the National Research Council (NRC)
in secret, with the objective of encouraging pure and applied

Scientists and India’s Nuclear Bomb 3

research for ‘national security and welfare.’ Hale’s own reasons for
this initiative resulted from his earlier experience as a student in
Europe where he had learnt the lesson: ‘to accomplish great results,’
scientists had to ‘enjoy the active cooperation of the leaders of the
state .’ 12

Regardless of the actual percentages of scientists supporting or
opposing such developments, there is little doubt that by and large
it is such scientists who supported the application of science and
technology to militaristic purposes that have wielded greater
influence on government policy. To understand why scientists
espouse such goals requires an examination of the political economy
of science as well as the role that the state would like scientists to

Science is often seen as ‘neutral’ and detached from the forces
that rule our everyday lives. But science, like all productive
activities, is a social activity strongly influenced by social and
political structures around it . 13 Because it is a human productive
activity that takes time and money, science is guided by and directed
by those forces in the country, or the world, that have control over
money and resources. People earn their living by science — so the
dominant social and political forces that fund this activity determine
to a large extent what science studies and what the results of such
studies are used for.

The most obvious reason why science is funded is because of its
connection with technology and the production of new artefacts that
benefit society in general, and the funding agencies in particular.
Among such artefacts that the state, which is a major source of
science funding everywhere — and, in many countries including
India, practically the only source of funding — the state’s desires are
weapons. One characteristic of modern states is that they ‘possess
the material and organizational means of waging industrialized
war .’ 14 To obtain these means, they have invested heavily in science
and technology.

In addition to this task, the state and dominant forces would also
like scientists, and more generally intellectuals, to say and do things


that legitimize and strengthen the existing social order. Though
authors like Julien Benda have railed against this ‘treason of the
intellectuals’, 15 intellectuals have by and large performed this task
willingly. In the case of India, where the bulk of financial support
for science came directly or indirectly from the state, it has been
argued that science through its association with ‘freedom and
enlightenment, power and progress’, contributed in a major way to
the Indian state’s efforts at legitimizing itself. 16

The above-mentioned factors represent the ‘structure’ under
which scientists operate. However, in its day-to-day functioning, as
well as in how the truth-value and validity of scientific theories,
models and experiments are determined, the scientific community
has considerable autonomy. 17 Furthermore, political elites depend
on scientists to inform them of the implications of the advances in
science. Therefore, scientists — and here the conflicts between
different fields and different approaches within each individual field
come to the fore — can choose to term one area of research as
promising and call for greater support. In short, scientists also have
‘agency’ in shaping the course science takes. But as the earlier
discussion pointed out, there are strong constraints placed on this

It is important to distinguish this formulation from more extreme
criticisms of science that question the ontological and epistemological
basis of the discipline. While social, economic and political factors
do determine what kinds of science get privileged, they do not affect
the subject matter of science, the ‘objective world’. For example,
American research in the 1940s and 1950s on quantum electronics
was motivated in large part by potential military applications 18
However, as Alan Sokal points out, these motivations or other
extraneous factors have no effect on the underlying scientific
question of whether atoms really do behave according to the laws
of quantum mechanics. 19 There is a substantial body of convincing
evidence that support the belief that the behaviour of atoms can
indeed be described by quantum mechanics.

Scientists and India’s Nuclear Bomb 5


In the context of Indian nuclear policy, historically there have been
both elements of continuity and rupture. At the level of setting up
the necessary infrastructure and the activities of the scientific and
technological establishment one can discern continuity and a steady
progression over the decades. This continuity is possible because
nuclear scientists have been able to pursue programs that diverge
in subtle ways from proclaimed policy; this ability, in turn, is related
to the structure of nuclear policy making and implementation in
India. Unlike most policy matters where the cabinet has the ultimate
authority, the agency in charge of nuclear affairs is the Atomic
Energy Commission, which was constituted under a special act of
parliament, and is composed primarily of scientists and dominated
by the top leaders of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). The
DAE was set up in 1954 under the direct charge of the Prime
Minister. In addition to the head of the DAE, it has ‘been a tradition
for several years to have the Principal Secretary to the Prime
Minister, the Cabinet Secretary, Chairman, [and managing director
of the] Nuclear Power Corporation, and Director, Bhabha Atomic
Research Centre (BARC) as members of the AEC.’ 20 Further, the
structure of the DAE is hierarchical and not conducive to open
dissent. Thus, even if junior scientists had qualms about working
on some project, they would have few alternatives. In addition there
are no institutions outside of the DAE that work on nuclear
technology. With one exception, no university does research or
offers a degree in nuclear engineering. Nuclear scientists, therefore,
have no alternative to working in the DAE. This resulted in a
situation where the ‘majority of workers and administrators in the
scientific establishments play only a marginal role.’ 21

Added to this is the fact that the DAE, like the larger scientific
community in India, has had relatively few notable accomplishments.
There have been, for example, no Nobel Prizes awarded to any
scientist for work conducted in post-independence India. An
important study of the scientific community in India found that
most scientists were troubled by the marginal position of scientific


activity in India in general, and of their own scientific research in
particular . 22 The lack of relevance, perceived or real, of scientific
research to the actual problems of India further accentuates the
peripherality of scientists and results in widespread demoralisation.
The shrill rhetoric, especially on the part of the nuclear and missile
establishments, about self-sufficiency and indigenous development
is indicative of the desire for wider recognition. Building nuclear
weapons and thereby being seen as serving a national priority by the
elite has, therefore, been an answer to the larger failure on the part
of the DAE to either produce world class science or provide cheap
and reliable electricity.

While, as mentioned earlier, there has been continuity in some
aspects of Indian nuclear policy, at the level of doctrine there have
been sharp differences between different governments across the
years . 23 These differences influenced and were influenced by middle
class and elite perceptions, both of nuclear weapons and, more
generally, of India’s position and role in the world. One of the clear
discontinuities or ruptures is the difference between the ‘official
nationalism’ of the Nehruvian period and that of the contemporary
Hindutva moment.

During the Nehruvian phase, the attempts to consolidate society
and to fashion a national identity produced an ‘official nationalism’
(generally upheld by the state and its directing personnel ). 24 Given
the elite notion that Indian independence was to lead to India
finding its rightful place in the world, it was not surprising that it
adopted a particular ‘big vision’. Accordingly, postcolonial state-
formation privileged ‘Big Science, Big Development, Big Projects,
and Big Goals’. This vision continues to be prevalent. Absent during
the Nehruvian era, however, was a role for ‘Big Weapons’. In other
words, it was not a route to greatness through the acquisition of
massive destructive capability.

The rise of Hindu nationalism or Hindutva in recent years is due
to a new ‘elite insecurity’ arising from the increasing social and
political assertion of marginalized groups and the uncertainties
associated with economic liberalization . 25 Hindutva’s answer to this

Scientists and India’s Nuclear Bomb 7

is a quest for ‘international status’, through the deployment of
symbolic gestures of ‘great power status’ such as the ability to
acquire and test nuclear weapons. The May 1998 tests, or for that
matter the destruction of a sixteenth century mosque, the Babri
Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992, are acts that demonstrate how it
envisions making India ‘strong’.

The leaders of the various institutions comprising the strategic
enclave are certainly part of the elite, and their views are shaped by
these shifts in official ideology. In fact, these leaders were more than
sensitive to such shifts so as to advance their respective institutional
interests. While individual leaders did have their own personality
traits and priorities, their actions are strongly constrained by the
structural details explained above and their positions as heads of
institutions. It is in this light that one must read the history of the
involvement of scientists with the bomb in India.


Perhaps the first important event in the setting up of the Indian
nuclear program was a letter written by Homi Bhabha in March
1944 to the Sir Dorab Tata Trust, requesting funds to set up a
research institute. In his letter, Bhabha promised: ‘When Nuclear
Energy has been successfully applied for power production in say a
couple of decades from now, India will not have to look abroad for
its experts but will find them ready at hand.’ 26 These experts were
to form the priesthood that managed nuclear affairs.

The institution of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission (AEC)
in early 1948, barely a few months after independence, speaks to
Bhabha’s influence and the prominence accorded by Jawaharlal
Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, to the atomic energy enterprise.
The bill enabling this was introduced at the Constituent Assembly
by Nehru and made atomic energy the exclusive responsibility of the
state. 27 Modelled on Britain’s Atomic Energy Act, the act imposed
even greater secrecy over research and development than did either
the British or American atomic energy legislation. 28 Nehru gave two
reasons for the imposition of secrecy. ‘The advantage of our research


would go to others before we even reaped it, and secondly, it would
become impossible for us to cooperate with any country which is
prepared to cooperate with us in this matter, because it will not be
prepared for the results of researches to become public .’ 29

To say that U.S., Canada, England and so on, from whom India
got much of its early nuclear know-how, would steal ideas from
Indian research is disingenuous at the very least. Further, it is not
clear why ‘others’ should not benefit from ‘our research’. India, after
all, was planning to benefit from the results of research carried out
by western countries. But, in the post-independence milieu, such
questions never arose in the Constituent Assembly. Neither were
questions raised about the appropriateness of choosing nuclear
energy as the path to India’s development. As Zia Mian’s nuanced
analysis makes clear, the tone set by Nehru’s arguments for investing
in the program precluded any such doubts.

Nehru argued that by not having developed steam power and
having thus missed out on the industrial revolution, India became
a backward country. And what was the expression of that backward-
ness? In a clear reference to colonialism, he said, ‘it became a slave
country because of that.’ The connection to atomic power became
obvious. Nehru argued: ‘the point I should like the House to
consider is this, that if we are to remain abreast in the world as a
nation which keeps ahead of things, we must develop this atomic
energy .’ 30

But Nehru could not prevent censure on another count. At least
one member of the assembly, Krishnamurthy Rao from Mysore,
strongly criticized the secrecy provisions in the bill . 31 Though he
claimed to support the act, Rao asserted that the bill did not allow
for the oversight and the checking and balancing mechanisms
contained in the U.S. Atomic Energy Act. He also pointed out that
in the bill passed by the British, secrecy is restricted only to defense
purposes and demanded to know if in the Indian bill secrecy was
insisted upon even for research for peaceful purposes.

Nehru’s response to this is surprising for someone who has
spoken so eloquently about the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. He

Scientists and India’s Nuclear Bomb 9

said: ‘I do not know how to distinguish the two [peaceful and defense
purposes].’ Nehru’s dilemma is clear from his statements while
introducing the bill. On the one hand he said, ‘I think we must
develop it for peaceful purposes.’ But he went on, ‘Of course, if we
are compelled as a nation to use it for other purposes, possibly no
pious sentiments will stop the nation from using it that way.’ Barely
two years after the wholesale destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
the ‘other purposes’ were obvious. 32

Within the AEC itself, it was clear that the commission was
created not only to generate nuclear electricity; its aims were
explicitly to develop ‘atomic energy for all purposes ,’ 33 [emphasis
added.] M.R. Srinivasan, who headed the DAE in the 1980s, explicitly
states the view within the commission: ‘[N]uclear technology was
developed by a country to be solely available for its own benefit,
whether for peaceful purposes or for military applications.’ 34 Since
the AEC fell directly under the direct personal oversight of the
Prime Minister, which in practical terms meant that the head of the
DAE called the shots, the DAE operated with no controls whatsoever.

The DAE’s plans for the nuclear program were ambitious and
envisaged covering the entire nuclear fuel cycle. Despite the rhetoric
of indigenous development that pervaded, Bhabha and other leaders
approached and accepted technical and financial aid from several
countries such as the U.S., Britain and Canada. 35 Apsara, the first
Indian reactor, for example, was based on a British design and used
fuel rods manufactured in Britain. Likewise, it was an American
firm, Vitro International, which was awarded the contract to prepare
blueprints for the first reprocessing plant at Trombay. Between 1955
and 1974, 1104 Indian scientists were sent to various U.S. facilities;
263 were trained at Canadian facilities prior to 1971. 36

Central to the effort to create the wherewithal to produce nuclear
weapons was the second research reactor, CIRUS, a 40 MW heavy
water moderated, light water cooled, natural uranium fuelled
reactor using the same design as the NRX reactor at Chalk River in
Canada. 37 Canada supplied the reactor as part of its Colombo plan — a
plan that was, in the words of Robert Bothwell, ‘premised on the


relation between misery and poverty and communism.’ 38 Initiated
by Nik Cavell, administrator of the Colombo plan, the idea of
donating a reactor to India was supported by W.B. Lewis, head of
AECL, Canada, and a fellow student of Bhabha’s at Cambridge. The
occasion for the announcement of the gift was the 1955 Geneva
Conference on the peaceful uses of atomic energy. Following shortly
after the 1953 Atoms for Peace initiative by Eisenhower, the
conference was the scene of much cold war era manoeuvring as well
as an opportunity for countries to exhibit their nuclear wares and
woo potential customers. 39

A few Canadian diplomats realized that this could lead to potential
acquisition of weapons useable plutonium by India. After all the NRX
was an efficient producer of plutonium because of its high neutron
economy. Nevertheless the initiative went through because it was
assumed that India would be able to acquire a reactor from some
other source. Despite consistent efforts on the part of the Canadians,
India, led by Bhabha, adamantly refused to accept any kind of
voluntary controls or safeguards on the spent fuel produced. 40

The ostensible reason for this refusal was the three-phase nuclear
power program for India that Bhabha had put forward. This program
involved separating plutonium from the spent fuel produced in
natural uranium reactors and setting up breeder reactors, which in
turn could be used to utilize India’s vast resources of thorium for
energy production. 41 Separated plutonium, therefore, was an
essential requirement. The leap of logic that was put forward was
that the imposition of safeguards would disallow plutonium
acquisition. Hence, safeguards were considered unacceptable.

It is worth clarifying that there is no a priori reason why the
imposition of safeguards would prevent the development of a breeder
program. For example, the Japanese breeder program runs fully
under international safeguards. The more obvious and honest reason
for opposing safeguards by Bhabha and subsequent leaders is the
insistence on keeping the bomb option open, right from the
inception of the nuclear program. But with practically no one in the
country outside of the Atomic Energy establishment familiar with

Scientists and India’s Nuclear Bomb 11

nuclear technology, questions about the proffered excuse were never

When it suited his purposes, however, Bhabha also accepted safe-
guards. Examples of this are the reactors at Tarapur (TAPS I and II)
and Rawatbhata (RAPS I and II). Bhabha’s speech in 1956 at a con-
ference on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s statute makes
clear the strategy he adopted. ‘[T]here are,’ Bhabha said, ‘many
states, technically advanced, which may undertake with Agency aid,
fulfilling all the present safeguards, but in addition run their own
parallel programs independently of the Agency in which they could
use the experience and know-how obtained in Agency-aided projects,
without being subject in any way to the system of safeguards.’ 42
Thus, India would use international assistance to further its weapon
and civilian applications of nuclear power.

At the same time as these developments were occurring, the
fifties also marked Nehru’s determined pursuit of global nuclear dis-
armament. Prominent among his initiatives was the Comprehensive
Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). 43 Nehru also supported the activities of the
international peace movement, in particular British philosopher-
mathematician Bertrand Russell’s initiative to foster contact
between American and Soviet scientists. For a time, it seemed that
the Indian government would sponsor what eventually became the
Pugwash conferences. 44 New Delhi was in fact chosen as the first
conference site and in June 1956 Russell dispatched invitations for
a conference there in January 1957. 45 That was not to be. As Russell
lamented: ‘[Nehru] had been exceedingly friendly. But when I met
Dr Bhabha, India’s leading official scientist. ... I received a cold
douche. He had profound doubts about any such manifesto, let alone
any such conference as I had in mind for the future (Pugwash). It
became evident that I should receive no encouragement from Indian
official scientific quarters.’ 46 Not a single Indian nuclear scientist
signed the famous Russell-Einstein manifesto. 47 Nehru, however,
set up an official group to study the effects of nuclear explosions at
Russell’s suggestion. 48


Balancing this concern of Nehru’s in nuclear disarmament was
Bhabha’s interest in and awareness of weapons technology. As early
as 1959, he told the Parliamentary Consultative Committee on
Atomic Energy that India’s atomic energy program had progressed
to the point where it could make atomic weapons without external
aid if called upon to do so.

More revealing is George Perkovich’s account of a private meeting
in 1960 between Nehru, Bhabha and an American military engineer,
K.D. Nichols. After his forty-five minute presentation about the
advantages of American reactors, Nehru, according to Nichols,
turned to Bhabha and asked him if he could develop an atomic bomb
and how long it would take him to build it. Bhabha replied that he
could do it in about a year. Upon which Nehru turned to Nichols
and asked him if he agreed with Bhabha. An astonished Nichols
replied in the affirmative. Whereupon Nehru turned to Bhabha and
said: ‘Well, don’t do it till I tell you to.’ With the benefit of hindsight,
and perhaps the scepticism that comes easily to anyone who
examines the Department of Atomic Energy’s record, Perkovich also
notes that Bhabha’s claim had ‘no basis in fact’. 49 Even under the
most optimistic assumptions a bomb could not have been made
before 1963. 50

The 1962 Indo-China war marked an early successful public
attempt at integrating the nuclear enterprise with national security
when Bhabha offered the services of the Atomic Energy Establishment
at Trombay (now the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre) to help with
defense systems. He also canvassed with the government and set up
an Electronics Committee with himself as the chairman. 51 Political
authorities were certainly favourable to this kind of nexus between
science and military affairs. As early as 1946, Jawaharlal Nehru
stated, ‘Modern defense as well as modern industry require scientific
research both on a broad scale and in highly specialised ways. If
India has not got highly qualified scientists and up-to-date scientific
institutions in large numbers, it must remain a weak country
incapable of playing a primary part in a war.' [emphases added.]

Scientists and India’s Nuclear Bomb 13

Scientists and their institutions were thus portrayed as crucial
components of the state in peace and especially in war. 52

The year 1962 also marked the adoption of a revised Atomic
Energy Act by the parliament. The act significantly tightened secrecy
and the AEC’s control over all activities related to atomic energy.
What was also significant, as Itty Abraham notes, was that neither
the act nor the debate that took place in parliament when
introducing the act did not, for the most part, mention the by then
traditional focus on ‘peaceful uses’. 53 Tacitly, the connection between
nuclear power and national security was being elevated.

Three events mark the shift in India’s nuclear program during
the next few years. The first was the death of Jawaharlal Nehru.
While encouraging the development of a militarily capable nuclear
infrastructure, Nehru had always opposed explicit weaponization. As
late as 1957, when speaking at the Lok Sabha, Nehru declared that
in no event would India use nuclear energy for destructive
purposes. 54 During his tenure as the Prime Minister, there was only
one instance when a parliamentarian ever called for the development
of nuclear weapons. This was Ramachandra Bade, a member of the
Jan Sangh, the precursor to the current Bharatiya Janata Party
(BJP), who wanted the development of nuclear weapons to counter
Russia and China. 55 The second event was the first Chinese nuclear
test in 1964, barely two years after India lost the war with China.
Third was the completion of a reprocessing plant at Trombay in
1964, which, along with the CIRUS reactor that became critical in
July 1960, gave India the ability to extract plutonium and thus to
make nuclear weapons.

By the time of the Chinese test, Bhabha had, for all practical
purposes, began a public, though sometimes indirect, campaign for
developing nuclear weapon capability. The campaign consisted of
three elements. First, in response to one of the main objections
against building nuclear weapons, Bhabha made exaggerated claims
about how cheap nuclear weapons were. On 24 October 1964, for
example, in a broadcast on the state-run All-India Radio (AIR),
Bhabha quoted a paper published by the Lawrence Radiation


Laboratory, Livermore, U.S.A., to assert that a 10 kiloton (kT) bomb
would cost only U.S.$350,000 or Rsl7.5 lakhs. And on the basis of
these figures he claimed that ‘a stockpile of fifty atomic bombs
would cost under RslO crores and a stockpile of fifty two-megaton
hydrogen bombs something of the order of Rsl5 crores and argued
that this was ‘small compared with the military budgets of many
countries.’ 56 The ‘bomb lobby’ repeatedly used this speech to claim
that nuclear weapons could be produced quite easily and at a
relatively low cost even by a poor country like India. 57

Second was the technical claim about DAE’s ability to build
nuclear weapons. Speaking in London on 4 October 1964, nearly two
weeks before the first Chinese test, Bhabha declared that India could
explode an atom bomb within eighteen months of a decision to do
so. 58 And, in an attempt to provoke Prime Minister Lai Bahadur
Shastri, he went on to add, ‘But I do not think such a decision will
be taken.’ Seemingly in response to this, Shastri, who was attending
a conference of non-aligned nations in Cairo at that time, declared
that India’s nuclear establishment was ‘under firm orders not to
make a single experiment, not to perfect a single device which is not
needed for peaceful uses of nuclear energy.’ 59

The last caveat was the basis of the third element of Bhabha’s
campaign — advocating work towards building Peaceful Nuclear
Explosives (PNE). Indeed, in his crucial Lok Sabha speech on 27
November 1964 that sanctioned work towards a PNE, Shastri
revealed that: ‘Dr Bhabha has made it quite clear to me that as far
as we can progress and improve upon nuclear devices, we should do
so, as far as development is possible, we should resort to it so that
we can reap its peaceful benefits and we can use it for the
development of our nation.’ What is also significant is that Shastri
had met with Bhabha just before the Lok Sabha session. 60 Clearly,
Bhabha played a crucial role in obtaining political support for the
PNE program.

Earlier the same year, speaking at a Pugwash Conference in
Udaipur, Bhabha gave a description of a deterrent relationship
between two countries, even if one is much more powerful than the

Scientists and India’s Nuclear Bomb 15

other. As though offering an example, Bhabha focussed on China:
‘[A] country with a huge population, such as China, must always
present a threat to its smaller neighbours, a threat they can only
meet either by collective security or by recourse to nuclear weapons
to redress the imbalance in size.’ Though he did not mention India
by name, it is clear what he thought were the options available to
India. Following from this, Bhabha suggested that the only possible
collective security measure would be a guarantee from both the
United States and the Soviet Union. 61 The astute Bhabha could not
but have recognized that neither country was likely to offer such
assurances. Relations between the U.S. and India were often tense
and Russia had not extended a nuclear umbrella to any country
outside of the Warsaw Pact. Given the only two options that he had
laid out, it was easy to figure out what he was recommending for
India’s nuclear policy. In the audience were Vikram Sarabhai, who
was soon to succeed Bhabha as the head of the atomic program,
Prime Minister-to-be Indira Gandhi, and V.C. Trivedi, who was to go
on to be the principal negotiator at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty (NPT) talks.

The momentum set off by Bhabha’s pronouncements continued
even after his sudden demise in a plane crash in 1966. Sarabhai, who
took over after Bhabha, differed somewhat on the question of
nuclear weapons. As George Perkovich put it: ‘Sarabhai questioned
the morality and utility of nuclear weapons for India and would soon
take steps to reverse the peaceful nuclear explosives project.’ 62 While
the attempted reversals are a matter of record, Sarabhai’s intentions
may not have derived entirely from morality. Nor did he completely
reject the idea of nuclear weapons for India. What he did not endorse
was the particular PNE program envisioned by Bhabha and other
senior DAE scientists. As Sarabhai himself was to declare: ‘Let our
emphasis be on reality and not on show. I am opposed to gimmicks.’ 63
This view was at variance with the importance given to ‘performative
gestures’ by Bhabha, Nehru, and especially the present ruling party,
the BJP. For Sarabhai, then, developing the bomb carried no


symbolic meaning; instead he evaluated it in concrete, military and
economic terms.

In Itty Abraham’s reading, ‘Sarabhai was arguing, first, that India
could not afford an atomic deterrent in order to be secure from
external threats, as nothing short of a full-fledged atomic weapons
arsenal with all its concomitant systems (delivery systems, second
strike capability, command and control infrastructure) would
provide that security. Second, and more subversively, he suggests
that perhaps the more serious threat to national security came from
within the country — and atomic weapons were certainly not going
to be of help there.’ 64

Despite Sarabhai’s attempts to shift the focus of India’s nuclear
policy, the PNE effort continued. As Raja Ramanna, one of the
leaders of the 1974 test, acknowledged in a private interview,
‘Sarabhai could not keep scientists from doing their work. He
couldn’t look over our shoulders.’ 65 In other words, the normal
autonomy accorded to scientists in their research helped the bomb
makers. 66 Design work on the nuclear explosive tested at Pokharan
began in 1968. 67 Under the leadership of R. Chidambaram and
Ramanna, and in cooperation with B.D. Nag Chaudhuri, scientific
adviser to the Minister of Defense and Director of the Defense
Research and Development Organization (DRDO), about fifty to
seventy-five scientists from DAE and DRDO were directly involved
in the project.

On 18 May 1974, at the height of a nation-wide railway strike (led
by George Fernandes, who was then a trade union leader and later
became the Defense Minister), India conducted its first nuclear test
at Pokharan in the desert in Rajasthan. 68 In domestic circles,
enthusiastic reception followed the tests. The scientists were feted
repeatedly. Popular magazines like the Illustrated Weekly of India
and Science Today carried glowing reports on the scientists —
Sethna, Ramanna, and Iyengar in particular — who made it happen. 69

The role of the Atomic Energy establishment in pushing for the
1974 test was considerable. Apart from Bhabha, senior scientists like
Homi Sethna, Raja Ramanna, P.K. Iyengar and R. Chidambaram — all

Scientists and India’s Nuclear Bomb 17

of whom went on to head India’s Atomic Energy Commission —
played important roles in building up momentum to test. As
summarized by Perkovich, ‘Whatever Mrs [Indira] Gandhi’s calculus
[in conducting the test], the fact remained that conducting the PNE
was not her idea. She disposed what others proposed: it was
Ramanna, Sethna, Iyengar, Chidambaram, and, before them, Bhabha
who made the PNE possible.’ 70 To these leaders, observes Itty
Abraham, the 1974 test was ‘a symbol of the changing fortunes of
the atomic energy establishment.’ 71

Soon after the 1974 test, scientists began lobbying for further
nuclear tests involving more sophisticated designs. From statements
after the 1998 tests, it seems likely that P.K. Iyengar and R.
Chidambaram had developed a boosted fission design that they
wanted to test in early 1983. 72 Scientists were also interested in
making a hydrogen bomb. Conceptual work on this probably began
in the late 1970s but may not have been pursued vigorously. In a
private interview to W.P.S. Sidhu, Ramanna admitted that when he
got back from Jodhpur after the 1974 test, he met Indira Gandhi
and told her, ‘madam now we’ll have to work on the hydrogen bomb
[H-bomb]. She said, ‘I knew that pressure was coming but not that
fast.’ So, that settled it’. 73 What is more certain is that ever since the
1974 test, DAE and DRDO scientists were working quietly to produce
more reliable neutron initiators, enhance the simultaneity of high
explosive charges, miniaturizing a device and improve its yield-to-
weight ratio. Work on the latter two areas demonstrates, even to
those who believed that a meaningful distinction can be made
between a ‘Peaceful Nuclear Explosion’ and a nuclear weapons test,
that the purpose of the Department of Atomic Energy was not only
the exploitation of ‘atomic energy for . . . peaceful purposes.’ 74
Sometime in late 1982 or early 1983 Raja Ramanna and V.S.
Arunachalam, director of the Defense Research and Development
Organization, made their case for a nuclear test to Mrs Gandhi.
Without portraying the test as the beginning of a nuclear weapons
program, Ramanna and Arunachalam focused on the technical
arguments for testing new designs. At the end of the meeting, Indira


Gandhi tentatively agreed for a nuclear test, only to change her
mind within twenty-four hours. 75 One of the causes for the change
is said to have been a conversation with M.K. Rasgotra, India’s
foreign secretary, who was reportedly confronted by an American
official with satellite evidence displaying preparations going on at
the test site. The conversation seems to have convinced Indira
Gandhi that the U.S. reaction would be strong and it would impact
on the economic troubles India was experiencing at the time. 76

Instead it is reported that Mrs Gandhi wanted to test at ‘the
appropriate moment’ and in the meanwhile she wanted to ‘develop
other things and keep them ready,’ as well as to ‘make further
improvements in . . . [weapons] designs.’ 77 The ‘other things’ that
she had in mind were long range ballistic missiles to be developed
under the aegis of the DRDO (Defense Research and Development

Set up in 1958 as a department of the Ministry of Defense, the
Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) is the
primary source of Indian military research and development. 78 As
early as 1962, under ‘Project Indigo,’ an Indo-Swiss agreement was
signed to design and manufacture a Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM).
But with the purchase of SA-2 SAMs from the Soviet Union, the
project was cancelled. 79 It was in February 1972 that the DRDO
embarked on its first missile development undertaking, ‘Project
Devil’, which aimed at reverse engineering the SA-2 missile. The
project was managed by Air Commodore V.S. Narayanan, who went
on to become the director of the Defense Research and Development
Laboratory (DRDL). 80 The project reportedly had a budget of about
US$700 million and employed between 700 and 800 technical
personnel. 81 By 1974, two liquid propulsion rocket motors had
reportedly been developed. However, after the failure of several
prototypes, the project was cancelled in 1978. Though it failed to
create a complete system, the Devil project led to the development
of several critical technologies and components that formed the
basis of the Prithvi and Agni missiles.

Scientists and India’s Nuclear Bomb 19

In 1983, shortly after the aborted nuclear test, the Integrated
Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP) was set up. From
the beginning the program had high bureaucratic priority and many
standard procurement and funding procedures were overridden. 82
The program started with the development of five missile systems —
the short range Prithvi (earth); the intermediate range Agni (fire);
the surface to air missiles Akash (sky); Trishul (trident); and the
guided anti-tank Nag (snake). By 1988, the results of the new
program were visible with the first test of Prithvi on 25 February. 83
This was followed the next year with a test of Agni. Other missile
systems are also reportedly under development such as the Pinaka,
the Sagarika and the Astra.

Unlike earlier efforts to develop missiles, the missile program
borrowed expertise and personnel from the Department of Space,
most prominently in the form of Abdul Kalam, who was chosen to
head IGMDP (Integrated Guided Missile Development Program).
Kalam had earlier led the Space Launch Vehicle Program and thus
was intimate with the details of solid propellant technology that was
used for the first stage of the Agni missile. Kalam’s greater
contribution, however, may have been the way he chose to run the
project. In a break with earlier ‘autistic’ practices, the IGMDP
involved not only the defense laboratories, but also technical
institutions, universities, ordnance factories belonging to the
Ministry of Defense, and public and private sector firms. 84 Following
the nuclear tests of May 1998, this network has been feted. In
January 1999, on the eve of Republic Day, a government press
release proudly proclaimed that, ‘DRDO laboratories with a partner
network of R&D organizations, academic institutions and industries,
have been and are progressing high technology systems, against all
possible difficulties. Today the nation is proud of DRDO . . .’ 85

The missile efforts and the development of more advanced designs
were continued by Rajiv Gandhi when he took over the leadership
of the country. Rajiv Gandhi brought in two contrasting tendencies
into policy making. The first was an unprecedented expansion of
military spending and defense modernization. 86 The second was a


youthful ardour in pursuing nuclear disarmament. The latter
resulted in the proposals like the plan for a world free of nuclear
weapons that Rajiv Gandhi presented to the Special Session on
Disarmament of the United Nations General Assembly in June
1988. 87 But, at the same time, Rajiv Gandhi also formed a small
group, including scientists like Raja Ramanna, R. Chidambaram and
Abdul Kalam, to ‘sketch India’s nuclear weapon requirements and
the anticipated costs required to meet them.’ 88 The task force
concluded that India could have a nuclear force that would ‘include
the Agni and Prithvi missiles, aircraft and an appropriate number of
warheads in low three digit figures.' 89

According to K. Subrahmanyam, shortly after putting forward his
plan for nuclear disarmament at the United Nations in 1988 and
being disappointed with the lack of positive response, Rajiv Gandhi
gave the go-ahead to the DRDO under Arunachalam and the BARC
under P.K. Iyengar to proceed with the Indian nuclear weapons
program. Soon after that V.P. Singh, the new Indian Prime Minister,
named Raja Ramanna Minister of State for Defense, signalling,
perhaps, that the government was interested in pursuing the nuclear
weapons program. This was strengthened with the appointment of
P.K. Iyengar, who had been an important member of the team
involved in the 1974 Pokharan test, as chairman of the Atomic
Energy Commission in 1990. The first ‘Indian nuclear deterrent’ —
the ability to quickly assemble nuclear weapons that could be
delivered by air — is said to have come into existence around this
time. 90 Nevertheless, even well into the 1990s, prominent scientists
such as R. Chidambaram claimed that India had not ‘stockpiled’ or
‘deployed’ nuclear weapons. 91

Retired scientists, however, were more forthright, perhaps in an
attempt to further the nuclear weapons effort. Thus, for example, in
his 1991 autobiography, Raja Ramanna, in contrast to official claims
that the 1974 test was a peaceful nuclear explosion, described how
he had ‘been involved in the development of a prototype weapon ,’ 92
[emphasis added.] P.K. Iyengar, in his 1993 retirement speech, raised
the profile of the program by claiming that ‘to have been able to put

Scientists and India’s Nuclear Bomb 21

together an atomic device in 1974 was the most exhilarating
experience of my career.’ 93 M.R. Srinivasan advised the Indian
government to become more ‘hawkish’ on the nuclear issue. 94

In 1994, official scientists like AEC chairman Chidambaram and
DRDO chief Abdul Kalam started a media campaign to counter
American non-proliferation initiatives. Breaking a long-standing
rule of the establishment, Chidambaram, in an interview to India
Today, boasted about ‘how good our bomb was’ when asked about
the 1974 test. 95 Former AEC chairman M.R. Srinivasan declared in
an interview in the Indian Express that, ‘[t]here are responsible
persons who know we have the nuclear weapons capability,’ and
suggested that ‘[w]e should have followed the Chinese example of
open defiance and cultivation of force.’ 96

Other media hawks, fed with material by scientists, added to the
pressure for full-scale tests. By August 1995, the test site at
Pokharan was being prepared for nuclear tests. According to former
top-level scientists and policy advisors, ‘the strategic enclave did not
need explicit political authorization to maintain the site or make
other test preparation.’ 97 According to interviews conducted by
Perkovich, the scientists justified their pressure for further tests on
three grounds: ‘they needed to perfect and demonstrate their
technological innovations; they believed that only full-scale explosive
tests could validate their work, and therefore the nuclear deterrent;
they needed explosive tests to both recruit and retain talented
scientists and engineers in the nuclear and defense programs when
higher paying jobs awaited them in the commercial sector.’ However,
the planned test was called off.

Shortly thereafter the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power
in May 1996 on a hawkish platform. Scientists sought to seize the
opportunity afforded by the BJP’s nuclear hawkishness as soon as
possible and increased preparations even before the BJP formed the
government. Once again the tests were cancelled, this time because
the BJP lost the vote of confidence in the parliament.

The debate over the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in
1996 was a crucial turning point in Indian nuclear policy. Even as


late as March 1996, the Indian Foreign Secretary, Salman Haider
said, ‘We do not believe that the acquisition of nuclear weapons is
essential for our national security and we have followed a conscious
decision in this regard.’ This was completely in line with the
traditional Indian view on not relying on nuclear weapons for its
security. But, on 20 June 1996, when Arundhati Ghose, then the
Indian Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, rejected the
CTBT in the present form, she said that the CTBT was not ‘in India’s
national security interest’ and ‘our national security considerations
(have) become a key factor in our decision-making.’

Scientists, who realized that signing the CTBT would enormously
hamper their nuclear weapons efforts, lobbied behind the scenes and
publicly adopted the position that the CTBT should be linked with
‘a time-bound program for total elimination of all nuclear
weapons.’ 98 Opposing the CTBT represented a public relations
opportunity for the nuclear establishment to counter publicly aired
doubts about the functioning of the nuclear establishment and to
provide its personnel with continued incentives for furthering
nuclear weapons work. 99

Having succeeded in getting India to vote against the CTBT, the
nuclear establishment approached the Indian Prime Minister H.D.
Deve Gowda for permission to conduct tests. In his own words, Deve
Gowda declined, ‘not because of the adverse reaction from the
international community but because of my concern for improving
the economic situation of the country.’ 100

With the BJP coming back to power in 1998, scientists busied
themselves with preparing for the expected tests. Even before the
election results came out, while talking to a journalist about nuclear
tests, R. Chidambaram came as close to publicly advocating nuclear
weapon tests as any serving AEC chairman had. 101 First Chidambaram
claimed that, ‘we are prepared . . ., but it is [for] the policy makers
to decide whether to go nuclear or keep the options open.’ Then,
when asked about the possibility of using computer simulations to
develop nuclear weapons, Chidambaram responded, ‘[T]hen what
was the use of some countries going for 2000 explosions?’ And

Scientists and India’s Nuclear Bomb 23

further added, ‘[the] higher the database, [the] better the
simulations.’ 102

With the tests of 11 and 13 May 1998, India’s nuclear weapon
scientists finally achieved ‘their dreams’. Speaking at a joint DAE-
DRDO press conference, Abdul Kalam proclaimed that, ‘weaponization
is now complete.’ There have also been statements that the tests
have ‘significantly enhanced our capability in computer simulations
of new designs and taken us to the stage of sub-critical experiments
in the future, if considered necessary.’ Regardless of the accuracy of
these claims, the implicit reference to the example of the Stockpile
Stewardship Program in the United States suggests that the leaders
of the Indian nuclear program now think of it as being similar to
those of Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore.

Soon after the May 1998 tests, the Indian Prime Minister Atal
Behari Vajpayee publicly celebrated the role of the scientists who
designed the weapons and conducted the explosions, raising science
to the level hitherto reserved for those who protect the nation and
feed its citizens. Though left unsaid, as must be obvious from the
context, it is the kind of science practiced by the strategic enclave
that he sought to place on a pedestal. Shortly thereafter, this
felicitation also translated to massive budget increases for these
establishments as well as several national awards to these scientists.

The nuclear and missile establishments have used their current
influence and increased funding to further weapons programs.
Research on nuclear weapons with the aim of qualitative
improvements and development of new designs continues. One
weapon system that seems to be receiving a lot of attention is the
neutron bomb; according to R. Chidambaram, India can make
one. 103 Following this claim, P.K. Iyengar called for testing one. 104
Abdul Kalam, drawing on the infamous Star Wars program of the
United States, proposed building a missile shield around New
Delhi. 105 Another ‘futuristic’ weapon being pursued is a ‘beam
weapon’ that uses bursts of microwaves. 106

Hand-in-hand with these qualitative developments, the nuclear
establishment has also pushed for the increase in quantity of nuclear


weapons material. Accordingly, in December 1999, India’s Minister
of State for Atomic Energy announced plans to construct a new
plutonium production reactor comparable to its 100 MW Dhruva
plant. 107 All these suggest that the pressure from the nuclear and
missile establishments will contribute greatly to an arms race in
South Asia, with disastrous consequences to the inhabitants of the


Alongside this history of canvassing for, propelling and building the
bomb and the associated means of delivery, what must also be
mentioned is the role of the, unfortunately few, scientists in
resisting these efforts.

Despite the Nehruvian commitment to big science, the contours
and institutional focus of the nuclear establishment was by no
means pre-determined. Much before Bhabha became a force to
reckon with in Indian science policy, the scientist who dominated
discussions and formulations of science policy was the prominent
physicist and astrophysicist Meghnad Saha. As early as 1938, the
then president of the Indian National Congress Subash Chandra
Bose had invited Saha to join the National Planning Committee.
Saha became the Chairman of the Power and Fuel Sub-Committee
as well as a member of the River Transport and Irrigation Sub-
committees. 108 Prior to that Saha had started the influential science
and science policy journal, Science and Culture, and used it to
espouse his views on science planning. Saha’s notions about the role
of science in society were quite different from Bhabha’s. Saha
‘emphasized “judicious and equitable distribution” and advocated
participatory democracy even in engineering projects that involve
highly technical information and his nationalism was ‘based on the
rights and aspirations of the majority with little affiliation or
identification with the Indian ‘aristocratic classes’.’ 109 Despite the
deep political roots in the Indian nationalist movement that Saha
and his group had, the more elitist group led by Bhabha prevailed

Scientists and India’s Nuclear Bomb 25

over the more open and democratically disposed group led by
Saha. 110

Though ousted from power, Saha continued to argue for open and
university-based research in nuclear physics. He opposed the AEC
because it had ‘enveloped itself in a cloud of secrecy.’ In a
memorandum to Nehru, Saha suggested that, ‘the true facts of
atomic energy and its implications should be placed before the
country; discussion and expert knowledge and viewpoints of different
groups will enable a policy to be shaped.’ But all that was of no avail.
Indian nuclear policy continued to be fashioned by a small coterie
of decision-makers and scientists.

Saha was not alone among the ranks of well-known scientists who
opposed Bhabha and the AEC. Throughout the same period, the
well-known physicist C.V. Raman was very critical of nuclear
weapons and of the militarization of science. 111 D.D. Kosambi, a
prominent mathematician, also made an unsuccessful attempt at
trying to maintain an open and participatory system and questioned
high expenditures on atomic energy research and development.
Unlike Saha and Raman, however, Kosambi did not head his own
institution; in 1962 he was removed from his position as senior
fellow at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. 112

Though without much success, opposition to the activities of the
DAE has continued. In the 1980s, Amulya Reddy, a physical chemist
who turned his attention to energy and rural development issues,
assessed the costs of nuclear power in India and discovered several
problems with the way the AEC was calculating the costs. In
contrast to the claims of the AEC, Reddy concluded that other
options like coal and hydroelectric power were cheaper than nuclear
power under realistic, rather than optimistic, assumptions. 113 Later,
he became one of the important figures in opposing the 1998
nuclear tests.

A completely different kind of engagement was demonstrated by
members of the people’s science movement and scientist-activists
like Surendra and Sanghamitra Gadekar. 114 Surendra, a trained
physicist, and Sanghamitra, a physician by training, brought out


Anumukti, South Asia’s only anti-nuclear magazine. Apart from
attacking different aspects of Indian nuclear policy, they carried out
detailed health surveys of people living near nuclear facilities.

With the Indian nuclear tests of May 1998, opposition to nuclear
weapons, and to a lesser extent nuclear energy, became much more
prevalent, both among society at large and among many scientists.
At least two groups of scientists launched petitions signed by
hundreds of individuals condemning the action by the government.
As a result, an organization by the name of ‘Indian Scientists Against
Nuclear Weapons’ came into being. 115 Prominent among these
scientists was T. Jayaraman, a faculty member at the Institute of
Mathematical Sciences (IMSc) who went on to becoming one of the
vocal critics of the BJP government’s nuclear weapons efforts.
Through his articles in Indian magazines and journals like, Frontline
and Seminar, he raised difficult questions about the capabilities of
the Indian nuclear establishment, the draft nuclear doctrine, the
efficacy of deterrence and so on.

The May 1998 nuclear tests drew flak from even within the
nuclear establishment. Dr N. Srinivasan, a former member of the
Atomic Energy Commission and the first director of the Reactor
Research Centre (now the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic
Research) rued the impact of the 1998 tests on the nuclear power
program: ‘I have a sad feeling that the first nail was driven in the
coffin of the nuclear power program in May 74 and the last nails
have now been hammered in, in May ’98. I fervently hope I am
wrong.’ 116

Despite this relatively long history of opposition, anti-nuclear
scientists in India have, for the most part, not made much use of
their technical expertise. This has both good and bad consequences.
In the West the peace and anti-nuclear movement was, in the words
of Eqbal Ahmad, . .nuko-centric, phobo-centric (creating fear
rather than understanding), techno-centric (concerned with the
technology rather than causes) . . .’ 117 This happened in part because
of the privileging of the expertise of scientists. In India, on the other
hand, scientists involved in anti-nuclear activities have, for the most

Scientists and India’s Nuclear Bomb 27

part, come with significantly different political biographies. They
are, therefore, more likely to pay heed to a vaster range of social
problems, of which nuclear weapons are only one symptom, and not
focus completely on technical issues. 118

At the same time, there are, after all, technical issues related to
nuclear weapons that have to be addressed through technical
means. 119 Thus, there is a relative lack of independent technical
expertise that could challenge statements and claims made by
official scientists about various aspects of the nuclear weapons, and
energy programs — for example, the technical feasibility, the
economic viability, the safety of reactors, or the environmental
impacts of the nuclear program. This would be very valuable. As Joel
Primack and Frank von Hippel argued in their 1974 book, Advice
and Dissent, ‘[The] way in which technical experts make their
services available to society can significantly affect the distribution
of political power.’ 120

Historically, there have been many differences between how
scientists have responded to and affected nuclear policy in the U.S.
and India. Apart from their contributions to building the nuclear
complex, scientists in India have largely played only two kinds of
roles: advisors supportive of government policy, often being even
more hawkish, and dissidents. There are practically no examples of
scientists who, as advisors, have exerted a moderating and disarming
influence on the government. 121 To a small extent Vikram Sarabhai
and M.R. Srinivasan played this role but their dual role as purveyors
of the nuclear energy program imposed limits on their effectiveness
in moderating policy. Further, as mentioned earlier, Sarabhai was
not opposed to nuclear weapons per se. He was only opposed to
symbolic acts without enough substance. Similarly, M.R. Srinivasan ’s
concerns were only that India would ‘get on to a vast weaponization
program which is harmful to the interests of the common man in
this country and to the people in the region generally.’ 122
Nevertheless, he felt that weaponization is ‘inevitable.’

In the wake of calls by the leaders of the strategic enclave to ‘build
up a military industrial complex’, 123 it is imperative that scientists


and society in general resist the pressures to turn all of science into
‘the handmaid of the war machine’. In the United States, the
combined effects of a large scale military industrial complex and
what David Dickson terms: ‘The New Politics of Science’, has led to
a situation wherein ‘planning for science is now exclusively based —
whether in the short, the medium, or the long term — on the needs
of the military and the marketplace. Social objectives (such as the
protection of health or the natural environment) ... are accepted
only to the extent that they are compatible with increased military
strength or commercial profits.’ 124 However, opposition to nuclear
weapons or energy must not be seen as just that. It must be viewed
as part of developing alternative sources of technical expertise,
grounded in local realities and reflecting the aspirations of the vast
majority of people.


India’s nuclear program started with the promise of producing cheap
electricity that was assumed to be necessary and, to a large extent,
sufficient for ‘progress’. Failing in this task, the program, or more
precisely the institutions that ran the program, invented a different
rationale to ensure continued funding. This was by entering the
‘national security’ business, clearly a goal certain to gain support
from political elites. The nuclear establishment along with the
DRDO, i.e., the strategic enclave, performed this task with enthusi-
asm. Their contributions are not confined merely to designing and
manufacturing the bomb but also included lobbying with political
leaders and mobilizing elite constituencies, often indirectly, but also
directly through public advocacy for nuclear weapons and missiles.
By seeking power through their claims of knowledge and expertise,
the strategic enclave, and to some extent the larger scientific
community, cannot escape responsibility for the enormous impacts
on the ‘one-sixth of humanity’ that Prime Minister Vajpayee invoked
to justify his decision to conduct the May 1998 nuclear tests. It is
up to this one-sixth of humanity, i.e., the people of India, to hold
them responsible.

Scientists and India’s Nuclear Bomb 29

Because the responsibility flows from the connection between
knowledge and power, the road out of the bomb’s shadow passes
through the fields of power and knowledge. The challenge to the
power of the elites comes from the ‘new’ social movements and the
much older labour movements, which have been attempting to bring
democracy and justice as the basis of decision making . 125 Scientists,
as well as other professionals, with their knowledge and expertise
must join this caravan.

The SC

Feb 13, 2012



Zia Mian

Too little attention has been paid to the part which an early exposure
to American goods, skills, and American ways of doing things can play
in forming the tastes and desires of newly emerging countries.

President John F. Kennedy, 1963*

On 19 October 1954, Pakistan’s prime minister met the president of
the United States at the White House in Washington. In Pakistan,
this news was carried alongside the report that the Minister for
Industries, Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan, had announced the
establishment of an Atomic Energy Research Organization. These
developments came a few months after Pakistan and the United
States had signed an agreement on military cooperation and
launched a new program to bring American economic advisors to
Pakistan. Each of these initiatives expressed a particular relationship
between Pakistan and the United States, a key moment in the
coming into play of ways of thinking, the rise of institutions, and
preparation of people, all of which have profoundly shaped
contemporary Pakistan.

This essay examines the period before and immediately after this
critical year in which Pakistan’s leaders tied their national future to
the United States. It focuses in particular on how elite aspirations
and ideas of being modern, especially the role played by the prospect
of an imminent ‘atomic age’, shaped Pakistan’s search for U.S.

* Epigraph quote from H. Magdoff, The Age of Imperialism, (Monthly Review,
1969), p. 133.

The Coming of the Atomic Age to Pakistan 39

military, economic and technical support to strengthen the new

The essay begins by looking briefly at how the possibility of an
‘atomic age’ as an approaching, desirable global future took shape
in the early decades of the twentieth century. It then sketches the
way that this vision was expressed in the American elite imagination
after World War II, and how, with the coming of the Cold War, it
became a central element of U.S. foreign and security policy. The
essay goes on to examine how, against this background, those of the
emergent elite of newly independent Pakistan sought to end their
sense of national insecurity, poverty and backwardness, and secure
their position and that of the state, both within their own society
and internationally, by developing military allies and capabilities,
planning economic development, and establishing a scientific
community and a public sensibility that would be appropriate to the
atomic age. Their aspirations and decisions exemplify a broader
pattern that Eqbal Ahmad identified as characteristic of Third World
societies, where people find themselves, ‘living on the frontier of two
worlds — in the middle of the ford haunted by the past, fevered with
dreams of the future.’ 1

Pakistan’s elite has succeeded, at great cost and with help from
the United States, in making its dreams come true. They have
created a Pakistan that has nuclear weapons, nuclear power plants,
and a nuclear complex that dwarfs all other areas of science and
technology. But in this fifty-year-long effort, Pakistan’s elite has
failed to meet many of the basic political, social, and economic needs
of its citizens. The essay concludes by looking at the aftermath of
the 1998 nuclear tests and the state’s promotion of nuclear
nationalism as the basis for a shared sense of identity and
achievement. My argument is that the peace movement in Pakistan,
if it is to prevail, needs to look beyond a simple opposition to nuclear
weapons. It must also offer a vision of an alternative future.



The idea of an ‘atomic age’ is as old as atomic science. In 1901
Fredrick Soddy and Ernest Rutherford discovered that radioactivity
was part of the process by which atoms changed from one kind to
another and involved the release of energy. Soon Soddy was writing
in popular magazines that radioactivity was a potentially
‘inexhaustible’ source of energy, that atomic science meant ‘the
future would bear . . . little relation to the past,’ and offering a
vision of an atomic future where it would be possible to ‘transform
a desert continent, thaw the frozen poles, and make the whole earth
one smiling Garden of Eden.’ 2 Soddy, along with other scientists and
commentators, also talked of how atomic energy could possibly be
used in weapons to wage war, and this soon became the stuff of
science fiction in the hands of writers such as H.G. Wells, whose
novel, The World Set Free, was dedicated to Soddy and described
‘atomic bombs’, the idea of a ‘chain reaction’, and the effects of an
atomic war. 3

The future hurtled closer with the 1939 discovery of atomic
fission, the process that underlay radioactivity, and as one historian
of the nuclear age has observed, ‘journalists and scientists every-
where were caught up in the excitement’ and there were countless
‘awestruck stories’ of what might be possible. Part of this future
became all too real when in 1945 United States built the first atomic
bombs and used them to destroy the Japanese cities of Hiroshima
and Nagasaki. The U.S. soon deployed its new weapons to confront
the Soviet Union in a divided Europe, and in 1949 the Soviet Union
tested its first atomic bomb. The Korean War broke out in June
1950, and on the first day of that war U.S. leaders privately discussed
the use of nuclear weapons; in subsequent months the question was
raised repeatedly in the press, with President Truman inciting
international uproar by announcing in November that, ‘there has
always been active consideration of its use.’ 4

The development of nuclear weapons proceeded at a furious pace.
Britain became the third nuclear armed state when it conducted its
first nuclear test in 1952. That same year, the United States

The Coming of the Atomic Age to Pakistan 41

developed and tested the hydrogen bomb, with a yield many
hundreds of times that of the bombs that had destroyed Hiroshima
and Nagasaki, and the Soviets tested theirs a year later. By 1953 the
United States had over one thousand nuclear weapons, roughly ten
times as many as the Soviet Union, and by 1955 both had twice that
number. 5 As ever larger bombs were tested year after year, it became
hard to ignore the importance of nuclear weapons and the threat of
nuclear war.

In these years the United States also led the way in shaping the
ideas and hopes for an atomic-powered utopia. The day after the
bombing of Hiroshima, The New York Times wrote: ‘We face the
prospect either of destruction on a scale that dwarfs anything thus
far reported or of a golden era of social change which could satisfy
the most romantic utopian.’ 6 Three days after Nagasaki was
destroyed, the New York Times editorialised that atomic technology
‘can bring to this earth not death but life, not tyranny and cruelty,
but a divine freedom,’ and could bring ‘dazzling gifts’ to the
‘millions of China and India, bound for so many ages in sweat and
hunger to the wheel of material existence.’ 7 Books soon began to
appear about the wondrous prospects made possible by atomic
technology; a 1947 book, Atomic Energy in the Coming Era, claimed
that the future would be ‘as different from the present as the present
is from ancient Egypt,’ and captured some of the practical qualities
of the atomic dream:

No baseball game will be called off on account of rain in the Era of
Atomic Energy. No airplane will bypass an airport because of fog. No
city will experience a winter traffic jam because of heavy snow. Summer
resorts will be able to guarantee the weather, and artificial suns will
make it as easy to grow corn and potatoes indoors as on the farm. . . .
For the first time in the history of the world, man will have at his
disposal energy in amounts sufficient to cope with the forces of Mother
Nature . 8

The possibilities seemed both limitless and immediate. The New
York Times told its readers in 1947 that Africa ‘could be transformed


into another Europe,’ and the Woman’s Home Companion explained
in 1948 that it would be possible to ‘make the dream of the earth as
the Promised Land come true in time for many of us already born
to see and enjoy it.’ 9 Contemporary surveys suggested these ideas
were championed by nuclear scientists, parts of the media, some in
government and some industrialists, with support largely limited to
affluent and well-educated Americans, while the general public
focused more on the threat of nuclear weapons. 10 It was these
groups, however, with their shared vision of saving the world
through atomic science that quickly came to dominate the debate
in the United States.

The idea of the atomic future soon came to play an important role
in U.S. foreign policy. America’s determination to save the world —
from the Soviet Union, from Communism and from poverty and
suffering, through the application of its military strength and its
technology — had been laid out by President Truman in his inaugural
address in January 1949. He declared:

The American people desire, and are determined to work for, a world in
which all nations and all peoples are free to govern themselves as they
see fit, and to achieve a decent and satisfying life. ... In the pursuit of
these aims, the United States and other like-minded nations find
themselves directly opposed by a regime with contrary aims and a totally
different concept of life. ... We will provide military advice and
equipment to free nations which will cooperate with us in the
maintenance of peace and security . . . [And] we must embark on a bold
new program for making the benefits of our scientific advances and
industrial progress available for the improvement and growth of
underdeveloped areas . 11

It was left to Truman’s successor, Dwight Eisenhower, to bring the
peaceful atom into the Cold War and onto the global stage. In a
speech to the U.N. General Assembly in December 1953, President
Eisenhower detailed the destructive power America could now wield
with its atomic weapons, and announced that America wished all to
share in the bounty of the atomic future that had now arrived. 12 He

The Coming of the Atomic Age to Pakistan 43

Today, the United States’ stockpile of atomic weapons, which, of course,
increases daily, exceeds by many times the explosive equivalent of the
total of all bombs and all shells that came from every plane and every
gun in every theatre of war in all of the years of World War II. . . . But
the dread secret, and the fearful engines of atomic might, are not ours
alone. The United States knows that if the fearful trend of atomic
military build-up can be reversed, this greatest of destructive forces can
be developed into a great boon, for the benefit of all mankind. The
United States knows that peaceful power from atomic energy is no
dream of the future. That capability, already proved, is here — now —
today . 13

The speech was broadcast around the world and the U.S. government
used it as part of an intense international effort in the years that
followed to show that, unlike the Soviet Union, it believed in
developing and sharing the peaceful uses of atomic energy. The
atomic dream was an American dream, and America would ensure
every nation could have a share in it.

It must be said, however, that there was little evidence to support
Eisenhower’s grand claim that the atomic future was ‘here — now —
today.’ In late 1951 the Argonne National Laboratory had generated
a token amount of electricity from a small experimental reactor,
which had been widely publicized, and had led to suggestions that
nuclear power was ‘imminent’. 14 In June 1953, the U.S. Atomic
Energy Commission, under pressure to speed up the development
of nuclear power, had decided that the quickest way to build a full-
scale nuclear power plant was to allow Admiral Hyman Rickover to
modify the pressurized water reactor that had been under
development for use in aircraft carrier propulsion. 15 It only began
operation in 1957. The imagined peaceful and prosperous atomic
future was still just a vision. Nuclear weapons, the ‘fearful engines
of atomic might,’ were all too real.


While the atomic age was taking shape, Pakistan, too, was no more
than an idea and a hope. The Muslim League, founded in 1906, and


led by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, eventually succeeded in establishing
the state of Pakistan. 16 The history and geography of India’s Muslims,
their encounter with British colonialism, and their relationship with
India’s struggle for independence, combined with the nature of the
Muslim League movement, left important legacies that shaped the
early years of Pakistan, and to some degree has continued to have
an influence. These included what has been called a Tow level of
political culture’ in the feudal and tribal leaderships that dominated
much of the Muslim majority areas that became Pakistan, the ‘poor
institutionalisation’ of the Muslim League as a mass-based political
movement in these areas; the conflict between diverse local and
regional identities and the new national identity; and the simple fact
that to create a large constituency the League had been ‘deliberately
vague about the nature of a future Pakistani state.’ 17

On this basis the new leadership set about to achieve what it
considered as its primary task, to create a nation-state. 18 The
leadership’s ability to exercise power at the national level was
limited, and a sense of direction was in short supply. As one historian
has observed:

The chaos that overwhelmed Pakistan independence was a consequence
of little planning and virtually no conceptualization . . . neither Jinnah
nor any of his immediate circle was moved to lay out on paper the
blueprint for the state they intended to create. There is nothing in the
archives to even hint that someone was responsible for defining the
nature and structure of the state, its purposes and functions, its powers
and limitations . 19

A measure of the chaos may be seen in the effort to create a new
constitution through a constituent assembly. Established in August
1947, the assembly never managed to gather all of its sixty-nine
members — some chose to go to India and were never replaced and
others simply did not show up at meetings. It met for only four days
the rest of that year, a mere eleven days the subsequent year, and
eventually was dissolved in 1954, having met for a total of a hundred
and sixteen days. 20

The Coming of the Atomic Age to Pakistan 45

There were other problems. The thoughtless and hurried partition
of British India into the new states of West and East Pakistan and
India created millions of refugees who trekked in opposite directions
across the new borders, seeking new identities and the promise of
justice and security. Within months, a war erupted over Kashmir. It
ended in a stalemate, with India and Pakistan each controlling parts
of Kashmir. Crisis followed crisis. Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who had
centralized political and bureaucratic power by appointing himself
Governor General of Pakistan, died in 1949, leaving behind a
leadership vacuum. Then, in 1951, it was revealed that Maj. Gen.
Akbar Khan had been working with a group of left-wing officers and
a handful of activists of the Pakistan Communist Party since 1949
in an effort to seize power. 21 The first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali
Khan, was killed in October 1951 as he was about to address a public
meeting in Rawalpindi. There were to be three governor generals
and six prime ministers before a coup in 1958 led to more than a
decade of military government.

As the new national elite in Pakistan struggled to establish itself
and to create institutions that it could call its own, it is easy to see
why it sought access to resources and support from powerful
international allies. In the immediate aftermath of partition,
Pakistan sought to develop a strategic relationship with Britain.
Morris James, the British Deputy High Commissioner noted that the
Pakistanis, ‘in those early years were willing to range themselves at
the side of Britain, then still a major world power, if in return we
would help them to redress the strategic balance between themselves
and the Indians. They sought a powerful outside friend and patron.’ 22
The search for a ‘friend and patron’ to help counter India can be
understood in large measure as a ‘continuation of the political
struggle before partition’ that Pakistan’s eventual leaders had waged
against the Congress Party, and for whom ‘the habit of criticism
could not be effaced by the drawing of a new boundary.’ 23 It was this
sensibility that led them to interpret and respond to disputes over
Kashmir, the division of rivers, the distribution of financial and
military resources, refugees etc., as proof of Indian hostility. 24 This


sensibility has crystallized in the education system and is present in
the national curriculum and school textbooks in Pakistan even
today. 25

Although Britain was not able to play a role as patron, the Cold
War eventually offered both Pakistan and the United States an
opportunity for such a relationship. Whereas British India had been
vital to the British Empire, the United States saw Pakistan as, ‘the
hastily created by-product of Britain’s retreat from empire, a nation
plagued by such immense internal and security problems that it
offered little promise for future international prominence.’ 26 As the
Cold War set in, however, the U.S. military planners began to see
Pakistan as important because of its ‘proximity to the Soviet Union;
its proximity to the oil fields of the Middle East; its potential role in
the defense of both the Indian Ocean area and the Indian
subcontinent; its position as the largest Muslim nation in the world;
and its army.’ 27 Despite this, nothing substantial happened. The U.S.
did not want to undermine the possibility of a good relationship with
India and so left Pakistan on the margins of the Cold War.

Pakistan’s representatives for their part tried to incite the U.S. to
reach out. They ‘carefully couched all appeals to the United States
in a virulently anti-Soviet rhetoric that they hoped would strike a
chord with the Truman administration’s Cold War planners.’ 28
Success came not because of their entreaties but with the outbreak
of the Korean War in 1950. By late 1951 the U.S. had decided to sell
military equipment to Pakistan, and in early 1952 Pakistan and the
U.S. signed the first of a number of supplementary agreements on
security, which Pakistan soon tested by asking for $200 million in
military aid.

Unites States’ concerns and interests in Pakistan were summed
up in an August 1953 Memorandum to the National Security
Council from the Acting Secretary of State. The Memorandum

There was a noticeable increase in the activities of the mullahs (orthodox
religious leaders) in Pakistan. There was reason to believe that in face
of growing doubts as to whether Pakistan had any real friends, more and

The Coming of the Atomic Age to Pakistan 47

more Pakistanis were turning to the mullahs for guidance. Were this
trend to continue the present government of enlightened and Western-
oriented leaders might well be threatened, and members of a successive
government would probably be far less cooperative with the west than
the present incumbents. 29

In February 1954, the U.S. announced that it would be giving
military aid to Pakistan. This was followed, in May 1954, by Pakistan
formally signing the Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement with the
United States. A U.S. Military Assistance and Advisory Group was
created, and these military advisors moved into the General
Headquarters of Pakistan’s armed forces.

The consequences for Pakistan of this new relationship with the
U.S. were enormous. Since independence, Pakistan’s political and
military leaders had been spending an extraordinary share of
available government resources on the military and it was unsustain-
able. In both 1948 and 1949, over 70 per cent of government
expenditure went to the military. This fraction did not fall to 50 per
cent in any year in the first decade of independence, and the military
only consumed less than half of government spending for two years
in the early 1960s before the 1965 war caused the military share to
rise again. 30

The new strategic relationship with the U.S. had a strong impact
on Pakistan’s military. United States’ training and techniques flowed
in along with military aid: The United States connection led to the
complete revision of tables of organization [of the Pakistan Army],
the addition of several entirely American-equipped divisions . . . and
the adoption of American techniques (in gunnery for example).’ 31
Along with this went training for the Pakistani military, with
hundreds of Pakistani officers attending U.S. military schools
between 1955 and 1958. Some of these officers who trained in the
U.S. became very prominent. General Zia-ul-Haq, who became chief
of the Army Staff in 1976, and in 1977 staged a coup and ruled until
his death in 1988, was an early graduate of the Command and Staff
College and trained at Fort Leavenworth (where he took the
Associate Command and General Staff Officer Course). General K.M.


Arif, who trained at the U.S. Armour School, at Fort Knox, Kentucky,
went on to become Chief of Staff to General Zia in 1977 and in 1984
became vice-chief of army staff. 32

The American support for Pakistan apparently ‘made a deep
impression on thousands of Pakistani officers.’ 33 Eqbal Ahmad
suggested that this training left a legacy of officers who ‘have come
to respect American technology, crave for contemporary weapons
systems, and favour alliances which promise hardware.’ 34 Not
surprisingly, the Pakistani military began to turn its attention to the
role of nuclear weapons. By the time of the Korean War, the U.S.
had started to incorporate nuclear weapons into its military strategy
and tactics, from bombs, short- and intermediate-range missiles, to
an early nuclear howitzer. 35

In 1954, Maj. Gen. M.A. Latif Khan became the first Pakistani
Commandant of the Military Command and Staff College, Quetta.
In the official history of the College, he recalled that,

On taking over as Commandant I found that the study of the various
operations of war under nuclear warfare conditions was carried out in
an elementary form and a few enquiries made by me soon revealed the
fact that this subject had not received the attention it deserved. The time
had come for us to start making a serious study of fighting the next war
which would, whether we liked it or not, be fought with nuclear
weapons . 36

Gen. Latif Khan appointed a senior officer to deal with ‘future
warfare’ and thus began the practice whereby, ‘during the study of
each operation of war, the same problem was considered under
nuclear conditions.’ 37 These exercises included tactical war games
without the use of troops, in which hypothetical scenarios were
tested out on actual terrain and the existing military doctrines

The United States played a direct role in this training. In the years
that followed, Pakistan’s Staff College was visited from time to time
by a special U.S. Nuclear Warfare Team. The history of the college
notes approvingly that, ‘this visit proved most useful and resulted

The Coming of the Atomic Age to Pakistan 49

in modification and revision of the old syllabus to bring it into line
with the fresh data given by the team.’ 38 This was to be part of a
more enduring program, the history notes there were ‘periodic visits
by American nuclear experts.’ 39 General Khan noted that, ‘it was
generally agreed that this subject required serious study, even if we
ourselves were not going to be likely to possess nuclear weapons for
many years.’ 40

These military exercises were among the first nuclear practices
in Pakistan. It is difficult to fathom these rehearsals for nuclear war,
in which Pakistanis planned and imagined the use of a weapon that
no Pakistani had actually seen or experienced. The psychological and
institutional implications of several generations of young Pakistani
military officers playing these fantasy nuclear war games merit
further study.

How the Pakistani military thought they would eventually acquire
nuclear weapons is not clear. Perhaps they believed that these
weapons would come to Pakistan as part of the alliance with the
United States. In 1956, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff compiled a list
of states which they wanted to serve as bases for intermediate-range
ballistic missiles, armed with nuclear weapons. The ‘most desirable’
states for such deployments were Turkey, Norway, Britain, Japan,
Okinawa, and France. States considered merely ‘desirable’ states
were Pakistan, Greece, Iran, Taiwan, Denmark, West Germany, the
Philippines, Spain, Italy and Libya. 41 The U.S. went on to base its
nuclear weapons in Turkey, Britain, Okinawa, Greece, Taiwan,
Denmark (actually in Greenland, which was part of Denmark until
1979), West Germany, the Philippines, and Italy. Other nuclear
weapons were stored in Spain. 41

Apparently, for reasons that are not clear, Pakistan, Iran, and
Libya were the only states from the original list where no U.S.
nuclear weapons were placed. There may have been concern about
these countries’ stability. As suggested in the 1953 National Security
Council memorandum cited earlier suggested, U.S. policy makers
feared that the pro-Western government in Pakistan might not last.


What is clear is that after the 1958 coup by General Ayub Khan,
which put in place a military government that lasted until 1971, the
armed forces apparently did not pursue a focused nuclear weapons
program. They seemed to have been content with their strong
relationship with the U.S. and access to American military aid and
high-tech conventional weapons. The political decision to pursue
nuclear weapons had to wait until the end of military rule, and
ultimately was taken in early 1972 by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a civilian
leader. Also curious is that even though Pakistan had completed its
development of nuclear weapons by the early 1980s, the military
government of General Zia-ul-Haq resisted calls for testing these
weapons. Instead, he preferred keeping them under wraps and
maintaining ties with the United States, receiving military aid and
modern American weapons such as F-16 fighters. Only in 1998 did
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif decide to test nuclear weapons.
Pakistan’s last military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, also emphasized
the need to maintain a relationship with the U.S. and obtain
American military aid and weapons.


The challenge and pattern of economic development has been of
central concern for Pakistan’s decision-makers since independence.
They recognized the weak economic foundations of the new state
carved out of the western and eastern peripheries of British India.
Indeed, Pakistan’s economic prospects were uncertain even before
its independence in 1947. 43 In March 1946, at a meeting in Calcutta,
Jinnah was asked about the relative backwardness of the country he
envisioned: ‘What of the economic situation in Pakistan? There is
no iron, no coal, no hydro-electric power, no industries.’ Jinnah
replied, ‘I am fully aware of these things. Our people have had no
opportunity to develop these things. I have every faith . . . that,
given the opportunity, they will achieve all this.’ 44 At other times,
Jinnah was less optimistic: ‘If the worse comes to the worst, like a
sensible man we will cut our coat according to our cloth.’ 45

The Coming of the Atomic Age to Pakistan 51

Pakistan’s first efforts at planning its economic development were
launched in 1948, when the government set up two official bodies,
a Development Board and a Planning Advisory Board. 46 The former
began its task by asking government ministries to ‘re-examine and
update’ projects planned for the area that was now Pakistan by the
Department of Planning and Development of the Government of
British India. The Board dealt with one project at a time and ‘made
no attempt to prepare a plan or even to relate projects to one
another.’ 47 In 1950, however, as part of the agreement to create
coordinated six-year development plans for the members of the
Colombo Plan for Cooperative Economic Development in South and
Southeast Asia, the Board did put together a larger plan. Still, the
plan was little more than a set of ‘projects which had been selected
on an ad hoc basis without reference to available resources and the
requirements of the economy.’ 48

In 1951 the Development Board and the Planning Advisory Board
were combined to form a new Planning Commission, but this, too,
quickly failed to find its feet. This led, in 1952, to the creation of an
Economic Appraisal Committee that believed no harm had been
done so far by the failure to plan properly but advised that, ‘an
adequate and efficient planning [organization is essential.’ 49 The
government responded in July 1953 by establishing a Planning
Board that was to come up with a five-year development plan to
begin in April 1954.

The evidence that Pakistan’s economic planners and managers
were failing was abundant. Economic growth had been poor: from
1949 to 1954 GNP per capita had risen barely 1 per cent, and per
capita rural incomes (reflecting the livelihoods of a great majority
of the population) had fallen by 3 per cent. 50 The arbitrary character
of the plans suggested a lack of coherent goals in the planning
process. Economists were also in short supply, in fact, a history of
the discipline notes that, ‘at independence, there were hardly any
economists in Pakistan.’ 51 The first chief economist of the Planning
Commission had actually been a chemistry teacher at the Delhi


University before 1947, and, out of his own interest, had obtained
an MA in economics. 52

The chairman of the Planning Board looked for help outside the
country and found it in the United States. In February 1954 the Ford
Foundation agreed to fund a program whereby Harvard University’s
Graduate School of Public Administration would ‘recruit and guide
a group of experts who would assist Pakistan’s Planning Com-
mission.’ 53 It should be noted here that Pakistan was not alone in
turning to American economists for help with planning; India did
the same. 54 The first economic advisors for Pakistan arrived in April
1954 (around the same time as the military advisors); their work
was expected to be mostly completed in about eighteen months. The
program grew with time, however, and lasted much longer than
anticipated. The last adviser left Pakistan in mid-1970. 55

The planners saw their task as guiding the transformative
movement of the economy, society and culture of Pakistan along a
technological axis. The opening page of the first five-year plan

Planning in the present stage of our society means the formulation of
programs and policies designed to lead it by a consciously directed and
accelerated movement from a largely technologically backward and
feudalistic stage into the modern era of advanced technology now on
the threshold of atomic age. 56

The idea of a planned ‘accelerated movement’ from a ‘stage’ that is
‘backward’ to one that is ‘modern’ is premised on a notion that the
difference between societies and economies is not one of history,
geography, and culture but rather of different points along a single
trajectory. Development meant catching up with the United States.

For the planners, speed was of the essence in this endeavour.
Their passion to achieve their goal quickly seemed to overwhelm
any reasonable sense of how to accomplish the complex and
unprecedented task of economic, social and cultural transformation.
The planners insisted that,

The Coming of the Atomic Age to Pakistan 53

A country which has a leeway of centuries to make up cannot think of
rest periods. . . . Consolidation and development must proceed
simultaneously; the very idea of a breathing time to look back, take
stock, settle down comfortably, and then think of the next stage is
inconsistent with the speed and tempo of the atomic age. 57

In addition to its role in planning the economy and advising the
government, the Harvard Advisory Group (HAG) was also charged
with training Pakistani economic planners. To this end, HAG
members worked closely with their Pakistani counterparts to set up
a graduate training program for Pakistani economists at leading U.S.
universities, including Harvard, Yale and Princeton. The result was
a group of Pakistani economists who shared the values of the HAG
as well as an understanding of planning priorities. These economists
became dominant figures in Pakistan’s economic decisions making
for the next several decades. One of the most prominent among
them, Mahbub-ul Haq, served as Chief Economist of the Planning
Commission during 1957-1970 and went on to be Minister of
Finance, Planning and Commerce from 1982-1988.

The new economists shared with their mentors a clear perception
of the state’s role in the economy; the need for a ‘modernizing elite’
to manage it; and the role nuclear energy could play. Indeed, the
latter seems to have overwhelmed their economic rationality. The
first study on the economic viability of nuclear power in Pakistan
was undertaken in 1955 by Maurice Kilbridge, a HAG member, with
input from other members. Kilbridge concluded not only that, ‘there
does not seem to be much of an economic case for the use of large-
plant nuclear power in either East or West Pakistan,’ but that the
pursuit of such a goal was unrealistic for the foreseeable future,
noting that, ‘probably not more than 10 persons in all Pakistan . . .
have any extensive training in nuclear technology, and . . . not many
more [have] the basic education necessary to absorb such training.’ 58
The Kilbridge study should have dampened the enthusiasm to
develop nuclear power in Pakistan, but it did not. The determination
to hasten Pakistan over the threshold into the atomic age remained
strong. Even a decade later, in 1966, at meetings of the Planning


Commission, ‘those in charge argued vehemently that nuclear
energy was the wave of the future, that we could develop many
peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and that we would be left behind in
the race of modern science and technology unless nuclear research
was given adequate funds.’ 59 Forty years later this vision continues
to drive the allocation of large funds into nuclear energy projects
that provide electricity at much higher costs than other available
energy sources, and are located at unsafe sites that add to the risk
of catastrophic accidents. 60 It is ironic that Pakistan’s decision-
makers remain intent on the nuclear dream when in the United
States, the home of that dream, no new nuclear reactor has been
built in three decades.


Kilbridge had pointed out in his study that perhaps fewer than a
dozen scientists in Pakistan were trained in the nuclear sciences,
and few more had the ability to take advantage of this training. This
reflected the general state of science in the areas that became
Pakistan. Before partition, India had a Directorate of Scientific and
Industrial Research modelled on the British structure for integrating
research with the needs of industry. All its laboratories, however,
were in cities that remained part of India.

After independence, Pakistan had set up its own Directorate of
Scientific and Industrial Research, and in April 1953, this body,
headed by Salimuzzaman Siddiqui, set up a Council of Scientific and
Industrial Research (CSIR). This council then set up a Planning
Committee, headed by Nazir Ahmad (who had trained as a physicist
in Britain in the 1920s), to determine where and what kinds of
government research laboratories should be built to aid in national
development. Ahmad’s task was soon made easier, at least in part.
United State’s President Dwight Eisenhower in his December 1953
‘Atoms for Peace’ speech, declared that, ‘experts would be mobilized
to apply atomic energy to the needs of agriculture, medicine, and
other peaceful activities. A special purpose would be to provide
abundant electrical energy in the power-starved areas of the world.’ 61

The Coming of the Atomic Age to Pakistan 55

Pakistan’s media welcomed the speech and the promise of the
wondrous prospects of atomic energy. In the days that followed the
speech, Dawn, Pakistan’s leading English-language daily newspaper
(which was read by the national elite) carried many reports on
current and future possibilities. These were illustrated with photo-
graphs and elaborate graphics obviously produced by U.S. and
British atomic establishments. The stories included U.S. proposals
for the use of radioactive waste; 62 British ideas on using nuclear
materials in industry; 63 the economics of nuclear power; 64 surveys
of how the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission was assisting countries
worldwide; 65 Britain’s plans to produce nuclear electricity within a
few years; 66 an introduction to Britain’s atomic establishment; 67 the
announcement by the American company RCA that it had invented
an ‘atomic battery’ that converted atomic energy into electricity; 68
and an introduction to the physical principles underlying atomic
energy. 69

Pakistan, however, could hardly take advantage of these techno-
logical prospects. As Vice Chancellor of Peshawar University
Raziuddin Siddiqui explained in his Presidential address to the Sixth
Pakistan Science Conference in Karachi in January 1954, even
though Pakistan’s scientific community was in poor shape, it wanted
to play its role in building the nation. 70 Siddiqui claimed that science
was being neglected, with scholars ‘at the mercy of petty officials
and clerks’ — this despite the fact that science and education were a
‘defense against ignorance and the consequent poverty and disease.’
But, Siddiqui argued, science and education were more than that:
‘scientific research education and research is the real and only
defense of a country in these days, as modern defense is mainly a
technical affair requiring skill scientific skill and knowledge of a
fairly advanced type.’ With the Manhattan Project barely a decade
old, and the Cold War arms race raging, not to mention the struggle
for independence from colonialism still fresh in people’s minds, it
is clear Siddiqui was making the case for the role of science in
Pakistan’s national security. He went on:


It cannot be denied that in this age of power politics not only the
security but even the free existence of the eastern countries is at stake,
because of their backwardness in scientific and technical knowledge. . . .
Hence we must have a vast army of those trained in all the fundamental
and important scientific and technical subjects.

The first evidence that Pakistan’s government was thinking of taking
a scientific interest in the ‘Atoms for Peace’ program came in late
September 1954. The U.S. National Planning Association announced
it was to conduct a series of country studies to look at the ‘economic
problems and policy issues raised by the rapid increase in
technological knowledge of atomic energy and its potential
contribution to industrial and agricultural development and
improved standards of living.’ 71 Pakistan was chosen to be one of the
countries for study, along with Japan, Korea, Brazil and Israel,
because the Planning Association claimed that, ‘all these countries
[have] ‘special institutions’ which might make nuclear development
interesting.’ 72 Oddly, however, Pakistan had no ‘special institution’
at that time working on nuclear research. The report becomes
understandable if a decision had been made in principle to start
work on atomic energy in Pakistan at this time but had not yet been
made public.

The announcement that Pakistan was looking toward atomic
energy came some weeks later, at the second meeting of the Pakistan
Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Karachi on 19
October 1954. Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan, Pakistan’s Minister of
Industries announced:

The government is conscious that with the enormous progress the world
is making towards the utilization of atomic energy for civil uses,
adequate steps have to be taken without delay in Pakistan to work out
a phased program of survey, research and ultimate developments in this
field. 73

Apparently, at least at this stage, atomic science was to fall within
the purview of scientific and industrial research, suggesting that
starting an atomic science program may have been driven partly by

The Coming of the Atomic Age to Pakistan 57

the desire of the Pakistani scientific community to gain access to
what looked like major new sources of funding, overseas training,
and so on, in order to gain more advanced ideas about science,
technology, and development. In this they were using the same
strategy as their peers within the economic planners and the
military, completing the triumvirate of the state-modernizing elite.

It was left to Saleemuzzaman Siddiqui, the head of CSIR, to
establish a committee that would draw up a ‘detailed, phased Atomic
Energy Program.’ According to Siddiqui, the first task ‘was to survey
and assess the country’s resources in radioactive minerals.’ However,
any effective program, he pointed out, would require a large nuclear
science community and that meant having to send ‘young scientists
abroad for specialized training.’ 74

The extreme need for scientists of all kinds was clear, but
Pakistan’s educational system was not equipped to produce them
domestically. 75 In 1953 Pakistan had only six universities — two in
East Pakistan and four in West Pakistan — and not until 1961 would
four new universities be created. In these six universities and
associated colleges, 57,654 students were enrolled in arts and
sciences courses and 2138 in engineering. 76 A total of 680 students
graduated in 1953-1954 with a Bachelor of Science degree, and 107
students graduated with a Master of Science degree. In contrast,
2122 Bachelor of Arts degrees were awarded that year, and 241
Master of Arts degrees. Not one PhD was awarded — two had been
awarded in science in 1949 and in 1950 by the University of Dacca
[Dhaka], and another was awarded in 1954-1955, but no others until

The first opportunity to take advantage of the Atoms for Peace
program came a month or so later. The Raw Materials Sub-
Committee of the U.S. Congress Joint Committee on Atomic Energy
visited Pakistan as part of a whistle-stop tour that included New
Zealand, the Philippines, Formosa, Thailand, India, Iran, Turkey,
Greece, Spain, and Australia. The U.S. delegation described their
visit to Pakistan in effusive terms:


In Karachi we had the very real pleasure of meeting first with Prime
Minister Mohammed Ali, and later with the Council of Scientific and
Industrial Research for Pakistan. Long and hard though the road ahead
is for the people of Pakistan, they see and are attempting to grasp the
opportunities to make their passage along that road faster and better
through the use of atomic energy .’ 77

Their Pakistani hosts did not lose an obvious opportunity to make
a case for the importance of U.S. help in their endeavour to set up
atomic energy facilities. The Committee wrote, ‘scientists and
government administrators alike made it clear to us while we were
there conferring with them that they must have assistance and
would welcome it particularly from the United States.’ 78 They praised
the efforts of Pakistan’s would-be nuclear scientists, ‘men of
scientific and technical stature who are trying . . . with their limited
means to bring their country the benefits of this most revolutionary

The major public announcement of Pakistan’s nuclear plans came
on 1 January 1955, in Prime Minister Mohammad Ali’s ‘first of the
month’ broadcast to the nation. After laying out a number of
decisions taken by the government on constitutional and economic
issues, he declared:

While concentrating our attention on matters of vital interests to your
daily life we have not been unmindful of the need for the country’s
progress and development in other spheres. A step forward in the
scientific field was the formulation of a scheme to set up a Nuclear
Research Centre for exploring the possibility of obtaining uranium from
the mountainous regions of our country with a view to production of
atomic energy for the country’s economic development . 79

The visit of the Congressional Joint Committee was viewed as a
certificate of approval for Pakistan’s plans. The Prime Minister
announced that, ‘four members of the United States Joint Committee
on Atomic Energy visited us. ... I am happy to state that the U.S.
delegation has not only given us encouragement but has expressed
their appreciation of our efforts in this direction. 80

The Coming of the Atomic Age to Pakistan 59

The public also was soon provided opportunities to glimpse the
dawn of the nuclear age. In January 1955 the U.S. ambassador
opened a travelling public exhibition on the Atoms for Peace
program, created by the U.S. Information Agency. 81 The exhibition,
occupying 3000 square feet, used pictures, films and models to show
the development and possibilities of nuclear science and technology.
The show opened in Bahawalpur and was reported to be a ‘smash
hit,’ with more than 2500 people viewing it within the first two
hours of its opening, and as many as 6000 visitors two days later. 82
Eventually 50,000 people were reported as have seen it. 83

After Bahawalpur the exhibition, now jointly sponsored by the
Pakistan Atomic Energy Committee and the U.S. Embassy, moved
to Karachi, the capital, where it was opened by Finance Minister
Chaudhri Mohammad Ali. 84 It drew an audience of 300,000 people
during the two weeks of the exhibition. 85 It then went on to Lahore
and Peshawar, and toured most of the other major cities, drawing
large enthusiastic crowds. The atom was now firmly part of the
public consciousness of a significant number of urban, middle-class

On 11 August 1955 Pakistan and the U.S. signed a five-year
Agreement for Cooperation on the Civil Uses of Atomic Energy. The
U.S. provided funding for a small research reactor, fissile material
to fuel it, an archive of technical reports and papers on many aspects
of nuclear science and engineering, and a training program for
scientists and engineers. By 1961 the newly created Pakistan Atomic
Energy Commission (PAEC) had 144 scientists and engineers, who
either had already received training abroad or were currently bring
trained abroad. Among those trained in the U.S. was Munir Ahmed
Khan, who would return to Pakistan and in 1972 become Chairman
of PAEC, and was given the responsibility of launching Pakistan’s
nuclear weapons program. The program took on more urgency after
India’s May 1974 nuclear weapons test, and continued despite U.S.
sanctions and pressure in the late 1970s. This pressure was eased
after Pakistan joined the U.S. in a proxy war against the Soviet Union
when it invaded Afghanistan. The program succeeded in the early


1980s and, following additional nuclear tests by India, Pakistan
tested its nuclear weapons in May 1998.


This essay argues that the ideas of an atomic future that were
developing in the United States became a central element in its
relationship with Pakistan as soon as the U.S. began to engage with
that country. The relationships between Pakistan’s military,
economic planning, and scientific institutions and the United States
were all informed at some level by the idea of this imminent atomic
future. For Pakistan’s new national elite, embracing this future
offered a way to affirm a shared perspective on what it meant to be
a modern state and society in the contemporary world and what the
future would be like. The pursuit of this future also privileged those
who could operate at the national level and with the United States.

The embrace of an atomic future essentially distinguished those
who saw a way for the country to become modern at home and part
of the modern world from those who were rooted in the past and
locality, clung to tradition, and did not believe in rapid social
change. In this respect, the idea and ideal of an atomic future may
be read as representing both the future and the universal as opposed
to the local and the present. Based on this radical vision of a future
world, these new bureaucracies of economy, violence and technology,
exposed at a formative stage to American goods, skills, and ways of
doing things, imbued with certain American tastes and desires, and
all privileging ‘technical superiority’, set about creating the
necessary conditions for the exercise of their power.

For those Pakistani elites able to create and take advantage of
them, ties to the United States offered preferential access to power,
resources and privilege. Pakistan’s army saw in the U.S. a source of
money, weapons, training, strategic support, and the future of
warfare. Its economic planners saw development as stemming from
access to U.S. aid and knowledge and aimed at creating a society
modelled after a United States that was entering the nuclear age.
For the scientists, a path was opened by President Eisenhower’s

The Coming of the Atomic Age to Pakistan 61

Atoms for Peace plan with its vision of a short-cut to a nuclear
future, with scientists as the indispensable guides.

These ideas of past, present and future, of change, progress and
possibility, and the institutions that claimed to embody them were
to have an impact comparable in some respects to the much earlier
experience of some nominally independent countries importing
European ideas and institutions during the colonial period. 86
Pakistan was to see the emergence of a military that dominates
national politics and the allocation of national resources, one that
has seized power three times and ruled directly for over half of
Pakistan’s history so far. It has had a process of economic planning
and management that has failed to provide basic needs to a large
proportion of citizens, and remains dependent on international aid
to meet its most basic developmental needs. Pakistan has witnessed
the creation of a nuclear estate of nuclear power plants, nuclear
weapons, and nuclear science and technology research and
development. But Pakistan’s nuclear estate can offer only a nuclear
nationalism, evident in the models of the nuclear weapons test site
and ballistic missiles that were put up in major cities, as well as the
annual celebration of the anniversary of the May 1998 nuclear tests.

The narratives and displays that initiated the 28 May celebrations
in 1999 are revealing. The plans for what the government called a
celebration of ‘self reliance’, and of an ‘impregnable defense’
included ‘a competition of ten best Milli songs, seminars, fairs,
festive public gatherings, candle processions, sports competitions,
bicycle races, flag hoisting ceremonies etc. People will offer Namaz -
e-Shukrana as well. Apart from this special programs for children
would be arranged. Debates would be held among school children.’ 87

To make sure that no one missed out on this new common sense
about the meaning of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and those who
manufactured them, there were to be programs ‘broadcast on
national network as well as locally by all 24 stations of the radio. In
addition to the national language Urdu, programs in regional
languages, including Punjabi, Sindhi, Pushto, Balochi, Brahui,
Saraiki, Potohari, Hindko, Balti and Shina will also be broadcast.


The external service and world service will air special programs in
fifteen foreign languages for listeners in Europe, Middle East, Africa
and South East Asia. The Azad Kashmir Radio will also broadcast
special programs on the occasion in Kashmiri, Gojri, Pahari and
English languages .’ 88 This would ensure that everybody could hear
and understand the new national story of nuclear Pakistan. The
audience was also meant to be global; as Information and Culture
Minister Mushahid Hussain proudly put it, the nuclear test site at
Chagai ‘has become a symbol of Pakistan’s identity all over the
world .’ 89

Absent from these celebrations was the recognition that the world
has long struggled to eliminate these weapons of mass destruction
after they had been first created. It was wrongfully asserted that
Pakistan’s nuclear achievements were a proof of national self-
reliance. In fact, the nuclear project from its inception relied on
outside support. Pakistan’s nuclear scientists were trained abroad,
at the expense of others. Its nuclear research and nuclear power
reactors were imported, the key technology for producing the fissile
material for its nuclear weapons was bought abroad covertly by A.Q.
Khan, and even the design of its bomb may have come from China.

Rather than proving national strength and self-reliance, the
coming of the bomb exposed Pakistan’s fundamental weaknesses.
Indeed, the events after the May tests provided clear evidence of just
how weak Pakistan actually is. The sanctions imposed by the
international community in response to the nuclear tests were
quickly lifted not because the world was awed by Pakistan’s new
nuclear might, but because they saw its fragility. It appeared that
the country was about to fall apart and no one wanted to see that

Pakistan’s claims to national technological and military prowess
through mastery of the bomb, the reactor, and the missile provide
a flimsy veil over its many basic failures as a state and society. It is
this recognition that shapes the efforts of the small, emerging anti-
nuclear movement in Pakistan to embed its prudential and moral
critique of nuclear weapons and nuclear power in a broader

The Coming of the Atomic Age to Pakistan 63

challenge to prevailing ideas and practices of national security,
development and the politics of knowledge 90 To repeat the call made
in, Out of the Nuclear Shadow:

The tasks that confront the peace movements in India and Pakistan are
unprecedented. Not only must they educate their fellow citizens in what
it means to live with nuclear weapons in their midst, they must do so
without creating such fear that people are immobilised. They must
organise to abolish nuclear weapons but cannot concentrate simply on
the technology, politics, economics and culture of nuclear weapons
because nuclear weapons cannot be abolished from South Asia or
globally while leaving everything else unchanged . 91

This means imagining and building a future that goes beyond
emulating the states, economies, societies and knowledge systems
of the ‘developed’ societies. It requires new dreams.


Pervez Hoodbhoy

This chapter traces the early development of Pakistan’s nuclear
weapons; follows the subsequent evolution of its nuclear objectives
and postures; identifies the stages by which a Pakistan-India nuclear
crisis could escalate; and examines whether mutual deterrence can
be considered robust.

South Asia’s nuclear history begins in 1948, a year after Partition.
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, on the advice of the brilliant
Cambridge-educated nuclear physicist, Dr Homi Jehangir Bhabha,
who was both his confidante and scientific advisor, ordered the
establishment of the Atomic Energy Agency Commission of India.
While the AEC’s public position was to work towards generating
nuclear energy for electricity generation, earth excavation, medical
technology, and other peaceful purposes, Bhabha struggled to keep
its mandate deliberately ambiguous so that the AEC could also
conduct secret weapons-related research. 1 ’ 2 Nehru agreed, though
he was less enthusiastic about nuclear weapons. Bhabha’s carefully
argued freedom would eventually lead to the development of India’s
nuclear weapons. A new nuclear vigour came with the Sino-Indian
border war in 1962, and soon India quietly embarked on its quest
for the bomb. Violating the terms on which Canada had provided
the Cirus CANDU-type nuclear reactor, plutonium was stealthily
reprocessed from its spent fuel. In 1974, just as Prime Minister
Indira Gandhi was in deep political trouble, the ‘Buddha smiled’ over
the Pokharan nuclear test site.

In Pakistan under General Ayub Khan (1958-1968), there was no
movement or enthusiasm for the bomb. Ayub reportedly said that,

Pakistan: Climbing the Nuclear Ladder 69

‘We will buy the bomb off the shelf if India goes nuclear,’ 3 but his
foreign minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto knew that doing such a thing
was impossible. Bhutto, a brilliant politician who appealed to anti-
Indian sentiment, had for long aspired for the bomb. In 1966 he
wrote that, ‘It would be dangerous to plan for less and our plans
should, therefore, include the nuclear deterrent.’ 4 Five years later
Pakistan was decisively defeated by India whose military intervention
tipped the balance in the bloody civil war between East and West
Pakistan. Bangladesh emerged, leaving the ‘Two-Nation Theory’ —
the basis on which Pakistan had come into existence — in tatters.

Serious, but still preliminary, thinking about the bomb began in
1972, a year after the crushing blow of defeat in the Indo-Pak War
of 1971 which led to the break-up of Pakistan and the creation of
Bangladesh. In the city of Multan, an emotionally charged Bhutto,
now prime minister, called a meeting on 20 January 1972 to which
senior scientists and engineers were invited. Bhutto exhorted them
to build the bomb, fired the existing chairman of the Pakistan
Atomic Energy Commission, Dr Ishrat Hussain Usmani and hired
an ambitious new one, Munir Ahmad Khan.

But 1972 was still not the actual starting point for Pakistan’s
quest for the bomb although Indian analysts often justify acquisition
of their bomb by pointing fingers at Pakistan. According to some of
my senior physics colleagues present at that meeting — including Dr
Riazuddin, who later received a high Pakistani award for being the
bomb’s chief theoretician — there were no clear ideas of what it took
to make a bomb and what had to be done. But just two years later
the shock waves from India’s nuclear test hit Pakistan, which had
now been reduced to half its former size.

An all-out ‘Manhattan-style’ effort in Pakistan began just days
later. 56 - 7 Bhutto raised money from Arab states such as Libya and
Saudi Arabia. It is rumoured that bales full of dollars were brought
in on Pakistan International Airline flights from the Middle East.
Funds donated for helping the victims of the 1974 earthquake that
hit the Karakoram Mountains are alleged to have been diverted into
the nuclear program. Those who knew the precise details, like


Ghulam Ishaq Khan and H.U. Beg, took these secrets to their graves.
The truth shall never be known.

Bhutto also elicited crucial nuclear help from China. Alarmed at
India’s nuclear success, China was willing to share the designs of its
first weapon with Pakistan. This bomb had first been tested in Lop
Nur in 1964. 8 China had also allegedly supplied UF 6 (uranium
hexafluoride) gas for testing the centrifuges before a UF 6 plant was
secretly imported from Germany. 9 This gas is the raw material from
which the bomb material is ultimately extracted. It is quite likely
that the development of nuclear weapons by Pakistan would have
eventually succeeded, but without Chinese assistance this would
have taken longer.

Some details about Chinese involvement have been confirmed by
Dr A.Q. Khan, the metallurgist who headed the uranium enrichment
plant at Kahuta and is famed for having brought back centrifuge
designs from his earlier employment at URENCO in Belgium.
Publically disgraced in January 2004 after his global business
enterprise of selling nuclear technology surfaced, he was put under
house arrest but still succeeded in giving interviews. In a dejected
moment he revealed that China had supplied 50 kilograms of highly
enriched uranium together with a blueprint for a simple weapon
that China had already tested, thus supplying a virtual do-it-yourself
kit. 10 But Khan, who has launched his own political party and is now
aspiring to becoming the president of Pakistan, says that Pakistan
was not a passive recipient. He says that the traffic was both ways
and Pakistani experts were dispatched to Hanzhong in central China,
where they helped ‘put up a centrifuge plant’ and that, ‘We sent 135
C-130 plane-loads of machines, inverters, valves, flow meters,
pressure gauges. . . . Our teams stayed there for weeks to help and
their teams stayed here for weeks at a time.’ 11

That China tested for Pakistan its first bomb in 1990 has been
claimed in a recent book co-authored by former U.S. Air Force
Secretary Thomas Reed. Reed had earlier worked at Livermore
National Laboratory as a weapons designer. 12 According to Reed, the
Chinese did a massive training of Pakistani scientists, brought them

Pakistan: Climbing the Nuclear Ladder 71

to China for lectures, and even gave them the design of the CHIC-4
device, which was a weapon that was easy to build a model for
export. Together with the other author, Danny Stillman, who was
director of the technical intelligence division at Los Alamos National
Laboratory, Reed argues that the reason Pakistan could respond so
quickly and confidently after the Indian tests was because it was
already tested in 1990, eight years before the tit-for-tat tests.
Pakistani weaponeers vigorously deny this.

By 1986, or possibly a year earlier, Pakistan had some form of
weapon. Delivery capability came some years later but, of course,
preparations for testing could be made independently. A team
headed by Dr Samar Mubarakmand was put in charge of preparing
nuclear test sites at Chaghai and Koh Ras. And so, just seventeen
days after the Indian tests, on 28 May 1998, the Chaghai mountains
in Balochistan turned white from five nearly simultaneous atomic
blasts. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had initially been hesitant
because he feared crippling sanctions but finally decided to cross the
bridge. 13 To jubilant crowds he announced: Today we have settled
scores with India by detonating five nuclear devices of our own. We
have paid them back.’ 14

While Nawaz Sharif claimed credit, so did his arch-rival and
opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto. Before Pakistan tested she
demanded that the U.S. should bomb India. In an article published
in the Los Angeles Times, she wrote: ‘Rogue nations that defy world
opinion ought to be taught a lesson,’ and hence, ‘If a pre-emptive
military strike is possible to neutralize India’s nuclear capability,
that is the response that is necessary.’ 15 Addressing a public rally she
made a grand theatrical gesture, tossing her glass bangles on the
ground and taunting Nawaz Sharif that he was a na-mard, i.e., not
man enough to respond to India’s nuclear provocation. Thereafter,
whatever restraining doubts Sharif might have had quickly vanished.

Pakistan’s initially reluctant political leaders now feasted on their
new-found glory. Massive celebrations, organized as well as
spontaneous, erupted across Pakistan. Celebrations on the West
Bank, and in some Muslim countries, broke out. The bomb makers


became celebrities; school children were handed free badges with
mushroom clouds; and poetry competitions extolled the great
national achievement. Missile and fibreglass replicas of the nuclear
test site mushroomed across the country. Most were removed several
years later but some still stand in Pakistan’s public squares and at
crossroads. They are testimony to the delirium that had overpowered
the country at a time when, for the man on the street, they stood
as symbols of national glory and achievement rather than
instruments of wholesale death and destruction.

The exhilaration overpowered the rational sensibilities of national
leaders, both military and civil. Soon Pakistan was to see nuclear
weapons as a talisman, able to ward off all dangers. Countering
India’s nuclear weapons with Pakistani nuclear weapons became
secondary. Instead, the latter became the means for neutralizing
India’s far larger conventional land, air, and sea forces. Size no
longer mattered. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s dream of avenging East
Pakistan, and of liberating Kashmir, now seemed to lie within the
realm of possibilities.


Although India’s nuclear weapons had been conceived primarily as
a means to counter China and fulfil notions of national grandeur,
they inevitably created new dynamics of hostility in Pakistan-India
relations. A fearful Pakistan originally acquired its own weapons
largely for a single purpose: that of balancing every Indian nuke with
a Pakistani nuke, or as close to that as possible. At one level this is
understandable; living with a nuclear neighbour — especially an
unfriendly one — cannot ever be comfortable for any country.

But the goal post was soon to shift. As early as 1966, just after
‘Operation Gibraltar’ had failed to reach its objectives, Bhutto had
wanted the bomb as a deterrent that would work even if Pakistan
was to be proactive again in Kashmir. Now, after their successful
1998 nuclear tests, Pakistani generals instantly saw that the calculus
of power had changed in their favour. The NATO-Warsaw Pact
experience had already established that parity could be obtained even

Pakistan: Climbing the Nuclear Ladder 73

with a much larger conventional force on the other side. So the fact
that India had 1.3 million personnel in military uniforms, and
Pakistan had only 0.6 million mattered much less. Now nuclear
weapons could be used for more than just a boring stand-off with
India. Convinced of an impregnable defense, Pakistani military
planners embarked on what they thought was a brilliant covert
operation in Kashmir.

Just months after Pakistan had established its nuclear credentials,
the Chief of Army Staff, General Pervez Musharraf, sent troops out
of uniform along with Islamist militant fighters across the Line of
Control (LoC) in Kashmir. They seized strategic positions in the
high mountains of the Kargil area on the Indian-controlled side in
early 1999, setting off a war that left approximately two to four
thousand personnel dead on both sides. Arguably, it was the first war
in history to have been caused by nuclear weapons; the belief that
Pakistan now possessed an impregnable defense meant that it could
take much bigger risks against a superior military adversary.

To Pakistan’s surprise (what truly surprises is that its leaders were
surprised!) India poured troops and artillery into Kargil and
vigorously counter-attacked once it realized the seriousness of the
secret invasion. A military disaster for Pakistan loomed ahead and,
worse, it stood diplomatically isolated. 1617 With a tense situation
threatening to spiral into all-out war, western diplomacy went into
overdrive. Gloomy and worried, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
contacted the Americans. But even before he flew to Washington on
4 July 1999, he had been bluntly told to withdraw Pakistani forces
or be prepared for full-scale war with India. Bruce Reidel, Special
Assistant to President Clinton, writes that he was present in person
when Clinton informed Nawaz Sharif that the Pakistan Army had
mobilized its nuclear-tipped missile fleet. 18 (If this is true, then the
preparations for nuclear deployment and possible use could only
have been ordered by General Pervez Musharraf at either his own
initiative or in consultation with the army leadership.)


Riedel writes:

Was that what Sharif wanted, Clinton asked? Did Sharif order the
Pakistani nuclear missile force to prepare for action? Did he realize how
crazy that was? You’ve put me in the middle today, set the U.S. up to
fail and I won’t let it happen. Pakistan is messing with nuclear war.
Sharif was getting exhausted. He denied that he had ordered the
preparation of their missile force, said he was against that but he was
worried for his life now back in Pakistan . 19

Unnerved by Clinton’s revelation and the closeness to disaster,
Nawaz Sharif agreed to immediate withdrawal, abandoning earlier
assertions that Pakistan’s army had no control over the invaders.
The order to retreat was to poison relations between him and
Musharraf, leading to Sharif’s ouster just months later, on 12
October 1999. However, contrary to claims that he made a decade
later, Sharif had not opposed the venture. While he may not have
been fully on board, television footage shows him visiting forward
army posts near the Kargil area where he had given rousing speeches
to soldiers. 20

One does not know if there was any actual move towards readying
nuclear forces on either side; this will be forever debated and
disputed. But even if there had been none, Kargil had impacted
strategic behaviour in the subcontinent in a significant manner.
Timothy Hoyt, writing on the nuclear dimensions of Kargil, puts it
as follows:

Prior to Kargil, Indian and Pakistani elites viewed their nuclear
capabilities as largely political, rather than military tools, and assumed
that they would stabilize their longstanding competition. Leaders of
each country made assumptions about the impact nuclear arsenals
would have on the other side’s behaviour, but these assumptions were
mutually contradictory, and ultimately failed to account for the attitudes
and responses of the other side. As a result, nuclear weapons did not
deter war . 21

Pakistan: Climbing the Nuclear Ladder 75

Despite the Kargil defeat, Pakistan political and military leaders
insisted that Pakistan had prevailed in the conflict and that its
nuclear weapons had deterred India from crossing the Line of
Control or the international border. The information minister,
Mushahid Hussain, claimed that the Indian forces had been given a
sound drubbing. 22 This belief still exists in the military, which is
reluctant to admit that the philosophy behind the Kargil invasion
was flawed. Internationally, Pakistan was branded the aggressor. The
conflict eventually wound down after Pakistan ordered the
withdrawal of its forces.

After Kargil, it did not take long to get back to the brink. On 13
December 2001, Islamic militants based in Pakistan struck at the
Indian parliament in Delhi, sparking off a crisis that lasted for about
seven months. While it is probably true that Musharraf’s government
did not order, and was unaware of the planned attack, there is little
doubt that a free hand had been given to jihadists in Pakistan-
controlled Kashmir. Indian tempers soared again. Prime Minister
Atal Bihari Vajpayee exhorted his troops in Kashmir to prepare for
sacrifices and ‘decisive victory’. This set off widespread alarm. It
seemed plausible that India was preparing for a ‘limited war’ to flush
out Islamic militant camps in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. That
nuclear weapons were put on enhanced alert by both sides is a
strong possibility, although, direct proof appears unavailable.

Tensions kept mounting during the stand-off. Sensing a global
climate deeply hostile to Islamic militancy after the 11 September
2001 attack on New York’s World Trade Centre, India’s ruling BJP
echoed the ‘War on Terror’ slogan as a way to garner international
support for their military campaign in Kashmir. In response,
Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Munir Akram, sent a
threatening message by reiterating Pakistan’s refusal of a no-first-
use policy. He said that given India’s armed forces are larger than
Pakistan’s; anyone asking Pakistan to rule out first-strike of nuclear
weapons would be ‘asking us in fact to accept the use of conventional
force by India.’ 23


Indian aggressiveness was also on full display. Defense Minister
George Fernandes told the International Herald Tribune : ‘India can
survive a nuclear attack, but Pakistan cannot.’ 24 Indian Defense
Secretary Yogendra Narain took matters a step further in an
interview with Outlook Magazine : ‘A surgical strike is the answer,’
adding that if this failed to resolve issues, ‘We must be prepared for
total mutual destruction. 25 Indian security analyst, Brahma
Chellaney, claimed: ‘India can hit any nook and corner of Pakistan
and is fully prepared to call Pakistan’s nuclear bluff.’ 26 Fortunately,
good sense prevailed and once again international mediation helped
wind tensions down after a tense, months-long standoff.

Then came the Mumbai massacre. Carried out by over 30
Pakistan-based attackers, it began on 26 November 2008 and lasted
three days, killing 164 and wounding at least 308. This incident is
considered as their 9/11 by Indians. In the first few days, it seemed
that the Pakistani state, embattled as it was by other jihadist groups
it was fighting, could not have ordered the attacks. With the
revelations of David Headley, a Chicago-based Pakistani-American
who was working with an ISI operative, the situation has become
murkier. It appears that parts of the Pakistani establishment might
have been involved without knowledge of those at the top. Between
2006 and 2008, Headley admitted to performing five spying missions
in Mumbai scouting targets for the 2008 attacks, on behalf of
Lashkar-e-Taiba and Pakistani ex-military officers. Indian
temperatures soared when Pakistan vociferously denied that its
nationals were involved — a manifest untruth after the capture of
Ajmal Kasab belonging to Faridkot, Pakistan. The media in both
countries poured fuel over the fire, with Indian television anchor
persons repeatedly calling for military action against Pakistan.
Tensions simmered for long, dying away only gradually.

As of 2012, the Pakistani government has not acted against the
Mumbai perpetrators. Hafiz Saeed roams the land, exonerated by
Pakistani courts, delivering fiery speeches against India and the U.S.
Indian allegations of Pakistan’s official involvement became more
pointed after the capture of Abu Jindal in June 2012; the Indians

Pakistan: Climbing the Nuclear Ladder 77

described the event as hitting a gold mine which proves official
involvement through the ISI. Pakistan routinely denied the charges.


Now let’s suppose that Mumbai-II were to happen and tensions were
once again to rise to some dizzying level. What are possible Pakistani
responses to an Operation Parakram, Cold Start, or some similar
operation designed to punish Pakistan? One can imagine the
following rungs of escalation each leading to the one above, or
perhaps, even skipping to the next one:

1. Strong statements by the Pakistan Army and political leaders,
similar to those made during previous crises, with open threats
that a nuclear showdown is imminent.

2. Mobilization of a few missiles and nuclear-capable aircraft. This
would be detectable by India’s RISAT’s (Radar Imaging Satellite)
which, while in a 540-mile high orbit, uses a synthetic aperture
that gives it day-night all-weather reconnaissance capability. 27
Thereafter one expects India to respond with a similar
mobilization. But Pakistan would have to rely on China for
intelligence information as it does not have such satellite

3. An underground nuclear test by Pakistan. This would be a
powerful signal that nuclear temperatures have sharply increased.
Such a test is certainly technically possible, and one presumes
that Pakistan has already prepared an appropriate site (probably
again in Balochistan). Since Pakistan has not signed the CTBT
(Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty), this would not violate
any international law. The Indian response could be tit-for-tat:
those Indian scientists long spoiling for a chance to fine-tune
their thermonuclear weapons will have their wish fulfilled. 28

4. Air-dropping a bomb on some uninhabited desert area within
Pakistan. The psychological impact would be enormously larger
than that of an underground test: the flash would detected by


aircraft and satellites, and the mushroom cloud would carry
radioactivity long distances in directions determined by winds
prevailing at that time. The fact that even desert areas are not
completely uninhabited would be a consideration, but would not
rule out this option. It is unlikely that India would follow suit
(although underground testing will remain an option). Pakistan’s
action would arguably not be a violation of any NFU (No First
Use) principle. 29 However, massive alarm would be created by this
action and Pakistan might be seen to have nuclearized the
conflict. Thereupon India would seek to have a total international
boycott imposed upon Pakistan.

5. Use of tactical nuclear weapons against invading Indian troops.
The development of short-range battlefield nuclear weapons such
as Nasr and Abdali suggests that Pakistani planners have accepted
this as a plausible scenario and thus worth preparing for. A
Pakistani Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) press release in
May 2012 stated: ‘Nasr, with a range of 60 km, carries nuclear
warheads of appropriate yield with high accuracy, shoot and scoot
attributes. This quick response system addresses the need to deter
evolving threats.’ 30 The Indian response to a TNW attack could be:
a) An all-out attack using conventional weapons and a sea-
embargo of Pakistani ports: b) A demonstrative nuclear attack on
some military target within Pakistan. If the latter, then there
would be a real question of whether further escalation can be

Although much is made of TNW’s, they may not be very effective
militarily — invading front-line combat units can be expected to be
sufficiently well dispersed and mobile so as to not make good
nuclear targets. 31 Moreover, the sub-kiloton warheads are expensive:
in spite of a yield 10-15 times lower than a ‘city-buster’, they
consume 3-4 times more fissile material. This fact could be
important for a country that has limited fissile stocks. But the very
fact that nuclear weapons were used — even if on Pakistani soil
rather than Indian — would have broken a taboo and brought the

Pakistan: Climbing the Nuclear Ladder 79

danger level to the very highest level; cities on both sides would now
stand in mortal danger.

After the first weapon has been used, can anything be done to
prevent catastrophe and prevent all available ones from being used?
Given the extreme passions that would then rage, it is difficult to be
optimistic. But, anticipating that such a situation could arise, in
these calmer times, India and Pakistan would do well to give some
thought to the management of a nuclear conflict should it start, for
whatever reason.

At the very least both countries need to declare a policy of
proportionate response. Rather than deliberately cultivating a
‘madman image’, it is better to go for ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for
a tooth’ policy. For this reason, nuclear crisis diplomacy must be
kept alive. If India-Pak communication breaks down at some point
in a crisis, third-party interlocution is going to be vital for averting
a disaster. This is a complex issue. Until Musharraf’s departure,
Pakistan’s nuclear program has been relatively transparent to the
U.S., although, India’s had been relatively opaque. Pakistan had an
abiding faith in the U.S. to keep the Pak-India conflict from getting
out of control in spite of the fact that the U.S. did not come to its
aid in the 1965 and 1971 wars. India, on the other hand, had long
presumed that the U.S. would give primacy to Pakistan and so
distrusted it. But events over the last two decades have moved India
towards, and Pakistan away from the U.S. While this reduces the
importance of U.S. diplomacy in mediating conflicts, it still remains
the best option.

Who would make nuclear decisions on the Pakistani side and
according to what procedure? Opacity is part of the strategy of every
nuclear state, and so no definitive answer can be given. But some
facts seem well established. While General Musharraf was
simultaneously President and Chief of Army Staff, he was the central
person. The Strategic Plans Division (SPD) was created on his orders
in February 2000, and became the sole organization authorised to
have custody of nuclear weapons. It was overseen by the Nuclear
Command Authority (NCA) whose members were the President,


Prime Minister of Pakistan (Vice Chairman), Minister for Foreign
Affairs; Minster for Defense; Minister for Finance; Minister for
Interior; Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee; Chief of Army
Staff; Chief of Naval Staff; and the Chief of Air Staff. The Director
General (DG) of SPD, Gen. Khalid Kidwai, was the NCA’s Secretary.
Kidwai was set to retire in 2006, but Musharraf gave him a one-year
extension, reportedly because of his technical assignment; he
remains DG as of the end of 2012.

Post-Musharraf, it became clear that the army had little patience
for the civilian leadership, especially in nuclear affairs. In November
2009, President Asif Ali Zardari quit his position as the NCA
chairman, transferring his powers to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza
Gilani. One expects that these powers were transferred on to Raja
Pervez Ashraf, his replacement. Of course, no one really believes that
Pakistan’s civilian governments have any substantial control over
nuclear matters.


The rhetoric during each new Pakistan-India crisis has been fierce,
suggesting a lessening of political restraints and ever greater nuclear
brinksmanship. During earlier crises, high-ranking Indian officials
conveyed publicly what they believed to be a powerfully convincing
deterrent message — one that Rawalpindi took all too seriously. For
example, during the 2001-2002 ‘Twin Peaks’ crisis, Defense Minister
George Fernandes famously responded to belligerent Pakistani
statements in this manner: ‘We could take a strike, survive, and then
hit back. Pakistan would be finished.’ During this crisis, the
President of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, Jana Krishnamurthy,
issued the same warning: If Pakistan escalated to nuclear weapons’
use, ‘its existence itself would be wiped out of the world map.’ The
Indian Chief of Army Staff, S. Padmanabhan, sang the same tune —
that if Pakistan resorted to first use, ‘the perpetrator of that parti-
cular outrange shall be punished so severely that their continuation
thereafter in any form will be doubtful.’

Pakistan: Climbing the Nuclear Ladder 81

Various Indian strategic analysts have also echoed this deterrent
threat. For example, Bharat Karnad says that the problem ‘is not
one of preventing nuclear war, but with believing that Pakistan can
annihilate India, which is not possible, even as the reverse is
eminently true.’ 32 Gurmeet Kanwal asserted that, ‘if Pakistan were
to . . . resort to the unthinkable, then India might as well insure
that Pakistan finally ceases to exist as a nation state. ... In an
imperfect world ... it does not pay to be squeamish.’ 33

Nonetheless, in spite of such pronouncements, there been no
actual use of nuclear weapons since Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Although Pakistan and India have viciously clawed at each other,
each time they have stepped back from the brink. Doesn’t this
constitute proof that deterrence ‘works’? On the face of it, the
answer is ‘yes’. But what has worked a few times might, or might not
work the next time. Repeated cycles increase fear-fatigue, reducing
the value of deterrence. Indeed, the efficacy of nuclear deterrence
rests upon the ability of these weapons to induce terror. It also
presupposes a rational calculus, as well as actors who, at the height
of tension, will give primacy to logic over emotion. Events in South
Asia have put these assumptions into question. Countries loitering
close to the brink may begin to feel that they cannot fall into it.

The conflict in early 2002, which came in the background of
crises in 1977 and 1990, showed a remarkable public indifference to
the tense situation on the ground. A million troops had mobilized
and leaders in both India and Pakistan threatened nuclear war.
World opinion responded fearfully seeing a fierce, possibly suicidal,
struggle up ahead. Foreign nationals streamed out of both countries.
But even at the peak of the crisis, few Indians or Pakistanis lost
much sleep. Stock markets flickered, but there was no run on the
banks or panic buying. Schools and colleges, which generally close
at the first hint of disturbances, functioned normally. The
indifference to nuclear annihilation shocked the rest of the world.

The nonchalance has a strong reason. India and Pakistan are still
largely traditional, rural societies, albeit undergoing rapid economic
and social transformation. The fundamental belief structures of such


societies (which may well be the last things to change), reflect the
realities of agricultural economies dependent on rains and good
weather — precisely the factors that brought the Rain God and other
deities into being. These pre-scientific beliefs encourage surrender
to larger, supernatural forces. Conversations and discussions often
end with remarks to the effect that fate shall triumph, or that it shall
be as Allah wills, after which people shrug their shoulders and move
on. Risk-taking is natural once unseen forces can be brought to your

Nuclear ignorance partially explains this cavalier attitude. In
either country, most people lack any real understanding of the
catastrophe that would follow the use of even a single, small 15KT
nuclear weapon in a populated area. In India, a November 1999
post-election national opinion poll survey found just over half of the
population had not even heard of the May 1998 nuclear tests. 34 In
the middle of the spring 2002 crisis, the BBC reported the level of
awareness of the nuclear risk among the Pakistani public was
‘abysmally low’. 35 In India, it found ‘for many, the terror of a nuclear
conflict is hard to imagine.’ 36

First-hand evidence bears out these judgments. Even educated
people seem unable to grasp basic nuclear realities. Some physics
students (and faculty!) in my university’s physics department think
that a nuclear war would be the end of the world. Others see nuclear
weapons as just bigger bombs. Many said it was not their concern,
but the army’s. Almost none know about the possibility of a nuclear
firestorm, about residual radioactivity, or damage to the gene pool.
The media has not attempted to change the public’s ignorance of
nuclear dangers. Critical discussions of nuclear weapons and nuclear
war are strictly off limits in both countries.

Terror of nuclear weapons was fundamental in moving the Cold
War adversaries towards nuclear treaties such as SALT (Strategic
Arms Limitation Talks), and the winding down of their aggressive
military posturing. But this feeling of fear is not to be found in the
Pakistan-India nuclear situation. Instead, oftentimes one finds a
casual denial of reality and an almost blase indifference to what

Pakistan: Climbing the Nuclear Ladder 83

nuclear weapons do. This means that military and civil leaders are
not constrained from hurling belligerent threats or taking rash

Pakistani political leaders and analysts are also remarkably
ignorant of nuclear matters. It is well known that Benazir Bhutto
was kept out of the nuclear loop. Knowing how difficult it would be
to persuade the generals, she displayed no desire to be informed of
nuclear secrets, much less challenge the generals over whom she
supposedly had authority. 37 President Asif Ali Zardari, after a faux
pas in which he said Pakistan believed in NFU (No First Use) of
nuclear weapons, quickly resigned from presiding over the nuclear
command authority and delegated his authority to the prime
minister. 38

On the Indian side, serious misconceptions about Pakistan’s
capabilities prevailed even after the 1998 nuclear tests. Even later,
several senior Indian military and political leaders continued to
express doubts on the operational capability and usability of the
Pakistani arsenal. As detailed earlier, after Pakistan’s incursion into
Kargil, India began to seriously consider making cross-border
strikes on militant camps on the Pakistani side of the Line of
Control. This gained support in Indian ruling circles, increasing
risks of a mis-judgment that could have led to serious miscalculations.

Many Indians have also held the false belief that Pakistan, as a
client state of the U.S., had been forced to put its nuclear weapons
under the control of the U.S. Thus the U.S. would either restrain
their use by Pakistan or, if need be, destroy them. At a meeting in
Dubai which I attended in January 2002, senior Indian analysts said
they were ‘bored’ with Pakistan’s nuclear threats and no longer
believed them. K. Subrahmanyam, an influential Indian hawk who
has long advocated Indian nuclearization said that India can ‘sleep
in peace’. Although the current tension between the U.S. and
Pakistan puzzles various Indian commentators, such beliefs continue
to be held by many Indians — including those in high positions.

The presumption is misplaced. Even if the United States had the
political will it would not have the capability to locate and destroy


Pakistani nuclear weapons. To faithfully track even a handful of
mobile nuclear-armed missiles is extremely difficult. During the
Cuban missile crisis, the U.S. Air Force had aerial photos of the
Soviet missile locations and its planes were only minutes away, yet
it would not assure that a surprise attack would be more than 90
per cent effective. In the first Gulf War, U.S. efforts to destroy Iraqi
Scuds had limited success. For all the talk and threats issued from
time to time, the U.S. is extremely reluctant to move on Iran’s
nuclear weapons — or allow Israel to go for them. No country has
ever tried to take out another’s nuclear bombs. The consequences
of a botched operation can be severe.


The number of nuclear weapons that Pakistan ‘must have’ is
generally left open by defense analysts; it is rare to find explicit
numbers. It is therefore of some interest to consider the figures used
by a retired Pakistani air force officer, Air Commodore Jamal
Hasan. 39 His logic is reproduced below.

We assume that destruction of two enemy cities will meet our minimum
deterrence needs and each city would need to be hit with five nuclear
bombs, that our delivery means have a 50% probability of successfully
penetrating the enemy defenses, and finally the enemy has the capability
of destroying 50% of our nuclear assets in a pre-emptive first strike.
Now with these sets of assumed determinants, the number of weapons
needed to ensure minimum deterrence would be:

* Number of bombs required to take out two cities @ 5 per city: 10

* After factoring in enemy’s 50% intercept capability: 20 bombs

* Enemy can take out 50% of our force in a pre-emptive strike. So we
would need 40 bombs to maintain our minimum deterrence under
the given set of assumptions.

This relatively modest figure of 40 bombs then jumps to a staggering
1000 under a different set of assumptions made by the same writer:

Pakistan: Climbing the Nuclear Ladder 85

Let us now assume that the enemy has enhanced his offensive and
defensive capability. Now, he can intercept 90% of our nuclear weapons
because of better NMD system. He also has increased his offensive
potential through greater number of nuclear weapons with enhanced
accuracy and now can take out 90% of our nuclear arsenal in a pre-
emptive strike. Now the fresh calculation would be:

* Number of bombs required to take out 2 cities @ 5 per city: 10 bombs

* After factoring in enemy’s 90% intercept capabilities: 100 bombs

* After factoring in 90% of enemy’s riposte capability: 1000 bombs 40

A degenerative logic is apparent above. Tweaking input parameters
arbitrarily generates arbitrary outputs — you can get the result you
want, and yet it can be made to appear as the end product of a logical

Similar leaps of logic can be found on the Indian side. Like
Pakistan, India refuses to set an upper limit on its arsenal. Instead,
it enhances Pakistani fears by claiming advances on its side. DRDO’s
announcement 41 in 2012 that ‘Delhi and Mumbai, the two most vital
metros of India, have been chosen for ballistic missile defense shield’
feeds into Pakistani fears, although, this gives incentive to Pakistan
to step up its warhead production, the missile shield gives little real

In the context of South Asia, missile defense is a technical
impossibility because of extremely short 4 to 6 minute warning
times, easily manufactured decoys, and various electronic counter
measures. To attack with missiles is relatively easy but to defend
specific targets against missiles in the mid-course and terminal
phase is very hard. A report of the American Physical Society says
that destroying missiles in even the (much easier) boost phase is
dauntingly difficult. 42

Nevertheless, the Indian establishment’s security paradigm has
not shifted fundamentally and more Indian missiles are on their way.
Marking a quantum escalation, in July 2009, India began sea trials
of its 7000-ton nuclear-powered submarine, the Arihant, with
underwater ballistic missile launch capability. The submarine is the


first in a planned fleet of five, and is to be supplemented by a hunter-
killer nuclear submarine soon. While the Arihant is not yet
operational, DRDO has claimed a recent success: after the maiden
test of the 5000 km Agrti V, DRDO’s head, V.K. Saraswat, noted that
several Agni variants could eventually be mated with multiple
independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs), or multiple
nuclear warheads. On 10 May 2012 he explained: ‘Where I was using
four missiles, I may use only one missile. So it becomes a force
multiplier given the damage potential.’ 43

A booming Indian economy has fed India’s rapid militarization.
With only a sixth of India’s budget, Pakistan obviously cannot match
India weapon-for-weapon. Nevertheless, historically every Indian
move somehow finds a counter move. Predictably, news of India’s
new weapon systems is badly received in Pakistan. What should it
do? Tariq Osman Hyder, a former diplomat who headed Pakistan’s
delegation in 2004-2007 talks with India on nuclear and con-
ventional CBMs, gave his answer:

What should Pakistan do? First of all develop its own second strike
nuclear submarine based capability on which it must have given some
thought having been long aware of the Indian program. Secondly, equip
its conventional submarines with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. Thirdly,
as the Russian assistance to India for this project, and the lack of any
objection from the U.S. or any other party has shown that both leasing
of nuclear submarines and technology for their production are
completely compatible with the global non-proliferation regime,
Pakistan should explore such possibilities . 44

The long and short is that the Pakistan-India nuclear race is open-
ended; the sky is the limit. Of course, this is not particular to the
subcontinent. Escalation lies in the nature of the nuclear beast: the
Cold War saw the U.S. warhead-count reach a peak of 31,255 in
1967. 45 Just one of these bombs — even one on the smaller side —
dropped on a city can easily kill a hundred thousand and the fallout
would render the city uninhabitable for years.

Pakistan: Climbing the Nuclear Ladder 87

Praful Bidwai, an astute observer of the Indian nuclear scene,
sums up South Asia’s current situation as follows: Today, both
countries refuse to restrict themselves to any specific number of
weapons. Similarly, for delivery vehicles and ‘flexible response’ is
kept undefined. Tactical nuclear war-fighting, once considered
escalatory and way beyond minimal deterrence, is said to have been
incorporated into current Indian military doctrine. . . . Taken
together, Indian military options and Pakistani planning would seem
to ensure that that any major India-Pakistan conflict would
inexorably lead to the use of nuclear weapons .’ 46

Perhaps it might be slightly more scientific to insert ‘likely’
instead of ‘inexorably’ in Bidwai’s sobering assessment. But then,
that’s only a quibble.

The SC

Feb 13, 2012


Pervez Hoodbhoy

The goal of this chapter is to summarize the current Pakistani
warhead, missile, and aircraft situation — to the extent that it is
known from published sources — and then to enumerate various
constraints that might limit a still larger increase. The forces
pushing expansion are discussed.

Claims that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal has become the world’s
fastest growing one have reverberated around the world. In 2011,
The Washington Post 1 put Pakistan’s stockpile at more than 100
deployed weapons, a doubling over the past several years. Those
figures made Pakistan the world’s fifth-largest nuclear power. A
second estimate, published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists
report entitled: ‘Pakistan’s Nuclear Forces — 2011’ 2 by the Federation
of American Scientists, states that although the numbers of
Pakistani warheads and delivery vehicles is a closely held secret,
yet ‘we estimate that Pakistan has a nuclear weapons stockpile
of 90-110 nuclear warheads, an increase from the estimated
70-90 warheads in 2009.’ The authors reckon that if the expansion
continues, Pakistan’s stockpile could reach 150-200 in a decade. 3
By this count, Pakistan’s arsenal may have already exceeded India’s,
and will soon rival Britain’s.

Similar statements have been made earlier as well. A former top
official of the CIA is quoted in the September 2009 Bulletin of the
Atomic Scientists as saying, ‘It took them roughly 10 years to double
the number of nuclear weapons, from roughly 50 to 100. ’ 4

The first question is: how do these Western analysts and officials
arrive at these estimates? Why should we believe their numbers?

Pakistan: Understanding the ‘World’s Fastest Growing Arsenal' 91

Obviously all nuclear activities is inside buildings to which access
is strictly forbidden, and every precaution is made to shield them
from prying eyes in the sky (and sometimes on the ground). The
security around nuclear installations can be quite fearsome. So, for
example, on 26 June 1979 France’s ambassador to Pakistan had his
teeth knocked out while trying to drive by the forbidden area near
the Kahuta Research Laboratory (KRL). In addition to many other
security requirements, KRL workers are required to report not just
on those colleagues who spend too much time with friends, but also
on those who stare outside the narrow windows for too long.

Still, some things are impossible to hide from prying eyes: there
are tell-tale signatures of nuclear activities and the trained analyst
knows just what to look for. High resolution satellite pictures can
give overall physical details of buildings, plants, and machinery;
electricity consumption results in a thermal signature detectable
by infrared satellite cameras; sensors secretly placed around a plant
can detect various kinds of gases; trucks and cars going in and
out can be seen; communications can be electronically monitored;
and movements of materials can be monitored. And, of course,
there are spies — euphemistically called HI or ‘human intelligence’.
Professionals can then piece together the various evidences available.

Estimations can be inaccurate at times for a variety of reasons. A
country can use subterfuges to conceal fissile material — the stuff
out of which bombs are made. Their quantity and purity, as well as
warhead and missile details are hard to know from afar. High
resolution satellites can also be fooled, and human intelligence can
be used in a way to manipulate figures. Thus, at the end of the day,
one has only estimates and preconceptions by which to go on. But,
strangely enough, these estimates have turned out to be rather good
in some cases — as when they were made for the U.S. and France.
The in-depth penetration of Iran’s program, proved by the U.S.’s
engineered destruction of Iranian centrifuges using the Stuxnet
virus, is another example of intelligence success. This rather
tenuous argument does not guarantee, of course, that estimates
made by U.S. analysts will resemble reality for India, Pakistan,


China, or Israel. But since governments generally do not divulge
atomic secrets, perhaps it is better to have ballpark figures rather
than no figures.

Pakistan has not denied The Bulletin’s report. Its stockpile of
bomb-grade HEU (Highly Enriched Uranium) is increased daily by
the unknown thousands of centrifuges whirring away at the
enrichment facility at Kahuta (KRL) some forty miles from
Islamabad, as well as those rumoured to be elsewhere. A different
kind of bomb material, plutonium, is produced by reactors located
at Khushab in the province of Punjab. Two reactors are already at
work and a third is undergoing trials. A fourth one is under
construction, as anyone who can use Google Earth will confirm. The
plutonium has no commercial purpose. Instead, the goal is to
produce lighter and more compact bombs to be fitted on to missile

In Graph I the current estimate of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is
given. It is, of course, subject to the caveats mentioned above. The
numbers for earlier years appear to be underestimated; the first
nuclear weapon dates to 1985-1986, and six had been tested in
1998. 2 Clearly there could not have been just two bombs left in the

Graph 1: Growth of Pakistan’s Nuclear Arsenal

Data from Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 2011 67: 91 by Hans M. Kristensen and Robert
S. Norris in: ‘Pakistan's Nuclear Forces, 2011’.

Pakistan: Understanding the ‘World’s Fastest Growing Arsenal' 93

arsenal after the test. So a pinch of salt is called for! The subsequent
rate of growth appears plausible, however.

Given that most nuclear states choose not to announce limits
upon the size of its nuclear arsenal, one can safely assume that
Pakistan’s targets are similarly open-ended. Subject to material and
technical constraints, Pakistan will seek to make as many warheads
as possible, as well as make them more powerful and efficient. Hence
more bomb material is being sought.

India’s push for nuclear improvements and changing military
doctrines almost immediately draw Pakistani reaction. A Wikileaks
cable sent to Washington from the U.S. embassy in Islamabad said
that Indian missile defense is a cause for worry in Pakistan:
‘Pakistani counterparts point to India’s interest and investment in
missile defense, even if it will take many years to field a capable
system. They believe this indicates that India is not interested in a
balance of power, but intends to degrade the value of Pakistan’s
nuclear deterrent.’ 5 But, given the near impossibility of defense in
a situation where missile flight times are a mere 4-6 minutes, this
cannot be a genuine concern. It also appears that Pakistan, quite
wisely, is not worried by U.S. plans to sell the Patriot Advanced
Capability 3 missile defense system to India. According to General
Musharraf, the Patriot system also has a response time of up to
eighteen minutes, while Pakistani missiles could begin landing
within six minutes. Further, ‘to top it all, our capability, which we
have tested and is no secret, goes in the atmosphere. And when it
drops down, it sheds its body in the air. The remaining part is the
warhead, which is as small as 10 feet, and hard to hit.’ 6

‘Cold Start’ is of greater significance. This is an operation
conceived by the Indian military in response to more Mumbai-
type attacks. Pakistan has now made it known that the response
to an invasion by Indian conventional forces could result in a
nuclear riposte on the battlefield. But battlefield weapons are very
uneconomical in terms of their fissile material requirements, and
hence it has still greater need for fissile materials.



United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is said to be a calm
man. But Moon could not hide his frustration at Pakistan’s
determined opposition to a treaty that would limit fissile material
production for use in nuclear weapons. 7 For three years, Pakistan
has single-handedly — and successfully — blocked the Conference on
Disarmament (CD) in Geneva from discussing an effort that would
put a cap on fissile materials. Consequently, within diplomatic
circles, Pakistan has acquired the reputation of an obstructionist
that opposes all efforts towards this end.

Pakistan, in defending itself against these charges at the
Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, cites the U.S.-India nuclear
deal, 8 9 along with older issues related to verification problems and
existing stocks, as its principal objection to the FMCT (Fissile
Material Cut-off Treaty). Indeed, the Deal was a powerful blow
against international arms control. The United States, while
pursuing its perceived national interests, had chosen to commit
itself to nuclear cooperation with India — a state that had not signed
the NPT, and one that made nuclear weapons surreptitiously using
technology given to it for exclusively peaceful purposes. America
now had to choose between supporting the integrity of the NPT,
which it had initiated and pushed for in the 1960s, against its more
recent desire to achieve a new strategic balance in Asia in the post-
Cold War world. After some initial hesitation, it chose the latter.

Mainstream India was delighted at the Deal, although the Indian
Left noisily protested. The sanctions imposed after the 1998 tests
had been lifted after India’s vehement protestations but now, under
the Deal, India wanted much more — such as importing advanced
nuclear reactor technology, as well as natural uranium ore from
diverse sources including Australia. 10 Although imported ore cannot
legally be used for bomb-making, India can in principle divert more
of its scarce domestic ore towards military reactors. Joseph
Cirincione of the Centre for American Progress, and a critic of the
Deal, remarked:

Pakistan: Understanding the ‘World’s Fastest Growing Arsenal' 95

The deal endorses and assists India’s nuclear-weapons program. United
States supplied uranium fuel would free up India’s limited uranium
reserves for fuel that otherwise would be burned in these reactors to
make nuclear weapons. This would allow India to increase its production
from the estimated six to 10 additional nuclear bombs per year to several
dozen a year. 11

The Deal is inimical to the objective of a world with fewer nuclear
weapons. But this may not be the full story; another powerful
incentive now lies behind Pakistan’s forceful rejection of the FMCT,
one having to do with America rather than India. Whereas formally
the U.S. and Pakistan are still allies in the War Against Terror
announced by President G.W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks on U.S.
soil, they have long loitered at the brink of open hostility. The
Washington Post columnist David Ignatius writes that, ‘United
States and Pakistan have the most neurotic, mutually destructive
“friendly” relationship in the world.’ 12

Today, in the Pakistan military’s mind, the threat posed by the
U.S. competes with that from India. Although TTP (Tehreek-e-
Taliban Pakistan) jihadists have killed thousands of Pakistani troops
and civilians over the last four-five years, the Americans are
considered still more of an adversary. Smarting after U.S. troops
intruded into Pakistan and killing Osama bin Laden, General Ashfaq
Pervez Kayani reminded the Americans that Pakistan was a nuclear
power and should not be compared with Iraq or Afghanistan and to
‘think 10 times’ before moving into the North Waziristan region
from Afghanistan. 13

Conflict with the U.S. is a possibility that Pakistanis frequently
wonder about. Pakistan’s former ambassador to the U.N., Munir
Akram, hints that this may not be far away:

Today, the relationship has passed into the zone of hostility at the
popular and official level. It is entirely uncertain where the American
insults, collaboration with our regional adversaries and talk of ‘losing
patience’ with Pakistan will lead. The history of the nuclear era reveals
how often states have come, through blunder and miscalculation, to the
brink of nuclear catastrophe. 14


A major reason for the Pakistan Army’s growing hostility towards
the U.S. is the increasing conviction that its nuclear weapons are
threatened by America. This perception is reinforced by the decade-
long attention given to the issue in the U.S. mainstream press, and
by war-gaming exercises in U.S. military institutes. Pakistani fears
about a weapon-snatch skyrocketed after the bin Laden raid in
Abbotabad in May 2011. Two weeks later Senator John Kerry,
Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, came to
Islamabad. His visit was reported to be a tense one:

Kayani was still seething. He used a private session with Kerry and
Pakistan’s president and prime minister to demand a written assurance
that, under no circumstances — even chaos in Pakistan — would the
United States enter the country to grab or secure the country’s nuclear
treasure. Kerry, thinking he was using a figure of speech, said he was
prepared to ‘write in blood’ that the United States had no intention to
go after the arsenal . 15

Of course, an American attack on Pakistan’s nuclear facilities is very
improbable. It is difficult to imagine any circumstances — except
possibly the most extreme — in which the U.S. would risk going to
war against another nuclear state. Even if Pakistan had just a handful
of weapons, no outside power could accurately know the coordinates
of the mobile units on which they are located. Immediately after the
bin Laden killing, Americans detected that elements of the arsenal
had been moved around. 16 According to The Atlantic.

Nuclear-weapons components are sometimes moved by helicopter and
sometimes moved over roads. And instead of moving nuclear material
in armoured, well-defended convoys, the SPD prefers to move material
by subterfuge, in civilian-style vehicles without noticeable defenses, in
the regular flow of traffic. According to both Pakistani and American
sources, vans with a modest security profile are sometimes the preferred
conveyance. And according to a senior U.S. intelligence official, the
Pakistanis have begun using this low-security method to transfer not
merely the ‘de-mated’ component nuclear parts but ‘mated’ nuclear
weapons . 17

Pakistan: Understanding the ‘World’s Fastest Growing Arsenal' 97

For any attacker, mobile dummies and decoys hugely compound
difficulties. Additionally, General Musharraf revealed to American
journalist Seymour Hersh that an extensive network of underground
tunnels exists: The tunnels are so deep that a nuclear attack will
not touch them. 18 Within these warheads and missile launchers can
be freely moved. Moreover, even if a nuclear location was exactly
known, it would surely be heavily guarded. This implies many
casualties if intruding troops are engaged, thus making a secret
Osama bin Laden type operation impossible.

Although Pakistan’s preparations make for a formidable defense
and an American attack is unlikely, all armies prepare for
contingencies. Post-Osama bin Laden, the Pakistan Army’s deepest
nightmare is to be stripped of its nuclear weapons. Thus, redundancy
is considered desirable — an American attempt to seize or destroy all
warheads would have smaller chances of success if Pakistan had
more. Hence the impetus for expanding the arsenal increases.


Let us take a look at the available information on Pakistan’s warhead
production, beginning with some general facts. Two types of fission
bombs exist. For a Hiroshima sized effect, uranium-based weapons
typically need 15-25 kg of HEU with 90 per cent purity or better
which, if solidly packed, is about the size of a grapefruit. Plutonium-
based weapons can achieve the same power with just 3-5 kg, which
is golf-ball sized, and can therefore have more explosive yield in
smaller, lighter, packages. Pakistan wants warheads small enough to
fit on the cruise missiles it is currently developing.

The maximum number of uranium-based warhead cores that can
be produced by Pakistan depends on the quantity of HEU produced
in centrifuges at the Kahuta enrichment facility, and perhaps at
other undeclared facilities elsewhere in Pakistan. The initial HEU
production was achieved using replicas of the aluminium P-1
centrifuge, brought from Europe by A.Q. Khan in the mid-1970s.
This had a capacity of less than one ‘Separative Work Unit (SWU)’
but was initially the mainstay of the centrifuge program. It was


supplemented in the late 1980s by the P-2 model which had a
throughput of up to 5 SWU’s. Typically, centrifuges are cascaded
together in groups of approximately 164; in turn one group feeds
into another until the desired enrichment is obtained. It takes
roughly 5000 SWU to make 25 kg of 90 per cent HEU, which is
enough for a bomb.

More advanced centrifuges with faster rotor speeds, made possible
by using stronger (maraging) steels, were subsequently made at the
Kahuta Research Laboratory (KRL). 19 The P-3 was the first of the
two later centrifuges. It is a four-tube model with a throughput of
just under 10 SWU/yr. According to the reference just cited, the P-4,
which is still more advanced, may have a throughput of about 20
SWU/yr. Although there is information about the types of these
centrifuges in operation, their numbers are not known but are
almost certainly in the few thousands by now. One therefore expects
that the yearly production rate of HEU is currently several times
larger than in the mid 1980s and that it will keep expanding.

To feed the centrifuges one needs uranium in gaseous form (or,
more accurately, uranium hexafluoride UF 6 ). The amount of natural
uranium mined from presently known deposits, principally in the
district of Dera Ghazi Khan, is currently enough to sustain the bomb
program. But that is because the civilian use is low — the Chashma
reactors have fuel supplied by China. Pakistan has declared to the
IAEA that it mines 40 tons of uranium ore yearly. 20 This is distributed
between fuel fabrication for the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant
(KANUPP) and for fissile material production in military reactors;
much more mining will be needed if Pakistan’s civilian nuclear
program ever takes off. 21

Pakistan almost certainly has a handful of plutonium-based
warheads whose smaller weight makes them more suitable for
delivery by missiles over longer ranges. Plutonium-rich spent
reactor fuel was first produced by the un-safeguarded 50 MW
(thermal) reactor in Khushab, which has been functioning since
1998. It produces an estimated 10 kg/year of plutonium, which is
roughly two-bombs-worth. Satellite imagery in 2007 showed that

Pakistan: Understanding the ‘World’s Fastest Growing Arsenal' 99

there were two similar units that are currently under construction,
with the latest unit’s construction having been activated in 2007. 22
In 2011, new satellite images showed that a fourth Khushab reactor
was under construction. 23 An assessment of fissile stocks in South
Asia has been attempted using publicly available information. 24

The extraction of plutonium from spent fuel (reprocessing) is a
difficult and dangerous chemical process. This is done at the New
Labs, a part of PINSTECH (Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science &
Technology) near Islamabad, and now possibly at the Chashma
nuclear complex too. Earlier, defense analysts in the U.S. had
pointed out that a series of commercial satellite images from
February 2002 through September 2006 revealed the construction
of what appeared then to be a second plutonium separation plant
adjacent to the original one, suggesting that Pakistan was planning
on increasing its plutonium stock.

According to Albright and Brannan, Pakistan is doubling the rate
of making nuclear weapons:

Pakistan’s construction of these new reactors at the Khushab site will
result in a dramatic increase in its plutonium production capability.
Combined, the three new reactors will be able to produce enough
plutonium for over 12 nuclear weapons per year, depending on the
reactors’ size and operating efficiencies. This compares with Pakistan’s
current estimated production of enough weapon-grade uranium and
plutonium for about 7-14 weapons per year. These three new reactors
will roughly double Pakistan’s annual ability to build nuclear weapons
to about 19-26 nuclear weapons per year. 25

The authors further state that:

In total, through 2010, Pakistan has produced enough weapon-grade
uranium and plutonium for roughly 100-170 nuclear weapons. Based
on available information, the number of deployed weapons is probably
less. Assuming that about 30 per cent of its stock of weapon-grade
uranium and plutonium is located in its weapons production pipeline,
stored, or otherwise unused in weapons, Pakistan has an estimated total
of 70-120 nuclear weapons. It can currently add to that stock at the rate


of about 7-14 warheads per year and that value will go up to 19-26
warheads per year when all four Khushab reactors are operational.

It is a mistake to think that the number of uranium and plutonium
warheads actually constructed is equal to the amount of uranium/
plutonium available divided by the amount needed per bomb. Even
if a country should want to convert its entire stock into weapons,
inputs other than fissile material are needed. These include available
capacities for converting UF6 gas into metal, explosives, electronics,
mechanical component construction, etc. A nuclear weapon has
typically about 2000 parts and is a highly complex piece of
equipment. In Pakistan, much of the metallization and weapon
fabrication work is done in and around the Heavy Mechanical
Complex in Taxila, and the adjoining military city of Wah. 26 Many
stages of fabrication are involved, the first of which involves
conversion of the fissile material in gaseous form into pure metal,
then machining it to precise dimensions to make the core. None of
this is trivial. But, once a design has been standardized, it becomes
easily possible to produce many copies. At the current production
rate of a few fissile cores annually, warhead production would most
likely follow the same rate and further expansion of warhead
production facilities is unlikely to be a major constraint.

Nuclear weapon countries generally go from less powerful to
more powerful weapons. Boosted nuclear weapons are the easiest
next step. They use the same fissile materials but a few tens of grams
of deuterium or tritium gas are inserted inside the bomb. 27 The
additional neutrons released result in more complete fission and can
increase the explosive power several times over.

Tritium is a by-product of the Khushab reactors. Earlier, the PAEC
had attempted to produce it by irradiating lithium. 28 By 1987, the
PAEC was able to acquire from West Germany parts for a tritium
purification facility. Later, Pakistan attempted to procure from
Germany 30 tons of aluminium tubing, used to ‘clad lithium for
irradiation in a reactor.’ 29 In a congressional record of May 1989,
Pakistan is said to have ‘acquired from West Germany United States-
origin tritium — originally destined for H-bombs — as well as tritium

Pakistan: Understanding the ‘World’s Fastest Growing Arsenal’ 101

recovery equipment. It also obtained a United States-origin high-
power laser, the latter as part of a package of equipment for making
nuclear fuel’. 30

Another step towards more powerful bombs is the fabrication of
composite cores. This idea is over sixty years old. By combining two
materials — a smaller plutonium sphere encased in a shell of highly
enriched uranium — Pakistan could make more bombs than if the
cores were made of plutonium and uranium separately.

What of the fusion (or hydrogen) bomb? Many times more
powerful, this requires a qualitatively different science and needs a
plutonium fission bomb to trigger it. India claims to have already
developed a fusion weapon — one of the devices tested on 11 May
1998 was announced to be of this type. There is little doubt that
Pakistan is seeking to make such a weapon. A plasma physics group
in the PAEC, established over twenty years ago, has long looked into
fusion weapon matters. The current status of its efforts is unknown,
but there appears to have been little progress.


The groundwork for Pakistan’s missile program was laid in the early
1960s with the launch of the Rahbar-l and Rahbar-2 weather
sounding rockets from Sonmiani beach near Karachi, a project
assisted by the United States after it had been approached by Abdus
Salam, Pakistan’s premier physicist. The first surface-to-surface
missile was the Hatf-1, with a range of 80 km and a payload of 400
kg. The accuracy was said to be low as they did not have terminal
guidance. General Zia-ul-Haq had taken the initiative of setting
missile development into motion in response to Indian efforts. 31 A
quantum jump in range and accuracy followed the induction of
Chinese M-ll missiles, the acquisition of which was denied for a
number of years.

The Pakistani missile series can be categorized into two distinct
sets. The Ghauri missile series, based on a template provided by the
North Korean Nodong missile, was developed at the Kahuta Research
Laboratories (KRL) while the Shaheen series, based on the Chinese

Data from ISPR bulletins, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 2011 67: 91-99 by Hans
M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris in: Pakistan’s Nuclear Forces, 2011, and Mahmud
Ali Durrani, 'Pakistan's Strategic Thinking and the Role of Nuclear Weapons’,
Cooperative Monitoring Center Occasional Paper 37, Sandia National Laboratory.

A 2007 report says that fewer than fifty four-axled Transporter-
Erector Launcher (TEL) vehicles, needed for deploying the solid-
fuelled Ghaznavi ( Hatf-III ) have been sighted. 32 Most are apparently
stored at the Sargodha Weapons Storage Complex adjoining the PAF
base. The same report refers to roughly fifty four-axled TELs existing
for the Shaheen-I missile. About fifteen six-axled TELs, suitable for
the Shaheen-II, have been seen in satellite imagery.

Pakistan is also developing a 500 km range, nuclear-capable,
cruise missile named as Babur. A Pakistani government supported
website 33 states that its design capabilities are comparable to the
American BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missile, and that a 1000
km version is also being developed. The Babur is advertised as a
‘subsonic, low-level terrain-mapping, terrain-hugging missile that
can avoid radar detection and strike with pinpoint accuracy.’ Rather
than being GPS guided — which depends crucially on the integrity
of satellite systems being preserved in times of conflict — it is said

Pakistan: Understanding the ‘World’s Fastest Growing Arsenal’ 103

to use inertial guidance (and possibly laser gyroscopes). Launched
from a TEL, it was first test- flown on 21 March 2006 with President
Gen. Pervez Musharraf in the audience. The ISPR also states that,
‘Pakistan is looking into modification that will enable the missile to
be launched from its F-16s, Mirage and A-5 air platforms and naval
platform such as Agosta 90B attack submarines and its Tariq Class
frigates.’ A test of the Babur on 26 July 2007 was declared successful
with a range stated to have been enhanced to 700 km. 34 In June 2012
it was described, again in an ISPR release, as having: ‘radar avoidance
features that can carry both nuclear and conventional warheads
and has stealth capabilities. It also incorporates the most modern
cruise missile technology of Terrain Contour Matching (TERCOM)
and Digital Scene Matching and Area Co-relation (DSMAC), which
enhances its precision and effectiveness manifolds.’ 35

A relatively new development, first reported in 2011, is that of
low-yield, mobile nuclear delivery systems — called ‘shoot and scoot’
tactical nuclear weapons. According to an ISPR statement said the
Nasr ( Hatf-9 ) ‘Victory’ missile could be tipped with ‘nuclear
warheads of appropriate yield with high accuracy.’ It is reportedly a
short-range (60 km) surface-to-surface multi-tube ballistic missile
system designed for battlefield use. 36

In July 2011, The Express Tribune reported twenty-four more
missiles, with ranges between 700-1000 km, would be added to the
arsenal. The addition would be the highest production in a single
year. 37

Pakistan has been surprisingly successful in creating a fairly large
and diverse intermediate range missile force in a very short time.
How is it possible for any developing country with a weak industrial
and scientific infrastructure to do so? Making missiles that can fly
over long distances is a complex technical task; even today ‘rocket
science’ is sometimes used as a synonym for the most difficult,
cutting edge in science.

Missile-making requires acquisition of a broad range of techno-
logies. Some of the key ones are:


• Chemical technology for liquid or solid fuel propellant manu-
facture, handling, and testing.

• Mechanical technology for rocket motor design, construction,
and testing.

• Aerodynamic and structural engineering for design of struc-
tures such as missile body, fins, and re-entry cones.

• Special materials manufacturing and moulding capability for
high-temperature applications as well as for plastics and
polymers. Heat shields for re-entry are essential for protecting
the warhead from being rendered useless.

• Computational capability and specialized software for various
applications including ballistics, navigation, flow rates,
dynamic payload balancing, etc.

• Electronics for missile guidance and control, telemetry, and
terminal guidance.

What conclusions can we draw from this apparently phenomenal
progress in missile making?

The sophistication of the Babur’s propulsion system, a light-
weight turbo-fan engine, as well as the complex control systems,
electronics, sensors, aerodynamics, etc., places it well outside of any
comparable achievements by Pakistani industry or other parts of its
technological sector. Much the same can be said of the ballistic
missiles in the Hatf series. There can be no doubt that Pakistan
received substantial help from China, as well as components
smuggled from Europe. North Korean help is an established fact for
the Ghauri series, and may well be important for the Babur as well.

The details of missile development remain well under wraps but
friction between the two main Pakistani organizations, the Kahuta
Research Laboratory and the National Defense Complex, which were
at one time headed (respectively) by Dr A.Q. Khan and Dr Samar
Mubarakmand, has occasionally led each organization to leak
information to the press in order to get a greater share of the glory.
An Urdu newspaper gave a rare account in 1999 in a planted article
entitled: ‘How the Shaheen was Developed’, pours scorn on the KRL

Pakistan: Understanding the ‘World’s Fastest Growing Arsenal’ 105

group alleging that the Ghauri was an imported item whereas the
achievements of the NDC group are extolled. 38 Another Pakistani
author, evidently commissioned by the PAEC to denigrate A.Q. Khan
and the rival KRL organization, wrote the following in a Pakistani
defense journal:

When the PAEC concluded an agreement with China to acquire the solid
fuelled M-ll ballistic missiles from China in 1989, A.Q. Khan soon after
managed to get the liquid fuelled Ghauri, from North Korea, and again
hit the public imagination as the man who also gave Pakistan the
delivery system for the omb. The fact was that with the foundations
of NDC having being laid in 1990, the PAEC was already on its way to
start work on the solid fuelled Shaheen ballistic missile, before the
Ghauris or the Taepodongs and Nodongs became operational.’ 39

While Pakistan officially maintains that its missile fleet comes from
indigenous development alone, ‘indigenous’ can be variously
defined. In attempting to bring credit to his parent institution, the
PAEC, the author accidentally blows away the year-after-year denials
by Pakistan of having obtained M-ll missiles from China, as well as
of the Ghauri being indigenous and not of North Korean pedigree.

In 2009, it became known that Pakistan would collaborate with
Selex Galileo of Italy to manufacture unmanned aerial vehicles
(UAVs, commonly known as drones) for reconnaissance purposes. 40
The march of technology, spread by the global commercial interests,
has profound consequences for the spread of nuclear and missile
technologies as well.

Nevertheless, to conclude that Pakistan’s missiles are mere
foreign imports would be wrong. Pakistan has moved on a two-track
missile policy. The first track was acquisition of complete missile
systems as CKD (Completely Knocked Down) kits. These are said to
have been brought as commercial cargo, mostly by sea but also
through the Khunjarab Pass and down the Silk Route from China
(this route was closed in 2010 after an earthquake that created the
Attabad Lake).


The second track was to understand the systems, then reverse
engineer the systems, section by section. Solutions to issues such
as vibrations, stability, overheating etc., may be found in specialized
textbooks and monographs that are used as texts in graduate level,
university level courses taught in many countries including the U.S.
and China. Pakistan sends many students to China for studying
rocket propulsion and guidance systems. Services from experts in
European countries have been purchased for specific tasks such as
fin design and theoretical vibration studies.

Once a successful overall system design — say, that of the
Tomahawk — is taken as the basic template, the associated sub-
systems must be built or acquired. System integration is an exacting
requirement and good engineering expertise is essential, but the
design challenges are well understood. For designers and manu-
facturers in advanced, as well as developing countries, the modular
nature of modern technology allows for separate units to be
transported and then joined together to form highly complex and
effective systems. Component level design is no longer essential —
the availability of ballistic missile technology, complete sub-systems,
navigational gyroscopes and GPS equipment, and powerful
computers has allowed many third world countries, including
Pakistan and India, to leapfrog across major developmental issues.
Systems engineering — which deals with how units behave after
being assembled is important, and it is of less importance to know
the principle by which individual elements work.

Consider, for example, that 30-40 years ago an electronics
engineer working on a missile guidance system had to spend
years learning how to design extremely intricate circuits using
transistors, capacitors, and other components. But now the engineer
only needs to be able to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for
programming a tiny microprocessor chip, available from almost any
commercial electronics supplier. Modular technology applies also to
rocketry, including engine design and aerodynamic construction.
Computer controlled NC machines have made reverse engineering

Pakistan: Understanding the ‘World’s Fastest Growing Arsenal’ 107

of mechanical parts easy. In this way even North Korea has been able
to create rather advanced missile programs.

Missile development is now part of a burgeoning, increasingly
export-oriented, Pakistani arms industry that turns out a large range
of weapons: from grenades to tanks, night vision devices to laser
guided weapons, and small submarines to training aircraft. Dozens
of industrial sized units in and around the cities of Taxila and Wah,
with subsidiaries elsewhere in the Islamabad-Rawalpindi region, are
producing armaments worth hundreds of millions of dollars with
export earnings of roughly 300 million dollars yearly in 2008. 41
Much of the production is under license from foreign countries,
some from CKD kits, and most machinery for the arms factories is
imported from the West or China.


Fighter-bomber aircraft were once Pakistan’s preferred means of
delivering nuclear weapons to India, but they have certain definite
limitations. First, their ranges do not permit many parts of India to
be covered. Moreover, they would have to run the gauntlet of an
increasingly sophisticated Indian air-defense system. Nevertheless,
they have the distinct advantage of being reliable, recallable, and

Pakistan had a deliverable nuclear weapon by 1987, and plans for
aircraft delivery long preceded those for missile delivery. According
to an officially inspired account, during the 1983-1990 period, the
Wah Group [of the PAEC] went on to design and develop an atomic
bomb small enough to be carried on the wing of a small fighter such
as the F-16. It worked alongside the PAF to evolve and perfect
delivery techniques of the nuclear bomb including ‘conventional
free-fall’, ‘loft bombing’, ‘toss bombing’ and ‘low-level lay-down’
attack techniques using combat aircraft. Today, the PAF has
perfected all four techniques of nuclear weapons delivery using F-16
and Mirage-V combat aircraft indigenously configured to carry
nuclear weapons. 42


The first F-16’s purchased by Pakistan from the U.S. in 1981
arrived in 1983. They were intended to protect KRL, the uranium
enrichment facility, as well as to mount retaliatory attacks on Indian
nuclear facilities. 43 The U.S. had agreed to the sale of forty aircraft,
requested by General Zia-ul-Haq. Pakistan was then a close U.S. ally,
fighting against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Another sixty aircraft
were ordered in 1989 and paid for but were embargoed; Pakistan’s
utility as an ally had come to an end.

Pakistan started receiving the first of a batch of F-16 C/D block
50/52 fighter aircraft in July 2007, the most modern version then
flown by the U.S. Air Force. 44 It also received assistance for
modernizing the existing F-16 fleet to the same standard. F-16s are
still said to be the mainstay for aerial delivery up to a range of about
1600 km, but two squadrons of A-5 Chinese built fighter-bombers
are also suitable vehicles. There is, however, a caveat that has been
added by the United States: the F-16’s sold under this deal will be
specifically disallowed from carrying nuclear weapons. According to
a U.S. official, if Pakistan tried to do so then, ‘we have this
extraordinary security plan with United States personnel, we have
monitoring, we have leverage to convince them not to do this.’ 45 The
modernized F-16’s, however, were presumably unaffected by this

With the expansion of the army-controlled mobile missile force,
demands came from the air force for expansion of its capability.
Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mehmood Ahmed,
announced in March 2009 that $9 billion would be spent on
upgrading its ‘nuclear status.’ 46 What this meant, however, was
unclear. Investing in aircraft is no longer an efficient way of
increasing nuclear offensive forces.

Today, Pakistan Air Force’s technical capabilities remain rather
limited and centre around aircraft maintenance. The largest units
are the Mirage and F-6 rebuilding factories, an avionics and radar
maintenance factory at Kamra, and a factory for manufacturing small
training aircraft. There is an Air Weapons Complex located near
Wah that manufactures a variety of air-delivered weapons. The JF-17

Pakistan: Understanding the ‘World’s Fastest Growing Arsenal’ 109

Thunder, of which 150 will eventually be inducted and become the
air force’s mainstay, is formally a joint China-Pakistan venture but
Pakistani technical input into its design is said to be small so far.

In 2009 PAF air chief stated that an Airborne Warning and Control
System (AWACS) was being obtained from Sweden and China, and
agreements had been reached with the U.S. to provide electronic
warfare system, smart bombs and long-range missile system. He said
air-to-air refuelers were being modified. The PAF had almost 550
aircraft, including helicopters and transport aircraft. The number of
fighter planes was around 350, he added. At the moment, he said,
there were 46 F-16 aircraft in the PAF, including 14 F-16’s obtained
from the U.S. ‘almost free of cost.’ 47


It would be too easy to ascribe Pakistan’s success in bomb and
missile-making to merely having allocated a large enough amount
of money and resources. However, much wealthier Middle Eastern
countries — Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran in particular — have been less
successful. The difference comes from the few hundred scientists
and engineers working under the direction of effective managers, an
effective international buying network, as well as the strong will to
do it all. Much of the work was reverse engineering, and there are
no original applications, devices, or processes of commercial value
that have been claimed. Nonetheless, Pakistani weaponeers
understood developments in the literature and industry in sufficient
detail and with clarity. Most were trained almost entirely in the U.S.,
Canada, and Britain under a program initiated in the early 1960s by
the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission. By now, many have
retired, or are close to retirement.

The burgeoning demand from the principal defense R&D
organizations PAEC, NDC, and KRL has resulted in a skill deficit
that is perhaps the most serious constraint in the further
development of Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programs. Public
universities are in poor shape, and their graduates are generally ill


equipped to understand modern engineering and technical problems.
Manpower is being drawn principally from:

Engineering institutes run by the defense organizations. Examples
include the Pakistan Institute of Engineering and Applied Sciences
(PIEAS), as well as the Centre for Nuclear Studies (CNS). Located
on the premises of the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and
Technology (PINSTECH) near Islamabad, these institutes offer
graduate studies in nuclear engineering, chemical and materials
engineering, process engineering, systems engineering, electrical
engineering, mechanical engineering, applied mathematics,
information technology, etc. The NDC is also in the process of creat-
ing various institutes and centres at the Quaid-e-Azam University

• A handful of engineering colleges of relatively better quality
such as the army-run National University of Science and Tech-
nology (NUST), Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Engineering
Sciences and Technology (GIKI), University of Engineering
Technology (UET), etc.

• Training of Pakistani missile and weapon designers in Chinese
universities and institutes where they undergo short, highly
focused, courses on rocket dynamics, navigational techniques,
telemetry, etc. These are offered only to employees of govern-
ment organizations and not general members of the Pakistani

• Using the 12-fold increase in its budget over the past five
years, the Higher Education Commission of the Government
of Pakistan has awarded a number of scholarships to Pakistanis
for studying in Europe, Australia, and the United States. Among
the beneficiaries are the employees, or former employees, of
various defense organizations.

• Academics and engineers in advanced countries can occasionally
be interested into solving difficult technical problems for a fee.
This follows the widespread global problem of outsourcing
technical problems.

Pakistan: Understanding the ‘World’s Fastest Growing Arsenal’ 111

• Through better pay and living conditions, the Pakistani
weapons complex has managed to get the pick of the crop. But
their small number, and the lack of a strict meritocratic system
that can get the most out of them, means that skill shortage
is likely to remain a serious constraint.


The secrecy that surrounds any emerging nuclear program in any
country means that, at best, there can only be guess-estimates of
the cost involved. Even if items could be freely purchased in the
open international market, a country that seeks nuclear weapons
would have to put in billions of dollars. But for a program that must
be kept under wraps from international watchdogs, one can imagine
that the cost would be many times higher. Because imported items
are on a list that is carefully watched, circuitous routes must to be
found. This entails the use of many middlemen, each with small or
large commissions, as well as vendors jacking up their rates.

Neither Pakistan nor India have ever declared their nuclear
weapons budgets, treating them as high-level secrets. In fact, an
undeclared reason for the Pakistan Army’s objection to the Kerry-
Lugar Bill, which would have resulted in $1.5bn annually in civilian
aid, was its insistence upon financial transparency of the economy.
This would have made it easier for outsiders to estimate Pakistan’s
nuclear budget. The KL program never fully took off.

It has therefore been left up to outsiders to make educated
guesses. One such guess is contained in the following table. Figures
are in billions of U.S. dollars. Core costs refer to researching,
developing, procuring, operating, maintaining, and upgrading the
nuclear arsenal (weapons and their delivery vehicles) and its key
nuclear command-control-communications and early warning.

Another estimate, with similar assumptions, arrives at a similar
conclusion: Assuming that Pakistan spends on the order of 0.5 per
cent of GDP on its nuclear weapons, and using purchasing power
parity rather than market exchange rates to convert Pakistani rupees
to US dollar equivalents, suggests that in 2009 nuclear weapons
program spending amounted to about $2.2 billion a year (the GDP
was about $441 billion in purchasing power parity, and $162 billion
in nominal terms). For 2011, the nominal GDP was $211 billion,
about $484 billion in purchasing power. 48


Looking at the next 5-10 years, one can make reasonable guesses
for where Pakistani nuclear forces are likely to be, and the direction
of its nuclear policy.

Unless a global fissile material cut-off is somehow agreed upon
and implemented, Pakistani production of fissile materials and

Pakistan: Understanding the ‘World’s Fastest Growing Arsenal’ 113

bombs, as well as intermediate-range ballistic missiles, will continue
at the maximum possible rate permitted by technological and
resource limitations. A shift towards smaller plutonium weapons, or
composite warheads, will accelerate as all Khushab military reactors
come on line. The warhead design for the Nasr missile suggests that
small boosted devices may have been perfected.

The increasing number of warheads will demand an increase in
the number of delivery vehicles. In spite of the substantial induction
of JF-17 aircraft, as well as newly purchased F-16’s, missiles will
steadily replace aircraft as delivery vehicles for nuclear weapons.
Flight tests and command post exercises will continue to be
periodically conducted. Although Pakistan will make efforts to
match India’s efforts in using outer space for reconnaissance and
early-warning systems, it will not be able to do so. An attempt to
match India’s Agni-V ICBM, successfully tested in 2012, is unlikely.
But if India is successful in acquiring and installing an anti-ballistic
missile system, MIRV, or in deploying submarine launched nuclear-
tipped missiles, Pakistan will counter by lowering the strike-
threshold and wider dispersion of its mobile launchers, as well as
employing decoys and moving towards SLBMs (Submarine-
Launched Ballistic Missile).

In the past, Pakistan had felt that hitching its nuclear policy to
India’s would deflect criticism. The world would understand that its
nuclear program was no more than a reaction to a larger, hostile,
neighbour’s rapid armament. But the ‘de-hyphenation’ of Pakistan
from India — a word that gained particular currency after the visit
to India and Pakistan by President George W. Bush in 2006 —
ultimately drove Pakistan in a different direction; its nuclear policy
would henceforth be more than a mirror image of India’s.

As for the immediate future: unless India resumes nuclear testing,
Pakistan is unlikely to test further. There is little chance that
Pakistan will agree to the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty or to on-site
inspections for verification purposes. India will drive the arms race
and Pakistan will follow.


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