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Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and their role in maintaining strategic stability in South Asia


Mar 21, 2007
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Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and their role in maintaining strategic stability in South Asia​

Inam Ur Rehman
April 26, 2024
Pakistan declared itself a nuclear state in 1998, responding to India’s nuclear attacks to maintain strategic parity between the states. Pakistan and India have a long-standing history of hostile relations since their emergence as independent states from British colonialism in 1947. Both the states were under British rule for nearly a century. Both countries have been involved in several conflicts. There’s always something going on between both the countries and there’s never an era when both the states enjoyed friendly relations.

India tested its nuclear weapons in firstly 1974 and again tested in 1998. India going nuclear created an atmosphere of security dilemma and it upset the stability of the region as the situation was in India’s favor as it became a more powerful state with its acquiring of nuclear weapons. In return, Pakistan also had to maintain strategic parity with India and it became the top priority. Pakistan tested its nuclear weapons in 1998 and it was an important milestone in the country’s quest to be on an equal footing with India to maintain the balance of power and security in the region as the situation wasn’t favorable for Pakistan after India’s nuclear tests. Pakistan also became the first Muslim country to have nuclear weapons and Pakistan is still in possession of this historic achievement.

Pakistan and India have been engaged in several armed conflicts over the years. Pakistan is conventionally inferior to India in numbers in terms of armed forces. In 1999, once again Pakistan and India got engaged in an armed conflict in Kargil. Both the states were nuclear-armed and there were chances of the first nuclear war between the states the world was also on the brink of nuclear war as the consequences would not have been limited to only India and Pakistan.

Nuclear weapons played a huge role in the decision-making of both states and both states restrained from using nuclear weapons in the conflict. Nuclear weapons played a significant role in maintaining deterrence. The US also being a superpower intervened and played a part in diffusing the situation. According to the US secretary of state, the world was on the brink of a nuclear war in the Kargil War.

In 2019, once again the situation escalated as India launched airstrikes on Balakot claiming to have destroyed the terrorist’s hideouts. Pakistan retaliated fiercely and shot down an Indian air jet. There were chances of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan after this incident but the nuclear weapons were an important factor in the decision-making of both the states and the situation diffused.

Pakistan considers its nuclear weapons as an asset of the state. Nuclear weapons have put Pakistan on an equal footing with its arch-rival India which is superior to Pakistan in conventional military might and these have been an important tool to maintain strategic parity. India always poses a significant threat to Pakistan’s security and territorial integrity.

Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are defensive in nature and their sole aim is to maintain deterrence. There have been a few armed conflicts between both states since the development of nuclear weapons. There are also chances that things can go in the opposite direction but for now, its impact has been on the positive side.

Sagan’s Norms Model states that countries acquire nuclear weapons to alleviate their stature and regard it as a status symbol in the international arena and to have a more powerful say in international politics. In Pakistan’s case, Pakistan is the only Muslim state to have nuclear weapons so it somewhat enhances Pakistan’s significance in the Muslim world.

Had it not been for Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, Pakistan and India would have been involved in countless armed conflicts. But things hang in the balance thanks to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.
India is aspiring to be a regional hegemon and this has raised concerns for other regional states. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are viewed as a balancing tool to counter India’s hegemonic aspirations and its conventional superiority. It has also triggered an arms race.

Pakistan is in a crunch economic situation and it cannot match India’s military spending but nukes sort out things also in this matter. This also triggers the security dilemma. Security dilemma states that the security of a state is insecurity for the other state. States refrain from using nuclear weapons by considering Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) as things would be out of control in case of a nuclear war.

The consequences of a nuclear war would not only be limited to the fighting states but rather it will have a far-reaching impact which would be intolerable.

Nuclear weapons are a great balancer to India and Pakistan and these have brought hostility to a halt. There have been fewer armed conflicts since the development of nuclear weapons by both states so it indicates the importance of nuclear weapons to maintaining strategic stability in the region.

Inam Ur Rehman​


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