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How India triggered the South Asian nuclear arms race

According to Syed Zain Jaffery, India's nuclear tests aggravated the prospects of a nuclear arms race in South Asia. In order to restore the strategic balance disturbed by New Delhi, Pakistan needed a well-designed strategy for achieving nuclear deterrence.

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Nuclear deterrence is the guarantor of Pakistan’s national security in the face of growing Indian nuclear infatuation. 28th May 1998 is the day when Pakistan acquired the capability of credible nuclear deterrence. This day is celebrated by recognizing the efforts of all the scientists in rendering Pakistan more secure from Indian nuclear aggression.

India’s nuclear tests of fission device in 1974, under the codename ‘Smiling Buddha’, led Pakistan to follow a hard journey to acquire nuclear weapons. The Indian claim to test a so-called ‘peaceful nuclear explosion’ in 1974, aggravated the prospects of a nuclear arms race in South Asia. In order to restore the strategic balance disturbed by New Delhi, Pakistan needed a well-designed strategy for achieving nuclear deterrence.

Read more: Operation Shakhti: When India tested a nuclear device on its people

In the 1970s, the world was hesitant to compel New Delhi to pursue a prestigious nuclear weapon program. Global powers had taken only tentative and unsuccessful measures, such as the launch of Nuclear Suppliers Groups (NSG), to control Indian nuclear proliferation. Pakistan knew that NSG’s establishment was an eyewash – an argument, which has been validated by the contemporary global push for India’s NSG membership.

Pakistan suggested the notion of declaring South Asia a nuclear-weapon-free zone much before the first nuclear test of India. In September 1972, the Pakistani representative, Munir Ahmad Khan, in the 16th annual session of the UN Atomic Energy Conference, presented a framework to denuclearize South Asia similar to the Tlatelolco Treaty for denuclearization of Latin America.

Read more: ‘Powerless NPT’ fails to denuclearize the world

In 1978 and 1979, Pakistan again suggested two strategically imperative proposals to India. First, Islamabad offered New Delhi to sign a bilateral agreement to abandon procurement of nuclear weapons, and secondly, it presented an opportunity for simultaneous adherence to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

India refused these proposals since the international community neither facilitated Islamabad nor coerced New Delhi to materialize these nuclear non-proliferation initiatives.

Read more: India’s nuclear capabilities-a nightmare for South Asia

US support for India’s unstoppable nuclearization

Pakistan demonstrated restraint for nearly three decades in the hope that global powers will assist a secure path for nuclear-free South Asia but the world remained oblivious to the nuclear weapon program of India.

Again in May 1998, India conducted a series of nuclear explosions and abandoned the decades of ambiguity prevailing on its nuclear weapons program. The West began to put pressure on Pakistan not to reciprocate rather than prosecuting the second round of Indian nuclear tests.

This time, however, Pakistan had not taken a complacent approach and carried out five underground nuclear tests. The only aim of Pakistan’s nuclear test was to acquire self-reliance against any Indian aggression.

Read more: Why Pakistan has the most feared nuclear weapons program in the world

Indeed, it was India who disrupted the power balance and launched the nuclear arms race in the region.

Contemporarily, India has expanded its nuclear weapons capability, especially after getting a civil nuclear cooperation deal from the United States in 2008. India got this deal as a result of a policy shift in the U.S. administration, which was more likely to contain emerging China.

In the process, the U.S. has privileged India politically, economically, and strategically, for instance, the country-specific IAEA safeguards, the waiver to trade nuclear materials with NSG member states, and later, the entry into Missile Control Regime (MTCR).

Read more: India’s uranium seizure raises serious questions as FATF & IAEA remain tight-lipped

Unfortunately, U.S. assistance has made India, the sole problem for the whole South Asian region. Even though India’s unrestrained military modernization is the primary thrust behind South Asian instability, global power’s discriminatory defense cooperation with New Delhi also undermines delicate conventional parity between India and Pakistan.

India should be stopped

Regrettably, the global community did not pay heed to Pakistani efforts in the past to make South Asia a zone, free of nuclear weapons. The international community and the U.S. itself can still play a major role in improving the hostile strategic situation in South Asia, by adopting rational and non-discriminatory policies.

India should be pressurized politically to give up the military and nuclear adventurism. The 2008 waiver of NSG to India must be revoked to restrict further stockpiling of nuclear fissile material and strengthening the non-proliferation regimes.

Read more: World silent over India’s newly unearthed nuclear black market

Similarly, the Indian MTCR membership needs a revision because it provides a cover for the Indian missile development and delivery systems program. India’s hefty military expenditure and its relentless quest for the acquisition of sophisticated weapons have threatened regional stability.

India is responsible for initiating South Asian nuclear weapons competition, and Pakistan has shown enough restraint in order to prevent this arms race.

Read more: The era of shattering treaties – Prelude to an Arms Race?

The writer is a student of current affairs and political science with a Master’s degree from NUST, Islamabad, Pakistan. He can be reached at zainmoeed7637@yahoo.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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