Over the years, Pakistan’s path to nuclear power has been shaped by a number of historical events and security considerations, most notably the ongoing Kashmir issue. Research into nuclear technology began in the 1950s with peaceful intentions, but the turning point was India’s nuclear test in 1974 . The “Smiling Buddha” experiment raised alarm bells in Pakistan, highlighting the need for a credible deterrent against potential threats to sovereignty and security of Pakistan. Due to regional imbalances and rising tensions in the disputed Kashmir region, Pakistan has increased its efforts to acquire a nuclear weapons capability. Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan’s important role in Pakistan’s nuclear program boosted his ambitions. In May 1998, Pakistan successfully conducted its first nuclear test, becoming the world’s seventh nuclear power. The development of nuclear weapons was a strategic response to India’s nuclear capabilities and created a paradigm shift in the security dynamics of South Asia. This article explores the complexities of Pakistan’s nuclear journey and its impact on the long-standing Kashmir issue, and looks at regional stability and the response of the international community.

Kashmir Issue: Historical context

In the early 1950s, after gaining independence from British rule, Pakistan began to explore peaceful applications of nuclear technology for energy and scientific purposes. At that time, nuclear energy was considered a promising way to meet the country’s growing energy needs and promote scientific development. However, the direction of development of Pakistan’s nuclear program turned in 197 with India’s surprise nuclear test, codenamed “Smiling Buddha”. India’s successful nuclear demonstration marked a major event in South Asia that reverberated throughout the region. The “Smiling Buddha” test made India the first country in the region to possess nuclear weapons. This incident created deep security concerns in Pakistan. The capability of an emerging nuclear-armed neighbor has raised concerns about potential regional imbalances and threatened Pakistan’s sovereignty and security. There were fears that India’s nuclear weapons could be used as a tool of coercion or aggression, especially in the context of the long-running Kashmir issue.

The disputed region of Kashmir has been at the center of tensions between India and Pakistan since the partition of British India in 1947. Both countries have claimed territorial rights, leading to several armed conflicts and unresolved disputes. The Kashmir issue increased the strategic competition between India and Pakistan and further emphasized the importance of creating a credible deterrent to protect Pakistan’s interests. The “Smiling Buddha” test was a wake-up call to Pakistan’s leadership, forcing them to reassess their security calculations and accelerate efforts to develop a nuclear weapons program. Pakistan’s decision to pursue a nuclear weapon was motivated by the need to ensure its territorial integrity and protect its national security interests in the face of regional instability. In response to India’s nuclear test, Pakistan’s nuclear program shifted from a peaceful use to a more strategic and military one. The pursuit of nuclear weapons became a national priority, with a focus on achieving a credible minimum deterrent against potential threats from India.

Despite international pressure and sanctions, Pakistan has decisively stepped forward. Eminent scientist Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan played a pivotal role in Pakistan’s nuclear energy development, making significant contributions to enrichment technology that paved the way for its nuclear weapons capability. In May 1998, Pakistan conducted a series of nuclear tests in response to India’s second round of nuclear tests. These tests confirmed Pakistan’s status as a nuclear weapon state and marked an important milestone on the way to becoming the world’s seventh nuclear power. Pakistan’s nuclear weapon has had a profound impact on regional security dynamics, especially in the context of the Kashmir issue. It added a new dimension to the conflict between India and Pakistan, raising concerns about nuclear escalation and further complicating efforts to find a peaceful solution to the long-running dispute. As Pakistan’s nuclear program developed, it received mixed reactions from the international community. Some countries expressed concerns about nuclear proliferation and regional stability, while others recognized Pakistan’s security claims and supported nuclear deterrence in South Asia.

Acquisition of nuclear weapons:

After India’s “Smiling Buddha” nuclear test in 1947 , Pakistan’s determination to acquire a nuclear weapons capability strengthened significantly. India’s nuclear test created serious security concerns in Pakistan, which India perceived as a growing threat to its sovereignty and regional stability. Faced with India’s nuclear arsenal and the unresolved Kashmir issue, Pakistan’s leadership has prioritized the development of a credible nuclear deterrent. Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, a prominent metallurgical engineer, played an important and controversial role in Pakistan’s quest for nuclear weapons. He helped procure critical nuclear technology and equipment from abroad, greatly accelerating Pakistan’s nuclear program. His work on uranium enrichment and gas centrifuge technology contributed greatly to the country’s progress towards armaments.

However, obtaining the basic technology and materials was not without problems. Pakistan faced strict international non-proliferation norms and sanctions, especially after the United States passed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act in 1978. The purpose of that law was to curb the spread of nuclear weapons technology, and Pakistan was not spared its consequences. Despite international pressure, Pakistan continued its nuclear weapons program with unwavering determination. Geopolitical dynamics in the region, coupled with India’s continued modernization of its nuclear capabilities, fueled Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions. Against the backdrop of mounting international pressure and sanctions, Pakistan’s leadership has justified its pursuit of nuclear weapons in terms of national security and survival. The mantra of “minimum credible deterrence” became a cornerstone of Pakistan’s nuclear disarmament, emphasizing the need to have a limited and controlled nuclear arsenal for purely defensive purposes. Amid heightened tensions with India, Pakistan’s nuclear program has made significant progress in secrecy. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Pakistan was believed to be capable of producing nuclear weapons, although an official declaration of this status was delayed until later. On May 28, 1998, India conducted a series of nuclear tests called “Operation Shakti“. In response, Pakistan promptly conducted its own series of nuclear tests on 28 and 30 May 1998. These tests revealed Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities to the world, making it the first Muslim-majority country to possess nuclear weapons and the seventh in the world recognized as nuclear energy. The successful nuclear tests cemented Pakistan’s status as a nuclear weapons state and marked a defining moment in its history. The international community condemned and imposed sanctions, but Pakistan insisted that its nuclear deterrent was necessary to ensure regional stability and maintain the balance of power in South Asia. In conclusion, Pakistan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons was a response to security concerns arising from India’s nuclear program and its regional stability. Driven by the desire for independence and security, Pakistan’s main drive was determination and perseverance. Despite international pressure and sanctions, Pakistan managed to acquire the nuclear resources it deemed necessary for its national security, bringing the country into the exclusive club of nuclear-armed states.

Kashmir issue:

The Kashmir issue is a long-standing territorial dispute between India and Pakistan that began with the partition of British India in 1947. When British colonial rule ended, the peninsula was divided into two independent countries, India and Pakistan. However, partition was not without problems and the Jammu and Kashmir region became a contested and contested region. The princely state of Jammu and Kashmir was ruled by Maharaja Hari Singh during partition. According to the partition plan, the princely states were given the option of joining either India or Pakistan, depending on geographical proximity and popular preferences. The Maharajah, trying to maintain his independence, hesitated at first to make a decision. But tribal militias from the Pakistani side invaded Kashmir in October 1947, leading to the Maharaja’s decision to contact India for military aid. The Indian government accepted the accession, but it also led to a full-scale war between India and Pakistan in 1947-1948 over control of the region.

The war resulted in the division of Kashmir into territories held by India and Pakistan, with the Line of Control (LOC) demarcating the actual borders. Since then, the dispute over Kashmir has remained unresolved, leading to several wars between India and Pakistan between 1965 and 1971. Conflict and violence continued in the region, and both countries claim sovereignty over all of Kashmir. For Pakistan, the Kashmir issue was a deeply emotional and strategic concern. The perception of Kashmir as an unfinished partition guided Pakistan’s position in the dispute. The desire to liberate Kashmir from Indian control and ensure its people’s right to self-determination played an important role in shaping Pakistan’s foreign policy and security calculus. Failure to resolve the Kashmir issue through diplomatic means has led Pakistan to seek alternative means to counter Indian dominance in the region. India’s successful nuclear test in 1974 further increased Pakistan’s security fears as it highlighted the need for a credible deterrent to balance the strategic asymmetry between the countries.

The Kashmir issue became a key factor influencing Pakistan’s decision to continue using nuclear weapons. Pakistan viewed nuclear assets as an opportunity to ensure its territorial integrity and national security in the face of potential threats from India. Pakistan’s nuclear weapon has further complicated the Kashmir issue and heightened security dynamics in South Asia. The presence of nuclear weapons in the region increased deterrence, but also raised concerns about potential escalation and risks associated with nuclear detonation. The international community has continuously called for a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute through dialogue and diplomacy. Despite many attempts, the issue remains unresolved and the LOC remains a highly militarized and volatile region.

Nuclear deterrence and nuclear security:

 Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program is based on the concept of nuclear deterrence. He sees nuclear weapons as a way to dissuade potential adversaries, especially India, from launching a military attack. Due to India’s conventional military superiority, Pakistan sees nuclear weapons as a crucial tool to offset strategic imbalances in the region. The principle of “minimum credible deterrence” is the cornerstone of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. That doctrine emphasizes that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is maintained at a level sufficient to deter a possible attack, but remains limited in scope and reach.

This is to let the adversaries know that any attempt to threaten Pakistan or attack Pakistan would result in a strong and effective response to prevent them from taking such actions. By adopting a “minimum credible deterrence” approach, Pakistan seeks to avoid excessive armaments and nuclear proliferation. It aims to maintain a rational and controlled nuclear force that is strictly defensive in nature. Pakistan’s nuclear policy emphasizes that its nuclear weapons are not intended for offensive purposes, but to ensure its own security and stability. However, as in all nuclear weapon states, ensuring stability, transparency and crisis management are key factors in avoiding the risks associated with nuclear weapons.

Nuclear Program Impact on regional stability:

The acquisition of nuclear weapons by both India and Pakistan has had a significant impact on the stability of the region, particularly in relation to the Kashmir issue. While nuclear deterrence has to some extent prevented all-out war between states, it has also added complexity and uncertainty to the regional security environment.

Increased Tensions:

Nuclear weapons between India and Pakistan have increased tensions between the two countries. Both sides are acutely aware of the destructive potential of nuclear weapons, and any conflict or conflict in the region carries the risk of nuclear escalation. This results in constant strategic competition and a constant readiness to respond to any perceived threat.

  • Concerns about accidental or unauthorized use: The existence of nuclear weapons poses a risk of accidental or unauthorized use. The fog of war during a crisis or conflict can lead to misunderstanding, misinterpretation or miscalculation that can inadvertently trigger a nuclear exchange. The possibility of non-state actors getting their hands on nuclear weapons or materials also raises concerns about unauthorized use.
  • Dynamics of regional conflicts: The presence of nuclear weapons has affected the dynamics of regional conflicts, including the Kashmir issue. While nuclear deterrence prevented full-scale wars between India and Pakistan, it did not resolve the underlying disputes. Instead, it led to strategic stability with the constant threat of low-level conflict or proxy war.
  • Arms Race and Instability: The nuclear arms race in South Asia triggered an arms race in the region. The development of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems led to an increase in defense spending, which diverted resources from development and social welfare. The arms race increases regional instability and creates security problems that make conflict resolution even more difficult.
  • International Concerns: The presence of nuclear weapons in a conflict region has raised concerns among the international community. Fear of nuclear escalation and the potential humanitarian consequences of a nuclear conflict have led to calls for nuclear arms limitation, conflict resolution and risk reduction.
  • Obstacles to solving the conflict: The presence of nuclear weapons in India and Pakistan presented challenges to solving the Kashmir problem. The constant threat of nuclear proliferation makes it difficult for both countries to engage in open and meaningful dialogue to resolve the dispute. Nuclear deterrence can prevent any war, but it does not provide a lasting solution to long-term political and regional problems.
  • Confidence-building measures: Despite the challenges, efforts have been made in the region to build confidence and reduce nuclear risks. To avoid misunderstandings and strengthen crisis management, initiatives such as bilateral nuclear threat reduction centers and communication channels have been established between India and Pakistan.


As a nuclear armed state, Pakistan has engaged in dialogue with the international community to demonstrate its commitment to responsible nuclear behavior. It has taken some steps to address proliferation concerns and establish itself as a responsible nuclear power. However, it did not join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) for special reasons.

Export Controls and Non-Proliferation Obligations: Pakistan has implemented export controls on nuclear materials and technology to prevent their misuse or unauthorized transfer. It expressed its commitment to non-proliferation standards and cooperated with the international community on non-proliferation measures.

  • International Safeguards: Pakistan has cooperated with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and implemented safeguards at its civilian nuclear facilities. Although its military nuclear facilities are not subject to IAEA nuclear safeguards, Pakistan has sought to ensure transparency about its civilian nuclear program.
  • Prevention of Nuclear Terrorism: Pakistan has actively participated in international efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism. It supported initiatives to ensure the safety of nuclear materials and cooperated with other countries to combat illegal trade in nuclear materials.
  • Fissile Material Limitation Treaty (FMCT): Pakistan has expressed support for negotiations on the Fissile Material Limitation Treaty (FMCT). The purpose of the treaty is to prohibit the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, which prevents the spread of nuclear weapons and promotes disarmament.
  • Strategic Restraint System: Pakistan has proposed a Strategic Restraint System (SRR) for South Asia, which includes nuclear and missile containment measures. The SRR outlines confidence-building initiatives, nuclear threat reduction and early warning of missile tests to promote stability and transparency in the region. Despite these efforts, Pakistan did not accede to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), citing specific reasons for its decision
  • Discriminatory nature of the NPT: One of Pakistan’s major concerns is the discriminatory nature of the NPT. The treaty recognizes five nuclear-weapon states (the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, and France), allowing them to possess nuclear weapons and obliging non-nuclear-weapon states to abandon the development of nuclear weapons.
  • Security Concerns: Pakistan’s security concerns, especially vis-à-vis regional enemy India, contributed to Pakistan’s decision not to join the NPT. Pakistan believes that its nuclear weapons capability is necessary to maintain a credible deterrent against potential threats.
  • Need for regional parity: Pakistan has expressed the need for strategic parity with India as a precondition for multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament. Asymmetry in conventional military capabilities and India’s larger nuclear arsenal are factors that influenced Pakistan’s decision to maintain a nuclear deterrent. While Pakistan remains outside the NPT, it has sought to discuss nuclear disarmament and arms control, emphasizing the importance of addressing regional security dynamics and underlying issues.


Pakistan’s journey to nuclear power has been shaped by historical events, security considerations and the long-standing Kashmir issue. The turning point was India’s ‘Smiling Buddha‘ nuclear test in 1947 , which raised alarm bells in Pakistan and highlighted the need for credible deterrence. The unresolved Kashmir issue and India’s nuclear capability increased Pakistan’s determination to acquire nuclear weapons. Despite international pressure and sanctions, Pakistan continued its nuclear weapons program with “minimum credible deterrence” in mind. Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan’s contribution accelerated Pakistan’s progress towards nuclear energy.

In May 1998, Pakistan conducted a nuclear test, becoming the world’s seventh nuclear power. The Kashmir issue was a key factor influencing Pakistan’s decision to pursue nuclear weapons. Pakistan’s position in the dispute was guided by the desire to ensure territorial integrity and protect national security interests in the face of regional instability. While nuclear deterrence has prevented large-scale wars between India and Pakistan, it has not resolved the underlying conflicts and complicated the security dynamics of the region. The acquisition of nuclear weapons by both India and Pakistan increased tensions, raised concerns about inadvertent or unauthorized use, affected the dynamics of regional conflicts, and triggered an arms race in South Asia. The international community expressed its concern and recognized Pakistan’s security requirements and emphasized the importance of nuclear restrictions and risk reduction measures. Pakistan has contributed to non-proliferation by implementing export controls, cooperating with the IAEA, preventing nuclear terrorism, supporting FMCT negotiations, and proposing a strategic deterrence system.

However, it remains outside the NPT due to concerns about its discrimination, security aspects and the need for regional equality. In conclusion, Pakistan’s nuclear journey and its impact on the Kashmir issue and the stability of the region are inextricably linked. The presence of nuclear weapons has increased the complexity and risks of the regional security environment, which requires continued efforts to resolve conflicts, reduce risks and initiate dialogue between India and Pakistan. While Pakistan remains committed to responsible nuclear behavior, resolving the region’s political and regional issues remains important for sustainable peace and stability.

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