Eighteen years after India and Pakistan tested nuclear devices in Pokhran and Chagai on May 11, 13, and 28, in the year 1998, there remains a wide gap in perception on what this ‘nuclear deterrent’ spells for each other.
“When India declared itself a nuclear weapons state in May 1998, Pakistan had to go nuclear to guarantee its security and survival. Basically the Indian act destabilised the balance of power in South Asia heavily in India’s favour,” Rai Muhammad Saleh Azam, a Pakistani columnist, wrote. “The dust at Pokhran had yet to settle when high-ranking Indian government officials and military personnel began issuing provocative statements against Pakistan.”
“It must be remembered that while India’s decision to test was a proactive one, the Pakistani call to test was a reaction, a response,” senior Indian journalist Amit Baruah wrote in The Hindu newspaper.
In 1998, the then (also current) Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif acknowledged later that the tests had been carried out in reaction to the Indian nuclear tests earlier that month. “If India had not exploded the bomb, Pakistan would not have done so. Once New Delhi did so, we had no choice because of public pressure,” he had said.
According to Amit Baruah, Pakistan had been in possession of nuclear weapons for quite some time, but had maintained a low laying policy in the international arena, apart from only some suggestive media statements.
As we approach the two-decade mark after the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests, the acts of conventional military provocation, especially on the Line of Control, have not subsided. Equally, the bilateral dialogue, supposed to discuss conventional and nuclear confidence-building measures, has yielded nothing tangible over the past 20 years.
There have been talks once or twice, but beyond the mere exchange of list of their nuclear installations — an annual routine — nothing new came out of them. On the contrary, it is almost an unsaid pact to never mention each other’s nuclear installations since May 1998.
For long, Pakistan has been talking about a strategic restraint regime between India and Pakistan, an idea that hasn’t gained much traction. Islamabad’s objective in proposing this regime is essentially aimed at limiting the acquisition of conventional weapons by India, says an article in the Daily Times of Pakistan.