Nuclear Weapons in Pakistan

Claudia Cheng
May 4, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017


Fig. 1: A defense exhibition of Pakistani Missiles in Karachi, Pakistan during IDEAS 2008 (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

Of the nine states in the world that possess nuclear weapons, Pakistan is the only Muslim majority country. Initially, Pakistan had a non-weapon policy and agreed to the U.S. Atoms for Peace initiatives. The establishment of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) in 1956 led to Pakistan's nuclear energy program for peaceful and industrial use of nuclear energy to help sustain the needs of Pakistan's rapid population and economic growth. [1]

Pakistan began to develop nuclear weapons after the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, when they lost East Pakistan. During the "Multan meeting" held on 20 January 1972, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto commenced a nuclear weapons program with an "Islamic agenda" to develop an atomic bomb to ensure national security. [2]


Pakistan currently possesses 120 warheads, and it is building at such a rate that it is on the path to overtake Britain as the world's fifth largest nuclear weapons power. [3] Its arsenal growth is the fastest compared to all other countries that possess nuclear weapons. According to the International Panel on Fissile Materials, in addition to making tactical and long-range missiles, Pakistan has also produced enough material for around 100 nuclear weapons, including a new class of plutonium bombs. [3] The growth of Pakistani nuclear has been seen in defense exhibitions such as the one seen in Fig. 1. Although Pakistan's failure to comply with the non-proliferation regime set by the United States has caused deep tensions with the West, Pakistan still continues to develop nuclear weapons to ensure its superiority and deterrence capability in its arms race against India. [2]

The international sphere would like Pakistan to stop pursuing rapid development of nuclear weapons in large bulks, as it would be detrimental if these weapons were obtained by terrorists. The biggest concern of such rapid production of nuclear materials is undetectable theft from places where materials are being handled in large amounts. [3] The dangers of nuclear weapons in Pakistan are heightened by the fact that it is the home to many extremist groups. Pakistan has close relations with some radical Muslim organizations and regimes, which has led to the international fear about nuclear technology transfer. [2]


Although major world powers are urging Pakistan to curb the growth of its nuclear weapons, Pakistan's production of nuclear materials has only grown more rapidly. [3] A senior Pakistani military officer even declined the growth of its country's arsenal, proclaiming that "People are getting unduly concerned about the size of our stockpile. What we have is a credible, minimum nuclear deterrent. It's bare minimum." [3] Pakistan's secrecy over its nuclear weapons only adds to international concern on its arsenal growth. However, major world powers will not stop their efforts to urge India and Pakistan to end their arms race. Even Pakistan allies, such as China, are urging Pakistan to accept the fact that growing its nuclear arsenal to compete with India is a lose-lose situation. Hopefully the major world powers will be able to slow down the rapid growth of the nuclear arms race in South Asia with future negotiations and international agreements.

© Claudia Cheng. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] A. Z. Hilali, "Pakistan's Nuclear Programme for Peaceful Purposes," Pakistan Horizon 47, No. 2, 27 (1994).

[2] F. Shaikh, "Pakistan's Nuclear Bomb: Beyond the Non-Proliferation Regime," Int. Aff. 78, No. 1, 29 (2002).

[3] D. E Sanger and E. Schmitt, "Pakistani Nuclear Arms Pose Challenge to U.S. Policy," New York Times, 1 Feb 11.