Issue BriefsPublished on Apr 06, 2023
ballistic missiles,Defense,Doctrine,North Korea,Nuclear,PLA,SLBM,Submarines

Pakistan and Proliferation: Implications and Options for Indian Policy


Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation activities are out in the open with consequent implications for India and the international community. Pakistan’s attempts to buy and sell, and barter, nuclear technology and material, have never really been a secret. What is of even graver concern is the international community’s continuing blinkered approach towards Pakistan’s nuclear activities which have made world a far more dangerous place to live.

Will Pakistan Stop Proliferating?

Possibly not. Despite being caught red-handed, Pakistan’s proliferation activities might not cease. Other than a promise to curtail future Pakistan proliferation activities, Pakistan will offer nothing to the international community, and the international community (read Washington) will settle for this.

Hence, though Pakistan’s proliferation activities may be curtailed for a while, it could resume under the following conditions:

If Pakistan’s politics moves further rightward, and the religious fundamentalist parties should become more powerful in Islamabad, they might be tempted to restart such transfers

If Pakistan needs specific technologies for its strategic programme, it might be tempted to pay for such programmes with its nuclear technology.

If Pakistan faces a serious financial crunch, nuclear proliferation might provide a way to earn hard currency

Individual Pakistani scientists or small coteries may attempt to proliferate for reasons of money as well as ideology, or more likely both.

Though covert but official transfers have been the pattern until now, covert, unofficial transfers can take place in the future. Either individuals or small coteries within the Pakistan nuclear, intelligence and military establishments, might attempt such operations. They will be more difficult to detect and stop.

Will the US Stop Pakistan?

No. Grand Strategic imperatives, which made the US look away when Pakistan was stealing nuclear technology to build its weapons, and made it ignore China’s role in building up Pakistan missile delivery capability, will operate now to make the US forgive Pakistan’s past transgressions for promises of future good behaviour. But Pakistan will be under no fear of severe or consequences, other than getting caught. Washington perceives real benefits of Pakistan’s cooperation in the war on terror, sentiments strengthened by the real fear that all possible realistic alternatives to Musharraf will be much worse for US interest and the war on terror than he is. So, India should expect the US to do little to either punish Pakistan for its past or future transgressions. India’s policy should be to tread carefully, to use stridency for wresting other concessions from the international community rather than expecting any real action against Pakistan. Such US generosity will also encourage Pakistan to continue proliferation, but more carefully.

Consequences of Pakistan’s Proliferation

One definite consequence of Pakistan’s activities will be a tightening of US and general international technology control regulations. President George Bush, in his speech on February 11, has already announced that he would seek tighter controls on nuclear and other sensitive high-technology exports. This will hamper the recent progress made by India and the US on technology transfers on areas of mutual interests such as civilian nuclear and space technology. American and Western non-proliferation activists are bound to demand greater vigilance on proliferation-related activities and greater controls and restrictions on technology flows.

One objective of Indian policy should be to resist efforts by the non-proliferation lobby to club India, with its relatively clean record on technology controls, with serial proliferators like Pakistan and treat efforts to club it with Pakistan with the contempt it deserves. India should emphasise its record and highlight the difficulties it will create in US-India relations if Washington succumbs to such moves.

In addition, the US will expect India, and other countries, to further tighten domestic regulations on technology export controls. This is already an issue in US-India bilateral discussions; its salience can now be expected to increase.

Indian export control regulations are fairly tight, and its record on export controls fairly good. India has little reason to resist stronger domestic export control legislation, but must ensure that such measures are not used to prevent India from competing for legitimate exports in the international market. Undertaking such measures has real benefits for India but India should also emphasise that these measures should be adequately and materially recognised by the US.

Modifying the NPT Regime

New Delhi should encourage NPT system to take a second look at admitting acknowledged nuclear powers such as India, Pakistan and Israel, into the NPT Treaty system as Nuclear Weapon States (NWS). Such inclusion will require all three new nuclear powers to shoulder the responsibilities of the non-proliferation regime, and it would help get over the current anomaly of three of the world’s nuclear powers, living in very dangerous, and possibly unstable neighbourhoods, being outside the responsibilities and oversight of the regime. The non-proliferation fundamentalists in Washington who want India, Pakistan and Israel to join the NPT as non-nuclear states will surely oppose such a move, which they see as rewarding the proliferators. But if Pakistan had been under the NPT umbrella after 1998, even as a NWS, its proliferation would have violated its legal international obligations rather than just normative restraints.

One technical objection to adding to the count of NWS in the NPT is that the Treaty defines NWS as those who had nuclear weapons before 1967. But this can be easily resolved with an additional protocol to the NPT. As of now, the primary obstacle to the inclusion of the de-facto nuclear powers is political, not legal.


The Pakistan military has much to answer to the people of Pakistan and the world community. Though Pakistan’s proliferation activities have now been revealed, and India’s suspicions confirmed, the consequences of the revelations could be adverse for India also. Moreover, Pakistan’s proliferation activities might not end, but rather go deeper underground, requiring greater vigilance to uproot it.

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Arpit Rajain

Arpit Rajain

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Rajesh Rajagopalan

Rajesh Rajagopalan

Dr. Rajesh Rajagopalan is Professor of International Politics at Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi. His publications include three books: Nuclear South Asia: Keywords and Concepts ...

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