Country Profiles: Pakistan

Pakistan flagNPT: not signed
CTBT: not signed
First Test: 1998
First Hydrogen Bomb: none

Current number of nuclear warheads:
Strategic: 0
Tactical: ~25
Total: ~25

Last Updated: 2/27/02

Pakistan’s nuclear program is intimately tied to its relationship with India. In 1965 Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto expressed the enmity and competitiveness between the two states thusly: “If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own.” From the start, the Pakistani nuclear program moved in reaction to perceived conflicts with India. The initial decision to begin a secret weapons program was made in 1972, immediately after the fourth war between the two South Asian powers, and gathered considerable steam following India’s first nuclear test in 1974.

The Pakistani nuclear program was developed in secret under the leadership of Dr. Abdul Qader Khan. Primarily it utilized uranium centrifuge technology misappropriated from a European uranium centrifuge consortium (EURENCO). The eventual success of the Pakistani program could not have occurred without the transfer of technology from more technically advanced countries through theft, purchase (France, Germany, North Korea), and aid (China, United States). The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 helped Pakistan form close alliances with China and the United States, leading to a much easier transfer of technology. Although the United States eventually cut off aid once Pakistan’s plans for nuclear development became impossible to ignore, this did not stop the program, and in February of 1992 the Pakistani foreign minister told the Washington Post that Pakistan had the necessary components to assemble a bomb. Indeed, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimated that Pakistan had 157-263 kg of enriched uranium at that time, enough for 10-18 bombs. Although production of HEU was halted in 1991, it was resumed in 1998, and work on a plutonium producing plant is continuing. Reports of Pakistan’s current capabilities estimate that it has enough material to make anywhere from 15-125 bombs. The wide range of estimates is accounted for by the secretive nature of Pakistan’s nuclear program.

In 1998, in response to India’s five nuclear tests, Pakistan detonated six nuclear devices up to 40kt in size. Although many observers had warned of Pakistan’s nuclear ability, these tests officially ushered Pakistan into the so-called “nuclear club.” Pakistan has several flight-tested ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Both the Hatf-2 and the M-11 have ranges of 300km with a payload of 500 kg and 800 kg respectively. The Ghauri, developed with help from North Korea, has a range of over 1000 km and a payload of 700 kg. So far nuclear weapons have not actually been deployed on any of these weapons. Pakistan also has a competent air force, including American-made F-16s, capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

Several countries led by the United States have tried to convince Pakistan (and India) to renounce their nuclear capabilities and join the NPT as non-nuclear weapons states. It is not in Pakistan’s security interests to become involved in a full-out arms race with its larger neighbor India, but military leaders are reluctant to unilaterally disarm. Pakistan maintains that it will not sign the NPT or CTBT until India does.

In the meantime, it appears likely that Pakistan will continue to produce nuclear material and will also work on improving their capacity to deploy, though they are unlikely to ratchet up the arms race by deploying before India does. Pakistan’s nuclear program will continue to reflect tensions with India and developments in India’s nuclear program.


Pakistan’s nuclear forces, from the High Energy Weapons Archive

Undeclared Nuclear Weapons States – Pakistan, from the Nuclear Weapons Frequently Asked Questions, by Carey Sublette

Pakistan’s Nuclear Punch, from ABC News

Pakistan’s Nuclear Arsenal Underestimated, Reports Say. (Washington Times 9 June 2000)

Pakistan’s Possible Nuclear Delivery Systems, from Center For Defense Information Nuclear Weapons Database

Samina Ahmed and David Cortright, Pakistan and the Bomb (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Press) 1998