One may think that the anniversary of successful nuclear tests would be a display of provocative violent force, but for Pakistan it has become a display of their aims towards peace.
On 28 May 1998 the Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif announced that, against Western pressure, Pakistan had carried out 5 successful nuclear tests. At that time the prospects for the future seemed bleak as the two enemy nations, who had been at war 3 times, had both proven their nuclear capability.
It all started on 18 May 1974 when India tested it’s first nuclear capability under Prime Minister Indira Ghandi. Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto expressed disappointment and many saw this as the moment a nuclear arms race began between the nations.
Pakistan called on the international community to punish India for escalating tensions and endangering regional security. Instead, France sent a congratulatory message to India (later withdrawn) and reports revealed Canadian and US equipment had been used in the test, to Canadian disapproval.
Things escalated when India’s right wing BJP Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee upped the anti-Pakistan rhetoric of the Indian nation to become elected. In February 1998 he said he would “take back that part of Kashmir that is under Pakistan’s occupation” followed by stating his intention if he became Prime Minister to “exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons” and when he won the election he said “We will exercise all options including nuclear options to protect security and sovereignty”
What was Pakistan’s response? Pakistani Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan said Pakistan would offer “an agreement with India for an equal and mutual restraint in conventional, missile and nuclear fields”. This was not done in a position of weakness and to prove that Pakistan demonstrated their own capability to deliver nuclear weapon payloads by up to 900miles after the statement.
In the following days India Defence Minister George Fernandez threatened to use a nuclear weapon against Pakistan, even going on to threaten China with it as well saying that in launching Nukes China would be “potentially enemy number one”.
Then on 11-13 May 1998 India tested nuclear bombs, ignoring all pleas from foreign powers to not destabilise regional stability. Pakistan had not yet proven it had nuclear capability, so a jubilant mood spread across India. Footage was played of crowds celebrating shouting slogans against Pakistan, claiming they would wipe them off the map in a war.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif faced a difficult situation. He had said he “wished to compete with India economically” and that “India has forced us into a nuclear arms race”. Not once was the rhetoric of aggression of India matched, instead all rhetoric was surrounding defending borders and replying like for like.
India’s actions were not condemned by the UK, France or Russia. Only Japan imposed sanctions and China expressed “serious concern”. The US promised sanctions and delivered on some too.
US President Bill Clinton and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair called Nawaz Sharif asking him not to test Pakistan’s nuclear capability but Nawaz Sharif went ahead and undertook 5 successful nuclear tests of Pakistan on 28 May 1998.
Even at this stage Pakistan issued no threats to go into direct war with India, instead Pakistan officially released a statement saying “Pakistan expressed maximum restraint in the face of Indian nuclear threats but the world reaction over Indian aggressive postures was Luke-warm. India was not punished for using the nuclear options which endangered peace and security in the region.”
Both countries were then placed under sanctions and the world began to worry as the two nations entered a dangerous phase of enemyship.
Since then there has been many escalations between India and Pakistan. The most recent of them in 2019 when India blamed a Pakistani based militant group for the Pulwama attack. India then ordered an airstrike in Pakistan and claimed to have killed “350 militants”, the reports were debunked by Pakistani and international media who showed the site was actually completely untouched. Some nearby fields had been damaged which Pakistan claimed was when Indian jets were chased out of the country being forced to drop their payload to lighten their cargo.
In their border skirmishes an Indian pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman, was shot down over Pakistanwas captured by Pakistan. Footage of him was released showing him enjoying tea and praising Pakistan. He went on to explain he was treated very well and surprised by Pakistani hospitality.
While some reports emerged that India wanted to escalate rhetoric by threatening nuclear war, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan released Abhinandan as a gesture towards peace. The crisis ended with both agreeing to work towards peace.
Since then India has gone on to revoke special status given to Kashmir with reports of forcefully removing Muslim families and replacing them with Hindu families. They also went on to switch the internet off and kicked out all journalists from Kashmir. In August and October 2019 Pakistan has had casualties from Indian border fire.
Since Imran Khan became Prime Minister he has made several offers to open dialogue with India. In November 2019 Imran Khan announced any Indian Sikh could come to Pakistan for pilgrimage to to Kartarpur, free of charge, for Guru Nanak’s 550th birthday. A move which even earned him the thanks of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Prime Minister Imran Khan later attended services there.
In 2020 Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan again said India has not responded to Pakistan’s peace overtures. Recently he has said India’s expansionist policy threatens regional peace. This has rung true as India and China now face a stand-off over a disputed border between the two.
22 years ago on this day one would be forgiven for being worried for the future. Pakistan’s restraint and aims at regional peace have kept escalations down. Despite becoming a nuclear armed state, Pakistan has shown its maturity and responsibility as the only Muslim nuclear power.
The right wing government in India is still in power for the next four years which means it still stands likely the rhetoric will remain and peace seems a long way off.