A Soviet era based Chinese supplied claimed to be nuclear capable Pakistani ballistic missile

Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal probably consists of approximately 90-110 nuclear warheads, although it could be larger. Islamabad is producing fissile material, adding to related production facilities, and deploying additional delivery vehicles. These steps could enable Pakistan to undertake both quantitative and qualitative improvements to its nuclear arsenal. Whether and to what extent Pakistan’s current expansion of its nuclear weapons-related facilities is a response to the 2008 U.S.-India nuclear cooperation agreement is unclear. Islamabad does not have a public, detailed nuclear doctrine, but its “minimum credible deterrent” is widely regarded as designed to dissuade India from taking military action against Pakistan.

U.S. officials argue that, since the 2004 revelations about a procurement network run by former Pakistani nuclear official AQ Khan. Instability in Pakistan has called the security of nuclear assets and technology and proliferation worries into question. Some observers fear radical takeover of a government that possesses a nuclear bomb, or proliferation by radical Islamists within Pakistan’s nuclear complex in case of a breakdown of controls. While U.S. and Pakistani officials continue to express confidence in controls over Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, continued instability in the country could impact these safeguards wrote Paul K. Kerr & Mary Beth Nikitin in a US Congressional Research Service paper.

Links To Islamic Terrorism

Pakistani society has proven to be a fertile breeding ground for Islamist terrorism. Some of the reasons for this terrorism can be traced to Afghanistan and Kashmir. But the growth of the phenomenon also rests with the decisions of Pakistan’s government (of course the policies of other states are also a causal variable). As per a Stephen F. Austin State University research paper by Michael Tkacik, Pakistan has used Islam as a domestic mobilizing factor since the state’s inception. But the growth of violent Islamists really began when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. Pakistan supported the Afghan Mujahideen almost from the beginning. The United States quickly ascertained that here was an opportunity to bleed the Soviets, and thus supported Pakistan’s efforts with money, weapons, and advice. Pakistan and the Mujahideen both used Islam to rally international support – the war was fought as jihad against the infidel Soviets. The viciousness of the conflict further radicalized these Islamic warriors, as did the influx of Arab radicals whose home countries thought Afghanistan a good dumping ground for troublemakers.

Another key linkage between Pakistan and Islamic terrorism exists in Kashmir. Though Pakistan has been loath to directly confront the conventionally superior India, it has supported Kashmir rebels to a  greater extent for years.36 Since 1990 in particular, Pakistan has facilitated terrorism against Indian interests in Kashmir. And Pakistan has again mobilized on the basis of Islam. The Pakistani Army finds a key source of domestic legitimacy in its support for Kashmir insurgents. This Pakistani support has led to numerous crises, some of which have been examined above. But it has also managed to keep pressure on India and has internationalized the crisis in a way that Pakistan thought might encourage resolution. Both of these groups of terrorists, though once serving their Pakistani masters, have proven somewhat harder to control when their interests diverged from those of Pakistan. 

The Pakistani environment (religiously, politically, and otherwise) is complex and unstable. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program can best be understood as nested within this social environment. As such, the characteristics of Pakistan’s program could either reduce instability (perhaps through a clear increase in existential deterrence) or it could further destabilize an already fragile environment. When one examines the various characteristics of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, it becomes apparent that most (though not all) factors mitigate in favour of further instability. This instability has negative implications for the Indian and international security interests.


A fundamental aspect of nuclear security is ensuring that personnel with sensitive knowledge do not proliferate that expertise, but this aspect of nuclear security in Pakistan was recognized only in the past 10 years and resulted in significant reforms of its personnel security system. Many observers continue to be concerned that other states or terrorist organizations could obtain material or expertise related to nuclear weapons from elements in Pakistan. This view is only encouraged by recent instability and governance problems.

The AQ Khan Network Proliferation networks stemming from Pakistan have their roots in the effort to develop a Pakistani nuclear bomb. Beginning in the 1970s, Pakistan used extensive clandestine procurement networks to obtain technology for its own nuclear weapons program. Former Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan directed this procurement and subsequently used a similar network to supply Libya, North Korea, and Iran with materials related to uranium enrichment for profit.127 The current status of Pakistan’s nuclear export network is unclear, although most official U.S. reports indicate that, at the least, it has been damaged considerably. Then-Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte implied that the network had been dismantled when he asserted in a January 11, 2007, statement to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that “Pakistan had been a major source of nuclear proliferation until the disruption of the AQ. Khan network.”128 When asked about the network’s current status during a July 25, 2007, Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, then-Under Secretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns replied that: 

Similarly, the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies found in a May 2007 report that “at least some of Khan’s associates appear to have escaped law enforcement attention and could ... resume their black-market business.” More recently, a January 12, 2009, State Department press release said that the network “is no longer operating.” For its part, Pakistan’s Foreign Office stated February 7, 2009, that Pakistan “has dismantled the nuclear black market network.” 

Asked during the 2007 hearing about Pakistan’s cooperation in investigating the network, Burns acknowledged that the United States has not had “personal, consistent access” to Khan, but added that he did not “have all the details of everything we’ve done.” Similarly, the IAEA has not yet been able to interview Khan directly, according to an agency official. However, sources report that Islamabad has responded to written questions from the IAEA and has been cooperative with the agency’s investigation of Iran’s nuclear program. The US State Department announced January 12, 2009, that it was imposing sanctions on 13 individuals and three companies for their involvement in the Khan network. The sanctions were imposed under the Export-Import Bank Act, the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Act, and Executive Orders 12938 and 13382. Pursuant to a requirement in the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-73), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a certification on March 18, 2011, that Pakistan “is continuing to cooperate with the United States in efforts to dismantle supplier networks relating to the acquisition of nuclear weapons-related materials.”

Historically, the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons has been of significant concern to the international community. And as per NTI, Taliban-linked groups have successfully attacked tightly guarded government and military targets in the country. Militants carried out small-scale attacks outside the Minhas (Kamra) Air Force Base in 2007, 2008, and 2009 but Pakistani officials repeatedly deny that the base is used to store nuclear weapons. Al-Qaeda’s Abu Yahya al-Libi had also called for attacks on Pakistani nuclear facilities. Such developments increased the likelihood of scenarios in which Pakistan's nuclear security could be put at risk. Nevertheless, Pakistan has consistently asserted that it had control over its nuclear weapons, and that it was impossible for groups such as the Taliban or proliferation networks to gain access to the country's nuclear facilities or weapons.


Nuclear proliferation has allowed Pakistan to upgrade its nuclear weapons arsenal by exchanging nuclear weapons knowledge for other needed technology, such as delivery vehicles. Though such delivery systems which Pakistan is in doubt since these missiles are based on old Soviet missile technologies, India on the other hand has an advanced and sophisticated anti-ballistic air defence missile system to guard vital assets across the country.

Here non-proliferation strategy by various countries and Pakistan's lack of hard cash has actually increased proliferation. Rather than limiting proliferation to Pakistan, the refusal to provide other technologies forced Pakistan to trade with and assist the nuclear programs of rogue states like Libya, North Korea and Iran. Simplistic, unless a new stringent sanction regime is not imposed and the old ones continued by the international community, Pakistan will continue to proliferate with or without AQ Khan network.

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