Since its inception Pakistan’s nuclear program became a victim of nuclear apartheid, even though the acquisition of nuclear technology for not only peaceful purposes but for security purposes is the inalienable right of states. It’s worth mentioning that Pakistan in its attempt to acquire mastery in nuclear fuel cycle never violated any bilateral or international agreement/treaty, unlike its regional nuclear counterpart, India. Even then Pakistan’s nuclear program has always been termed as stereotyped, as ‘Islamic Bomb’ or ‘fastest growing nuclear weapons program’.
Recently Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) launched its annual year book with estimates of world nuclear forces. By staying true to its years old traditions, SIPRI this time again added 10 more weapons to the nuclear weapon stockpiles of Pakistan. If SIPRI estimates of the past few years regarding Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are analysed with a little bit of sanity, one crystal clear fact is that every year 10 weapons are added into the nuclear weapon stockpiles of Pakistan. In year 2010, it was estimated that Pakistan has approx. 90 weapons, then in 2011 the figure was 100 nuclear weapons, in 2012 figured hick to the 110 nuclear weapons, in 2013 estimates showed 120 weapons in possession of Pakistan. From 2013 onwards nuclear weapons estimates remained static till the year 2017.
Now, according to the most recent estimates of SIPRI Pakistan have almost 140-150 nuclear weapons in its inventory. On the basis of such estimates, Pakistan is categorized as the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world. Hence, it is important to analyze the statistics on the basis of which these facts by SIPRI and similar institutes are made.
There is no denying the fact that to maintain deterrence against growing Indian conventional asymmetry and military modernization, Pakistan is relying on nuclear weapons. However, the estimates made by the SIPRI and Bulletin of Atomic Scientists are nothing but speculations and assumptions because neither India nor Pakistan has ever declared publicly that how many nuclear warheads are there in their respective inventories. Moreover, it is also not known that how much fissile material both countries have and without knowing the actual amount, it is just the castle in the air, which these organizations are building regarding the actual number of nuclear weapons in possession of Pakistan and India.
It is pertinent to mention India’s case because according to estimates of 2016 it possesses around 600-800 kg of weapon grade plutonium and 4.0 tons of HEU. On the other hand, in the same estimates it is stated that Pakistan has approx. 210-280 kg of weapon grade plutonium and 3.0 tons of HEU. These statistics are not given by the respective governments, but it clearly shows that India possesses more fissile material than Pakistan, resultantly it has the capacity to produce more weapons than Pakistan. But, reports by the SIPRI always show Pakistan with more weapons than India.
Another significant factor which these reputable international organizations miss is that nuclear reactors do not work on their 100% capacity around the whole year. Thus, estimates may vary from actual statistics.
Moreover, how much fissile material is used in one weapon can also vary from one state to another state and also in the sophistication of weapon designs. Thus, how much fissile material is being used in a warhead change the estimated arsenal size of a country. Another big flaw in these estimates is on the potential use of HEU by both countries. In India’s case it is assumed that all the reserves of HEU will be used in naval reactors even though the reserves are much more than requirement of naval nuclear reactors. On the other hand, in Pakistan’s case speculative estimates of HEU are all considered for weaponization and future needs for naval nuclear reactors/propulsion is ignored completely.
Thus, these false estimates lead to biased conclusions and damage a state interest in the international arena. Moreover, due to the serious shortcomings in the existing calculations/estimates, no one can actually predict the actual number of nuclear weapons or fissile material that Pakistan possesses. So, declaring a county ‘fastest growing’ in making nuclear weapons is nothing but a propaganda that is damaging strategic stability in South Asia.
Ahyousha Khan is a Research Associate at the Strategic Vision Institute in Islamabad, Pakistan