Pakistan has exploded five underground nuclear devices in response to India’s nuclear tests two weeks ago.
The move has provoked worldwide condemnation and fears of a nuclear conflict in one of the world’s most volatile regions.
We never wanted to participate in this nuclear race
Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s Prime Minister
Shortly afterwards, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif addressed the nation on television and said the five tests by India had made the action “inevitable”.
“Today’s day is history in the making,” he said. “Today God has given us the opportunity to take this step for our country’s defence which is inevitable. We never wanted to participate in this nuclear race. We have proved to the world that we would not accept what was dictated to us.”
The prime minister said Pakistan’s response was fully supported by its people and attacked the international community for a weak response to India’s tests.
But after his national address, he said he was ready for more talks with India on a non-aggression pact.
There was uproar in the Indian parliament when the news was announced. The Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, said Pakistan’s action vindicated India’s decision to conduct tests of its own.
The western nations were quick to condemn Pakistan’s action. US President Bill Clinton said Pakistan had missed “a truly priceless opportunity” by not showing restraint. He said Pakistan would now face sanctions.
Nato said the tests were a “dangerous development” and also warned of sanctions.
Ever since the partition of the sub-continent in 1947, when Britain dismantled its Indian empire, India and Pakistan have been arch rivals. The animosity has its roots in religion and history, and is epitomised by the long-running conflict over the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Now they have not only entered a new nuclear arms race but expanded the club of nuclear powers across the globe which includes the US, Russia, China, Britain, France, North Korea and Israel.
Optimists hope India and Pakistan’s nuclear parity will now lead to serious and constructive peace talks.