India-Pakistan: Nuclear Weapon Update – 1998

India’s and Pakistan’s recent nuclear weapons tests have demonstrated to the world that both have bombs. The Prime Minister’s Office stated: “These tests have established that India has a proven capability for a weaponised nuclear programme.” J. N. Dixit, formerly India’s Foreign Secretary, added that “by conducting these tests, which included a thermo-nuclear device, India has affirmed to itself and confirmed to the world its status as a full-fledged nuclear weapon state.”

It is also clear that the bombs are deliverable. Arguments about preventing India and Pakistan from weaponizing or deploying their weapons appear to be off the mark – the bombs could be dropped tomorrow. According to Mr. Dixit, “India has already weaponised itself in terms of various warhead manufacturing capacities and delivery systems. The question to be asked is whether we should move on to deployment of these capacities. I make a distinction between actual deployment and deployability.” Furthermore, an Indian official from Prime Minister’s office said, “if you’re asking me if we have a delivery system, the answer is yes we do.”

Data from the recent tests will be key to India’s future nuclear weapon efforts. According to the Prime Minister’s office, the data will be “useful in the design of nuclear weapons of different delivery systems.” Further, “they are expected to carry Indian scientists towards a sound computer simulation capability which may be supported by subcritical experiments, if considered necessary.” In other words, they will aid the development of different types of nuclear weapons.

In this vein, it is noteworthy that India is ready to begin serial production of its Agni intermediate-range ballistic missile, which can be deployed with nuclear warheads. Pakistan is also readying nuclear-capable missiles. An official Pakistani statement after the tests declared: “the long-range Ghauri missile is already being capped with nuclear warheads to give befitting reply to any misadventure by the enemy.” Pakistan also has Chinese M-11 surface-to-surface missiles which could carry nuclear warheads.


In December 1995, U.S. satellites detected activity at Pokhran, India’s nuclear testing range, suggesting a test was being readied, but under U.S. pressure, no such test occurred. The next warning occurred in September 1996, when India became one among only three states to vote against the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in the U.N. General Assembly. Then in October 1996, preparations for a nuclear test at Pokhran were once again revealed by reconnaissance photos, but India decided again not to test and the site was cleared by mid-December. Finally, upon its election in March 1998, India’s new coalition government, led by the BJP under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, announced that it would “reevaluate India’s nuclear policy ‘and exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons.'”

The tests

On May 11 and 13, 1998, India conducted five underground nuclear tests, code-named “Shakti ’98.” After the first set of tests, India’s Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee immediately announced that India had detonated three underground nuclear devices at Pokhran: “the tests conducted were a fission device, a low-yield device and a thermonuclear device.” Indian scientists, Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, “father” of the Indian nuclear bomb, Dr. Rajagopal Chidambaram, head of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission, and Dr. Krishnamurthi Santhanam, chief technical adviser in the Defense Ministry, said that the two-stage thermonuclear device consisted of a fission trigger and a fusion second stage that produced most of the bomb’s yield of 43 kilotons of TNT. The significance of the staged design is that the yield of the bomb can be increased to much greater levels than the level tested. However, US government sources and independent scientific organizations placed the so-called thermonuclear yield in the range of 15-25 kilotons and said while the device could be thermonuclear, it could also have been a boosted fission device. The Indian scientists said they had also developed a design for a boosted fission bomb but did not test one. The scientists said the other four devices tested consisted of one that yielded 12 kilotons, two that yielded 200 tons, and one that yielded 600 tons.

On May 28 and 30, 1998, Pakistan followed suit, with an alleged six tests of its own. While official details about the tests were not forthcoming, Dr. Qadeer Khan, the “father of the Pakistani bomb,” said one of the original tests was a 30-35 kiloton fission bomb, plus four small tactical nuclear weapons. There was no thermonuclear test, but he claimed that one could be conducted if necessary. The claim that so many devices were tested appears to be at odds with outside estimates of Pakistan’s available nuclear weapon fuel. Pakistan agreed in 1991 to end production of high-enriched uranium, but Dr. Khan denied that Pakistan abided by this agreement. If this is true, Western officials estimate that Pakistan’s inventory of HEU could be as high as 500 kg (even after the tests) which would be enough for approximately 30 warheads for the Ghauri missile. Dr. Khan also indicated that one bomb remained capped in a hole at the test site, raising the question whether this device will be detonated in future. In summarizing the tests, Prime Minister Sharif said, “we have evened the account with India.”

Since the tests, both states have indicated some willingness to defuse the situation. One day after Pakistan’s declaration that it was willing to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), India announced that it might be willing to sign within the next year as well. However, both have attached conditions to this step that are likely to preclude final adherence.

Global reactions

In the wake of the tests, the U.N. Security Council demanded in an unanimous vote on June 5 that India and Pakistan refrain from further nuclear tests, halt their weapon programs, and sign nuclear arms control agreements unconditionally. And the Clinton Administration implemented economic sanctions to punish the two states for testing nuclear devices, but avoided cutting ties completely. The sanctions terminated economic aid, loans and military sales to both governments, but did not ban loans to privately-owned companies or investment by U.S. companies. Exports of most dual-use items would also be cut off, and banks were prohibited from lending money to either government. Most other states, including Britain, France and Russia, refused to impose any sanctions.

More recently, the US denied a visa to the chairman of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission and told seven Indian scientists to leave the United States by the end of August. The scientists had been working the at National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) on two semiconductor manufacturing projects and a ceramics processing project. The seven scientists are from the Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC), the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research (TIFR) and the Indian Institute of Technology.

Despite these steps, the US Government is still delaying the release of a list of some 200 Indian and Pakistani bomb- and missile-making companies, which by law may be banned from receiving U.S.-origin products.