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Pakistan’s Nuclear Bomb: A Story of Defiance, Deterrence and Deviance

Center for Global Policy Program Director Kamran Bokhari talks with National Defense University Professor and CGP Senior Fellow Hassan Abbas about his latest book, which covers the development of the Pakistani nuclear program and its role in the spread of nuclear technology. Abbas, author of “Pakistan’s Nuclear Bomb: A Story of Defiance, Deterrence and Deviance,” sheds light on the reasons Pakistan chose to develop a nuclear bomb, how it did so without being detected, and what some of the modern-day concerns about its program are — such as keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of non-state actors. Pakistan’s ability to create a deliverable nuclear weapon leads to questions about Iran’s program. How much the United States does not know about it and whether Iran faces obstacles that Pakistan did not?

Abbas says that it is common knowledge that Pakistan developed its nuclear program because India had one. Islamabad wanted to be able to defend itself against its traditional enemy. However, he proposes the theory that Pakistan was motivated in part by the chance to defy the United States, which did not want an Islamic country to develop “a Muslim bomb.” There were numerous motivations — financial rewards, personal glory, nationalism, religious pride, and more — behind the development of Pakistan’s nuclear program, Abbas says.

Pakistan was able to build its nuclear program starting with equipment purchased from Europeans on the black market, Abbas says. Pakistan built its nuclear program slowly and gradually at a time when most countries were focused on other matters — such as the Cold War and the impending collapse of the Soviet Union. Moreover, intelligence gathering techniques and technology were not as sophisticated then as they are now, so Islamabad was able to keep its efforts under wraps.