Countries build nuclear bombs for four major reasons. Did Pakistan do it only because of India?

Or was it an attempt to divert public attention from other state failures, asks a new book.

Political theorists propose four major contributing as well as competing factors that best explain why nations “go nuclear” and build nuclear arsenals. These are: security challenges; prestige and power; technological imperatives; and domestic push and pull factors.

Beginning with security concerns, scholars note that when a state’s physical security and survival is directly at risk, it may be driven to acquire nuclear weapons capabilities in order to protect its integrity and safeguard its people. Any state located in a dangerous region and threatened by an aggressive enemy is likely to be seriously concerned about its national security. Such fear often leads a state to develop methods to ensure its survival, in terms of both offensive and defensive policies, often resulting in the pursuit of strong military capabilities, a critical way to project power. In this sense, nuclear weapons empower states to feel secure.

For instance, this theory argues that the “first-generation” nuclear powers (the USA, the USSR, the UK, France, and China) and the “second-generation” nuclear states (India, Pakistan, and Israel) acquired nuclear weapons because each faced a grave security threat from an adversary. Thus, developing nuclear weapons capability deters hostile action, enabling a state to effectively threaten that the consequences of an attack could be devastating for any aggressor.

A second view holds that the acquisition of nuclear weapons acts as a symbol of national prestige for any state. It also demonstrates technological sophistication, which creates a sense of pride not only in the abilities of its people but also of its state institutions. A nuclear weapons programme denotes a highly skilled industry requiring an extraordinary level of expertise, raising the standing of a state in the community of nations. Acquiring nuclear capability, according to this view, bestows great power status or global recognition upon a state.

Britain, France, and India are often cited as examples of states for which prestige was an important factor in their decisions to acquire nuclear weapons.

A third motive behind a state’s decision to develop a nuclear weapons programme is a logical and inevitable result of technological momentum created by civilian, purpose-driven nuclear research and development programmes. This argument by Professor Matthew Fuhrman advances the notion that the successful implementation of nuclear programmes to foster greater knowledge of nuclear science and technology, as well as potential positive uses such as nuclear energy, naturally and logically drive further exploration into weapons programmes. His research concludes that “on average, countries receiving higher levels of peaceful nuclear assistance are more likely to pursue and acquire the bomb – especially if they experience an international crisis after receiving aid”.

The last basis for a nuclear weapons programme holds that domestic bureaucratic politics and the political calculus of leaders may lead a state to a nuclear path. According to this view, bureaucrats inspired by their personal policy preferences and ideas, or bureaucracies carrying out their specific institutional interests, attempt to influence states’ decision to go down the nuclear road. Homi Bhabha is often cited as an example in this category, as he played a central role in India’s acquisition of nuclear weapons technology.

All of these theories can be considered relevant to Pakistan’s pursuit of nuclear weapons technology. Lowell Ditmer’s insights on Pakistan’s motivations to develop a nuclear weapons programme in his 2001 Asian Survey review essay are noteworthy: “Pakistan’s motive for the acquisition of nuclear weapons is far less complex and more conventional and is merely about national security.” Sumit Ganguly, a leading Indian-American scholar, concurs, making the case that the core aim of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme is to prevent a repetition of the events of 1971 whereby direct Indian involvement facilitated the creation of a sovereign Bangladesh out of former East Pakistan. In this sense, according to Ganguly, a nuclear Pakistan would deter India strategically from further reducing Pakistan’s territory. Essentially, from a Pakistani point of view, nuclear weapons would significantly reduce the chances of any aggressive Indian manoeuvres threatening the territorial integrity of Pakistan.

Overwhelming evidence shows that India’s nuclear activities shaped Pakistan’s nuclear policy and postures.

Samina Ahmed aptly remarks that “every landmark in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program links closely to its troubled relationship with India and to Indian nuclear aspirations”. There is a consensus in Pakistani policy circles that the decision to pursue nuclear weapons was a product of Indian-generated security imperatives.When India conducted a nuclear test in 1974, Pakistan was simply left with no other option but to aspire to do the same, according to this logic (whether we call it realism or neorealism). It was a core security interest for Pakistan to pursue nuclear weapons. A similar dilemma was faced by Pakistan after the 1998 Indian nuclear tests. Any Pakistani leader would have decided to demonstrate Pakistan’s capabilities in a similar way. As Shamshad Ahmad, Pakistan’s foreign secretary in 1998, maintained in a Foreign Affairs article: “to restore strategic balance to South Asia, Pakistan was obliged to respond to India’s May 1998 nuclear blasts”.

In 1998 the internal Pakistani debate was not really about whether to respond to Indian tests or not, but rather to what extent it should do so, and how best to weather the international sanctions that would surely follow. Hence, not surprisingly, when India decided to unveil its nuclear capability, Pakistan followed suit shortly thereafter. Similarly, in 1972, the discussion among policy-makers was not whether to pursue the path to nuclearisation, but how long it would take and how much it would cost. Stephen P Cohen, a leading American scholar of South Asian studies, sums up Pakistan’s security dilemma while comparing it with almost identical challenges faced by the state of Israel:

Like Israel, Pakistan was founded by a people who felt persecuted when living as a minority, and even though they possess their own states (which are based on religious identity), both remain under threat from powerful enemies. In both cases, an original partition demonstrated the hostility of neighbours, and subsequent wars showed that these neighbours remained hostile. Pakistan and Israel have also followed parallel strategic policies. Both sought an entangling alliance with various outside powers (at various times Britain, France, China, and the United States), both ultimately concluded that outsiders could not be trusted in a moment of extreme crisis, and this led them to develop nuclear weapons.

A renowned Pakistani nuclear scientist, Pervez Hoodbhoy, however, differs with these security-driven explanations, and believes that the prestige factor provides a pertinent basis for understanding Pakistan’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

He also frames this issue in terms of the state’s need to distract the public’s attention away from other state failures. Hoodbhoy considers this as one of the three “critically important” elements of the imperatives for the Pakistani bomb, the other two being the “nuclear shield” doctrine and the military dominance of Pakistani decision-making structures. Hoodbhoy finds:

The growing institutional malfunction and a feeling of collective failure have understandably led to a steadily deepening crisis for the nation. Pride and confidence follow from real achievement; conversely absence of achievement inexorably leads to diminished self-esteem...The psychological anguish must somehow be made bearable. Enter the bomb.

He further observed that the Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) helped create a “sense of achievement” in an otherwise bleak environment, and many Pakistanis took “mental refuge within its four walls”. No longer just a secret laboratory, KRL became a “sacred symbol”, in his words, which must be protected at all costs, as the atomic weapons produced there were “glittering objects” symbolising the mastery of the most sophisticated technology. He went on:

It is important to understand the extraordinary sense of desperation felt by most Pakistanis as they reel before the rapacity of political and economic elites...The bomb provides to the masses a refuge from reality and an antidote to collective depression.

Another important Pakistani scholar, Professor Rasul B Rais, in a 1985 Asian Survey article argued that, other than the security considerations, economic and political factors were important in Pakistan’s pursuit of nuclear technology.

In terms of economic motivations, Rais suggested the desire and political will to resolve the energy crisis, which affected commerce and prevented many industrial sectors from growing. This line of argument followed the official Pakistani position of the time. Rais’ second contention concerning political motivations stemmed from Pakistani perceptions about Western suspicions and hostility towards Islamic countries. Rais believed that the distrust engendered by the differences between Western and Islamic culture and the subsequent nature of international relations between these divergent societies played a role in formulating public policy to pursue nuclear weapons technology. He concluded that in reality it was the political dimension of the nuclear programme that sustained Pakistan’s interest despite significant political changes such as the shift from democratic to military rule and back again.

Excerpted with permission from Pakistan’s Bomb: A Story of Defiance, Deterrence and Deviance, Hassan Abbas, Penguin Random House India.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”


“Like what?”


A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”




“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:


This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.