28 May 1998 - Pakistan nuclear tests

28 May 1998 - Pakistan nuclear tests

Pakistan conducted a series of nuclear tests on 28 May 1998 at the Chagai test site, Balochistan, in the eastern part of the country. The testing of a single nuclear device followed on 30 May. Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif later acknowledged that the tests had been carried out in reaction to the Indian nuclear tests earlier that month: "If India had not exploded the bomb, Pakistan would not have done so. Once New Delhi did so, we had no choice because of public pressure." The tests further heightened the tensions between the two States and stimulated a nuclear arms race in the region.

...when nothing happened for five seconds [after pushing the button], everyone was worried. These five seconds were the longest period of my life. However, when the explosion took place after five seconds, everybody was very happy and was raising slogan: “Allah-o-Akbar”.Samar Mubarakmand, Senior Pakistani nuclear scientist

At the time, the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), which had only been established one year earlier, was already receiving data from its first seismic stations. Member States could therefore be provided with estimates of the time, location and magnitude of the event.  In turn, they were able to use this information to estimate the yield of the Pakistani tests, which were found to be relatively low:  it ranged from nine to 12 kilotons for the first series of explosions, and from four to six kilotons for the single explosion.

Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme started in the 1970s following the defeat suffered in the 1971 war with India and the Indian "peaceful" nuclear explosion in 1974. Under the supervision of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the team of Pakistani scientists succeeded in producing highly enriched uranium (HEU) using centrifuge technology that Khan had abstracted from the Netherlands.

Both the Indian and Pakistani tests broke the de facto moratorium on nuclear testing that had been in place since the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) opened for signature on 24 September 1996. The UN Security Council firmly condemned both States by unanimously adopting Resolution 1172 on 6 June 1998. The resolution recognized a threat to international peace and security, reaffirmed the crucial importance of the CTBT and called on both countries to refrain from further provocative moves.

In 2004, Khan was accused of having sold nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea. The incident led to UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which established binding obligations on all UN Member States under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to take and enforce effective measures against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The CTBT can only enter into force when all 44 of the so-called Annex 2 countries have signed and ratified it. Amongst these, Pakistan and India, along with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, are the only ones not to have signed the Treaty. China, Egypt, Iran, Israel and the United States have all signed the CTBT, but have yet to ratify.



Satellite Images of Pakistan's May 28, 1998 Test Site, courtesy Institute for Science and International Security, May 28, 1998.

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