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1998: World fury at Pakistan's nuclear tests

VIDEO : Report on the Asian nuclear race

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

Pakistani officials said the devices were detonated underground at 1030GMT in the Baluchistan region near the border with Afghanistan.

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."

Popular support

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.

In Context
In February 1999 relations between the two Asian rivals eased after they signed the Lahore accord pledging to "resolve all issues" including that of the disputed regions of Jammu and Kashmir.

But conflict broke out just three months later when India launched air strikes on Pakistani-backed forces that had infiltrated Indian-administered Kashmir. Pakistan insisted those forces were in fact "freedom fighters" demanding their own state.

The ensuing military build-up in the region led at least 30,000 people to flee their homes.

Under US pressure, Pakistan ordered the infiltrators out of the region.

October 1999 saw a military coup in Pakistan with General Pervez Musharraf taking power.

In 2002 Pakistan and India came close to all-out war but talks between the countries' two leaders in January 2004 led to hopes of peace.


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