Login/Logout

*
*  

"[Arms Control Today] has become indispensable! I think it is the combination of the critical period we are in and the quality of the product. I found myself reading the May issue from cover to cover."

– Frank von Hippel
Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
June 1, 2018
Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: Pakistan
Share this

Last Reviewed: 
August 2023

 

Pakistan developed nuclear weapons outside of the NPT and is believed to possess an arsenal of about 170 nuclear warheads, as of 2022. Pakistan continues to significantly build up its nuclear force and develop new delivery systems, including work on the sea-based leg of a nuclear triad and medium-range ballistic missiles. Pakistan’s nuclear program has largely been driven by its regional rivalry with India since Delhi conducted its first nuclear test in 1974. Numerous Pakistani entities and individuals have been sanctioned by the U.S. for nonproliferation violations. Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is a source of security concern given its political instability and robust extremist groups in the country, though Pakistani and U.S. officials have repeatedly stated that Pakistan’s nuclear assets are secure.

 

Contents

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

  • The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview
  • Delivery Systems
  • Fissile Material
  • Proliferation Record
  • Nuclear Doctrine

Biological Weapons

Chemical Weapons

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

  • Bilateral Talks with India
  • Nuclear Security Summits
  • Conference on Disarmament (CD)

 


Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

 

Signed

Ratified

Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

---

---

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

---

---

Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)

---

2000*

CPPNM 2005 Amendment

---

2016

Chemical Weapons Convention

1993

1997

Biological Weapons Convention

1972

1974

International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism

---

---

*Pakistan stated that it will not be bound by the provisions of Paragraph 2, Article 2, or by the dispute settlement procedures in Paragraph 2, Article 17

Back to Top

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Group

Status

Australia Group

Not a member

Missile Technology Control Regime

Not a member. Pakistani entities have been sanctioned by the United States for engaging in trade involving missiles and missile technologies controlled by the regime.

Nuclear Suppliers Group

Not a member

Wassenaar Arrangement

Not a member

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol

No, Pakistan has not negotiated such an agreement.

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism

Participant

Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation

Not a participant

Proliferation Security Initiative

Not a participant

UN Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1673

Pakistan has filed the requested report on its activities to fulfill the resolution and volunteered to provide assistance to other states.

Back to Top

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

 

The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview

Pakistan developed nuclear weapons outside of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The country’s nuclear program dates to the 1970s, spurred by its defeat in the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war and India’s first nuclear test in 1974. The Pakistani government does not publicly disclose the size of its arsenal. However, independent researchers estimate that, as of August 2023, Pakistan has a nuclear arsenal of about 170 nuclear warheads.

These weapons encompass a variety of designs and yields to serve Pakistan’s doctrine of “full spectrum deterrence” against India, with longer-range missiles and dual-capable aircraft serving strategic missions, and short-range, lower-yield systems to counter military strikes below the strategic level. Islamabad’s nuclear weapons are likely stored in a disassembled state during peacetime.

 

Delivery Systems

 

Land-Based Ballistic Missiles

  • Pakistan currently appears to deploy six nuclear-capable land-based ballistic missiles that encompass short-range (<1000 km) and medium-range (1000-3000 km) systems. Islamabad’s land-based nuclear forces employ road-mobile delivery systems that have undergone significant expansion in recent years, with the testing and introduction of new solid-fuel rockets. Pakistan has three medium-range ballistic missiles under development, including one, the Ababeel, that can reportedly carry multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs). Some of Pakistan’s short-range ballistic missiles, particularly the new Nasr (Hatf-9), have a range too short to attack targets within India, leading some analysts to argue that the Nasr is intended for battlefield use against invading Indian troops.

 

For more on Pakistan’s land-based ballistic missiles, visit the Worldwide Ballistic Missile Inventory factsheet.

 

Cruise Missiles

  • The Babur (Hatf-7) is a ground-launched nuclear-capable cruise missile that is likely operational. The U.S. intelligence community estimates a 350 km range, though the Pakistani government has claimed a range of 700 km. The upgraded Babur IA missile was tested in February 2021, with a claimed range of 450 km.
  • The Babur-2, currently under development, would be an enhanced version of the Babur-1 with a 700 km range capable of carrying a variety of warhead types.
  • Pakistan is currently developing a sea-based cruise missile, the Babur-3, with an estimated range of 450 km range.
  • The Ra’ad (Hatf-8), a nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missile, was successfully tested in 2016. It has a similar design as the Storm Shadow/SCALP EG, with a reported range of 350 km. However, there is no evidence that the missile has been deployed.
  • The Ra'ad-2, a nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missile with a reported range of 550 km, was revealed in March 2017 and tested in 2020.

Sea-launched missiles

  • Pakistan does not currently possess submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) or nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. It is not yet clear if Pakistan is attempting to complete the nuclear triad.
  • Pakistan tested the nuclear-capable Babur-3 sea-launched cruise missile from a mobile underwater platform in January 2017, with a second successful flight test following in April 2018.

 

Dual-capable fighter aircraft

  • Pakistan’s available delivery vehicles include dual-use fighter aircraft, reportedly the French-origin Mirage III and V fighter bombers and the U.S.-origin F-16A/B. Neither aircraft type was transferred for the purpose of delivering nuclear bombs, but Pakistan is believed to have modified them for that mission. Both were deployed in 1998.
  • F-16A/B: ~24 nuclear-capable F-16A/Bs with a 1,600 km range. Can be equipped with gravity bombs or Ra’ad ALCMs.
  • Mirage III/V: ~36 nuclear-capable Mirage III/Vs with a 2,100 km range, up to 36 nuclear gravity bombs assigned. These aircraft are now aging, and Pakistan intends to continue acquiring the JF-17, an aircraft co-produced with China, as a replacement.

 

Fissile Material

  • Specific estimates of Pakistan's stockpiles of fissile material are difficult to determine, given uncertainty about Pakistan's uranium enrichment capacity.
  • In contravention of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) guidelines, the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) has supplied Pakistan with 4 nuclear power reactors, the Chasnupp-1,-2,-3, and-4. A fifth reactor, the Chashma-5, broke construction in July 2023. In addition, China has supplied Pakistan with Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) for use in these reactors. All of Pakistan’s civilian reactors are safeguarded by the IAEA.

 

Highly Enriched Uranium

  • As of the beginning of 2022, Pakistan is estimated to possess approximately 4.9 ± 1.7 tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU).

 

Plutonium

  • As of the beginning of 2022, Pakistan is estimated to possess 450 kg of weapons-grade plutonium.
  • Pakistan currently operates four reactors that produce plutonium for weapons at Khushab. Khushab-I began operations in 1997/98, Khushab-II in 2009/10, Khushab-III in early 2013, and Kushab-IV in 2015.
  • Pakistan separates the plutonium from the spent reactor fuel at the Rawalpindi New Labs facility, which has two reprocessing plants. A third and much larger reprocessing plant constructed in Chashma may have become operational as early as 2015.

 

Proliferation Record

  • The foundation of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program was aided by the theft of nuclear technology and know-how from the European company URENCO by scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, who became a leading figure in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons establishment. Khan is also believed to have received a nuclear weapon design from China. Although U.S. intelligence was aware of Pakistan’s illicit program, the United States continued to provide military assistance and foreign aid to Islamabad up until 1990 when President George H. W. Bush decided that he could no longer certify that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear device. U.S. sanctions related to Pakistan’s nuclear program were dropped after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks when the United States decided to pursue closer relations with Pakistan as part of the U.S. declared “war on terror.”
  • Abdul Qadeer Khan had also developed a black market network of suppliers to procure technology and know-how for Pakistan’s secret nuclear weapons program and then transformed that network into a supply chain for other states. Iran, Libya, and North Korea were all clients and other states might have been as well. After the interception of one of his shipments to Libya in October 2003, Khan appeared on Pakistani television in February 2004 and confessed to running the network, which transferred items ranging from centrifuges to bomb designs.
  • The Pakistani government denied any complicity in or knowledge of the network and confined Khan to house arrest. Although reportedly serving as an intermediary to foreign governments, the Pakistani government has not made Khan available to direct interviews by other states.
  • Pakistan instituted new export control laws following the public exposure of Khan’s network in 2004, including the establishment of the Strategic Export Control Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Pakistan's control list now includes dual-use materials in an effort to meet the regulatory standards of export control regimes.
  • Numerous Pakistani entities and—more recently—individuals, including Abdul Qadeer Khan himself, have been placed under U.S. nonproliferation sanctions.

 

Nuclear Doctrine

Pakistan has pledged no first use against non-nuclear weapon states. Pakistan’s policy on first use against states that possess nuclear weapons, particularly India, remains vague. Although Pakistani officials have claimed that nuclear weapons would be used only as a matter of last resort in such a conflict with India, some analysts contend that Islamabad’s development of weapons for countervalue, counterforce, and tactical targets demonstrate the centrality of Pakistan’s nuclear force in its national defense.

In a 2015 statement, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is one-dimensional and “not for starting a war.” Former Pakistani officials have emphasized that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons serve to deter India alone, through a strategy of “full spectrum deterrence.” They claim that tactical weapons complete this deterrence spectrum by responding to India’s alleged “Cold Start” doctrine of large, conventional attacks below the threshold of nuclear retaliation by strategic systems.

Pakistan’s nuclear warheads are believed to be stored in a disassembled state, with the fissile core kept separate from the warhead package. This practice greatly increases the time required to deploy the weapons.

Due to severe political instability in Pakistan, there is unease regarding the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, materials, and facilities from both insurgent threats and insider collusion. Pakistan has shared critical information about its nuclear activities with the U.S., and both Pakistani and U.S. officials have repeatedly stated that Pakistani nuclear assets are secure from such threats.

 

Testing

Pakistan has conducted two nuclear weapon tests, although one of those involved five simultaneous explosions. The first test occurred on May 28, 1998, and the last took place on May 30, 1998. In 1990, China is believed to have tested a Pakistani derivative of the nuclear design Beijing allegedly gave to Khan.

Back to Top

Biological Weapons

  • There is no evidence that a Pakistani biological weapons program exists, and the U.S. State Department has found no indication that Pakistan has faltered in its commitment to the BTWC.
  • Pakistan has increased its regulation of its biological industry. It issued a set of biosafety rules in 2005 which established a National Biosafety Committee.

Back to Top

Chemical Weapons

  • Pakistan has no known chemical weapon stockpiles.

Back to Top

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

 

Bilateral Talks with India

  • The two parties signed the India-Pakistan non-Attack Agreement, which entered into force in January 1991.
  • By 1997, both countries had signed and ratified the India-Pakistan Agreement on Chemical Weapons for the “complete prohibition of chemical weapons.”
  • After their tit-for-tat nuclear tests in 1998, Pakistan and India volunteered to abstain from nuclear testing.
  • In 2004, the two countries established a hotline to reduce the risk of accidental nuclear war and agreed to exchange advance notifications of ballistic missile flight tests.
  • In 2007, the fifth round of talks regarding the review of nuclear and ballistic missile-related confidence-building measures took place as part of the Composite Dialogue Process.

 

Nuclear Security Summits
Pakistan has attended all four Nuclear Security Summits. Pakistan claimed, in its 2016 NSS National Statement, that “As a responsible nuclear state, Pakistan takes nuclear security very seriously and accords it the highest priority in its security construct. Our nuclear security paradigm, evolved over the years, is effective and responsive against the entire range of possible threats. Nuclear security regime in Pakistan is dynamic and regularly reviewed and updated.”

 

Conference on Disarmament (CD)
Established in 1979 as a multilateral disarmament negotiating forum by the international community, Pakistan has been a regular and active participant in the CD. Pakistan has blocked the start of negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT) at the 65-member CD. Islamabad has insisted that an FMCT must cover existing stocks of fissile material due to concerns about India's current stockpile and is preventing the body from reaching a consensus on an agenda that would allow negotiations on the treaty to begin. In an interview with Arms Control Today, Pakistani permanent representative to the UN Office at Geneva Zamir Akram indicated that the decision by the Nuclear Suppliers Group to remove the ban on sales of nuclear material to India was a major barrier to Pakistani support for an FMCT. He said that Pakistan would support negotiations if it, too, received a waiver from the NSG.

 

Back to Top