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The re-election of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power in India in 1998 was a turning point in world affairs due to its decision to carry out India’s first nuclear tests in 24 years. On Monday, 11 May 1998 Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee stunned the world by announcing at a hurriedly convened press conference that earlier that day India had conducted three nuclear tests. India’s test created an untenable situation for Pakistani Prime Minister Mohammad Nawaz Sharif. In the wake of India’s tests, Pakistan felt an urgent need to demonstrate its own prowess in a similar manner for many reasons – to deny India unilateral technical advantage it might have gained from conducting tests; to restore a sense of a balance-of-power with India in the eyes of itself, India, and the world.
Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program was established in 1972 by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who founded the program while he was Minister for Fuel, Power and Natural Resources, and later became President and Prime Minister. Shortly after the loss of East Pakistan in the 1971 war with India, Bhutto initiated the program with a meeting of physicists and engineers at Multan in January 1972. India’s 1974 testing of a nuclear “device” gave Pakistan’s nuclear program new momentum. Through the late 1970s, Pakistan’s program acquired sensitive uranium enrichment technology and expertise. The 1975 arrival of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan considerably advanced these efforts. Dr. Khan is a German-trained metallurgist who brought with him knowledge of gas centrifuge technologies that he had acquired through his position at the uranium enrichment plant in the Netherlands. He was put in charge of building, equipping and operating Pakistan’s Kahuta facility, which was established in 1976.
In 1985, Pakistan crossed the threshold of weapons-grade uranium production, and by 1986 it is thought to have produced enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon. Pakistan continued advancing its uranium enrichment program, and according to Pakistani sources, the nation acquired the ability to carry out a nuclear explosion in 1987.
On May 28, 1998 Pakistan announced that it had successfully conducted five nuclear tests. The Pakistani Atomic Energy Commission reported that the five nuclear tests conducted on May 28 generated a seismic signal of 5.0 on the Richter scale, with a total yield of up to 40 Kilo Tons (equivalent TNT). Dr. A.Q. Khan claimed that one device was a boosted fission device and that the other four were sub-kiloton nuclear devices.