Military Wiki
File:Chagai-I Atomic Tests on May 28, 1998,.jpg
Country Pakistan
Test site Ras Koh Hills, Chagai District Balochistan Province
Period May 1998
Number of tests 5
Test type Underground tests
Device type Fission/Fusion
Max. yield Total yield ~40 kilotons of TNT (170 TJ)
See note[1]
Previous test Kirana-I
Next test Chagai-II

Chagai-I is the codename given to the five underground nuclear tests conducted by Pakistan at 1515 hrs PST on 28 May 1998. The tests were performed at the Ras Koh Hills in the Chagai District of the Balochistan Province of Pakistan.

The Chagai-I— the first public nuclear tests operation of Pakistan— is considered a milestone in the history of Pakistan that was conducted in a direct response to India's second nuclear tests, Operation Shakti, on 11 and 13 May 1998. Nuclear weapon testings of both states resulted in a variety of economic sanctions on each other by number of major powers, particularly the United States and Japan. With the performance of the simultaneous atomic testing of the five nuclear devices, Pakistan, thus became the seventh nuclear power in the world to successfully develop and publicly test nuclear weapons, despite the international fury.

Birth of Pakistan's atomic weapons programme

The country's uneasy relationship with India, Afghanistan and the former Soviet Union explains its policy to become a nuclear power as part of its defence strategy.[2] Since their independence from United Kingdom on August 1947, India and Pakistan had fought two declared wars over the disputed Kashmir territory; first war being fought in 1947-48 and second being fought in 1965.

Economic embargo placed by the United States, alliance with the West endangering the national security of the country,[3] and the offset the country’s conventional inferiority against India and to counter the advancing Indian nuclear programme after 1965, the country put efforts to launch a classified and clandestine atomic bomb project.[4] Shortly after the war, the country acquired its first research reactor, PARR-I, from the United States and an international research institute, Pinstech, located in Nilore city in the Islamabad Capital Venue. In 1969, after successfully negotiating with the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) to supply Pakistan with a nuclear fuel reprocessing site capable of extracting 360g of weapons-grade plutonium annually.[4] The PAEC chose five top scientists to receive training to gain expertise in nuclear fuel cycle as well as weapons-grade and reactor-grade plutonium.[4] Agreements were made with Canada, France and the British consortium companies to expand the nuclear power infrastructure as part of the peaceful nuclear policy.[2]

The 1971 war and atomic bomb projects

The main turning point in Pakistan's decision-making was the 1971 war with India which led the loss of provisional state, East-Pakistan, which was succeeded as Bangladesh. Lasting only less than two weeks, 90,000 were taken as prisoners of war, including Pakistani soldiers and their East Pakistani civilian supporters. 79,676 prisoners were uniformed personnel, of which 55,692 were Army, 16,354 Paramilitary, 5,296 Police, 1000 Navy and 800 PAF around were taken as POWs by India as well as the 5,000 sq mi (13,000 km2) country's territory which held by India after the war. Although the territory and the POWs were returned to Pakistan, it left deep scars in Pakistan's civil society as well as leaving the political and military misery.[5][6] The armed liberation war and the 1971 war was an unforgettable experience and lesson to political and military establishment. For Pakistan, it was a decisive defeat, a psychological setback[6] that came from a defeat at the hands of intense rival India. Pakistan lost half its territory, a significant portion of its economy and its influential geo-political role in South Asia.[6] At foreign fronts, Pakistan failed to gather any moral and foreign support even from her long-standing allies, particularly the United States, Turkey and the People's Republic of China.[7] Since the Partition, the physical existence Pakistan seemed to be in great mortal danger and quite obviously could rely on no one but itself.[7]

The war played a crucial and groundbreaking role in the hearts of top scientists of the country who witnessed the war and control of remaining parts of the country was given to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as country's elected Prime minister.[8] Roughly two weeks after the disaster, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto called for a secret meeting of top and senior scientists in Multan on 20 January 1972 which later elevated as "Multan meeting".[9] There, Zulfikar Bhutto authorised, initiated, and orchestrated the scientific research on atomic weapons bringing all the nuclear infrastructure under one chain of command.[10] Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was "obsessed"[10] with Indian nuclear efforts, made extremely critical decisions and aggressively supervised the policy implementation of the atomic bomb project.[11] In 1972, Bhutto appointed Abdus Salam as his science adviser and at same time, called nuclear engineer Munir Ahmad Khan from International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to lead the program administratively while Bhutto controlled the program as the political administrative figure. On November 1972, Bhutto assisted by Salam and Munir Khan, inaugurated the first commercial nuclear power, Kanupp-I in Karachi, Sindh Province.[12] Along with Prof. Salam and Munir Ahmad Khan, the diameter of scientific research was expanded throughout the country.[12] In PAEC, Salam established research divisions and groups that took charge to carry out the physics and mathematical calculations regarding to the development of the weapon.[12] The atomic bomb project at an early stage was directed by Abdus Salam as he was the founding director of Theoretical Physics Group (denoted as TPG) and the and Mathematical Physics Group (denoted as MPG) at the PAEC to conduct mathematical and physics calculations regarding the fission devices.[12]

On March 1974, the research on physical developments were initiated by Munir Khan and Abdus Salam after chairing a meeting in Pinstech Institute.[13] At this meeting the word "bomb" was never used but the participants fully understood the nature of the work. This laid the foundation of "Wah Group Scientist" (denoted as WGS) with U.S. educated mechanical engineer Hafeez Qureshi as its director-general.[13] During the same time, a new Directorate of Technical Development (DTD) was set up to coordinate work on the various specialised groups working in PAEC on the design, development, and testing of nuclear weapons under chemical engineer dr. Shaikh Zaman.[13] The far more complex assembly methods of implosion-bomb design was favoured over the relatively simple gun-type method, and the productions of reactor and weapon-grade and separation of weapon-grade plutonium isotopes were massive undertakings by the PAEC.

All five atomic devices were the spherical-implosion-type similar to one in the illustration. The government never released the details of the technical aspects of the tested weapons as a public domain due to its sensitivity.

The atomic bomb project was accelerated on May 1974 after India surprising Pakistan and the rest of the world after announcing the first explosion of nuclear device, Smiling Buddha in Pokhran Test Range of Indian Army.[14] The goal to developed the atomic bombs became impetus after launching the uranium enrichment project, the Kahuta Project.[14] In 1974, Abdul Qadeer Khan who was then working as a senior scientist at the URENCO Group and thus has access to highly classified information, directed a letter through the Pakistani Embassy in The Hague to offer his expertise, and officially joined the atomic bomb project in 1976.[14] The Corps of Engineers under directorship of the General Zahid Ali Akbar, built the Engineering Research Laboratories (ERL) for that purpose and situated Abdul Qadeer Khan and his team at ERL for commercial and weapon-grade uranium enrichment.[14] Finally in 1978, weapon designing and calculations were completed and a milestone in isotope separation was reached by the PAEC. In 1981, the physical development of the atomic bomb project was completed and the ERL successfully enriched the uranium above 5% and produces first batch of HEU fuel rods.[14] On On 11 March 1983, a milestone was achieved when PAEC led by Munir Ahmad Khan carried out the first cold test of a working nuclear device, codename Kirana-I.[15] This was followed by 24 more cold tests by PAEC in which different weapon designs were tested and improved. After decades of covertly building and developing the atomic weapons program and the related atomic, Pakistan under the leadership of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, tested its five underground nuclear devices in Chagai Hills.[16]

Tests planning and preparation

Plans to conduct an atomic test started in 1976 when Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) research scientists frequently visiting the area to find a suitable location for an underground nuclear test, preferably a granite mountain. After a long survey, the PAEC scientists chose the granite mountain Koh Kambaran in the Ras Koh Hills range in the Chagai Division of Baluchistan in 1978. Its highest point rises to a height of 3,009 metres (sources vary). The then-martial law administrator of the province, General Rahimuddin Khan, spearheaded the construction of the potential test sites throughout the 1980s.

In March 2005, the former Pakistan Prime minister Benazir Bhutto said Pakistan may have had an atomic weapon long before, and her father had told her from his prison cell that preparations for a nuclear test had been made in 1977, and he expected to have an atomic test of a nuclear device in August 1977. However, the plan was moved on to December 1977 and later it was delayed indefinitely. In an interview with Geo TV, Samar Mubarakmand of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, has said that the team of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission developed the design of atomic bomb in 1978 and had successfully conducted a cold test after developing the first atomic bomb in 1983.[17]

The exact origin of the name is unknown, but it is often attributed to the weapon-testing laboratory leader dr. Ishfaq Ahmad as a reference to the Chagai Hills, in spite of no nuclear experiments were performed at the vicinity of this site. It is generally believed that the codename was given in the honour of the Chagai Hills in an attempt that it would not attract international and national attention of the world at where the exact tests were actually performed. On April 2010, Nawaz Sharif, at a public function to celebrate nuclear blasts, said the then-U.S President Bill Clinton offered a package of US$5 billion for not carrying out nuclear blasts and warned about imposition of ban otherwise.[18] Nawaz said that he was in Kazakhstan in a visit to meet the President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, when India tested its nuclear device.[19] The entire nation was united in favour of nuclear blasts and Mushahid Hussain was the first person who advice that nuclear blasts should be carried out in reply of Indian nuclear explosions.[20][21] In 1999, in an interview given to Pakistani and Indian journalists in Islamabad, Sharif had said: If India had not exploded the bomb, Pakistan would not have done so. Once New Delhi did so, We [Sharif Government] had no choice because of public pressure.[22]

Test predictions and yields

File:Cha1 lrg.jpg

Pakistan's top academic scientists pose with Koh Kambaran in the background. The PAEC testing team that conducted the tests were the team leader Mubarakmand (right of the man in the blue beret) and Tariq Salija, Irfan Burney, and Tasneem M. Shah. The better known Abdul Qadeer Khan of KRL is left of the man in the blue beret (who may be General Zulfikar Ali, the engineer administrator of the System and Combat Engineering Divisions of the Pakistan Army Corps of Engineers.

The PAEC carried out five underground nuclear tests at the Chagai test site at 3:16 p.m. (PST) on the afternoon of 28 May 1998.[13][23] The observation post was established about 10 km (about ~6.21 miles) from the test vicinity, with members of Mathematics groups and Theoretical Physics Group remained charged with calculating the yields. Calculating an accurate and precise yields are very hard to calculate even in a control environmental system, with many different possible ways the yields can be determined. The questions of politics also further disputed the exact figures. The total maximum yield of the tests was reported to be ~40 kilotons of TNT equivalent, with the largest (boosted) device yielding 30–36 kilotons.[24] However, Western seismologists remains unconvinced and estimated the yield of the largest device to be no greater than 12 kilotons, leading U.S. nuclear weapons expert David Albright also remains skeptical about Pakistan's claims.[25] U.S. scholars, based on the data they received from their computers, claimed that the possible yield ranged from 12-20kt as opposed to ~40kt by the Pakistan Government.[26]

The PAEC's mathematics division made the scientific data to public domain and published seismic activities, mathematical graphs, and mathematical formulas used to calculate the yield.[27] The equations obtained by Western observer, Terry Wallace (who applied on both India and Pakistan tests) follows:

The scientific publications were continued to be appear as public domain, the explosion measured 5.54 degrees on the Richter Scale, supporting the Pakistan government's claim.[27] After the tests, Prime minister Nawaz Sharif addressed the nation via Pakistan's government channel PTV and congratulated the entire nation and days of celebration followed throughout Pakistan.[26][28]

From scientific data received by PAEC, it appears that Pakistan did not test a thermonuclear device, as opposed to India.[8] According to Ishfaq Ahmad, PAEC had no plans to develop a three-stage thermonuclear device because of economic reasons, even though back in 1974, Riazuddin did propose such a plan to Abdus Salam, Director of Theoretical Physics Group that time.[8] From the outset, PAEC concentrated on developing smaller tactical nuclear weapons easily installed in PAF aircraft, naval combatant vessels, and missiles.[29]

Shortly after the tests, former chairman and technical director Munir Ahmad Khan famously quoted: "These boosted devices are like a half way stage towards a thermonuclear bomb. They use elements of the thermonuclear process, and are effectively stronger atom bombs..... Pakistan has had a nuclear capability since 1984 and all the first five devices were made with the HEU.[30] On other hand, Abdul Qadeer Khan further provided technical details on fission devices while addressing the local media as he puts it: "All boosted fission devices using U235 on 28 May. None of these explosions were thermonuclear.. Pakistan is currently doing research and can do a fusion test if only asked. But it depends on the economical circumstances, political situation and the decision of the government...".[30] As opposed to India's thermonuclear approach, Dr. N.M. Butt, senior scientist, stated that "PAEC built a sufficient number of neutron bombs— a battlefield weapon that is essentially a low yield device".[29]

Development and test teams

Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC)

  • Ishfaq Ahmad, Chairman of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC).
  • Samar Mubarakmand, Member (Technical), Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission.
  • Anwar Ali, Directorate of Technical Equipment (DTE).
  • Hafeez Qureshi, Head of Directorate of Technical Development (DTD)
  • N.A. Javed, Director of Directorate of Quality Assurance (DQA).
  • Irfan Burney, Director of Directorate of Technical Procurement (DTP).
  • I.A. Bhatty, Director of Directorate of Industrial Liaison (DIL)
  • Tariq Salija, Director of the Radiation and Isotope Applications Division (RIAD).
  • Muhammad Jameel, Director of Directorate of Science and Engineering Services (DSES)
  • Muhammad Arshad, the Chief Scientific Officer (CSO).

Kahuta Research Laboratories (KRL)

  • Abdul Qadeer Khan, Director General of Khan Research Laboratories (KRL).
  • M. Nasim Khan, Director of Material Science and Engineering Division (MSE).
  • S. Mansoor Ahmed, Director of Uranium Enrichment Technology Division (UET).
  • Fakhr Hashmi, Director of Molecular-Laser Enrichment Technology Division (MLET).
  • Javed Ashraf Mirza, Director of Control and Guidance Division (CGD).
  • Tasneem M. Shah, Director of Computational Fluid Dynamics Division (CFD).

Pakistan Army Corps of Engineers (PACE)

Reaction in Pakistan

The Directorate of Technical Development of PAEC which carried out the Chagai tests issued the following statement soon after the tests:[31]

The mission has, on the one hand, boosted the morale of the Pakistani nation by giving it an honorable position in the nuclear world, while on the other hand it validated scientific theory, design and previous results from cold tests. This has more than justified the creation and establishment of DTD more than 20 years back.

Through these critical years of nuclear device development, the leadership contribution changed hands from Munir Ahmad Khan to Ishfaq Ahmad and finally to Mubarakmand.

These gifted scientists and engineers along with a highly dedicated team worked logically and economically to design, produce and test an extremely rugged device for the nation which enable the Islamic Republic of Pakistan from strength to strength.[32]

Effects on science in Pakistan

On this day, Pakistani scientists earned national renown in Pakistan, with Media of Pakistan projecting their biographies all over the country.[33] Senior scientists and engineers were invited by a number of academic institutes and universities to deliver lectures on mathematical, theoretical, nuclear and particle physics.[33] The institutes bestowed hundreds of $3 and gold medallions and honorary doctorates to the scientists and engineers in 1998.[33] Professor Abdus Salam (1926–1996) was also celebrated in Pakistan and Government of Pakistan released a commemorative stamp in the honour of Salam.[33] In 1998, the theory of electroweak and its discovery two decade ago by Salam, was also celebrated nationwide for which Abdus Salam was awarded the Physics's Nobel Prize in 1979.[33] In 1999, Government established Abdus Salam's museum in National Center for Physics, where his contribution to scientific programs and efforts were publicly recorded and televised.[33] The 28 May has been officially declared as Youm-e-Takbeer (Day of Greatness) to commemorate and remembrance of the first five tests that were carried out in 28 May, and as well as National Science Day in Pakistan to honour and remembrance the scientific efforts led by scientists to developed the devices.[34] The day was officially signed by the then-Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif. The day is celebrated by giving awards (such as Chagai-Medal) to various individuals and industries in the field of science and industries.[35] The Nawaz Sharif Government also established the Chagai-I Medal and it was first awarded to the scientists of Pakistan in 1998 who were witnessed the tests.[36] The graphite mountains are visibly shown in the gold medallion and equal ribbon stripes of yellow, red and white.[36]

International reaction

Pakistan's tests were condemned by many non-OIC nations.[37][38] The United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1172 condemning both the Indian and the Pakistani tests.

The United States, Japan, Australia, Sweden, Canada, and International Monetary Fund imposed economical sanctions on Pakistan. The Japanese government recalled its Ambassador from Pakistan, and suspended its foreign relations with Pakistan.[39]

US data diagram: An exemplified diagram of the underground test from a subsurface nuclear detonation after the tests, U.S. copyright.

All new U.S. economic assistance to Pakistan was suspended in May 1998[40] humanitarian aid continued.[39] The composition of assistance to Pakistan shifted from grants toward loans repayable in foreign exchange.[40] In the long term, the sanctions were eventually lifted by President George W. Bush after Pakistan President General Musharraf allied Pakistan with the U.S. in its war on terror.[40] Having improved its finances, the Pakistani government ended its IMF program in 2004.[40]

Historical overview

  • Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Prime minister and colloquially known as the father of Pakistan nuclear weapons programme.
  • Navaz Sharif, Pakistan's Prime Minister at that time,
  • Abdus Salam, embarked the nuclear weapons program and director of Theoretical Physics Division
  • Riazuddin, designer of Pakistan's thermo-nuclear devices.
  • Asghar Qadir, led mathematical calculations involved in the nuclear devices.
  • Munir Ahmad Khan, technical director and developed Pakistan's nuclear fuel cycle, nuclear weapons and energy programs.
  • Ishfaq Ahmad, nuclear weapon designer and the Chairman of PAEC at that time.
  • Abdul Qadeer Khan, developed the Centrifuge technology used in enriching uranium hexafluoride gas for Pakistan.
  • Samar Mubarakmand, Director of Fast-Neutron Physics Group and supervised the atomic tests at Chagai
  • Operation Shakti – India's nuclear test on 11 May 1998
  • Chagai-II- Pakistan's second nuclear test on 30 May 1998
  • Pakistan and Nuclear Weapons
  • List of countries with nuclear weapons


  1. Approximating and calculating the exact, accurate and precise yields are difficult to calculate. Even under very controlled conditions, precise yields can be very hard to determine, and for less controlled conditions the margins of error can be quite large. There are number of different ways that the yields can be determined, including calculations based on blast size, blast brightness, seismographic data, and the strength of the shock wave. The Pakistan Government authorities puts up the yield range from 35-~40kt depending on the mathematical calculations they had performed. On other hand, independent and non-government sanctioned organizations puts the figure at the possible 15-20kt range. The explosion measured 5.54 degrees on the Richter Scale, the PAEC provided the data as public domain in the KNET sources.
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