DEFENCE NOTES

When Mountains Move – The Story of Chagai

Columnist RAI MUHAMMAD SALEH AZAM gives a detailed account of events and personalities leading to Pakistan first nuclear explosion. (Courtesy of THE NATION)

Pakistan crossed the nuclear threshold to become a declared nuclear weapons state on 28 May 1998 after it detonated five nuclear devices in the Ras Koh Hills in Chagai, Balochistan.

Chagai’s nexus with Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme first became known to the Pakistani public and the world back in the early 1990s when a book, Critical Mass, written by William E. Burrows and Robert Windrem was published.

However, the story goes further than that.

Chagai: The Background

The story of Chagai began in Quetta, Balochistan in 1976 when Brig. Muhammad Sarfraz, Chief of Staff at 5 Corps Headquarters received a transmission from the Pakistan Army General Headquarters (GHQ), Rawalpindi. The message directed the Corps Commander to make available an army helicopter to a forthcoming team of scientists from the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) for operational reconnaissance of some areas in Balochistan.

The PAEC team comprising Dr. Ishfaq Ahmad, Member (Technical) and Dr. Ahsan Mubarak landed at Quetta and were provided the helicopter as per the GHQ instructions. Over a span of three days, the PAEC scientists made several reconnaissance tours of the area between Turbat, Awaran and Khusdar in the south and Naukundi-Kharan in the east.

Their objective was to find a suitable location for an underground nuclear test, preferably a mountain.

After a hectic and careful search they found a mountain which matched their specifications. This was a 185-metre high granite mountain in the Ras Koh Hills in the Chagai Division of Balochistan which at their highest point rise to a height of 3,009 metres. Ras Koh Hills are independent of and should not be confused with the Chagai Hills further north on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, in which, to date, no nuclear test activity has taken place.

The PAEC requirement was that the mountain should be “bone dry” and capable of withstanding a 20 kilotonne nuclear explosion from the inside. Tests were conducted to measure the water content of the mountains and the surrounding area and to measure the capability of the mountain’s rock to withstand a nuclear test. Once this was confirmed, Dr. Ishfaq Ahmed commenced work on a three-dimensional survey of the area.

This survey took one year to conduct and, in 1977, it was decided that the proposed tunnel to be bored in the mountain should have the overburden of a 700 metre high mountain over it, making sufficient to withstand 20 kilo-tonnes of nuclear force. In the same year, Brig. Muhammad Sarfraz, who, in the interim, had been posted to GHQ Rawalpindi, was summoned by President Zia-ul-Haq and was told that the PAEC wanted to lease him from the Army to carry out work related to the Pakistan nuclear programme. This resulted in the creation of the Special Development Works (SDW), a subsidiary of the PAEC but directly reporting to the Chief of the Army Staff which was entrusted with the task of preparing the nuclear test sites. Brig. Sarfraz, for all practical purposes, headed the SDW, a nuclear variant of the Pakistan Army’s famous Frontier Works Organization (FWO) which built the Karakorum Highway.

The primary task of the organization was to prepare underground test sites (both horizontal and vertical shafts) for 20-kilotonne nuclear devices, with all the allied infrastructure and facilities. The sites had to be designed in such a way that they could be utilized at short notice (in less than a week) and were to be completed by December 1979 at the latest.

After a series of meetings between SDW and PAEC officials and the President of Pakistan, it was decided that SDW should prepare 2-3 separate sites. Therefore, a second site for a horizontal shaft was located at Kharan, in a desert valley between the Ras Koh Hills to the north and Siahan Range to the south.

Subsequently, the Chagai-Ras Koh-Kharan areas became restricted entry zones and were closed to the public, prompting rumours that Pakistan had given airbases to the United States. The fact that US-AID had set up an office in Turbat, Balochistan only added fuel to such rumours.

A 3,325 feet long tunnel was bored in the Ras Koh Hills which was 8-9 feet in diameter and was shaped like a fishhook for it to be self-sealing. The test site at Kharan was 300 by 200 feet and was L-shaped. Both test sites had an array of extensive cables, sensors and monitoring stations. In addition to the main tunnels, SDW built 24 cold test sites, 46 short tunnels and 35 underground accommodations for troops and command, control and monitoring facilities. At Ras Koh, some of these were located inside the granite mountains.

Both the nuclear test sites at Ras Koh and Kharan took 2-3 years to prepare and were completed in 1980, before Pakistan acquired the capability to develop a nuclear weapon. This showed both confidence and resolve in Pakistan’s nuclear programme as well as faith in Almighty God.

The Wah Group: Designers and Manufacturers of Pakistan’s Nuclear Device

In March 1974, Hafeez Qureshi, who at the time was heading the Radiation and Isotope Applications Division (RIAD) at the Pakistan Institute of Science & Technology (PINSTECH) at Nilore and a mechanical engineer par excellence, was summoned by the then Chairman of the PAEC, Munir Ahmad Khan in a meeting that was attended, among others, by Dr. Abdus Salam, then Adviser for Science and Technology to the Government of Pakistan and Dr. Riaz-ud-Din, Member (Technical), PAEC. Qureshi was told that he join hands on a project of national importance with another expert, Dr. Zaman Sheikh, then working with DESTO. The word “bomb” was never used in the meeting but Qureshi knew exactly what he was being asked to do. Their task would be to build the mechanics of the bomb. The project would be located at Wah, appropriately next to the Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF), in the North-West Frontier Province and conveniently close to the capital, Islamabad.

The work at Wah began under the code of Research and Qureshi, Zaman and their team of engineers and scientists came to be known as “The Wah Group”. Initial work was limited to research and development of the explosives to be used in the nuclear device. However, the terms of reference expanded to include chemical, mechanical and precision engineering and triggering mechanisms. It procured equipment where it could and developed its own technology where restrictions prevented the purchase of equipment.

Kirana Hills: The Cold Tests

Pakistan’s first cold test of its nuclear device was carried out on March 11, 1983 in the Kirana Hills near Sargodha, home of the Pakistan Air Force’s main airbase and the Central Ammunition Depot (CAD). Cold Test (CT) is a means of testing the working of a nuclear device without an explosion. This is achieved by triggering an actual bomb without the fissile material needed to detonate it. The test was overseen by Dr. Ishfaq Ahmed.

The tunnels at Kirana Hills, Sargodha are reported to have been bored after the Chagai nuclear test sites, i.e. sometime between 1979 and 1983. As in Chagai, the tunnels at Kirana Hills had been bored and then sealed and this task was also undertaken by SDW.

Prior to the cold tests, an advance team was sent to de-seal, open and clean the tunnels and to make sure the tunnels were clear of the wild boars that are found in abundance in the Sargodha region. The damage which these wild boars could do to men and equipment could not be understated when one such wild boar later cost the PAF an F-16 when it sheared off the aircraft’s front undercarriage as it came in to land at Sargodha Air Base. Luckily, the pilot ejected with minor injuries. The $ 20 million F-16 was, however, destroyed and had to be written off.

After clearing of the tunnels, a PAEC diagnostic team headed by Dr. Mubarakmand arrived on the scene with trailers fitted with computers and diagnostic equipment. This was followed by the arrival of the Wah Group with the nuclear device, in sub-assembly form. This was assembled and then placed inside the tunnel. A monitoring system was set up with around 20 cables linking various parts of the device with oscillators in diagnostic vans parked near the Kirana Hills. The Wah Group had indigenously developed the explosive HMX (His Majesty’s Explosive) which was used to trigger the device.

The device was tested using the push-button technique as opposed to the radio-link technique used at Chagai fourteen years later. The first test was to see whether the triggering mechanism created the necessary neutrons which would start a fission chain reaction in the real bomb. However, when the button was pushed, most of the wires connecting the device to the oscillators were severed due to errors committed in the preparation of the cables. At first, it was thought that the device had malfunctioned but closer scrutiny of two of the oscillators confirmed that the neutrons had indeed come out and a chain reaction had taken place. Pakistan’s first cold test of a nuclear device had been successful and 11 March 1983 became a red letter day in the history of the Pakistan nuclear programme. A second cold test was undertaken soon afterwards which was witnessed by Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Lt. Gen. K.M. Arif and Munir Ahmed Khan.

The need to improve and perfect the design of Pakistan’s first nuclear device required constant testing. As a result, between 1983 and 1990, the Wah Group conducted more than 24 cold tests of the nuclear device at Kirana Hills with the help of mobile diagnostic equipment. These tests were carried out in 24 tunnels measuring 100-150 feet in length which were bored inside the Kirana Hills. Later due to excessive US intelligence and satellite focus on the Kirana Hills site, it was abandoned and the CT facility was shifted to the Kala-Chitta Range.

By March 1984, Kahuta Research Laboratories (KRL) had independently carried out its own cold tests of its nuclear device near Kahuta.

During the same 1983-1990 period, the Wah Group went on to design and develop a bomb small enough to be carried on the wing of a small fighter such as the F-16. It worked alongside the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) to evolve and perfect delivery techniques of the nuclear bomb using combat aircraft including ‘conventional freefall’, ‘loft bombing’, ‘toss bombing and ‘low-level laydown’ attack techniques. Today, the PAF has perfected all four techniques of nuclear weapons delivery using F-16, Mirage-V and A-5 combat aircraft.

The Indian Challenge

On 11 and 13 May 1998, Indian conducted what it claimed were a total of 5 nuclear tests at Pokhran, Rajasthan near the Pakistan border and declared itself a “nuclear weapons state”. This act by India destabilized the balance of power in South Asia heavily in India’s favour. The dust at Pokhran had yet to settle when high-ranking Indian government officials and military personnel began issuing provocative statements against Pakistan. India declared that it would pursue a “pro-active” policy on Jammu & Kashmir. Pakistan was told to realise the “new geo-political realities in South Asia”.

The underlying message for Pakistan was this “give up your claim on Jammu & Kashmir and become forever subservient to Indian hegemony in South Asia”. India was now the nuclear weapons power and Pakistan wasn’t. Therefore, it is Pakistan which must capitulate on Jammu & Kashmir and only the dictate of India would be allowed in South Asia. In the event of another India-Pakistan War, India would be able to use nuclear weapons if its Armed Forces were defeated or put in a tight corner. Indian warplanners felt that the use of small battlefield nuclear devices against the Pakistan Army cantonments, armoured and infantry columns and PAF bases and nuclear and military industrial facilities would not meet with an adverse reaction from the world community so long as civilian casualties could be kept to a minimum. This way, India would defeat Pakistan, force its Armed Forces into a humiliating surrender and occupy and annex the Northern Areas of Pakistan and Azad Jammu & Kashmir. India would then carve up Pakistan into tiny states based on ethnic divisions and that would be the end of the “Pakistan problem” once and for all.

Such a plan could never be allowed to succeed. In the face of national survival, all other things become secondary. Therefore, it was decided that Pakistan had to go nuclear to guarantee its security and survival.

The Road to Chagai

A meeting of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) was convened on the morning of 15 May 1998 at the Prime Minister’s Secretariat, Islamabad to discuss the situation arising out of the Indian nuclear tests. The meeting was chaired by the Prime Minister of Pakistan and attended by the Minister of Defence, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gohar Ayub Khan, the Minister of Finance & Economic Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, the Foreign Secretary, Shamshad Ahmed Khan and the three Chiefs of Staffs of the Army, Air Force and Navy, namely General Jehangir Karamat, Air Chief Marshal Pervaiz Mehdi Qureshi and Admiral Fasih Bokhari respectively.

 Since Dr. Ishfaq Ahmed, Chairman of the PAEC was on a visit to the United States and Canada the responsibility of giving a technical assessment of the Indian nuclear tests and Pakistan’s preparedness to give a matching response to India fell on the shoulders of Dr. Samar Mubarakmand, Member (Technical), PAEC. Dr. Mubarakmand was in charge of the PAEC’s Directorate of Technical Development (DTD), one of the most secretive organizations in the Pakistan nuclear programme the location of which is one of Pakistan’s best kept secrets and unknown to the world. Dr. Mubarakmand had supervised several cold tests since 1983 and was responsible for overseeing all of PAEC’s classified projects. Also, in attendance was Dr. A.Q. Khan, Director of the Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), Kahuta.

There were two points on the DCC’s agenda: Firstly, whether or not Pakistan should carry out nuclear tests in order to respond to Indian’s nuclear tests? Secondly, if Pakistan does go ahead with the tests then which of the two organizations, PAEC or KRL, should carry out the tests?

The discussions went on for a few hours and encompassed the financial, diplomatic, military, strategic and national security concerns. Finance Minister Sartaj Aziz was the only person who opposed the tests on financial grounds due to the economic recession, the low foreign exchange reserves of the country and the effect of inevitable economic sanctions which would be imposed on Pakistan if it carried out the tests. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif neither opposed nor proposed the tests. The remainder spoke in favour of conducting the tests.

While giving his technical assessment on behalf of the PAEC, Dr. Mubarakmand said that Pakistan had a modern state-of-the-art international standard seismic station near the capital, Islamabad, and also had seismic stations located all over Pakistan including at locations near the Pakistan-India border. He said that these seismic stations had recorded only one nuclear device on 11 May 1998 at Pokhran and not three as India was wrongfully claiming. He said that the remaining two, in all probability, had fizzled out, i.e. were failures. He also said that no thermonuclear or hydrogen test was carried out on either 11 or 13 May 1998 by the Indians as none of the yields were big enough for such a test. In all likelihood, the Indians may have attempted a thermonuclear test, but it too had failed. Dr. Mubarakmand added that if it is decided that Pakistan should go ahead with nuclear tests of its own, then the PAEC is fully prepared to carry out the nuclear tests within 10 days.

Dr. A.Q. Khan, speaking on behalf of KRL, also asserted that KRL was fully prepared and capable of carrying out nuclear tests within 10 days if the orders are given by the DCC. Dr. Khan reminded the DCC that it was KRL which first enriched uranium, converted it into metal, machined it into semi-spheres of metal and designed their own atomic bomb and carried out cold tests on their own. All this was achieved without any help from PAEC. He said that KRL was fully independent in the nuclear field. Dr. Khan went on to say that since it was KRL which first made inroads into the nuclear field for Pakistan, it should be given the honour of carrying out Pakistan’s first nuclear tests and it would feel let down if it wasn’t conferred the privilege of doing so.

Thus, both the PAEC and KRL were equal to the task. However, PAEC had two additional advantages which KRL didn’t. Firstly, it was PAEC which had constructed Pakistan’s nuclear test site at Chagai, Baluchistan. Secondly, PAEC had greater experience in conducting cold tests than KRL.

The DCC meeting concluded without any resolution of the two agenda points.

The Chairman of the PAEC, Dr. Ishfaq Ahmed, cut short his foreign trip and returned to Pakistan on 16 May 1998. On the morning of 17 May 1998, he received a call from the Pakistan Army GHQ, Rawalpindi informing him to remain on stand-by a meeting with the Prime Minister. He was thereafter summoned by the Prime Minister House, Islamabad where he went accompanied by Dr. Mubarakmand the Prime Minister asked the PAEC Chairman for his opinion on the two points which were discussed in the DCC meeting of 15 May 1998. Dr. Ahmed told the Prime Minister that the decision to test or not to test was that of the Government of Pakistan. As far as the PAEC preparedness and capability was concerned they were ready to their duty as and when required to do so. The Prime Minister said that eyes of the world were focused on Pakistan and failure to conduct the tests would put the credibility of the Pakistan nuclear programme in doubt. The PAEC Chairman reply was, “Mr. Prime Minister, take a decision and, Insha’Allah, I give you the guarantee of succes”. He was told to prepare for the tests but remain on stand-by for the final decision.

We know that the order to conduct the tests was given on 18 May 1998. Since the DCC meeting of 15 May 1998 proved inconclusive, it is believed that a more exclusive DCC meeting was held on 16 or 17 May 1998 attended only by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, the Finance Minister and the three Chiefs of Staff of the Army, Air Force and Navy. This meeting has never been officially acknowledged but it must have been held as neither the Prime Minister alone nor the Chief of the Army Staff alone could have made the decision to conduct the nuclear tests. The DCC was the only competent authority to decide on this matter, especially since the National Command Authority (NCA), Pakistan’s nuclear command and control authority for its strategic forces, did not exist at that time. In this meeting, the two agenda points of the DCC meeting of 15 May 1998 were decided. Firstly, Pakistan would give a matching and befitting response to India by conducting nuclear tests of its own. Secondly, the task would be assigned to the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), who were the best equipped and most experienced to carry out the tests.

On 18 May 1998, the Chairman of the PAEC was again summoned to the Prime Minister House where he was relayed the decision of the DCC. “Dhamaka kar dein” (Conduct the explosion”) were the exact words used by the Prime Minister to inform him of the Government’s decision to conduct the nuclear tests. The PAEC Chairman went back to his office and gave orders to his staff to prepare for the tests. Simultaneously, GHQ and Air Headquarters issued orders to the relevant quarters in 12 Corps, Quetta, the National Logistics Cell (NLC), the Army Aviation Corps and No. 6 (Air Transport Support) Squadron respectively to extend the necessary support to the PAEC in this regard. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) also directed the national airline, PIA, to make available a Boeing 737 passenger aircraft at short notice for the ferrying of PAEC officials, scientists, engineers and technicians to Baluchistan.

When news reached Dr. A.Q. Khan at KRL that the task had been assigned to PAEC, he lodged a strong protest with the Chief of Army Staff, General Jehangir Karamat. The Army Chief, in turn, called the Prime Minister. It was decided that KRL personnel would be involved in the final preparation of the nuclear test site alongside those of PAEC as well as present at the time of testing.

In the meantime, PAEC convened a meeting to decide the modus operandi of the tests and how many tests to carry out. This meeting was chaired by Dr. Ahmed and attended by Dr. Mubarakmand and other scientists and engineers of the PAEC. It was decided that since the Indian nuclear tests had given an opportunity to Pakistan to conduct nuclear tests after 14 years of conducting only cold tests, the maximum benefit should be derived from this opportunity. It was, therefore, decided, that multiple tests would be carried out of varying yields as well as the live testing of the triggering mechanisms. Since the tunnel at the Ras Koh Hills had the capability to conduct six tests, therefore, six different nuclear devices of varying designs, sizes and yields were selected, all of which had been previously cold tested.

Immediately afterwards, began the process of fitness and quality checks of the various components of the nuclear devices and the testing equipment. A large but smooth logistics operation also got underway with the help of the Pakistan Army and Air Force. This operation involved moving men and equipment as well as the nuclear devices to the Ras Koh test site from various parts of the country.

On 19 May 1998, two teams of 140 PAEC scientists, engineers and technicians left for Chagai, Balochistan on two separate PIA Boeing 737 flights. Also on board were teams from the Wah Group, the Theoretical Group, the Directorate of Technical Development (DTD) and the Diagnostics Group. Some of the men and equipment were transported via road using NLC trucks escorted by the members of the Special Services Group (SSG), the elite commando force of the Pakistan Army.

The nuclear devices were themselves flown in completely knocked down (CKD) sub-assembly form on a Pakistan Air Force C-130 Hercules tactical transport aircraft from Rawalpindi to Chagai, escorted even within Pakistani airspace by four PAF F-16s armed with air-to-air missiles. The security of the devices was so strict that the PAF F-16 escort pilots had been secretly given standing orders that in the unlikely event of the C-130 being hijacked or flown outside of Pakistani airspace, they were to shoot down the aircraft before it left Pakistan’s airspace. The F-16s were ordered to escort the C-130 at a designated airfield in Balochistan with their radio communications equipment turned off so that no orders, in the interim, could be conveyed to them to act otherwise. They were also ordered to ignore any orders to the contrary that got through to them during the duration of the flight even if such orders originated from Air Headquarters.

Once in Chagai, the parts of the nuclear devices were separately taken to the five ‘zero rooms’ in the kilometre long tunnels at Ras Koh Hills in Chagai. Dr. Samar Mubarakmand personally supervised the complete assembly of all five nuclear devices. Diagnostic cables were thereafter laid from the tunnel to the telemetry. The cables connected all five nuclear devices with a command observation post 10 km away. Afterwards, a complete simulated test was carried out by tele-command. This process of preparing the nuclear devices and laying of the cables and the establishment of the fully functional command and observation post took 5 days.

On 25 May 1998, soldiers of the Pakistan Army 5 Corps arrived to seal the tunnel. They were super vised by engineers and technicians from the Pakistan Army Engineering Corps, the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) and the Special Development Works (SDW). Dr Samar Mubarakmand himself walked a total of 5 kilometres back and forth in the hot tunnels checking and re-checking the devices and the cables which would be forever buried under the concrete. Finally, the cables were plugged into nuclear devices. The process of sealing the tunnel thereafter began with the mixing of the cement and the sand. It took a total of 6,000 cement bags to seal the tunnel.

The tunnel was sealed by the afternoon May 26, 1998 and by the afternoon of 27 May 1998, the cement had completely dried out due to the excessive heat of the desert. After the engineers certified that the concrete had hardened and the site was fit for the tests it was communicated to the Prime Minister via the GHQ that the site was ready.

The date and time for Pakistan’s rendezvous with destiny was set for 3:00 p.m. on the afternoon of 28 May 1998.

Pakistan’s ‘Finest Hour’

May 28, 1998 dawned with an air alert over all military and strategic installations of Pakistan. The Pakistan Air Force had earlier been put on red alert to respond to the possibility of an Indian and Israeli pre-emptive strike against its nuclear installations. PAF F-16A and F-7MP air defence fighters were scrambled from air bases around the country to remain vigilant and prepared for any eventuality.

Before twilight, the automatic transmission data link from all of Pakistani seismic stations to the outside world was switched off.

At Chagai, it was a clear day. Bright and sunny without a cloud in sight. All personnel, civil and military were evacuated from ‘Ground Zero’ except for members of the Diagnostics Group and the firing team. They had been involved in digging out and removing some equipment lying there since 1978.

Ten members of the team reached the Observation Post (OP) located 10-kilometres away from Ground Zero. The firing equipment was checked at 1:30 p.m. and prayers were offered. An hour later, at 2:30 p.m., a Pakistan Army helicopter carrying the team of observers including PAEC Chairman, Dr. Ishfaq Ahmed, KRL Director, Dr. A.Q. Khan, and four other scientists from KRL including Dr. Fakhr Hashmi, Dr. Javed Ashraf Mirza, Dr. M. Nasim Khan and S. Mansoor Ahmed arrived at the site. Also accompanying them was a Pakistan Army team headed by General Zulfikar Ali, Chief of the Combat Division.

At 3:00 p.m. a truck carrying the last of the personnel and soldiers involved in the site preparations passed by the OP. Soon afterwards, the all-clear was given to conduct the test as the site had been fully evacuated.

Amongst the 20 men present, one young man, Muhammad Arshad, the Chief Scientific Officer, who had designed the triggering mechanism, was selected to push the button. He was asked to recite “All praise be to Allah” and push the button. At exactly 3:16 p.m. the button was pushed and Muhammad Arshad stepped from obscurity into history.

As soon as the button was pushed, the control system was taken over by computer. The signal was passed through the airlink initiating six steps in the firing sequence while at the same time bypassing, one after the other, each of the security systems put in place to prevent accidental detonation. Each step was confirmed by the computer, switching on power supplies for each stage. On the last leg of the sequence, the high voltage power supply responsible for detonating the nuclear devices was activated.

As the firing sequence passed through each level and shut down the safety switches and activating the power supply, each and every step was being recorded by the computer via the telemetry which is an apparatus for recording reading of an instrument and transmitting them via radio. A radiation-hardened television camera with special lenses recorded the outer surface of the mountain.

The voltage reached the triggers on all five devices simultaneously in all the explosive lenses with microsecond synchronization.

As the firing sequence continued through its stages, 20 pairs of eyes were glued on the mountain 10 kilometres away. There was deafening silence within and outside of the OP.

A short while after the button was pushed, the earth in and around the Ras Koh Hills trembled. The OP vibrated as smoke and dust burst out through the five points where the nuclear devices were located. The mountain shook and changed colour as the dust of thousands of years was dislodged from its surface. Its black granite rock turning white as de-oxidisation from the radioactive nuclear forces operating from within. A Huge cloud of beige dust then enveloped the mountain.

The time-frame, from the moment when the button was pushed to the moment the detonations inside the mountain took place, was thirty seconds. For those in the OP, watching in pin-drop silence with their eyes focused on the mountain, those thirty seconds were the longest in their lives. It was the culmination of a journey which started over 20 years ago. It was the moment of truth and triumph against heavy odds, trials and tribulations. At the end of those thirty seconds lay Pakistan’s date with destiny.

The Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs would later describe it as “Pakistan’s finest hour”. Pakistan had become the world’s 7th nuclear power and the first nuclear weapons state in the Islamic World.

Two days later, Pakistan conducted its sixth nuclear test at Kharan, a flat desert valley 150 km to the south of the Ras Koh Hills. This was a miniaturized device giving a yield which was 60% of the first tests. A small hillock now rises in what used to be flat desert, marking the ground zero of the nuclear test there.

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