Pakistan’s Nuclear Bomb

A Story of Defiance, Deterrence and Deviance

January 2018 9781849047159 256pp


This book provides a comprehensive account of the mysterious story of Pakistan’s attempt to develop nuclear weapons in the face of severe odds. Hassan Abbas profiles the politicians and scientists involved, and the role of China and Saudi Arabia in supporting Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure.

Abbas also unravels the motivations behind the Pakistani nuclear physicist Dr A. Q. Khan’s involvement in nuclear proliferation in Iran, Libya and North Korea, drawing on extensive interviews. He argues that the origins and evolution of the Khan network were tied to the domestic and international political motivations underlying Pakistan’s nuclear weapons project, and that project’s organisation, oversight and management. The ties between the making of the Pakistani bomb and the proliferation that then ensued have not yet been fully illuminated or understood, and this book’s disclosures have important lessons. The Khan proliferation breach remains of vital importance for understanding how to stop such transfers of sensitive technology in future.

Finally, the book examines the prospects for nuclear safety in Pakistan, considering both Pakistan’s nuclear control infrastructure and the threat posed by the Taliban and other extremist groups to the country’s nuclear assets.


‘This judicious study of Pakistan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, and their proliferation to Iran and North Korea . . . rigorously assesses the motives and actions of the relevant state actors as well as Khan and his largely European network of proliferators.’ — Choice

‘Abbas’ diligent scrutiny of public sources and his intimate knowledge of Pakistani politics make this the most authoritative study yet written of Khan’s complicated story.’ — Foreign Affairs

‘An important contribution to history . . . measured and objective.’ — Asian Affairs

‘Drawing on the recollections of former decision-makers, Hassan Abbas offers the most complete account yet of how [Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme] worked, and what it meant: a source of national pride, and a source of cash.’ — London Review of Books

‘Abbas pulls back the veil on a largely un-known, illicit trade … [his] intense historical analysis … offers much needed clarity to a frightening and convoluted situation.’ — NYU’s Journal of International Law and Politics

‘Abbas brilliantly outlines how the country’s nuclear program graduated and matured across phases and decades. … While many scholarly examinations of the A. Q. Khan network provide detailed insights into the workings of the network, Abbas’s study makes an important contribution to the literature on Pakistan’s role as a proliferator state, with varying degrees of civilian and military complicity, in the examined cases of proliferation with North Korea, Libya, and Iran.’ — Journal of Asian Studies

‘A masterly history of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme. Abundant with new historical evidence and theoretically nuanced (challenging traditional dogmas), Abbas has produced what may well be a definitive account of Islamabad and the bomb.’ — Amitabh Mattoo, Professor in Disarmament Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

‘This is the most comprehensive study to date of why and how Pakistan got the bomb and proliferated. Beyond state actors—including China, Iran, North Korea and Libya—Abbas scrutinises the role of individuals, including A. Q. Khan, in the making of Pakistan’s nuclear programme and its “dissemination”.’ — Christophe Jaffrelot, Visiting Professor of Indian Politics and Sociology at the King’s India Institute and author of The Pakistan Paradox

‘An important, realistic book that addresses many issues, and one major international problem in particular: Pakistan’s proliferation of nuclear technology. Focusing on both the activities of the state as well as A. Q. Khan, this research deserves wide scholarly and policy attention.’ — Thomas H. Johnson, Professor and Director of the Naval Postgraduate School’s Program for Culture and Conflict Studies, and author of Taliban Narratives

‘Hassan Abbas presents one of the best defences of Pakistan’s military as he lays out details of Dr A. Q. Khan’s personal network, selling nuclear knowledge and technology to Iran and North Korea. Whets the reader’s appetite for more investigation into nuclear proliferation by Pakistan.’ —Ayesha Siddiqa, Research Associate, SOAS South Asia Institute

‘As good a general analysis as you can get of Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions, its nuclear weapons programme and the prevailing security mindsets and world view of its military, bureaucratic, scientific and political elites.’ — Open Magazine


Hassan Abbas is Professor and Chair of the Department of Regional and Analytical Studies at National Defense University, Washington, D.C. His previous books include The Taliban Revival and Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism.

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