A newspaper poll published at the beginning of this year found strong public support in Pakistan for developing its nuclear capabilities. To Pakistan's leaders, the message was clear: The country could not back off from its nuclear program without suffering intense public criticism.
The survey, however, did not predict how Pakistan's tough stand would become part of a major stumbling block for efforts to ban nuclear-weapons tests.
Six months after the survey, Pakistan is one of the nations threatening to hold up a treaty that would outlaw future nuclear tests. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is due to be signed in Geneva by tomorrow. But last week, India said it would not sign the pact because it does not go far enough in requiring the five acknowledged nuclear powers - China, Russia, Britain, France, and the United States - to destroy their nuclear arsenals. Pakistan says it is reluctant to sign unless archrival India does.
On Tuesday, Munir Akram, Pakistan's ambassador in Geneva, the site of the test-ban talks, called on the gathering to find "constructive compromises" to meet India's demand for the pact to contain a commitment to eliminate nuclear weapons within a specific time. Otherwise, he said, India's stand "could spell the death knell of the treaty."
Pakistan, along with India and Israel, is a widely acknowledged "nuclear-threshold state" - a country that has acquired nuclear weapons capability but does not acknowledge it publicly. Their signatures are considered essential to the success of the CTBT.
For months, Western negotiators had been working to seek ratification of the CTBT. During that time, Western countries, especially the US, have urged Pakistan to ratify the CTBT even if it meant doing it without India accepting the treaty at the same time.
Pakistan has said that it would not be bound by any international treaty that restricts its right to develop a nuclear capacity unless India, with whom it has fought three wars, is similarly bound. Pakistan's uncompromising position is largely the result of strong domestic support for a tough line on the nuclear program, and the country's perceived vulnerability because of India's much larger conventional military capability.
"I think any unilateral measure will make the people of Pakistan deeply insecure," Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto said in April. "We have watched India intervene militarily in almost all its neighbors."
Pakistani officials also have criticized the West, especially the US, which cut off military sales to Pakistan in 1990 to protest the country's alleged nuclear program. Many Pakistani officials say that today's difficulties in acquiring military equipment from the West have only strengthened the country's resolve to carry on with a nuclear program.
One senior government official, who requested anonymity, said: "By denying us permission to boost our conventional defenses, the West has put additional pressure so that we have to rely on the nuclear program as the most important guarantee of our security."
Officially, Pakistan denies charges that its nuclear program is meant for any military purposes and claims that the program is only for the peaceful use of nuclear energy, such as power generation. However, Pakistan has refused to comply with international pressure to open up its nuclear facilities for international inspection, saying that it would only do so when India does.
Prime Minister Bhutto says lack of progress on new global treaties like the CTBT is partly the result of the insecurity felt by many countries after the genocide in Bosnia. "We have seen the havoc that was wrought in the heart of Europe in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the inability of the world to broker a peace accord before several years of bloodshed and violence," Bhutto says.
"It is very important for the world to come out with conflict-prevention mechanisms and with conflict-solution mechanisms because, right now, there is a growing apprehension among many countries of the world that regional conflicts can flare up, but the response of the international community to resolve them will be slow and the process will be extremely painful," she says.
As the deadline approaches, Western diplomats in Islamabad say Pakistan is expected to remain under pressure to sign the CTBT up to the last minute. Some diplomats are still hopeful that India and Pakistan may accept Western calls for ratification.
According to one senior Western diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, "New ground may be broken even as we approach the last minute because the five major nuclear powers want to see an accord reached."
But many Pakistanis are unwilling to compromise. Muneer Ahmed Khan, former head of Pakistan's Atomic Energy Commission, wrote in a recent newspaper article, "Washington has been advising Pakistan to go ahead and sign the CTBT without linking it to India's actions. The government of Pakistan has refused to accept this advice because it would be politically unacceptable.
"In fact, no [Pakistani] government ... can take this step unilaterally without India coming on board simultaneously."