Pakistan has doubled its nuclear arsenal in the last several years and now has more than 100 deployed weapons, more than that of India, the Washington Post reported on Monday.
The Pakistanis have significantly accelerated production of uranium and plutonium for bombs and developed new weapons to deliver them, the influential US daily reported citing estimates by non-government analysts. After years of approximate weapons parity, Pakistan has now edged ahead of India, its nuclear-armed rival, experts cited by the Post said.
While Pakistan has produced more nuclear-armed weapons, India is believed to have larger existing stockpiles of such fissile material for future weapons. Four years ago, the Pakistani arsenal was estimated at 30 to 60 weapons, the Post said.
Those figures make Pakistan the world's fifth-largest nuclear power, ahead of "legal" powers France and Britain, the Post said. The vast bulk of nuclear stockpiles are held by the United States and Russia, followed by China.
Pakistan has no declared nuclear doctrine, but sees its arsenal as a deterrent to an attack by the Indian forces that are heavily deployed near its border, the daily said. India, on the other hand, has vowed no-first-use of nuclear weapons, but it depends on its second-strike capability to deter the Pakistanis, the paper said.
"They have been expanding pretty rapidly," David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security and a leading analyst on the world's nuclear forces, was quoted as saying. "They're always trying to downplay" the numbers and insisting that "it's smaller than you think."
Based on recently accelerated production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium, he said, "they could have more than doubled in that period," with current estimates of up to 110 weapons.
The Post cited Hans M. Kristensen, director of the nuclear information project at the Federation of American Scientists and author of the annual global nuclear weapons inventory published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, as saying it was "not unreasonable" to say that Pakistan has now produced at least 100 weapons.
Shaun Gregory, director of the Pakistan Security Research Unit at Britain's University of Bradford, put the number at between 100 and 110.
Some Pakistani officials have intimated they have even more, the Post said. But just as the United States has a vested interest in publicly playing down the total, Pakistan sees advantage in "playing up the number of weapons they've got," Gregory said.
"They're at a disadvantage with India with conventional forces," in terms of both weaponry and personnel.
While continuing to produce weapons-grade uranium at two sites, Pakistan has sharply increased its production of plutonium, allowing it to make lighter warheads for more mobile delivery systems, the Post said.
Only three nuclear countries - Pakistan, India and Israel - have not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). India is estimated to have 60 to 100 weapons; numbers are even less precise for Israel's undeclared programme, estimated at up to 200., said the paper which appeared to have done considerable research on this sensitive subject.