Pakistan could have at least 350 nuclear weapons within the next five to 10 years, making it the world's third-largest nuclear stockpile, according to a new report produced by two American think tanks.
The report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Stimson Center states Pakistan is rapidly expanding its nuclear capabilities owing to a fear of India.
However, Pakistan is far outpacing India in the development of nuclear warheads, the report adds. According to estimates, Pakistan has 120 nuclear heads while India has around 100.
Further, the report said Pakistan could be building up to 20 nuclear warheads annually.
“The growth path of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, enabled by existing infrastructure, goes well beyond the assurances of credible minimal deterrence provided by Pakistani officials and analysts after testing nuclear devices.”
Read: Pakistan has fastest growing nuclear weapons programme in the world: report
The report stated in the next few years, Pakistan's large stockpile of highly enriched uranium that could be used to quickly produce low-yield nuclear devices would become a growing advantage for the country.
India on the other hand, has far larger stockpiles of plutonium, which is needed to produce high-yield warheads, than Pakistan does. However, India appears to be using most of its plutonium to produce domestic energy.
With increasing warheads, Pakistan would probably possess more nuclear weapons than any country except the United States and Russia which each have thousands of the bombs.
Nuclear expert at the Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad, Mansoor Ahmed, said he suspects that "a more accurate assessment of Pakistan’s capability is that it can develop no more than 40 to 50 new warheads over the next several years."
However, Ahmed did not dispute that Pakistan’s military is seeking to expand its nuclear capabilities.
Read: US confident of Pakistan's ability to safeguard nuclear weapons
According to sources, Pakistani military officials were not available to comment on the report when it was made available to journalists ahead of its release.
"This report is overblown," Ahmed said. However, Ahmed, who was recently named a nuclear security fellow at Harvard University’s John F Kennedy School of Government added "what the world must understand is that nuclear weapons are part of Pakistan’s belief system. It’s a culture that has been built up over the years because [nuclear weapons] have provided a credible deterrence against external aggression.”
For many years, western officials have struggled to get an accurate assessment of Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities.
Findings of the report were questioned by many Pakistani analysts, saying it is based on a faulty assumption that Pakistan is using all of its existing stockpiles of fissile material to make nuclear weapons.
Further, the report, written by Toby Dalton, co-director of the Carnegie Endowment’s Nuclear Policy Program, and Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Stimson Centre noted that Pakistan is believed to use plutonium as well as highly enriched uranium to create nuclear warheads.
According to Dalton, Pakistan recently added a fourth plutonium production reactor at its Khushab Nuclear Complex.
“We assume, maybe correctly, maybe inaccurately, with the fuel coming out of the four reactors, they are processing it as rapidly as possible to get the plutonium out,” Dalton said.
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India and Pakistan, which have fought three major wars, were declared nuclear powers in 1998. Since then, Western leaders have been increasingly alarmed about the potential for a nuclear exchange between the rivals.
India views nuclear weapons “as a political tool, a prestige item, not something you use on a battlefield,” Krepon said. In Pakistan, he said, nuclear weapons are seen as “things you have to be willing to use” to guarantee stability.
Concluding, both Krepon and Dalton said there is still time for Pakistan to slow down the development of its nuclear arsenal. If it does, they said, "the international community should consider what steps it can take to recognise it as a responsible nuclear state."
Among other nuclear-power nations, France has about 300 warheads and the United Kingdom has about 215. Meanwhile, China has approximately 250.
This article originally appeared on The Washington Post