ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Pakistanis answered India on Thursday with five nuclear weapons tests of their own, accelerating the arms race between the two rivals and shattering hopes of a quick end to the South Asian crisis.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan said he ordered the explosions to safeguard his nation's security in the face of an imminent Indian threat.
The detonations, carried out at 3:30 p.m. at the Chagai Hills laboratory in the Baluchistan desert of western Pakistan, came 17 days after the freshly elected Indian government startled the world by announcing that it had tested nuclear devices--including one intended for use in a hydrogen bomb.
"India exploded nuclear devices, and today we have paid them back," Sharif said Thursday in a broadcast speech. "We would rather be beheaded than tolerate this insult."
Pakistan seemed poised not just to match India's five tests, but to raise it one or more.
It appeared to be making preparations for another nuclear test 60 miles from the site of Thursday's underground explosions, according to a senior official in the Clinton administration.
The official declined to provide details but said any additional tests could be days away, or longer.
Sharif blamed India, saying its round of testing made Pakistan's inevitable, and he chastised the industrialized nations for failing to sufficiently punish New Delhi. He gave no indication whether he will order more tests.
President Clinton, whose phone call late Wednesday failed to dissuade Sharif, said he will impose economic sanctions on Pakistan as required by U.S. law.
The sanctions, though identical to the ones slapped on India, are likely to cut much deeper into the frail Pakistani economy.
"Two wrongs don't make a right," Clinton said. "I cannot believe we are about to start the 21st century by having the Indian subcontinent repeat the worst mistakes of the 20th."
Hours after the announcement of the blasts, Pakistani President Mohammed Rafiq Tarar declared a state of emergency, suspending Pakistan's Constitution and legal system. The order gives extraordinary powers to the government and suspends civil rights.
With the tests, Pakistan became the world's seventh avowedly nuclear-armed state--along with the United States, Britain, Russia, China, France and India--and the first predominantly Islamic nation to test atomic weapons.
Sharif offered few details about the detonations, but he said they had released no radiation into the atmosphere.
Defense officials in Washington said the Pakistanis appeared to have tested only fission weapons, and that none were of a thermonuclear character used to produce a more powerful hydrogen bomb.
The tests, though widely anticipated here and abroad, seem certain to escalate tensions between India and Pakistan, bitter enemies that have fought three wars since they broke from the British Empire in 1947.
The tests demonstrated--for the second time in less than three weeks--that the web of treaties and penalties erected by the international community is powerless to halt a nation determined to test a nuclear bomb.
In announcing the explosions, the Pakistani government said it will place nuclear warheads on its Ghauri missiles, which can reach most areas in India.
The announcement matched the Indian government's recent statement that it not only tested nuclear weapons but deployed them.
However, Sharif did not rule out first-use of nuclear weapons, as India--with its vastly larger army--has done.
Pakistan Was Urged to Refrain From Tests
Joining a chorus of world leaders, Clinton urged Pakistan and India to refrain from further nuclear tests and to join treaties--already signed by most of the world's nations--banning the spread and testing of nuclear weapons.
Sharif offered to do so Thursday night.
Clinton had offered Sharif a number of incentives to refrain from testing, including a resumption of economic aid and the delivery of 28 F-16 fighters, held up because of Pakistan's nuclear program.
But Clinton's offers paled next to the pressure Sharif was feeling at home: intense, nearly unanimous public support for testing a nuclear device and the perceived need to counter archrival India, which maintains an army twice the size of Pakistan's.
Last week's threats uttered by Indian leaders over the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir, the cause for two of the countries' three wars, only seemed to increase the likelihood of a Pakistani response.
Sharif, dressed in a black tunic and flanked by the Pakistani flag and a portrait of the nation's founding hero, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, warned citizens to prepare for lean economic times.
Pakistan, already one of the poorest and most illiterate countries in the world, stands to suffer much more than India, whose economy is largely self-contained.
"We have to show discipline," a deliberate and unsmiling Sharif said. "Without sacrifice, nations do not stand on their own."