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The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has reported that India’s nuclear arsenal stands at approximately 172 warheads as of January 2024, reflecting a slight increase from the previous year. This figure places India ahead of Pakistan for the first time since both nations conducted nuclear tests in 1998. The margin, however, is narrow – a mere two warheads.

Pakistani media outlets have contested SIPRI’s assessment. Historically, Western estimates, including those from SIPRI and the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), have placed Pakistan slightly ahead in terms of nuclear warhead stockpiles. These estimates rely heavily on satellite imagery analysis of uranium enrichment and plutonium production facilities, along with operational data. However, the specific methodologies employed by these institutions remain largely undisclosed, raising questions about the exactness of their figures.

Some Pakistani commentators allege that Western estimates are politically motivated, aiming to portray a strategic balance between the two South Asian rivals. They argue that India, with its longer nuclear program and established nuclear triad (land, air, and sea-based delivery systems), wouldn’t logically fall behind Pakistan in terms of warhead numbers.

The lack of transparency surrounding nuclear arsenals in both India and Pakistan makes independent verification difficult. SIPRI’s report highlights a concerning trend of nuclear modernization across the globe, with an increase in the number of operational warheads. This trend underscores the urgency for renewed dialogue and arms control measures to prevent a potential nuclear arms race in South Asia.