For many Pakistanis, 28th May 1998 is one of the most momentous dates in this country’s history. The day Pakistan became the only Muslim country in the world with a nuclear bomb. Pakistan is one of nine countries in the world that has nuclear arsenal, yet we are the only ones that commemorate the date of our nuclear tests as a national day. But commemorating what exactly? Enduring international sanctions? International isolation? Budget cuts? Paranoia? Do we commemorate every year, Bhutto’s very literal prophecy of Pakistanis eating grass to sustain the nuclear program?

The debate is not so much about the genesis of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, but about its infiltration into our most fundamental identity politics. Who are we? We are a nuclear armed nation standing, above all, in opposition to our eastern neighbour and rival. But can’t we be more? Of course, the culmination of India’s nuclear program might have been disastrous for the Pakistani defence psychology had no action been taken. But having a fierce rivalry with another country, and defining one’s national identity on the basis of that rivalry are two very different things. There is nothing wrong with prioritizing issues of national security. But when the idea of security transcends its meaning to become more symbolic, we’ve got a problem. Pakistan’s nuclear bomb became a symbol of power for the international Muslim community, which brings us to another problematic issue. The commemoration of a national day titled “Youm-e-takbir,” or Day of Greatness, linking the act of acquiring a nuclear bomb to religion, thus transforming it into what is perceived to be a “Muslim bomb.” There are dangers that come with such attachments, and the repercussions of this are obvious in our national narratives on patriotism, defence, and power. We do not define our nationalism by our engagement with our own state, by our trade, our policies, our people, but by our state’s engagement with another state. In many ways, the celebration of Youm-e-Takbir is a good metaphor for the delusions entertained by the state at almost every level. Because as long as we have the bomb, we will remain as great as ever, and all our inadequacies will fade before it.