US & Pak­istan’s nu­clear pro­gramme

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIALS & COMMENTS - Iqbal Khan Email:won­der­ Ob­server Pak­istan

FA­THER of Pak­istan’s nu­clear pro­gramme Ab­dul Qadeer Khan said while ad­dress­ing a gath­er­ing in Islamabad on the 18th an­niver­sary of Pak­istan’s first nu­clear tests, that: “We were able and we had a plan to launch nu­clear test in 1984. But Pres­i­dent Gen­eral Zia-ul-Haq had op­posed the move”. He thought it could in­voke in­ter­na­tional mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion and cur­tail­ment of aid flow. Pak­istan pa­tiently waited for 14 long years. God-sent op­por­tu­nity came when In­dia car­ried out its nu­clear tests in May 1998. It was ‘now or never mo­ment’for Pak­istan’s nu­clear weapon pro­gramme. Pres­sures were tremen­dous; any cold foot­ing by lead­er­ship could have re­sulted in ir­re­versible dam­age.

Dur­ing these dif­fi­cult times, two leg­ends played a ma­jor role in prompt­ing the then govern­ment of Pak­istan to carry out tit for tat nu­clear ex­plo­sions in 1998. One of them Dr Ma­jeed Nizami is no longer with us May Al­lah bless his souls and the other leg­end Mr Zahid Ma­lik is strug­gling to over­come can­cer, May Al­lah bless his with early re­cov­ery, and long life. Prime Min­ster Nawaz Sharif once nar­rated the dur­ing the pe­riod be­tween the In­dian nu­clear tests and Pak­istan’s re­sponse, he con­sulted a wide range of peo­ple from all walks of so­ci­ety, and when he sought opin­ion from me­dia stal­warts, Dr Nizami’s re­ply was rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the na­tional spirit: “… if you do not con­duct tit for tat nu­clear ex­plo­sions, peo­ple would shred you into mince”, or words to that ef­fect. Zahid Ma­lik had equally strong sen­ti­ments on this vi­tal na­tional is­sue duly re­flected in editorials and re­port­ing of

dur­ing that crit­i­cal pe­riod. When­ever Amer­i­cans are in trou­ble they promptly ac­cept hum­bling terms and con­di­tions but never for­get to pick-up the threads im­me­di­ately af­ter the ob­tain­ing cir­cum­stances are over. When Sovi­ets walked into Afghanistan, Pak­istan was un­der se­vere Amer­i­can sanc­tions on ac­count of its nu­clear pro­gramme and lack of demo­cratic dis­pen­sa­tion. Amer­i­cans came run­ning to Pak­istan, em­braced the mil­i­tary ruler and promised to look the other way with re­gard to Pak­istan’s nu­clear weapon pro­gramme.

By 9/11 Pak­istan had earned the du­bi­ous sta­tus of most sanc­tioned Amer­i­can ally; again with a mil­i­tary ruler on helm of af­fairs. Now Amer­i­cans again needed Pak­istan, hence all sanc­tions evap­o­rated in the thin air. Vo­cal pres­sures of vary­ing de­grees to freeze and or roll back its nu­clear pro­gramme con­tin­ued, how­ever, mat­ters did not in­voke any sanc­tions. Post 9/11 mantra mostly re­volved around float­ing myth­i­cal sce­nar­ios de­pict­ing like­li­hood of Pak­istani nukes fall­ing in ‘ter­ror­ist hands’.

Presently, with Afghan con­flict tak­ing a rel­a­tively back seat, Pak­istanUS re­la­tions ap­pear slip­ping back to 1990s. Amer­i­cans are now talk­ing about a roll back in Pak­istan’s nu­clear pro­gramme while at the same time ig­nor­ing In­dia’s qual­i­ta­tive jumps like ac­qui­si­tion of nu­clear sub­marines, test­ing of sub­ma­rine launched mis­siles, op­er­a­tional­iza­tion of Anti-bal­lis­tic Mis­sile sys­tems and as­so­ci­ated space pro­gramme. Of these, the last two ca­pa­bil­i­ties have come of age with ac­tive Amer­i­can sup­port. And in case of Pak­istan, sub­sidy for F-16 air­craft stands with­drawn and non-starter cat­e­gory re­stric­tions have been slapped on US$ 450 mil­lion aid i.e. “un­less Pak­istan fights Haqqa­nis more ef­fec­tively”, a feat Amer­i­cans and their 49na­tion mil­i­tary con­glom­er­ate—ISAF/ NATO could not ac­com­plish over the last 15 years or so.

At a meet­ing of the eighth round of Pak­istan-US Work­ing Group on Se­cu­rity, Strate­gic Sta­bil­ity and Non- pro­lif­er­a­tion on May 17, which is part of the Pak­istan-US strate­gic di­a­logue. Amer­i­can del­e­ga­tion pressed Islamabad to start ne­go­ti­a­tions on the treaty deal­ing only with fis­sile ma­te­ri­als’ pro­duc­tion cut-off, while ig­nor­ing the ex­ist­ing stocks of these ma­te­ri­als. Such a par­tial treaty is aimed at freez­ing the nu­clear sta­tus quo to per­pet­ual peril of late en­trants like Pak­istan. In re­sponse, Pak­istan un­der­lined its pref­er­ence for broader Fis­sile Ma­te­rial Treaty that ad­dresses the asym­me­tries in ex­ist­ing stocks.

Pak­istan has how­ever, as­sured the US del­e­ga­tion that it would not be the first in its re­gion to re­sume nu­clear test­ing, and ex­pressed its sup­port for the ob­jec­tives of Com­pre­hen­sive Test Ban Treaty. The meet­ing of the work­ing group was held against back­drop of re­cent in­ter­cep­tor mis­sile and se­cret sub­ma­rine launched mis­sile tests by In­dia. Pak­istani side ex­pressed its con­fi­dence re­gard­ing coun­try’s cre­den­tials to be­come full mem­ber of ex­port con­trol regimes, par­tic­u­larly NSG and Mis­sile Tech­nol­ogy Con­trol Regime.

De­spite Pak­istan’s im­pec­ca­ble nu­clear se­cu­rity re­lated is­sues of­ten ac­knowl­edged by the US lead­er­ship and the IAEA, the US and Euro­pean me­dia has all along kept the sym­phony play­ing to paint Pak­istan’s nu­clear pro­gramme neg­a­tive. At the same time it in­vari­ably turns blind eye to In­dia’s poor nu­clear safety and se­cu­rity record. “Al­though In­dia has taken sig­nif­i­cant mea­sures to pro­tect its nu­clear sites, re­cent re­ports sug­gest that its nu­clear se­cu­rity mea­sures may be weaker than those of Pak­istan,” a re­port pub­lished by Har­vard Kennedy School stated. In Jan­uary 2014 Wash­ing­ton-based Nu­clear Threat Ini­tia­tive ranked In­dia’s nu­clear se­cu­rity prac­tices 23rd out of 25 coun­tries, fol­lowed by Iran and North Korea.

Progress to­wards com­pre­hen­sive nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment is be­ing de­layed by some coun­tries who ad­vo­cate ab­sti­nence for oth­ers but are un­will­ing to give up their large in­ven­to­ries of nu­clear weapons or their mod­erni­sa­tion am­bi­tions. In­stead of ful­fill­ing their le­gal dis­ar­ma­ment obli­ga­tions, these States have ex­clu­sively pur­sued non-pro­lif­er­a­tion with mes­sianic zeal. The largest event of the century in the con­text of hor­i­zon­tal nu­clear non-pro­lif­er­a­tion is Indo-US Agree­ment 123, which has set the prece­dent of keep­ing nu­clear power re­ac­tors out­side IAEA safe­guards. The Indo-US nu­clear deal pro­vides In­dia with fis­sile ma­te­rial for at least 50 ad­di­tional war­heads ev­ery year sans all other re­sources.

Ad­viser to Prime Min­is­ter on For­eign Af­fairs Sar­taj Aziz in­formed Se­nate on May 19 that Pak­istan is con­sid­er­ing to move a res­o­lu­tion in United Na­tions Gen­eral Assem­bly in the next ses­sion, urg­ing it to de­clare In­dian Ocean a “nu­clear free zone”. Pak­istan is plan­ning to high­light dan­ger­ous im­pli­ca­tions of In­dia’s plans to nu­cle­arise In­dian Ocean at all rel­e­vant in­ter­na­tional fo­rums. Is­sue of re­cent test of In­dia’s ad­vanced air de­fence mis­sile Ash­win would also be raised with all ma­jor pow­ers ‘bi­lat­er­ally and mul­ti­lat­er­ally’.

Here, one could re­call the fate of sim­i­lar ef­forts by Pak­istan dur­ing 1980s to de­clare South Asia a nu­clear weapon free zone. Pak­istan’s new ef­fort of hav­ing In­dian Ocean de­clared as nu­clear free zone shall also meet sim­i­lar end. Since the in­cep­tion of Pak­istan’s nu­clear pro­gramme, Amer­ica is or­ches­trat­ing a smear cam­paign against it.Fast for­ward: On May 27, 2016 deputy spokesper­son of US State Depart­ment Mark Toner made this tilt more clear and vis­i­ble when he bla­tantly de­clared that In­dia is en­ti­tled to and qual­i­fies for the mem­ber­ship of the NSG. While try­ing to prove In­dian cre­den­tials for the NSG mem­ber­ship, deputy spokesper­son to­tally ig­nored the le­git­i­mate right of Pak­istan in this re­gard.

The US is likely to con­tinue its dis­crim­i­na­tory pol­icy and go an ex­tra mile to help New Delhi be­come mem­ber of the NSG. This cou­pled with nu­cle­ari­sa­tion of In­dian Ocean could have dan­ger­ous reper­cus­sions and is bound to trig­ger a nu­clear arms race in the re­gion. Pak­istan’s pol­icy mak­ers must re­visit and re­view their ap­proach in deal­ing with the United States, with­out strain­ing our ties with Wash­ing­ton. There is need to strengthen our lob­by­ing in the United States to present our point of view more ef­fec­tively. — The writer is con­sul­tant to IPRI on pol­icy and strate­gic re­sponse.

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