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America and Pakistan’s nuclear programme

Background

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”. Presidents Zia-ul- Haq and CarterHe thought it could invoke international military intervention and curtailment of aid flow. Notwithstanding, his commitment to Pakistan’s nuclear weapon programme was unwavering: as firm as iron ( http://superpowerpakistan.com/what-zia-said-to-americans-on-pakistans-nuclear-program/). 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. Story of America and Pakistan’s nuclear programme is quite interesting; something akin to Tom and Jerry themes.

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. Mr Zahid Malik had equally strong sentiments on this vital national issue duly reflected in editorials and reporting of Pakistan Observer 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.

Soon after the Geneva accords enabling Soviet pull-out from Afghanistan, Pakistan’s military ruler died, in an aeroplane crash under mysterious circumstances; and President Regan declined to sign annual certification to exempt Pakistan from the Pressler Amendment. Presidential hopeful Donald Trump has now come-up with fanciful idea that US should remain in Afghanistan to protect Pakistan’s nuclear arms!

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, Pakistan-US 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 49-nation 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 the backdrop of recent interceptor missile and secret submarine launched missile tests by India.  The Pakistani side expressed its confidence regarding country’s credentials to become full member of the export control regimes, particularly the NSG and the 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 the 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 the Indian Ocean a “nuclear free zone”. Pakistan is planning to highlight the dangerous implications of India’s plans to nuclearize the 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, the deputy spokesperson totally ignored the legitimate right of Pakistan in this regard.

Conclusion

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 nuclearization of Indian Ocean could 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.

 

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