By Sher Bano*
May 28, 2021, marks the 23rd anniversary of the nuclearization of South Asia. It was on this day in the year 1998 when Pakistan conducted six nuclear tests in the Chaghi district of the Southwestern Baluchistan province. This was purely in response to the Indian nuclear tests on the 11th of May. Since India and Pakistan entered the nuclear club, global concerns have aggravated due to the threat of vertical nuclear proliferation in the region. If we go back to history, in 1968, the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was introduced as a cornerstone to restrain the proliferation. However, due to the US’ fluctuating non-proliferation policy towards India and Pakistan, the NPT has lost efficacy, especially in the South Asia context. Pakistan, however over the years has proposed various regional or bilateral non-proliferation agreements but the prospects of all such arrangements have been limited due to severe Indian opposition.
The NPT was formed four decades ago to curtail the spread of nuclear weapons and to enhance civil nuclear cooperation and the main objective was comprehensive global disarmament. This treaty has been regarded by many as a success vis-à-vis nuclear non-proliferation. However, since the overt and inevitable nuclearization of South Asia in May 1998 it arguably has lost efficacy. The NPT has become eroded due to the differential behavior of the US towards Pakistan and India. There have been double standards and discrimination in non-proliferation policies and NPT implementation. On one side to curb the nuclear efforts of some states like North Korea and Iran that are NPT signatories, the US has adopted preemptive doctrine while on the other side it turned a blind eye towards the acquisition of nuclear weapons by states like Israel and India that are non-signatories of NPT. It has described India and Israel as responsible nuclear states that have advanced nuclear technology.
Indian hostility towards Pakistan has been the key factor that has impacted the latter’s acuity of non-proliferation, disarmament, and arms control agreements. Pakistan has time and again shown its willingness to sign all the international non-proliferation agreements if India decides to do so. Pakistan was also willing to sign NPT with joint/bilateral agreement to full scope inceptions and safeguards. This offer was given by Gen. Muhammad Zia ul Haq to India three times, in the years from 1984 to 1987 but India rejected it. Moreover historically Pakistan has always been a supporter of (CTBT) ‘The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty) objectives but because of the growing capabilities of India such as SLBMs, CMs, and ICBMs Pakistan could not sign the treaty. While India’s reason for not signing the treaty was that CTBT doesn’t allow it to carry out any kind of explosions and it curtails the development of nuclear weapons. Similarly, Pakistan also could not sign (FMCT) ‘Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty’ because relative to the nuclear stockpile of India it would have been in a disadvantageous position. Islamabad has proposed FMCT to also include the current fissile material stockpile which is a position shared by various countries previously.
Pakistan always stood firm with its objective of non-proliferation and arms control in the region. In the past, Pakistan has been proposing various initiatives for arms control in South Asia such as it proposed the establishment of (NWFZ) ‘Nuclear Weapon Free Zone’ in 1974 and repeatedly proposed it in the years 1996-1987-1990 and 2003 but all such efforts were in vain. In 1979 it offered the acceptance of IAEA safeguards bilaterally. Pakistan also offered the mutual inspection of nuclear facilities of each other in 1979. In 1981, offered India a no-war pact but India refused to sign. In 1989 Pakistan offered a ban on all kinds of nuclear tests by signing a bilateral treaty. In 1994 Pakistan also proposed the idea of ‘South Asian Zero Missile Zone’. Later on, it proposed a nuclear restraint regime and induction of SLBM and ABM systems. However, in order to fulfill its ambition of becoming a global power, India did not accept any of the proposals by Pakistan. Although the situation of non-proliferation and arms control measures seems quite bleak both India and Pakistan have signed few confidence-building measures in the past two decades. Even now, Pakistan has kept its options open and believes in a non-discriminatory international approach as far as the prospects of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament in South Asia are concerned.
Hence as India has been reluctant towards all the non-proliferation efforts by Pakistan; fears of war and escalation in South Asia exist. The vertical proliferation in South Asia could have been tackled in a better way if India would have acted responsibly towards the global efforts for non-proliferation. Looking at the current Indian military modernization and nuclear expansion it seems that it would remain less concerned about proliferation even in the coming years. The only way to curb this proliferation is by mainstreaming both India and Pakistan and universalizing the global non-proliferation regime by including both states. The purpose could only be served by adopting an unbiased and non-discriminatory approach.
*The writer is working as a Research Affiliate at the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), a non-partisan think-tank based out of Islamabad, Pakistan.