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The Decade Of Non-Proliferation Trends In South Asia – OpEd

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It has been more than two decades since Pakistan and India had carried out their nuclear tests. Since then, South Asia has come to the fore as a uniquely challenging nuclearized region of the world. The striking most aspect of this nuclearized region is the presence of three neighboring nuclear weapon states with rival history. Where the non-proliferation and disarmament efforts at the global level have significance, the volatility of South Asia and a continuous presence of escalation ladders have kept it more prone to the vertical proliferation of nuclear weapons with offensive doctrines and strategies. This volatility is directly and indirectly linked with India’s aggressive strategic expansion as well as its non-adherent behavior towards international nuclear norms. This threat perception and a series of provocative actions from India remain the vital cause of Pakistan’s principled stance of neutral based mainstreaming in international nuclear arrangements. 

Throughout this period, Pakistan and India both have been building up their nuclear arsenals in pursuit of their doctrinal and deterrence needs.  However, they have been suspended to conduct more nuclear weapon tests. With a gradual increase in individual stockpiles, both the nuclear-weapon states now appear to have developed their fully functional arsenals, deliverable by a triad structure that include; air, land, and sea-based platforms. Some of these capabilities are yet to be incorporated and tested successfully. After building infrastructure for extracting highly enriched uranium and production of plutonium, both the states have established politico-military institutions dedicated to the security, safety, and survivability of their nuclear weapon programs. Meanwhile, along with the international acknowledgment of functional nuclear arsenals in South Asia, the demand for non-proliferation by the international community has kept on increasing. However, this has been impacted by the need of keeping the region strategically stable yet holding deterrence alive. 

The fact remains that both India and Pakistan have been recognized as de facto nuclear-weapon states.  Neither of the two is a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), nor either of them has signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) due to criteria based exemption. Moreover, both countries carry individual reservations on the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) as well. While both the states remain active members of the Conference on Disarmament (CD), their roles have not always been considered constructive enough, by the international community, to be taken on board for international nuclear arms control arrangements. 

Pakistan, subjectively, is being alleged by the international community, especially by the west of growing its nuclear arsenal aggressively. This has been in practice along with the shadow of an accusation of horizontal proliferation for the past two decades. While falsifying the accused claims, Pakistan has repeatedly stood welcoming to any nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation arrangement. Nevertheless, Pakistan’s threat perception has been India centric, based on the relevance of the latter’s hostility as a significant national security concern. Consequently, Pakistan has kept its nuclear arsenal, posture, and nuclear doctrine with the same threat perception. Furthermore, Pakistan seeks for a non-discriminatory international approach towards nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Unfortunately, the biased approach of the international community towards the goal of non-proliferation like for instance, the favored grant of NSG membership to India has also been one of the biggest destabilizing factors towards regional non-proliferation. 

In a recent statement at the Conference on Disarmament, Pakistan laid out its concerns of proliferation and demanded some major steps towards non-proliferation from the international community as follows: 

  • A universal and equitable commitment by all states to complete verifiable nuclear disarmament, 
  • Elimination of the discriminatory and country-based approach in the current non-proliferation regime,
  • Normalization of the relationship among signatory NPT states with the three non-signatory NPT nuclear-weapon states. 

Such propositions depict Pakistan’s genuine approach to seeking the true essence of non-proliferation in the region.

Contrary to Pakistan’s approach, India has been pacing faster on its defense and strategic expansion to modernize its nuclear arsenal. In this regard, the recently recorded new weapon systems including the acquisition of S-400 along with the acquisition of BMD systems to advance its existing nuclear-capable aircrafts, land-based delivery systems, and submarine-launched systems are worth considering. With the acquisition of the latest delivery mechanisms, India has already enhanced its military plutonium production capacity of up to as much as 150 to 200 nuclear warheads. Likewise, the recent canisterization of missiles shows Indian evolving doctrine from ‘no first use’ to the probability of first use. Whether the Indian strategy is aimed at countering Pakistan or China, it remains highly violating in nature and non-adherent towards non-proliferation. 

Hence, India stands reluctant towards non-proliferation and so Pakistan in response. Comparatively, South Asia could have better tackled the vertical proliferation if India would have been acting responsibly towards global non-proliferation efforts. While the disarmament holds no prospect in South Asia, vertical non-proliferation seems to be vague and unachievable too. India’s growing sense of China-centric nuclear posture and Pakistan-offensive expansion of its nuclear arsenal would likely keep the region on the verge of greater instability. This would be further characterized by India’s lesser concern of non-proliferation efforts in the coming decades as well. Mainstreaming both parties and universalizing the global non-proliferation regime with the inclusion of Pakistan and India following an unbiased approach would only serve the purpose. Only this could produce any fruitful outcome for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and fissile material in the region.

*Hananah Zarrar is a Research Associate at the SVI, a nonpartisan think tank based in Islamabad.

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