By PR Chari
Pakistan is at it again. Whenever it is in trouble, Pakistan turns up the volume of its anti-India rhetoric. Suicide terrorism is taking a daily toll of lives in Pakistan. Its Afghanistan policy is going nowhere. The Pakistan army is obsessed with gaining ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan, and has drafted the Taliban to achieve this objective. But, elements of the Taliban have turned against Pakistan, and are indulging in sustained, uncontrollable violence within the country. The assassination of Salman Taseer – a voice of reason raised against Pakistan’s medieval blasphemy laws – highlights the growing Islamization and chaos in Pakistan. Taseer’s murder was condemnable, but the horrifying fact is that his assassin has become a national hero. Rose petals were showered on him when he was produced in court. Lawyers are flocking to defend him. Liberal opinion in Pakistan, on the other hand, has been marginalized.
In true Nero-fashion Pakistan has now blocked negotiations on the Fissile Materials Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) in Geneva. Its Ambassador, Zamir Akram, has argued that by ceasing fissile materials production, Pakistan would concede a ‘strategic advantage’ to India. The WikiLeaks inform that Pakistan is currently manufacturing nuclear weapons faster than any other country, according to a cable sent by the US embassy in Islamabad to Washington. A recent study by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists also informs that Pakistan possesses more nuclear weapons than India, but is feverishly manufacturing fissile materials to further enlarge its inventory. Nuclear weapons are not comparable to conventional weapons, and adding to their numbers beyond a point makes no sense. But, this logic is unlikely to impress Pakistan, whose defense and foreign policy is basically driven by the obsessions of the Pakistan Army. Zamir Akram had another grouse. President Obama had pledged to assist India’s admission into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Australia Group and the Waasenaar Arrangement during his visit to New Delhi last November. Delivering on that promise the United States has very recently removed export controls on several Indian space and defense-related organizations, signaling a new era in US-India nonproliferation cooperation. Zamir argued that this represented a “paradigm shift in strategic terms.”
Pakistan is actually hoping to somehow revive the debate on the Indo-US nuclear deal that was generated in 2008 when that deal was under process. The Bush administration had hammered that deal through the US Congress, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), despite reservations voiced in some countries, collectively named the White Knights. Pakistan is seeking a similar dispensation, and China is working hard to provide Pakistan a comparable nuclear deal by supplying two more 300 MW atomic power reactors for its Chashma complex. Without going into the legal complexities involved, it should be noticed that China needs to place this matter before the Nuclear Suppliers Group for getting its prior approval. A similar approval had been obtained by the United States before finalizing the Indo-US nuclear deal. China is reluctant to pursue this route in the knowledge that the NSG may not endorse this deal between two blatant proliferators in the international system.
Reverting back to the collaterally damaged and stalled FMCT negotiations Rose Gottemoeller, Assistant Secretary of State, has unequivocally declared: “Let me just place full emphasis and priority today on my main message, which is to launch the negotiations this year on a fissile material cutoff treaty in the Conference on Disarmament.” She added: “That is a kind of general time frame,” though 2011 was not a “specific deadline.” In diplomatic language these words amount to expressing extreme displeasure with Pakistan, and with good reason. The 65-nation Conference on Disarmament transcended a ten-year deadlock in 2009 by agreeing to address four issues: nuclear disarmament, a fissile material cut-off pact, the prohibition of space-based weapons, and an agreement on non-use of nuclear weapons by nuclear-armed countries against non-nuclear weapon states. Pakistan has reneged now after endorsing this plan, which derails President Obama’s hopes to operationalize his disarmament agenda; hence, Gottemoeller’s subsequent threat: “If we cannot find a way to begin these negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament, then we will need to consider options.”
And, what could be these options? Most effectively, by stopping financial assistance to keep a bankrupt Pakistan afloat. And, cutting off arms transfers, which includes spares and ancillaries, would heighten pressure on Pakistan’s armed forces who are its real rulers. Can the United States afford to ignore Pakistan’s logistics support to sustain the American and ISAF operations in Afghanistan? Will China bail out its distressed ally by defying the international community in this effort, and promoting a further closing of ranks by its neighbours? The United States and China will, no doubt, weigh all their options carefully. Pakistan seems likely to witness interesting times.
Visiting Professor, IPCS
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