Pakistan Has to Be a Normal State to Qualify for a Nuclear Deal

Written by: A. Vinod Kumar


Call it the ten year itch – of how an exceptional treatment given to India, through a nuclear deal, was consistently gainsaid by a section of the American strategic community, who predicted the certain unravelling of the non-proliferation edifice and instability in South Asia as a result of the deal. A decade after the US-India deal, they seek to ‘correct the imbalance’ by hoping for a similar arrangement – a waiver for Pakistan from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) that could facilitate its entry into the non-proliferation mainstream, and possibly provide oversight over its nuclear programme. One prominent outcome of this campaign is the Stimson Centre-Carnegie Endowment report, which presents Pakistan’s desire to be a ‘normal state possessing nuclear weapons’ (unlike India’s status as an advanced state with nuclear technology), and calls for ‘mainstreaming’ it through some novel nuclear weapons-related initiatives, if not the commercial pathway.

The arguments put forward are passionate: (a) it’s a question of basic fairness: Pakistan deserves the same treatment and status in the nuclear order as India – reminding us of the famous ‘hyphenation’ that Americans are apt at. (b) It’s also about stability: the subcontinent will be unstable if neighbours are treated differentially, with India accorded ‘favoured treatment’ and Pakistan remaining an outlier – implying that the ‘favour to India’ remains the irritant. They go on to surmise that “providing Pakistan with same benefits as India will stabilize the nuclear competition”. After years of branding the subcontinent as a nuclear flashpoint, they do not seem to mind the competition anymore, only if it’s an even contest.

Lot many arguments are being propped up to orchestrate the potential deal – that Pakistan has the fastest growing arsenal; it will deploy tactical nuclear weapons (Nasr), which will be hard to secure; bringing Pakistan into the safeguards ambit will enable a check on its nuclear programme, and so on. Interestingly, unlike India’s case, which was reward for an exemplary record, this campaign is to check the tantrums of a perpetually problematic nation. Pakistan fuelled the alarmist crowd by feverishly expanding its nuclear arsenal and fissile production, besides keeping an active nuclear trading channel with China. With a sympathetic audience in place, every action and report seems to be only underlining the imperative of the deal.

While these are early days to assume if Pakistan will ever get such a deal, and whether it will muster support at the NSG, there is a counter-argument that may reverberate throughout this campaign – the reasons why Pakistan was not considered for such a deal in 2005 remains as relevant today as it was then. In contrast to India’s status as a vibrant democracy, Pakistan was then under a military dictatorship and torn apart by extremism. Though democracy has made a gradual comeback, the military continues to have a stranglehold over the nation, and the arsenal, with no let-up in the security situation. Unlike India’s economic surge, strife-torn Pakistan continues to struggle on basic economic indicators. None though mattered then as much as the dread created by the A.Q. Khan clandestine network, which, along with the Jihadi Frankenstein that Pakistan had fostered, gave it the unique distinction of being the global hub of terror and proliferation.

As this label stuck on, Pakistan’s nuclear posturing over the past decade has not helped matters either. Besides the hectic expansion of its arsenal and flaunting its tactical nuclear prowess, Pakistan’s role in causing the stalemate at the Fissile Materials Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) talks had underlined its inability to play a responsible role in global non-proliferation efforts. Its historical record too is hardly impressive. After supporting the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) resolution of 1968, Pakistan refused to sign the treaty, citing India’s rejection – a posture it emulated on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) as well. Following India’s 1974 Peaceful Nuclear Explosion (PNE), Khan clandestinely mobilised resources for the Pakistan nuclear and missile programmes, with assistance from China and North Korea, which then flourished into a nuclear black market with the technology being distributed to other proliferators.

Thanks to US propensity to overlook these indulgences, Pakistan has escaped any punitive action of consequence for either Khan’s felonies or for the terror infrastructure that launched the global jihad. Following post 9/11 US campaign in Afghanistan, Pakistan became its frontline state and non-Nato ally, which gave the cover for past crimes to be absolved and aid to flow in. This being the backdrop, does Pakistan deserves an exceptional treatment as given to India. Can a nuclear deal turn Pakistan into a ‘normal nuclear-armed state’ that will play a responsible role in the non-proliferation system and stop supporting cross-border terror?

Votaries of the potential nuclear deal are themselves unsure on whether Pakistan will be open to such pre-conditions that will be essential tenets of a deal. It will, though, be worthwhile to highlight some of perils that could come by, and the gains Pakistan could accrue from a deal.

  • Rewarding the Army

The Pakistani nuclear arsenal is in absolute control of its Army, with the prime minister only a civilian figurehead of their National Command Authority (NCA). That the Strategic Planning Division (SPD) is in charge is underlined by the legendary service of Gen. Khalid Kidwai for over two decades in securing the arsenal. It will therefore be difficult to assume that the Army will allow any kind of external oversight or loosen its grip over the arsenal. Moreover, even a physical separation of civilian and military facilities will hardly diminish the military control over the arsenal or even the civilian programme. Certainly so, a nuclear deal will imply rewarding and legitimizing an Army that is scuttling a democratic process and running proxy wars in the neighbourhood?

  • Will Pakistan come clean on terrorism?

Many reports suggest that one of the stringent conditions for getting a nuclear deal will be getting Pakistan to commit on ending support to cross-border terrorism. Leave alone Pakistan, no state ever endorses their culpability in any terrorist action or designs, nor are they expected to abort any such proxy means which serves their strategic interests. While Pakistan has always claimed only ideological affiliation with militant groups, none of its promises on ending state support to such groups has ever been fulfilled (the LeT-Hafeez Saeed combine and Haqqani network being simple examples). Even giving a formal undertaking to desist from supporting such groups will imply that it has been fomenting cross border terrorism in the past. Pakistan has used low intensity conflict in Jammu and Kashmir and support to anti-India groups as a time-tested countervailing force against India, which a NSG waiver can hardly compensate.

  • Changing the nuclear equation with India

It is a known fact that Pakistan perceives its nuclear weapons as not just a hedge against India but also as a currency of survival – ensure no external intervention to seize the weapons or force political/territorial change. Nuclear weapons are seen as an equalizer to India’s conventional superiority, and also a means to constrain any form of Indian responses (sub-conventional, conventional or nuclear) to Pakistan-aided low-intensity conflict. In other words, strategic deterrence for Pakistan entail full-spectrum deterrence against India, backed by ambiguous redlines on nuclear first-use. Committing to a recessed deterrence posture or limiting short-range missiles and tactical nuclear weapons will be seen as lowering the guard, especially with its fears over India’s Cold Start (which was a response to Pakistan-aided LIC) and missile defence capabilities.

Without palpable compromises on any of these aspects, what shape can a potential nuclear deal take to the satisfaction of all parties? Given its obsession over the Indian deal, Pakistan is unlikely to accept any arrangement that does not allow it to maintain a Strategic Fuel Reserve or uninhibited access to global nuclear commerce, along with membership to various export-control forums. Neither is it expected to sign the CTBT before India does, nor go beyond the commitments expected of India by the 2005 Joint Statement.

While these realities point to the improbability of a consensual nuclear deal, supporters of this initiative should consider an alternate route to facilitate Pakistan’s transformation into a ‘normal’ sovereign state, which will bring natural support for such causes. Pakistan’s well-wishers should cajole it to build its democratic institutions, withdraw the Army from the mainstream, dismantle its terrorist infrastructure, enter into fruitful dialogue with India with realistic objectives and work towards a peaceful regional security architecture in Southern Asia that will enable free movement of goods and people. A ‘normal’ Pakistan is certain to get India’s support to access global nuclear commerce and build its energy infrastructure to power its economy and ensure electricity and development for its impoverished population.

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About the Author: A. Vinod Kumar

A. Vinod Kumar is author of India and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime - The Perennial Outlier (2014). He is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi. His research and writing interests are spread around nuclear issues, missile defence, Indian foreign policy as well as domestic Indian politics. He ...

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