Ever since David Ignatius’ October 6 Washington Post article on a possible diplomatic blockbuster – a US-Pakistan nuclear deal – there has been a sense of achievement in the political, intellectual and military circles in Pakistan.
The possibility of such a deal has been hailed as Pakistan’s greatest achievements by some because that would, maybe, equate us with the Indian-US nuclear deal of 2008. But let us deeply analyse this reality before jumping to any conclusions and celebrations.
The first and foremost important aspect of this discussion is to understand the reality of the US-India nuclear deal. The discussion of a nuclear deal with India started in 2005. It materialised in 2008, and India was not been able to reach a single nuclear agreement with the United States or any other country till 2015. According to G Balachandran, a consulting fellow at the New Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, “The only nuclear cooperation that India has been able to conclude with any of the countries with whom it has nuclear cooperation agreements is in respect of nuclear fuel.”
India had to lower its target of installed nuclear capacity from 63GW by 2032 to 27.5GW, since none of the proposed projects have started. Last year, Russia agreed to setting up 10 nuclear reactors but that has nothing to do with the US-India Nuclear deal. Other than the prestige that comes with the name US-India Nuclear deal, there had been no practical effect of the deal for Indians Energy problems for the last 7 years after signing the deal. The question really arises, are we really vying for such a deal just because of our obsession with India?
What does Pakistan lose from a US-Pak nuclear deal? According to David Ignatius, we get “Possible new limits and controls on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and delivery systems”. That does not sound very encouraging, does it?
Peter R Lavoy, a long-time intelligence expert on the Pakistani nuclear programme, with close relations with the country’s military thinks that “There’s a political dimension with the Shaheen-III that I think is troubling to the US government, and to many other governments of representatives here in the audience, that now you will have the ability to reach many other countries, in the Middle East, for example, that Pakistan didn’t have that capacity in the past.”
So to sum it up, we will have to reduce our nuclear programme to secure a deal which might take three years to materialise and another seven years to start discussing about giving us a civilian nuclear reactor. And of course if anything unusual happens, this deal can be taken off by the Americans, like the F-16 deal in the past in which we got wheat for the money of the F-16s.
Maybe that is too cynical an approach. So let’s explore what we can get practically –US support for a US-Pakistan civilian nuclear agreement, possible membership of the 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and relaxation of the Nuclear Suppliers Group export controls.
We have already discussed how beneficial the US-Pak nuclear agreement can be by comparing it to the US-India deal. As far as the NSG is concerned, for now the symbolic significance of a place at the NSG carries no strategic weight for Pakistan, as it has explored alternative markets for its civil nuclear programme.
Pakistan has already been engaged with China, and to some extent with Russia, for its civil nuclear needs. China is involved in the construction of at least six nuclear reactors in Pakistan. Wang Xiaotao, a key official of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said at a press conference that “[China] has assisted the construction of at least six nuclear reactors in Pakistan with a total installed capacity of 3.4 million kilowatts.” Most importantly, China has never imposed any conditions on our military nuclear programme.
There is, however, another angle to this discussion. Even if we get the NSG membership and the member countries start trading with us in the nuclear domain, we will always be looked at with suspicion. Our track record will always keep us in the spotlight. For instance, on October 20, Congressman Ted Poe, chairman of the US Subcommittee on Terrorism, Non-proliferation and Trade, urged Obama not to engage in any negotiations regarding a US-Pakistan civil nuclear agreement. “Simply put, Pakistan’s current and past record is disqualifying for any consideration by the US to support civilian nuclear cooperation with Pakistan bilaterally’.
I am sure that even if the Americans deal with us and we become an active partner in Nuclear Suppliers Group, they, along with the Indians would continue to blame us. So the move would end up hurting our international standing in the long run despite all our efforts at strengthening the nuclear safety and security regime.
Other than the superficial argument of ‘whatever India wants, we want it too’ there is nothing for Pakistan in a civil-nuclear deal with the US. More importantly, we need to overcome our obsession with India and realise that we can make far better choices if we think independently for Pakistan.
We already have secured a 46 billion dollar deal with China without any preconditions from China on our military assets, including a major part of investment in resolving the energy crisis. Besides this, Pakistan has exceptional potential for solar, wind, coal and hydro-energy options to meet our energy needs. Worrying over a fruitless nuclear deal is absolutely needless.
The writer is an electrical engineer from NED and a PhD scholar in
Computer Vision from NUST, currently working as an assistant professor at Bahria University. Twitter: @1Umair7