Monday, July 11, 2011
6:37 PM ASIAN DEFENCE 2 comments
In his Naudero speech last month on the anniversary of Benazir’s birthday, Zardari claimed credit for the PPP for having started Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programmes, while denying any kudos to Nawaz Sharif for having carried out nuclear tests in 1998. Zardari was partly right.
As he said, the country owes a lot to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for starting Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Our nuclear capability has prevented Indian military adventurism and produced a measure of stability in the South Asian region.
Zardari’s other claim at Naudero – that it was Benazir who began Pakistan’s missile programme – is quite new and it is not true. Pakistan started planning on its missile programme in 1987, a year before Benazir became prime minister and the programme was continued under her and governments that followed. The first test of Hatf-1 was carried out in January 1989, three months into her first term but work on it had started earlier.
But more important and relevant today than the achievements of past leaders is the question what Zardari and his government have done to meet the country’s current nuclear challenges, in particular getting access to peaceful nuclear technology. Not surprisingly, he had nothing to say on that in the Naudero speech. The fact is that Pakistan has not made any headway in this area during the past three years, apart from the Chashma-3 and Chashma-4 plants that China has agreed to provide under an international agreement reached much earlier. While India has been given a waiver from the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) which bar nuclear supplies to countries that do not accept full-scope IAEA safeguards, the international embargo on Pakistan continues and the government has done little to have it lifted.
Zardari’s ‘contribution’, as we know from the WikiLeaks cables, was actually in facilitating the grant of exemption to India from the NSG guidelines. At a meeting with US Ambassador Patterson in January 2009, he reminded her that it had only taken a phone call from the US for the government to give up its opposition to a safeguards agreement with India at the IAEA Board of Governors meeting in July-August 2008. The approval of the safeguards agreement cleared the way for the grant of the waiver to India shortly afterwards. According to another WikiLeaks cable, Zardari told the US Ambassador in April 2008 that if he had his way, he would give the IAEA access to Dr A Q Khan.
Unlike Pakistan, the nuclear debate going on in India these days is not about which political party can claim laurels for having given the country its nuclear weapons. The debate is about further steps to enhance India’s nuclear status and to get unrestricted access to technology for uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing needed for the production of nuclear weapons. The ultimate goal is to get full recognition as a nuclear weapons state under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Delhi took the first giant step on this path when in September 2008 it obtained a waiver from the NSG. This has been followed by other initiatives. In August 2010, India and the US concluded an agreement giving India the right to reprocess spent nuclear fuel of US origin but without sufficient safeguards against its diversion for weapons purposes. India’s current efforts are focused on getting membership of the NSG.
On the whole, Delhi’s efforts to legitimise its nuclear status have been going well. But the Indians have recently been left guessing about the impact of a revision last month of the NSG guidelines on the transfer of uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing technology. Under the previous guidelines, the supplier countries were only required to ‘exercise restraint’ in the transfer of sensitive technology usable for nuclear weapons. The new rules, adopted at a meeting of the NSG at Noordwijk (Netherlands) on 23-24 June bar the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) technology to states that have not signed the NPT or do not allow comprehensive IAEA safeguards.
If applied to India, the new guidelines would not only bar the country’s access to advanced technology for boosting its nuclear weapons programme, but also amount to a rebuff to its quest for a nuclear status at par with the five nuclear weapons states recognised by the NPT. It is hardly surprising therefore that India has been crying foul. It has called the new guidelines a rollback of the so-called ‘clean waiver’ given by the NSG and has hinted that it will not buy nuclear reactors from countries which refuse to sell ENR technology.
But for the present India is not likely to push the NSG too hard because it badly wants membership in the group. The Indian candidature has the strong support of the US, Russia, France, Britain and Germany. Beijing has been non-committal so far. The Indian expectation is that China will eventually go along, as it did in 2008 over the question of India’s waiver from NSG guidelines.
It does not take much imagination to guess how India’s admission would impact on Pakistan’s interests. Even as a non-member, Delhi campaigned feverishly among the NSG countries to scupper the project for the construction of Chashma-3 and Chashma-4. Once India becomes a member of the NSG, it will get a veto over any future proposal to open up trade in peaceful nuclear technology with Pakistan.
Pakistan, though nominally an ‘ally’, has been getting a particularly raw deal from the US on access to peaceful nuclear technology. While other western supplier countries are falling over each other to sell nuclear reactors to India, the doors have been slammed shut on Pakistan. The ostensible reason is Pakistan’s record as a nuclear proliferator. This looks like a plausible reason but the real grounds are to be found in Washington’s strategic plans for the region. As the then US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, said in 2005, the nuclear deal with India was the first step towards “making India a global power” – as a potential counterweight to the rise of China.
A lot of the blame for our failure to get access to peaceful nuclear technology lies with us. Zardari, like Musharraf before him, has been loath to risk losing US favour by pressing Washington on this issue; and the opposition parties have been too preoccupied in petty politicking to give attention to major issues of national security. Nawaz Sharif has surrounded himself with the same old coterie of professional sycophants and fawning careerists whose self-serving counsel brought about his downfall in 1999. To this day, he continues to harp on his great moment of glory, the nuclear tests of 1998, not realising that the world has moved on since then and the nuclear challenges facing Pakistan today are of a very different nature.
Gilani has recently been complaining about the ‘discriminatory’ policy followed by the US in denying nuclear technology to Pakistan. He does not know that in diplomacy such moralistic arguments and pleadings cut no ice. US will only listen if it makes the calculation that its own interests will be better served if it stops denying nuclear technology to Pakistan. We could help Washington reach that conclusion by serving notice that if India is admitted to the NSG, and as long as Pakistan does not get nuclear technology on the same terms as India, we would continue to oppose negotiations in the CD on a fissile material treaty and, besides, will not sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Since the CTBT cannot enter into force without Pakistan’s participation, US will have to choose between the test ban treaty and keeping the nuclear embargo on Pakistan. It is to be hoped that Washington would then choose wisely: for the CTBT.