Bottomline | Playing Games

Pakistan tries to extract benefits from the Indo-US agreement

Pravin SawhneyPravin Sawhney

Why is Pakistan upset that President George Bush has denied it a deal similar to the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement? It knows well that it neither deserves nor desires such a deal. President Pervez Musharraf has said the agreement will upset the ‘balance of power’ in the region. His foreign minister, Khursheed Kasuri, has explained this by saying that ‘the US plan will encourage India to continue its weapons programme without any constraints or inhibition.’ He goes further and says that ‘the denial may lead to the unravelling of the NPT’, implying proliferation of nuclear weapons. Knowing well that their assertions are not correct, what exactly does Pakistan want?

There are two reasons why Islamabad cannot be considered for the India-type deal: its non-proliferation record has been awfully bad, and Pakistan’s nuclear programme is military-specific. According to the US, the prime objective of the civilian nuclear agreement with India is non-proliferation. This will be achieved by complete transparency into India’s civilian nuclear programme, and by capping its military programme in direct proportion to the growth of the civilian programme. For example, according to the separation deal, 65 per cent of India’s nuclear reactors and facilities will be under safeguards by 2014.

However, the top US official, Nicholas Burns, has already said that eventually 90 per cent of India’s nuclear programme will be safeguarded.

This shows the confidence that the US has in its ability to influence India on its strategic matters. This is, after all, something that the US has been doing since the early Nineties when Prime Minister Narasimha Rao was at the helm of affairs. Successive Indian governments for different reasons have been doing one better on its predecessor in kowtowing to the US. In the two Congress governments, Rao’s and the present one, economic prosperity has been given far greater importance than national security. The Vajpayee government took the unusually bold step on national security by the 1998 nuclear tests, but was soon overwhelmed with the need for close ties with the US. And India’s track record is what senior Bush administration officials will tell the US Congressmen to persuade them to accept the July 18 agreement with India.

Unlike India, Pakistan has never compromised on its nuclear weapons programme that has remained firmly under the army leadership. When in the early Nineties, the US offered more F-16 aircraft to Pakistan in return for capping its nuclear programme, it was the army chief, General Waheed Kakkar instead of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who openly said that, “F-16 or no F-16, Pakistan will not compromise on its national security (read nuclear weapons).” Similarly, the US tried its utmost to persuade Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to not follow India’s nuclear tests with its own tests in 1998, but the army chief, General Jehangir Karamat made it known that they were necessary ‘to restore strategic balance.’ It is not surprising that given its single-mindedness, Pakistan today leads India in ballistic and cruise missiles with respective defence forces. Surely, Pakistan does not desire a deal with the US that would seek to constrain its strategic programmes. So what is all this noise from Pakistan about?

Three things: First, Pakistan wants more nuclear reactors from China, something that Beijing cannot give after it joined the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2005. In the past, China built the Kahuta, Khushab and Chashma reactors that provide fissile material for Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. China has helped Pakistan maintain an operational level parity for a conventional war, a balance regarding nuclear weapons, and a lead in ballistic and cruise missiles against India. Pakistan now views an opportunity in the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement to make a case jointly with China to import more nuclear reactors (for weapon making). This is what President Musharraf would have certainly discussed with the Chinese leadership during his recent trip there. Second, Pakistan wants the US to help with its growing energy needs. For instance, Pakistan’s economy has grown by nearly 8.4 per cent in fiscal year 2004-2005, that is the fastest in the last 20 years. Pakistan, therefore, wants to be a beneficiary of the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), a concept well received by the developed nations including China and is likely to be accepted by the forthcoming G-8 nations’ summit meeting in Moscow. Under the GNEP, internationally monitored nuclear fuel centres will be set up by the five nuclear weapon powers on its soil to provide nuclear energy that is proliferation resistant to developing nations. Originally floated by Russia to end the Iran nuclear crisis, the concept has attracted Pakistan’s attention. The problem is that Pakistan already has nuclear weapons hence an exception will need to be made for the GNEP in this case. The US energy secretary, Samuel Bodman, was recently in Pakistan to examine how its energy needs could be met. And third, by saying that the Indo-US deal would upset the ‘balance of power’, Pakistan is putting pressure on the US Congress to scuttle the deal that may help India’s energy needs. If this is not possible, it hopes the US Congress will impress upon the Bush and subsequent US administrations to keep India’s nuclear weapons and delivery system’s programmes stunted. More than India, it looks like a win-win situation for Pakistan.


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