India clandestinely diverted nuclear fuel from the Canadian supplied civilian nuclear reactor in Tarapur for conducting its nuclear test in 1974. Created in 1974 as a direct result of the Indian subterfuge the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) was meant to prevent in future what India had done, being tasked with regulating nuclear commerce for civilian uses and preventing proliferation of nuclear weapons.
On the back of the US-India nuclear deal in 2008, the Bush Administration applied immense political pressure to exempt India from the NSG’s rules on civilian nuclear trade when it was under US sanctions for proliferation activities. This double standards waiver was engineered when Pakistani’s letter vehemently objecting to it was suddenly and surprisingly withdrawn in Vienna during NSG deliberations at the last minute on the express telephonic instructions from President Asif Zardari. This unparalleled “personal” initiative appeased the US and India but it destroyed the original concept of the NSG and cost Pakistan dearly. It “officially” allowed India to expand its arsenal massively by using imported fuel for civilian nuclear reactors and replenish stocks for weapon production. “Harvard’s Belfer Center” and US think tank “Arms Control Today” confirmed that this defeated the very purpose why the NSG was created in the first place.
India’s 1974 blast forced Pakistan into its own nuclear weapons programme, the Pokhran nuclear blasts in 1998 made Pakistan respond in kind to ensure a deterrence capability. Had the mandate of NSG been faithfully adhered to, India would not have stood a chance with a non-discriminatory and principled criterion for membership. Even if non-signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) are to be allowed in NSG, it should have been on the basis of equitable criteria and procedures before the waiver was granted because even today India persists in diverting clandestinely imported fissile material from civilian to weapons use.
What about nuclear balance in South Asia? In an article published by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI), in Sept 2008 the writers correctly assessed that, “The action the NSG has been goaded into taking by the US has immense and incendiary strategic implications for South Asia, tilling the balance of power between India and its historic rival Pakistan sharply in India’s favor. It also rubbishes the basic principle of the nuclear regulatory regime the US championed earlier that States which pursue nuclear weapons will be “punished” by an embargo on all nuclear trade and those that adhere to the NPT will, in return, be assisted in developing civilian nuclear energy. And, as was foreshadowed in the events at the NSG meeting itself, it will intensify and complicate the ongoing and ever more explosive rivalry amongst the big powers for markets, raw materials, and geo-strategic advantage.” Unquote.
Having a triad of nuclear capable delivery systems of air, land and sea based short, medium and long range missiles, India can deliver SLBMs from nuclear powered submarines and is working on production of Hydrogen and thermo nuclear weapons. India has not fully separated its civilian and nuclear reactors despite the undertakings given when it got the NSG waiver in 2008. As the largest buyer of weaponry for its conventional military arms buildup, India has the potential many times over to pursue its aggressive “Cold Start” Doctrine against Pakistan. Pakistan’s development of Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs) and delivery systems is meant to neutralize India’s “Cold Start” doctrine. What is disappointing is that the apparent security threats to Pakistan from India notwithstanding, the Obama Administration is asking Pakistan to freeze its nuclear and missile programs without extracting an equal demand from India!
A Senate hearing on 24 May saw US Senator Markey saying something extremely relevant, “Since 2008 when (we) also gave them an exemption, India has continued to produce fissile material for its nuclear weapons programme virtually un-checked. At that time Pakistan warned us that the deal would increase the chances of the nuclear arms race in South Asia”. Some countries, led by China and Turkey, are resisting this pressure on principle, arguing that if any exception to the rules is made, it should apply equally to both India and Pakistan. Since all 48 member NSG decisions are made by consensus, even one member can block a decision.
India has not honored its limited commitments under the international non-proliferation regime that earned it the 2008 waiver, adhering to limited IAEA Additional Protocol as well as US laws (Hyde Act) for transparency in use of imported fissile material, agreeing to a moratorium on fissile material production for weapons use; signing and ratifying the CTBT and putting a cap on its nuclear weapons production. In the face of these obvious deficiencies, allowing India NSG membership will intensify the nuclear/strategic arms race in South Asia, undermine NSG’s credibility and will give India the legitimacy of a nuclear weapon state. Bent on using India as a counterweight to China, the US must realize the dangerous confrontation that will erupt in South Asia.
Ambassador Zamir Akram in his article “A Case for Nuclear-Non Discrimination” very aptly says, “Supporters of Indian membership into the NSG argue that inclusion in the group is only a matter of “prestige” and will not enhance India’s nuclear weapons capability even though such a claim is clearly a sham in view of the foregoing considerations. Even on the issue of prestige, exclusive membership of the NSG would provide India with the “legitimacy” of a nuclear weapon state and bring it into the nuclear mainstream. This would not only undermine the existing nuclear non-proliferation regime but would be discriminatory towards Pakistan. Moreover, since NSG membership is on the basis of consensus, India as a member would in future consistently oppose Pakistani membership of the Group.”
Pakistan’s robust Command and Control as well as Safety and Security measures, apart from other steps, are consistent with NSG guidelines. In Pakistan’s case there was no official complicity in proliferation, why is it being overlooked that Indian official entities were sanctioned by the US for proliferation activities? Pakistan’s full cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) on proliferation has in any case made it a closed chapter. Duplicity is part of the Indian strategy, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj has waxed eloquent about the Modi-Nawaz “warm relationship” and that India was not opposed to Pakistan joining the NSG, the “warm relationship” cannot justify undercutting national security.
In a worst case scenario, Pakistan will need to prepare for an adequate response to India’s entry into the NSG Club.
(A defense and security analyst, the writer acknowledges with gratitude expert advice from Ambassador Zamir Akram).