What should New Delhi’s response be to a potential nuclear deal between the United States and Pakistan that could eventually mainstream the latter into the global nuclear order? New Delhi’s initial reactions to media reports about a possible deal indicate that it would unambiguously resist any such move by the United States. In a recent Washington Post column, David Ignatius wrote that “the United States might support an eventual waiver for Pakistan by the 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, of which the United States is a member… the issue is being discussed quietly in the run-up to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Washington on October 22”.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs quickly responded to what Mr. Ignatius called a potential U.S.-Pak “diplomatic blockbuster” in the following words: “We’ve seen these reports and it is not for the first time this issue has surfaced. Whosoever is examining that particular dossier should be well-aware of Pakistan’s track record in the area of proliferation. When India got this particular deal it was on the basis of our own impeccable non-proliferation track record. That is the reason the U.S. gave us 123 Agreement in 2005 and that is why we got a NSG waiver in 2008. Pakistan’s track record is completely different, so we hope that will be taken into account in making any such decision”.
The Ignatius piece should be seen in the context of a number of important developments which should be taken on board by India while evaluating the merits of Pakistan’s admission into the nuclear order. The NSG has been organizing outreach meetings with Pakistan regarding nuclear exports for sometime now. Pakistan has also reached out to the international community to help end its status as a nuclear outcast and to be treated on par with India.
At the Hague Nuclear Security Summit in March 2014, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called for “Pakistan’s inclusion in all international export control regimes, especially the Nuclear Suppliers Group.” Pakistan also holds the key to the commencement of negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) at the Conference on Disarmament.
Moreover, China, whose consent is necessary for admitting new members to the NSG, has consistently supported Pakistan’s entry into the NSG. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited China in May this year, the Sino-Indian joint statement had an interesting sentence: “The Chinese side took note of India’s aspirations to become a member of the NSG, in a bid to strengthen international non-proliferation efforts”. A month later, the Chinese Foreign Ministry carefully balanced its support for India: “China has noted Pakistan’s aspirations for NSG membership”. Given that Beijing has previously opposed Washington’s efforts at helping New Delhi to get the NSG membership, the Chinese willingness today to consider membership for both India and Pakistan will influence the thinking in Washington and key Western capitals.
Pakistan-watchers in Washington do not think that the proposal for a nuclear deal for Pakistan would fructify anytime soon, and even if it does materialize, it will come with a number of conditionalities, many of them unacceptable to the Pakistan Army, the custodian of the country’s nuclear arsenal. Moreover, even if the negotiation process between the U.S. and Pakistan eventually leads to a civilian nuclear deal, there is absolutely no reason for New Delhi to lose sleep over it, unless, of course, New Delhi wants to get back at Islamabad for crying foul when the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal was being negotiated over a decade ago.
Critics of the U.S.-Pakistan deal advance a number of arguments why Pakistan should not be offered a nuclear deal by the United States. One, they point out that Pakistan has a terrible track record of nuclear proliferation and that a nuclear deal would be seen as rewarding such irresponsible behavior. Two, the argue that it would enable Pakistan to enhance its nuclear arsenal which, of course, is directed against India, making the latter more insecure. Third, they feel a U.S.-Pakistan nuclear deal will hyphenate India and Pakistan once again in the international discourse, something New Delhi viscerally detests.
Yet another objection is an emotional, if not substantive, one. Consider, for instance, the following remark of a senior Indian commentator on the potential U.S.-Pak deal: “it will show how hollow is the strategic relationship between India and the U.S., and why it would not be wise to trust the U.S. The India-U.S. nuclear deal will be eroded of much of its strategic importance bilaterally as result.”
Issues of national interest and strategy should be approached with clinical logic and incisive reasoning and pursued keeping in mind the long-term interests of the country. Rhetorical questions like “How can the Americans treat India and Pakistan in the same way?” do not meet the above criteria. To my mind, there are at least four sets of reasons why a ‘conditional nuclear deal’ between U.S. and Pakistan would be in India’s national interest.
First of all, Pakistan’s admission to the global nuclear order is good news for the international non-proliferation regime. An isolated nuclear Pakistan would not be in the interest of the international community or India. Critics of the deal would argue that given Pakistan’s well-known history of engaging in external nuclear proliferation, we should be wary of inviting it to be part of the global normative framework. To me, that is precisely the reason Pakistan should be mainstreamed rather than kept out. I am not sure having a terror-infested nuclear-armed state for a neighbor — operating outside the reach and supervision of the global nuclear institutions — is in India’s best interests.
Second, it is in India’s interest to ensure that Pakistan’s nuclear program is under international safeguards, if not control. It is indeed better for the international community to be in the know of Pakistan’s nuclear program, as far as possible, than having absolutely no clue about what it is doing with its nuclear material and technology. The only nuclear relationship that Pakistan has today is with China. How can such an exclusive and obscure nuclear partnership be better for India than having a Pakistan whose nuclear program is under continuous international supervision?
More importantly, the long-drawn-out process of mainstreaming will have a great deal of impact on Pakistan’s nuclear behavior and will most certainly bring the Sino-Pak. nuclear relations under international scrutiny.
Let us not confuse a nuclear deal with status alone. A nuclear deal is primarily about undertaking responsibilities and the constant demonstration of good behavior in exchange for an ability to engage in nuclear commerce and energy production. In short, the more the international control over Pakistan’s nuclear program, the better it is for India.
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(Happymon Jacob teaches Disarmament and National Security at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)