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Pakistan’s nuclear program

In anticipation of PM Nawaz Sharif’s visit to the United States earlier, the media was abuzz with the possibility of nuclear deal being offered to Pakistan. Nothing of the sort ensued as the Prime Minister on his return stated that Pakistan would not compromise its nuclear program under any circumstances. It was a befitting response to all the speculation as Pakistan should base any decisions on its national security concerns and whether it wants to be bounded by the rules of an unbalanced nuclear conduct.

The lure of signing a civil nuclear deal with United States is perhaps understandable for a couple of reasons. The strategic dynamics in the region were heavily tipped in India’s favor after it signed an agreement in 2008 which resulted in the removal of nuclear sanctions on India and allowed the US to share nuclear technology so that India could develop its civilian nuclear industry. The U.S.-led Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) waiver for India has allowed it to sign nuclear cooperation agreements with at least a dozen countries, allowing India to obtain nuclear fuel for its civilian nuclear program from NSG nations. This arrangement allows India to direct its limited indigenous reserves of fissile materials solely towards nuclear weapons production.

Moreover, The Indo-U.S. deal only requires India to separate its civilian and military facilities. It does not require India to cap its nuclear weapons production, unlike the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to which India is not a signatory. The double standards are there for everyone to see as India’s drive towards qualitative and quantitative improvement in its nuclear arsenal doesn’t seem to alarm the international community as much as Pakistan’s nuclear inventory estimated at 110-130 nuclear warheads. Similarly, the ever-increasing range of India’s intercontinental ballistic missiles with Agni V at 5000 km and Agni VI under development eyeing an estimated range of beyond 10,000 km has raised only a few eyebrows.

Furthermore, after the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal was signed in 2005, the NSG gave a special country-specific exemption to India in 2008 allowing it to receive nuclear exports from NSG members. At the time the exemption was given, Indian nuclear facilities were not under the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. They still aren’t. However, all of Pakistan’s current nuclear power plants are under IAEA safeguards, and it has expressed its willingness to maintain similar safeguards on new nuclear power plants and to obey the regulations in any future engagements in regular nuclear commerce with other NSG members, an opportunity that it has been denied for decades.

Pakistan’s concerns with regards to India becoming a member of the NSG are legitimate. Once India is let in, given decades of mutual hostility, India has enough incentives to block Pakistan’s entry into the nuclear supplying body. Many feel that the only possible solution would be a simultaneous entry into the NSG of both India and Pakistan. The two neighbors should be evaluated for nuclear deals based on the same criteria and they should be granted equal opportunities with regards to nuclear cooperation with other countries.

Pakistan is more than aware of the fact that any civilian nuclear deal, if offered to Pakistan, by the United States or any NSG country other than China, will come with conditions that will cripple Pakistan’s nuclear program. Therefore, if the US is serious about the de-escalation of tension in the region along with strategic stability, it would propose a deal that restores parity and takes Pakistan’s legitimate concerns into account.

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