Mainstream Weekly

Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2010 > Pakistan’s Wish for a Nuclear Deal!

Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 16, April 10, 2010

Pakistan’s Wish for a Nuclear Deal!

Saturday 10 April 2010, by Priyanka Singh


Even before the dust could settle down after the India-Pakistan Foreign Secretary level talks failed to generate much hope on the roadmap of peace, there is furore on the possibility of the US offering a nuclear deal to Pakistan. Prior to the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, there was widespread speculation on a nuclear deal between the US and Pakistan similar to the India-US civilian nuclear agreement. At the end of the dialogue on March 25, both sides pledged “wide-ranging, long-term and substantive strategic partnership”. Minister of External Affairs S.M. Krishna expressed reservations on the issue and the US responded favourably by stating that no such pact with Pakistan per se was on the table.

The case of the US striking a nuclear agreement with Pakistan come up some years ago when the US initiated the nuclear deal with India in July 2005. George Bush, the principal architect of the nuclear deal with India, was never enthusiastic on prospects of having such an arrangement with Pakistan stating in clear terms that Pakistan should not expect the same. Bush, during his 2006 visit to the subcontinent, argued that India and Pakistan were “different countries with different needs and different histories”. The vehemence with which Bush rejected the idea brought into focus Pakistan’s dubious track record in the security of the nuclear material and the involvement of its top scientist in black marketing nuclear goods. This development put the then President Musharraf and the then Foreign Minister Kasuri on the defensive as there was a perception that Pakistan was left unrewarded after Bush’s visit.

Pakistan hoped it would be meted out with similar benefits as had been bestowed on India by the US during that period. Eventually, Pakistan was forced to find solace in the possibility of a nuke deal with China in the light of Chinese ambitions of playing a key role in the global nuclear industry. In fact, there are few takers for a nuclear agreement between the US and Pakistan barring some who argue that a deal such as this would pave way to effectively eliminate terrorism from Pakistan and the adjoining region.

Four years later in March 2010, US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson has reignited the debate of the US offering a nuclear deal to Pakistan while admitting that the issue could be revisited during the strategic dialogue with Pakistan. Patterson further noted that even though “non-proliferation concerns were quite severe, we are beginning to pass those and this is a scenario that we are going to explore”. The strategic dialogue was conducted in a euphoric setting being the first of its kind between the US and Pakistan. Notably, Pakistan submitted its long wish list asking the US to grant it a nuclear deal and assign it a role in talks between the Taliban and the West on Afganistan. With its own house in complete disorder, how does Pakistan wish to contribute meaningfully to peace in Afghanistan? This is a million dollar question.


Pakistan was carved out of India and this has probably shaped Pakistan’s thinking that it should equal India in all respects. The nuclear tests of 1998 are a clear example of this thinking. Similarly, the signing of the NPT and CTBT; Pakistan has repeatedly said that it would sign those treaties only if India does. The thinking is in sync with Pakistan’s irrational policy pursuits over the years which are more responsive and less innovative—rather these are innovative in a negative sense: applying terror tactics with relentless support to militancy and waging a proxy war against the adversary.

It would have been very useful if Pakistan had taken serious note of adopting India’s other virtues such as the healthy and uninterrupted democratic process and freedom of belief and expression. The balance of power in India is unperturbed in the most difficult of times—before both external and internal threats. There is a consensus on issues of national security between the intelligence, Army and the government. India’s armed forces are one of the most disciplined confining themselves to the barracks and not meddling with the power corridors. Also, the Army Chief in India does not dictate terms in a bilateral strategic dialogue as was the case in the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue in Washington recently. Besides, it is worth reiterating that come what may, India has never allowed any outside power to dictate its domestic or foreign policies. In addition, India has an undefiled record of non-proliferation and at the same time has participated responsibly in international disarmament initiatives. In a nutshell, there is no dearth of issues which India could role model for Pakistan. Had Pakistan lived 63 years as post-independence India has, such deals could fall in its lap invariably.

Pakistan should also appreciate India’s restraint on its usurped territory, PoK. Even though PoK rightfully belongs to India, it has never ever indulged in proxy techniques such as cross-border militancy to recover it. On the contrary, Pakistan has over the years unleashed terrorism and false propaganda to seize Kashmir—a territory which never belonged to it. The investigations post-26/11 refocused terror activities in PoK but India preferred not go ahead with surgical strikes to target militant hideouts located there. There is great of deal of learning for Pakistan which it could follow in this context as regards India’s stand. Take the case of the India-Pakistan wars: India has never acted belligerent; instead it has always resorted to war as a response to a serious security threat.


India has earned a place of respect in the international community with its restrained conduct. With regard to the United States, its relationship has undergone massive transformation especially against the US’ constant tilt towards Pakistan. The US was tough with India’s nuclear tests both in 1974 and in 1998 but did not hesitate to grant a nuclear deal when it was required. With Pakistan, the US will have to weigh the unintended repercussions before conceding a similar agreement. It is understandable Pakistan faces energy deficit but the prevailing security environment is certainly not conducive for the inflow of nuclear material. The country is in the middle of a war with extremist forces (not that India is not but the complicity of state in terrorism is peculiar to Pakistan and makes the case much more complicated) and it has become increasingly difficult to secure its domestic front. As a result, it would be impossible for Pakistan to provide assurances on worthwhile use of nuclear accessibility. Taking the cue from the past, Pakistan would also need to guarantee that the facility is free of the ISI’s disposal and Army’s discretion. Besides, a nuclear deal with the US seems unjustifiable for Pakistan in view of its poor non-proliferation record.

The US has been cautious to steer clear from giving Pakistan a nuclear deal like India’s. Nonetheless, it promised three thermal power plants in future. US envoy Richard Holbrooke stated that the dialogue between the two countries was not to India’s detriment. However, Holbrooke has recently not been in the good books of India due to his inapt statement on the Kabul incident. Therefore, it is for us to see how much meaning we could probably attach to his words. What possibly could be drawn conclusively from this event is that the US once again failed to assure India on its intention to urge Pakistan to get its act together on eliminating militancy targeted against India.

From the US perspective, President Obama has envisaged an ambitious non-proliferation/disarmament agenda and he is unlikely to compromise it easily. He understands that giving Pakistan what his predecessor gave India (read, nuclear deal) would be detrimental to his disarmament vision. India shares some of the concerns on the US offering a nuclear pact to Pakistan but more definitely it is not ungratified on the proposition. India has been dealing with a nuclear armed irrational neighbour for years. The US on the other side may find its goal of regional peace in South Asia and global disarmament still farther if it promises nuclear access to Pakistan ignoring its past track record.

The author is a researcher at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. The views expressed here are her personal.

ISSN (Mainstream Online) : 2582-7316 | Privacy Policy|
Notice: Mainstream Weekly appears online only.