Nuclear tension in South Asia

By Deepika Jaitley

The cold war between India and Pakistan got accentuated when it was declared by the Washington Post that Pakistan has achieved a nuclear arsenal of over a 100 warheads which has made them the 5th largest Nuclear power, ahead of both France and England. This act of proliferation came about as a result of Pakistan’s retaliation to the inclusion of India as a member of key multilateral export control regimes that allows trade in nuclear and other materials and the unsuccessful ‘5th generation stealth fighter’ deal between India and United states.

The recent visit of Barack Obama to India had already got Pakistan concerned over its exclusion from the itinerary of Obama’s short tour of South Asia; even though it is considered to be a front line ally and has bore the brunt of the War on Terror in Afghanistan. Furthermore, the announcement made by the US for its support of the Indian waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Australian Group (which works to reduce the spread of chemical and biological warfare) and the Wassenaar Arrangement, a joint effort by many nations to control the transfer of traditional arms and dual-use technology, has become a major cause of concern for Pakistan.

Four years ago, the Pakistani arsenal was estimated at 30 to 60 warheads. Based on recently accelerated production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium, it is believed that Pakistan has actually managed to double its stockpile with current estimates of up to 110 warheads. According to certain unconfirmed reports, some Pakistani officials have indicated the amount to be even more (as it plays up to Pakistan’s advantage to overstate the number o f nuclear warheads) since it faces a comparative disadvantage in conventional warfare capabilities to India.

Given that both India and Pakistan are not signatories of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, Islamabad believes that Washington’s decision to support Indian membership of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group following its agreement to help India develop its civil nuclear power industry will help New Delhi to further increase its nuclear weapon arsenal. While Pakistan has produced more nuclear weapons, India is believed to have larger existing stockpiles of such fissile material for future weapons. The 2008 US-India civil nuclear cooperation agreement further enhanced the Indian long term capability to catch-up or even outrun their neighbors in the near future. On the other hand, Pakistan’s demands for a similar deal have been deflected by the US because of the instability within the country and fears of proliferation, or possible terrorist attempts to seize nuclear materials. This biased attitude of the United States has escalated the arms race in South Asia and it also poses a dilemma for the Obama administration, which has worked to improve its economic, political and military ties with India while seeking to deepen its relationship with Pakistan as a crucial component of its Afghanistan war strategy. The administration is caught between Pakistani suspicions that the US aims to control or limit its weapons program and favoring India because of its large markets.

Zamir Akram, who is Pakistan’s permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament, indicated that these recent developments would destabilize the security environment in South Asia and membership of the NSG will enable India to further expand upon its nuclear co-operation agreements and enhance its nuclear capability. As a consequence and a containment measure, Pakistan will be forced to take necessary steps to ensure the credibility of its deterrence. Furthermore, Pakistan’s National Command Authority, headed by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and a retired army general, has voiced concerns over Pakistan’s security situation and implications of the new civil nuclear co-operation deal between India and the US. One of the legitimate concerns for Pakistan is that with these recent developments India is likely to become an integral part of the system regulating nuclear technology. If that happens, even getting any equipment such as civilian reactors for power generation will be completely impossible. Given the ugly history between the two nations, the concerns shown by Pakistan over this new found partnership between US and India are legitimate and can cause havoc to the status quo of the peace situation in the subcontinent.

This strategy of rapid development of nuclear weapons and augmentation of stockpiles by both the countries has to come to an end to ensure a peaceful and nuclear free South Asia. Pakistan has its reasons for the doubling of its nuclear arsenal, and it is the only thing which still maintains the tenuous balance in this politically, economically and geo-strategically sensitive region. Furthermore, the hypocritical role played by the United States of just paying lip service to Pakistan assistance in the War on Terror, all the while enhancing India’s comparatively superior conventional warfare capabilities, have given Pakistan more than one reason to build up its arsenal and be prepared for the worst.

The only plausible solution to this conundrum is bilateral or trilateral dialogues that are productive, result-oriented and meaningful, and wholeheartedly pursued between all the relevant parties to maintain stability and peace in this region. There are two major incentives that seem to have particular appeal to Pakistan. One is a civilian nuclear energy deal like that being provided to India, with full safeguards on associated reactors. Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution also counts this as a significant game-changer for the US-Pakistan relationship as well as for Pakistan’s motivations in the War on Terror. Pakistan’s progress on export controls in the wake of the A.Q. Khan debacle has been good enough so far to allow a provisional approval of such a deal; if other things fall into place as well, including Islamabad’s compliance with any future fissile production cutoff treaty. Second is a free trade accord. Struggling economically, Pakistan needs such a booster shot in the arm, and a trade deal could arguably do even more than aid at this point. The Obama Administration should offer Pakistan a civilian nuclear energy deal as well as a trade program under a “much more expansive” US relationship with the key regional country as part of efforts to win back Pakistan’s trust and cooperation, and toward a successful outcome of the Afghan conflict.

Pakistan has always felt insecure about the diplomatic relationship between the US and India, and such an initiative – if ever made by the Obama administration can actually fend off such insecurities. But the key point is that Pakistan should be told that these deals will only be possible if the United States and its allies prevail in Afghanistan. Small gestures of greater helpfulness are not adequate; bottom-line results are what count and what are needed. If Afghanistan turns around in a year or two, the deals can be set in motion and implemented over a longer period that will allow the United States to continually monitor subsequent Pakistani cooperation in the war. These terms are really just common sense, and they are based on political realism about America’s domestic politics as well as its strategic interests, since there is no way the Congress would support such a nuclear deal if Pakistani policy ultimately contributed to US losing the war in Afghanistan.

The right policy for the Obama administration would be to go forward with their mission of building trust with Pakistan. The most recent strategic dialogue in Washington which proposed incremental increase of aid with a new five-year $2 billion aid package, encouraging Pakistan-India dialogue which could ultimately persuade Islamabad for safely moving its military forces from its eastern border to its western regions and coordinating militarily across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. These policy measures if implemented properly would not only help US attain a positive outcome of the War in Afghanistan, but in fact would actually prove to be a catalyst for attaining a peaceful and nuclear free South Asia.


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One Response to “Nuclear tension in South Asia”

  1. Tweets that mention Nuclear tension in South Asia « Deepika's Corner -- Says:

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