WEB DESK: If contents of a Washington Post op-ed are to be believed, a Catch-22 predicament awaits Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif when he meets President Obama later this month.
Said to be an unofficial spokesman of the American government, the newspaper says Pakistan is likely to be offered a civil nuclear deal, like the one now in place with India, in return for ‘new limits and controls on Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal’. As to what those limits and controls are, the author of the write-up understands that Pakistan “had been asked to consider what are described as ‘brackets’.
“Pakistan would agree to restrict its nuclear programme to weapons and delivery systems that are appropriate to its actual defence needs against India’s nuclear threat … Pakistan must agree not to deploy missiles capable of reaching beyond a certain range”. Should Pakistan accept these limits and constraints the United States “might support an eventual waiver for Pakistan by the 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)”.
Prima facie this is indeed a tempting bait – Pakistan has been trying hard for membership of the NSG and seeking civil nuclear agreement with the US government on a non-discriminatory basis. The question whether Pakistan will bite this bait has no easy answer, given that the proposed barter aptly fits the parameters of the India-favourite ‘limited war’ doctrine?
The proposed limit on the reach of its nuclear-armed missiles tends to determine that an armed clash between Pakistan and India is confined to border regions, as against Pakistan’s warning of a ‘full spectrum’ retaliation.
Of late, a section of international media, particularly India’s, has been at work selling the American proposal. There was this opening shot by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace sham study that Pakistan is furiously engaged in making nuclear bombs and may soon be the world’s third largest nuclear power.
Then India’s premier daily, The Hindustan Times was right on spot with its “A fictional nuclear war scenario”, which describes how the Indian military doctrines of ‘Cold Start’ and ‘Limited War’ would play out should the two nuclear rivals clash stemming from border skirmishes at the end of which Pakistan is the net loser.
Limits and constraints, so very often bandied around in the name of safeguards and safety controls, tend to undermine Pakistan’s doctrine of maintaining minimum credible nuclear deterrence. Given the growing conventional asymmetry, Pakistan remains committed to its national resolve to “maintain full spectrum deterrence capability in line with dictates of credible minimum deterrence to deter all forms of aggression, adhering to the policy of avoiding arms race,” says the National Command Authority. And the same is expected to be the prime minister’s response to his host in Washington.
But by no means it is a still born proposal and that by biting this bait Pakistan would be losing its nuclear teeth. Pakistan should go into discussion constructing engaging Americans, primarily seeking mutual understanding and if possible agreement on three basic issues. One, the proposed civil nuclear deal should be the ditto copy of the one the US made with India. India was allowed to keep its fissile material stocks unaccounted for and there is no check these are being used.
Also as in case of India the Pakistan’s non-NPT position should not be a bar to its membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Two, Pakistan became a nuclear state not by design but by compulsion after India conducted its ‘Smiling Buddha’ tests in 1974. And now that it has acquired nuclear weapon capability its strategic assets are absolutely safe and secure.
Three, the United States should move forward from its ‘statements only’ position, and help put on ground a conflict resolution mechanism. If the two countries could bilaterally resolve their differences and disputes they would have overcome these challenges by now. But that has not happened, necessitating mediation and intervention by others, specially the United States.