GILANI CHARMS OBAMA BRINGS US NUCLEAR ENERGY CLOSE TO PAKISTAN

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Zahid Malik

Monday, April 19, 2010 – Many Pakistanis in Washington DC are getting shocked and extremely worried about fast deteriorating law and order situation in Pakistan. “A stage of helplessness and hopelessness has come,” remarked Mr. Mahmood, driver of my limousine, who took me and veteran journalist, Mr. Mahmood Sham, to a mosque called Darul Hijra, for Zohr prayers. But this is not the subject of my this week’s column.

Instead, as I accompanied the Prime Minister, Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, during his four-day visit to the US, therefore, I would like to inform my valued readers that Pakistan has almost succeeded in building, what is called, bridges of understanding, with the Obama Administration. Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, who represented Pakistan at the high profile Summit on Nuclear Security, attended by leaders from 47 nations, has not only conducted himself well but also charmed President Barack Hussain Obama and senior members of his Administration. This impression was further strengthened when Secretary of State Hilary Clinton called on him at the Four-Seasons Hotel, conveying positive signals before the Prime Minister, accompanied by his delegation, left for Andrew Air Base on his way to Pakistan.

In a nutshell, I gathered an impression that after a long time Pakistan is apparently off-the-hook on the issue of its much-maligned nuclear assets falling into the hands of extremist elements. There is no doubt in my mind that the confident Prime Minister Gilani went to Washington well prepared after meticulously doing all the necessary homework. He sent the right signals before landing in Washington by stating that he not only briefed President Asif Ali Zardari but also took into confidence the Parliamentary Committee on National Security and other stakeholders, an indication to his meeting with Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani about Pakistan’s stance on nuclear issue. That was a clear message that the entire nation is united, has developed a consensus on the nuclear programme and is on the back of its Prime Minister before he left for his crucial odyssey to Washington D.C.

It was in this perspective that the well-dressed, composed and reassuring Gilani interacted with his counterparts at the Blair House and the Convention Center in a relaxed manner, earning a fairly enviable position among the participants. I would say that a touch of unique genuineness was oozing out of his personality. “Gilani is a leader who means what he says”, a much read US columnist told me.

The warmth with which the American President congratulated Prime Minister Gilani on acquiring more powers through 18thConstitutional Amendment Bill as well as the felicitations by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh reflected the popularity and centrality of Mr. Gilani at the global event. These virtues and qualities of the Pakistani leader did serve the interests of Pakistan both at the Nuclear Summit and bilateral interaction with the US functionaries. At the Nuclear Security Summit, Pakistan was taken as a responsible nuclear State, a fact that contrasts sharply with the past when important powers raised accusing fingers towards the country, albeit on a biased basis. Not only, in no way, Pakistan was maligned by Mr. Obama or any of the visiting dignitaries and instead treated as a responsible nuclear power but the warm welcome and unprecedented protocol extended to him on all occasions and at all levels was a clear manifestation of the full trust US has developed in due course of time in the person and leadership of Mr. Yusuf Raza Gilani.

The meeting between Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani and President Obama at Blair House, ahead of the summit was the trendsetter wherein the US leader expressed full satisfaction over the safeguards applied by Pakistan for the security of its nuclear material. Obama’s message that US has no designs on Pak nukes was a clear and loud signal for those harbouring nefarious designs against Pakistan and were planning to raise concerns about the security of Pakistani facilities. No doubt, that was a big success and a snub to Pakistan’s enemies who had been propagating against the security of our strategic assets.

I believe that Pakistan has successfully pursued its case on three counts: First its nuclear assets are safe and there is no possibility of nuclear proliferation or their falling into the hands of rogue elements. Second: The country has 35-year experience of handling nuclear installations without any accident or mishap whatsoever, which is a proof that its manpower is sufficiently trained to run civilian nuclear plants. A proof of this is the efficient running of KANUP and Chashma energy plants. Third: It has capacity to produce enough nuclear fuel not only to meet its civilian nuclear energy plants demands but has also acquired the capacity to offer it to the rest of the world under IAEA safeguards. The offer of nuclear fuel services, contained in a national statement presented in the Nuclear Security Summit came as a surprise to almost all the delegates, diplomats and nuclear experts as it reflected the level of expertise that Pakistan has achieved and strengthened its case to demand non-discriminatory availability of civilian nuclear technology.

I may also mention that the Prime Minister made full use of the Nuclear Summit to seek access to civil nuclear technology saying that denying a deal to Pakistan that the US has already offered to India, would be discriminatory. The reluctance in Washington to supply nuclear technology to Pakistan, as extended to India, was due to concerns about security and proliferation. Now that the American leadership has given a clean chit to the security of Pakistani nuclear assets, there is nojustification to deny this technology to Islamabad as it offers viable solutions for energy shortages in Pakistan.

I think the objective of nuclear non-proliferation, safety and security could only be served and promoted through a non-discriminatory paradigm and that is also true in the case of Pakistan to get this technology on a non- discriminatory basis.

In my interaction with some of the US officials, diplomats and media persons I came to the conclusion that there is now a recognition in Washington that Pakistan and India will have to be treated on a par with each other when it comes to the issue of nuclear security and cooperation. Secretary Clinton in an address at the Louisville in Kentucky before the Nuclear Security Summit also said that the US was working with both India and Pakistan to make sure that their nuclear stockpiles were well tended and they participated in efforts to limit the number of nuclear weapons. I think she used her words very carefully by talking about both India and Pakistan despite the US nuclear deal with New Delhi. This indicates a realization in Washington that singling out Islamabad on an issue of strategic importance will send negative signals and harm the US interests in the region. Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley in a briefing also said that the US would like to see Pakistan included in a new arrangement rather than singling it out as a pariah State.

There was a general consensus that Prime Minister Gilani presented the Pakistani case in a forthright manner because, as I have mentioned earlier, every move was well planned and articulated superbly. I think the foundation-stone for broader partnership with the United States and a new dependable dimension in relationship between the two countries, was laid by Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who made out a strong case at the NATO Commanders’ moot in Brussels. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi also presented Pakistan’s case in an articulate manner at the London conference on Afghanistan as well as at the strategic dialogue the Foreign Minister had with the United States. All that made the real difference. During Washington visit, the first positive and encouraging remarks were by President Obama who during his meeting with Mr. Gilani assured that the US had no sinister designs on Pakistan’s nuclear programme. It was in fact a confidence in Pakistan’s capability to protect its nuclear assets.

The meticulously drafted national statement issued at the inauguration of the two-day Nuclear Security Summit was seen by the diplomats and analysts as a superb document. Through it Pakistan pitched its case for seeking civil nuclear deal emphasizing that denying an analogous deal that the US had already offered to India would be discriminatory. The statement urged the wider international forum that included nuclear suppliers to give Pakistan access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes in a non-discriminatory manner to meet its growing demand for energy.

Since Pakistan had to go for the nuclear option after Indian tests, the national statement very timely highlighted the vital need for Pakistan and India to engage in substantive sustained dialogue on all issues, including nuclear CBMs. That is a clear message to the US and the international community that limiting nuclear weapons or signing of CTBT is conditional to India and thus remove the possibility of any pressure on Islamabad in the future. In his intervention at the dinner session of the conference on 12th April, the Prime Minister told the audience that Pakistan had a robust nuclear security regime and this qualified for participation in civil nuclear cooperation at the international level.

In conclusion, I would say, I have no doubt that the Prime Minister represented Pakistan well at the Nuclear Security Summit and his meeting with President Obama was quite rewarding. With Obama’s statement expressing satisfaction with the security of our nuclear assets, our case for civilian nuclear technology has become more strong and I believe there should be no hurdle in acquisition of this important and much needed technology. However, it will be a long drawn process to fulfil the US safeguards. Until all the American Departments concerned have completed the formalities, it would be wrong to expect an announcement from Washington clearing the way for the provision of this sensitive technology.

At the end, it would be pertinent to mention that after the passage of the18th Amendment, the Prime Minister has become all powerful. I would, therefore, urge him to use his new powers and international acceptability to attract foreign investment and focus on the economic problems confronting the country. Now, his one point agenda should be to give a much-needed push to Pakistan’s economy and though Pakistan has emerged as a responsible nuclear State, yet we should not lower our guards and continue to fine-tune our nuclear programme in our vital national interests.

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