PAKISTAN has been a part of global nuclear order since the 1950s when it started pursuing peaceful uses of nuclear technology and after it became a declared nuclear weapon state in 1998. It has been influencing nuclear decision making in many multilateral forums for the past six decades. Pakistan therefore deserves to sit at the nuclear high table symbolized by the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Pakistan developed its modest civil nuclear programme first under the US-led Atoms for Peace plan and then through indigenous effort. From the 1950s to 1960s, Pakistani educationists focused on basic sciences and engineering which gave us a pool of qualified scientists and metallurgists, who over the years have sustained our nuclear programme.
From the 1950s to the 1990s, Pakistan remained a strong advocate of nuclear non-proliferation and wanted to keep South Asia free of nuclear weapons. It started to develop its nuclear weapons programme after two defining developments in South Asia: in 1971, India through military invasion broke up Pakistan into two parts and threatened to dismember its remaining territory; and it carried out its first “clandestine” nuclear explosion in 1974, nicknamed Smiling Buddha, and intensified its rhetoric to “punish” Pakistan. It conducted its second series of nuclear tests in 1998.
The weapons grade plutonium used by India in its nuclear tests of 1974 and 1998 was diverted from a research reactor provided by the United States and Canada under Atoms for Peace programme, which India had undertaken not to use for making nuclear bombs. After the 1974 test, the US and Canada and other members of the nuclear club were furious over this blatant breach of faith, and they in response to the Indian explosion created a Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to control export of dual use materials, equipment and technology that could be used to manufacture nuclear bombs.
Indian nuclear capability, accompanied by it intimidation to undo Pakistan, became an existential threat and Pakistan had to face a stark choice between impending annihilation for working on a deterrent that would safeguard its independence and territorial integrity. Even while Pakistan was developing its nascent nuclear capability, it explored, through the United National and bilaterally, several options for denuclearizing South Asia. To avert a nuclear race, it proposed a nuclear weapons-free zone in South Asia; a joint renunciation of acquisition or manufacture of nuclear weapons; mutual inspection of nuclear facilities; simultaneous adherence to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards on nuclear facilities; a bilateral nuclear test ban; and a missile-free zone in South Asia. India was unresponsive and dismissive towards all such overtures; and the international community did not lean on India. Pakistan showed restraint, and in 1998, only after India had conducted five nuclear tests, Pakistan went overtly nuclear. Literally, India forced Pakistan’s hand.
Pakistan is now an established de jure nuclear state – “de jure” because it never signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and therefore it violated no international law or norm in pursuing its nuclear programme, like India and Israel. This point is important to understand the debate on the demand for simultaneous entry of India and Pakistan into Nuclear Suppliers Group. Both are non-NPT nuclear weapon states; both should be judged by the same criteria.
Why is it important for Pakistan to become a member of the NSG? For legitimate and transparent trade in nuclear materials, technology and knowhow, Pakistan needs to join this club to sustain its civilian nuclear programme. NSG members, which are bound by their NPT obligations, will not hesitate to transact with Pakistan. Our Energy Security Plan has developed a Nuclear Power Programme 2050 envisaging generation of 8,800 MWe by 2030 and 40,000 MWe by 2050. I reckon these are modest goals subject to revision because our pace for civil nuclear energy is fast and the demand for nuclear-generated electricity is growing.
Now let us look at Pakistan’s credentials and diligence as a responsible nuclear state. In many areas, we are equal to India; in others we have outperformed India. Since 1998, to avert a war and an arms race in South Asia, Pakistan has consistently advocated nuclear and missile restraint, conventional balance and conflict resolution. Pakistan has more than 42 years experience in safe and secure operation of nuclear power plants under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. The separation of Pakistani civil and military facilities is much more distinct than India’s. Pakistan, for instance, does not have a fast breeder reactor programme. It has declared a voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing; so has India.
Pakistan has created a strong and resilient command and control system working under the National Command Authority (NCA), which oversees technical solutions, personnel reliability, and intelligence capabilities to deal with nuclear security, non-proliferation, accidents and terrorist threats; as well as counters insider, outsider and cyber threats. Pakistan’s state of the art Centre of Excellence on Nuclear Security has been judged one of the best such institutions by the US and IAEA officials.
Our autonomous regulatory regime, led by Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) and supported by a separate Nuclear Security Division, watches over nuclear safety and security, protection of materials and facilities, material control and accounting, transport security, prevention of illicit trafficking, border controls, and plans to deal with possible radiological emergencies. India, on the other hand, does not have an independent nuclear regulatory agency. Pakistan has harmonized its nuclear export control regime – laws and enforcement mechanisms – with the the NSG and other international export regimes covering missiles, biological agents and chemical precursors, and dual use technologies. Pakistan has been working closely with the UNSC Resolution 1540 Committee and has submitted four reports so far to it. Proliferation activities have been criminalized. Our consistent observance of the IAEA Code of Conduct and participation in the IAEA’s Incident and Trafficking Database (ITDB) have been highly useful and appreciated by the Agency.
Pakistan has been an active and constructive participant in the international forums – the United Nations, Conference on Disarmament, IAEA, Nuclear Security Summits, the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism – to promote responsible nuclear stewardship, peaceful uses of nuclear technology, and nuclear security and safety. Our efforts have been acknowledged by a large majority of nations and actors. As a party to the Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) and now its 2005 Amendment, the Nuclear Safety Convention, the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident, and the Convention on Assistance in the case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency, Pakistan has been contributing to the nuclear security framework.
The NSG gave exception to India in 2008 on the condition that it would take voluntary actions to contribute to non-proliferation regime. Pakistan has been doing that for several decades. On the other hand, India has been producing huge quantities of fissile material, under the cover of the 2005 Indo-US nuclear deal, to expand its nuclear weapons rapidly.
In the light of Pakistan’s impressive and comprehensive portfolio, which can be independently verified, there should be no objection to accepting Pakistan into the NSG. But four reservations on part of the US remain, which can be addressed upfront. The shelf life of the A.Q. Khan affair has expired. If India, the “original sinning proliferator”, can be pardoned and be readied for anointing as a nuclear power, Pakistan too can be incorporated in the club; especially when Pakistan has taken all the remedial measures including the depluming its nuclear hero. The Europeans countries, whose non-state entities were involved in illicit nuclear trade, closed ranks and took no action against them. Second, in the past two years, it has become evident that Pakistan has not been blocking talks in Geneva on a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) because Pakistan was not part of a Governmental Group of Experts that was created to develop consensus on FMCT in the absence of Pakistan but failed to do so. India, despite its solemn commitment to the US to help move forward the FMCT negotiations, has been quite lukewarm in its effort and in many instances obstructive. Third, sure, India has signed a Additional Protocol to the IAEA’s Safeguards Agreement. Pakistan can consider giving a commitment in principle to do so if there is a serious move to include Pakistan in the NSG. Fourth, Pakistan could hold discussions simultaneously with India, the US and China on the status of the nuclear test ban treaty.
China has taken the most forthright and principled stand on the question of India and Pakistan’s entry into the NSG. Both are non-NPT nuclear weapons states; both should be judged by the same yardstick; and therefore the NSG should first evolve an agreed criterion to take them in. There should be no exceptionalism for India to enlist it to counteract China’s rise. In this case strategic calculus should be set aside. Others – especially NPT non-nuclear weapon states – Norway, Sweden, Ireland, the Netherlands, Austria, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil – all should be queasy or concerned about inducting India into the club without a criterion. They are because this would be highhandedness flouting international norms. Washington should listen to the rumblings in the nuclear street.
Make no mistake. If India gets into the NSG, it will block Pakistan’s entry into the club for all times to come, by invoking the rule of consensus. Its first objective will be to choke off supplies for Pakistan’s civil nuclear programme. Its second, and more sinister, plan will be to target Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme by propagating that Pakistan is a volatile, terrorism prone country incapable of securing its nuclear assets or restraining its nuclear personnel. India will not succeed in this endeavour but its past conduct shows that it would certainly move in that direction determinedly.
Pakistan is neither a pariah nor a holdout but an active, constructive mainstream player in nuclear politics and diplomacy. It is high time its legitimate position is recognized. As far as the diplomatic campaign of our Foreign Office is concerned, it should reach out not only to those who oppose a lop-sided, partisan approach, but to those countries who seem to be leaning towards India and are amenable to Washington’s ‘blandishments’. It goes without saying that Washington, including its Congress, should be our most critical interlocutor. The US should pause, keeping in mind its own leadership on non-proliferation, the unintended consequences of actions driven by realpotitik, and its long-term interests with Pakistan.
—The writer is Director-General Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad and a former Ambassador to the UN and China. He was also Pakistan’s chief negotiator for Nuclear Security Summits from 2009 to 2015.