US-Pakistan nuclear deal: Why India should see America is no friend

In other words, New Delhi’s security is not of concern to Washington, despite our so-called strategic partnership.

 |  4-minute read |   13-10-2015
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That the United States should be contemplating a nuclear deal with Pakistan in connection with Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Washington on October 22 makes little sense. Judging by a Washington Post report by a senior columnist, it appears that some move in this direction is under internal discussion in the Obama administration. The report cannot be ignored because of the timing and the standing of the columnist who was briefed. Our spokesperson has, therefore, taken note of it and questioned the rationale of a nuclear deal with Pakistan in view of its proliferation record. That the US has not denied the report, which it could have done to scotch speculation that could damage its relations with India, indicates that it could have some basis.

Deliberate move

Pakistan has been sore about the nuclear recognition given to India by the US and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). It has repeatedly characterised the India-US nuclear deal as a security threat that justified the expansion of its nuclear arsenal and concomitant delivery capabilities. It has deliberately fed fears of a possible nuclear clash in the subcontinent if its sense of insecurity was not addressed by receiving equal treatment from the US. In this it has been aided by sundry Western non-proliferation experts who believe that the US could have struck a harder nuclear bargain with India, and not having done that, a compensatory move would be a nuclear deal with Pakistan. This would remove Pakistan’s sense of grievance at being discriminated against, give it an incentive to limit the expansion of its nuclear arsenal, and help in stabilising the nuclear situation in the subcontinent.

The US has until now differentiated India’s case from that of Pakistan, declaring at various times that Pakistan was not eligible for an India-like deal. But the US has not used language that categorically ruled out a deal, which might explain why Pakistan has persevered in seeking one despite its well established delinquency in nuclear matters. In its calculation the great forbearance the US has historically shown towards Pakistan’s conduct in nuclear matters leaves open the possibility of securing a nuclear deal from the US to obtain parity with India.

The US, to recall, has not applied its nonproliferation laws to disrupt the long-standing China-Pakistan nuclear and missile nexus. Even now it has not opposed China’s decision to set up addition nuclear power plants in Pakistan in violation of its NSG commitments. It prevented the full exposure of the involvement of the Pakistani civil and military authorities in the AQ Khan proliferation scandal.

Disruptive tactics

It has tolerated Pakistan’s disruptive tactics at Geneva on fissile material control negotiations. While expressing concern about South Asia being a nuclear flashpoint, it has not rebuked Pakistan for periodically threatening India with nuclear arms. The US government has officially ignored American reports that Pakistan is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal to potentially become the third largest holder of nuclear weapons. Pakistan has been spared sanctions that the US has robustly imposed on Iran and even Russia.

The US’s over-indulgence of Pakistan is difficult to explain. Pakistan’s terrorist affiliations are well known. The US itself has been a victim of these on its own soil and in Afghanistan. Six of its nationals were killed in the Mumbai terrorist carnage in 2008. Many Pakistanbased jihadi groups are on the UN list of terrorist entities. Osama bin Laden was given refuge in Pakistan. India has long argued that its nuclear capability gave Pakistan a sense of immunity in conducting terrorist acts against us, without the US taking cognisance of this fact and acting to curb Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and its irresponsible nuclear threats, not as a gesture to us but in pursuance of its own nonproliferation commitments.

According to the Washington Post report, the underlying US reasoning for a nuclear deal to Pakistan is astonishing. In return for an NSG waiver, Pakistan will be asked to restrict its nuclear programme to weapons and delivery systems that are appropriate to its actual defence needs against India’s nuclear threat, and not to deploy missiles beyond a certain range.

Nuclear threat

This implies that India poses a nuclear threat to Pakistan — not the other way round — and that Pakistan is justified in possessing weapons and delivery systems to counter India. In other words, India’s security is not of concern to the US, despite our so-called strategic partnership. The US is willing to legitimise Pakistan’s nuclear and delivery capabilities so long as India alone is the target. Pakistan has always maintained that its nuclear and delivery capability is India centric. It has sought an India-Pakistan strategic balance, omitting from the equation the China factor that India has to contend with. China, we know, opposes India’s NSG entry without Pakistan. It seems the US might be willing to accommodate both China and Pakistan if the latter limited its nuclear threat to India. Why the US would want to offer a nuclear deal to Sharif when the real reins of power in Pakistan are in the hands of army chief General Raheel Sharif and Pakistan’s nuclear programme is under military, not civilian, control, is puzzling.

The Washington Post report allows that the deal offered by the US may not be acceptable to Pakistan. Even if the US-Pakistan dialogue fails for the moment, the US has introduced uncertainty about its strategic intentions towards India.


Kanwal Sibal Kanwal Sibal

Former Foreign Secretary

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