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American Pressure on Nukes– will Nawaz Sharif bow to save his administration?

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is all set to leave for Washington DC to meet President Obama on October 23rd in White House. His “experts” on foreign policy are giving impressions in private talks that the PM will raise the issue of Indian violations at the LOC and Kashmir  with President Obama. But they are  tight-lipped about what Nawaz is planning to do on the US pressure  to restrict testing and deployment of short range missiles and fissile material cut-off. Washington insiders say that the US is asking Pakistan to sign Nuclear test ban treaty ,without waiting for India to do it, in exchange for membership of the Nuclear suppliers Group (NSG).

For  White House it can be a diplomatic blockbuster–new controls and limits on Pakistan’s nukes and delivery system. The US administration considers  dialogue on nuclear assets important because they view it as one of the world’s most dangerous security problems.

A US source familiar with the talks, though Prime Minister House denies, revealed that Pakistan has been asked to consider what are described as “brackets”, which means Pakistan needs to  agree to restrict its nuclear program to weapons and delivery system which are appropriate to its “actual ” defence needs against India’s nuclear threat. Pakistan is also being asked to agree not to deploy missiles capable of reaching beyond a certain range. In return, the US is offering to use its support on eventual waiver for Pakistan by 48-Nation Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Nawaz Sharif

The close circle of Nawaz Sharif has denied any such sell-out but US media reports indicate that some top US officials are perhaps  convinced that strategic concessions can be extracted from Islamabad’s leaders in exchange for personal perks and political gestures.No doubt, it is a very  sad and alarming perception about Pakistani politicians that National Security of the country can be  sacrificed for job security.

No one in Islamabad is willing to talk on reasons why Gallop survey of Pakistan which is headed by Ijaz Shaffi Gillani, a close and long time associate of Prime minister Nawaz, managed to publish a survey in The News which suggested that support for a strong nuclear arsenal has decreased among Pakistanis  by 12 percent. Surprisingly, that survey was published during the time US National Security Advisor Susan Rice landed in Islamabad last month.

Former Ambassador of Pakistan to United Nations Mr Munir Akram strongly oppose this arrangement. He said that the subsequent quest for membership of the NSG is a fool’s errand. In the eyes of the West, Pakistan will never be a ‘normal’ state so long as it is Islamic and a nuclear power. It is unlikely to be granted entry into the NSG without major concessions. Western nuclear plants will not be sold to Pakistan, nor can it afford them.

Nawaz Sharif

On the other hand, Pakistan has mastered the nuclear fuel cycle. It is in a position to offer civilian nuclear cooperation to developing countries, including Islamic countries. It is the NSG which should be asking Pakistan to join the suppliers’ club to ensure that such cooperation adheres to international standards. There is no reason for Pakistan to plead for NSG membership.

In context of a devastating conflict between Pakistan and India, Pakistani leaders need to tell  President Obama that the US should stop India’s militarisation and seek military de-escalation and arms control in South Asia. But to succeed in this objective, it will need to put the hyphen back in its policies towards India and Pakistan. Strategic restraint by Pakistan will be possible only if it is mutual and reciprocal with India.

We need someone who could talk in a firm tone that the prospects of arms control in South Asia have been severely hurt  by the discriminatory restraints imposed against Pakistan by West , even as they tolerated and often encouraged Indian nuclear and conventional arms proliferation. Canada’s supply of a heavy water reactor — CIRRUS — to India outside international safeguards and US transfer of missile technology, in the guise of helping India’s space programme, are two well-known examples.

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