An Editorial in India’s NORTHLINE newspaper of October 16 makes interesting reading. The fact that it is written by a former Foreign Secretary gives it some importance even though not all retired foreign secretaries are equal. The title of the article says it all—“US-Pakistan Nuclear Deal: Why India should see America as no friend”. It could easily have been—: “How Dare the US even think of a Nuclear Deal with Pakistan”. So far there is no official indication that the US wants to discuss any sort of nuclear deal with Pakistan but there have been reports in the US media and two credible writers have authored articles suggesting such a possibility — David Ignatius and Sanger. So perhaps something is in the offing or is being considered. The article suggests that a prompt denial of the media reports would have assuaged Indian outrage and in the absence of such a denial “speculation could damage its (US) relations with India” — the message to the US being that deny these reports pronto or else. Else what?
According to the media reports the talks with Pakistan on this issue if they do take place will be led by Peter Lavoy from the White House. Lavoy is an old South Asia Hand and knows the score. If indeed he leads the US side then he will do so competently, objectively and impartially. This is an aspect that has been ignored. The US will do what is in its interest to further its policy in South and West Asia.
Also ignored is the possibility that the US on its own has come to the conclusion that Pakistan has made a paradigm shift in strategic direction and has to be brought on board on the basis of converging interests and not the transactional agreements of the past. After all Pakistan has evolved a unique civil-military relationship to suit its own environment — a relationship that sustains democracy and brings the organizational and structural strength of the military in support of the elected government so that the immediate vulnerabilities being exploited by ‘others’ to destabilize and isolate Pakistan are defeated and all institutions strengthened for effective orchestration of state power. Not everyone is happy with these positive developments it seems!! There is probably a conviction that by raking up the past you can fog the present and also that the US will buckle under intimidation, threats and imagined fears—not a very complimentary view of an ally, especially an ally who is bending over backwards to woo you!!
Pakistan has stated clearly and unambiguously that it wants peace and a resolution of issues with its eastern neighbor through a dialogue. Pakistan has also made it clear to the world that it is for peace and stability in Pakistan and that it is not supporting and will not support any faction that is bringing violence and instability in Afghanistan and will do its best to bring about reconciliation through talks. Pakistan’s leadership has also determined and stated that its main security threat is internal and that its vulnerabilities are being exploited by ‘external forces’ in multiple ways. It in on the basis of these declared facts that Pakistan has developed responses and capacities that are delivering results and rapidly sidelining threats. Threatening any neighbor or supporting any faction that creates internal problems or jeopardizes bilateral relations is not a part of Pakistan’s present strategic response. With its focus on present and future economic challenges and opportunities Pakistan will not be side-tracked into actions that distract it. So no amount of ranting about a civil-military divide or military domination or past events will change the perceptions of the present reality. Pakistan is not the only country that has concerns about the country specific US-India Nuclear Agreement under which India gets access to nuclear trade and gets away with unsafeguarded military nuclear facilities with only its civilian facilities under safeguards. The boost that India gets for undetected fissile material production is what the FMCT needs to address and this certainly raises concerns in Pakistan. Pakistan has said that its nuclear program is security or insecurity driven because of the existing and rapidly growing asymmetry in the conventional weapons balance in South Asia. Pakistan has been forced to go for full spectrum deterrence to ensure that its deterrence remains credible. Pakistan does not threaten India—it cannot—but India by the strides it is taking in the conventional and nuclear fields threatens Pakistan because it does not agree to dialogue, because it pressures Pakistan on the borders and the Line of Control in Kashmir and because it has mounted a relentless campaign to destabilize, discredit, malign and isolate Pakistan especially its military establishment that for some reason looms large in India’s strategic concerns. So it’s no surprise that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor that is being seen positively by the world including the US and Russia is not viewed the same way by India. Pakistan does not threaten India with nuclear or conventional weapons and it has no desire to create problems for itself by actions that are clearly not acceptable in today’s global environment that stresses connectivity, trade and energy flows.
Hypothetically what is wrong with the reasoning that—“in return for an NSG waiver, Pakistan will be asked to restrict its nuclear program to weapons and delivery systems that are appropriate to its actual defense needs against India’s nuclear threat, and not to deploy missiles beyond a certain range”. Pakistan had suggested a bilateral restraint regime in the past so does this possible agreement, if ever executed, evoke the fear that the real destabilizing force in South Asia will be unmasked? It has been rightly stated that Pakistan may not agree to such an agreement because India parades the threat from China as the reason for its inordinate military expansion forgetting that almost all its forces are arrayed against Pakistan? So can Pakistan be faulted for being India centric? The US did sanction Pakistan when it determined that such action was warranted but on what basis should it sanction Pakistan now—certainly not on the say so of another country.
The Prime Minister of Pakistan will be visiting the US soon. He will go with the full backing of all institutions including the military and the people of Pakistan. In the discussions he will discuss Pakistan’s concerns and will listen to what the US says. He will do what is in Pakistan’s best interests because now there is no ambiguity or doubt about the positive role that Pakistan wants to play in the region and beyond the region. His visit is likely to be followed by a visit by the Chief of Army Staff. The US has not introduced uncertainty about its strategic intentions towards India, the US has signaled acceptance of Pakistan’s good intentions and a desire to reciprocate and help Pakistan. After all, anti US policy rhetoric in Pakistan notwithstanding, the US and Pakistan have been allies in the worst of times and the best of times.