US-Pakistan civilian nuclear deal

By K.N. Pandita

As Indo-US civilian nuclear deal progressed through tortuous negotiations during the period 2007-9, Islamabad was keenly watching how things shaped and what could be probable implications for her security and foreign policy.

During President Bush’s visit to India, with a short leg to Pakistan, he had rebuffed Pakistan by telling them that they had no dearth of energy resources and supply prospects. He had in his mind long standing Pak-Saudi close relations and was aware that the Gulf kingdom had been giving special concessions to Pakistan for oil imports.

Apart from this, Bush had also in his mind the proposed Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline which Washington has been opposing from day one. 

But with the Af-Pak war necessitating induction of Pakistan Army units to suppress Taliban and their Al-Qaeda accomplices, and the US insisting on full-fledged action against Taliban resistance in Waziristan, Islamabad seized the opportunity of extracting whatever it could from the Americans by way of concessions. It exacerbated terrorist infiltration across the LoC, made louder noise about including Kashmir dispute in proposed Indo-Pak talks, sounded the Americans of her unwillingness to allow India any space in Afghanistan, and dismissed action against known leaders of Pakistan-based terrorist organizations like LeT. After all she had takers in Washington.

Islamabad now demands that the US conclude a civilian nuclear deal with her along the lines of a deal with India last year. A high–power official delegation of Pakistan arrived in the US last week to hold bilateral talks, which, inter alia, would discuss the prospect of a civilian nuclear deal.

Reminding Washington of her traditional policy of maintaining parity between the two countries of the sub-continent, Islamabad, with a strong pro-Pak lobby in the Pentagon seems to have received some positive signals from those sources.

Two days of talks in Washington between Pakistan delegation and US officials, including the Secretary of State, ended on 25 March. Pakistan built her case for civilian nuclear power on the basis of country’s power shortfall of 5,000 MW, which was adversely affecting her industrial and economic growth. Prior to its departure for Washington, the Pakistani delegation had prepared a 56-page report seeking US support in developing her civilian nuclear programme.

What the parties actually talked about in Washington has not fully trickled down. However, the Pakistani foreign minister casually told the pressmen that civilian nuclear cooperation talks were moving along right direction. Foreign Secretary Hillary is quoted as this,” We are certainly looking at it as how to help Pakistan with its long term energy needs.”

Informed sources believe that the US would not be apathetic to obliging Pakistan with an Indo-US like civilian nuclear deal. But Washington has some security related reservations.  As a matter of fact there was a stage when eyebrows were raised in US official circles about the safety of Pak’s nuclear arsenal.  This had necessitated a major shift in the control and command system of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and the President was denuded of that power. Washington felt convinced with this arrangement.

Notwithstanding, the fact is that Washington would not make the concession without Pakistan paying a price. She may be asked to abandon the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, which the US has been opposing tooth and nail from the very beginning keeping in mind the bellicose stance of Iran. However, Pakistani planners feel they can cope with pressure tactics of the hawks in the US Congress.  Only last month Iran and Pakistan signed a deal, which will carry Iranian gas across 2,775 kilometers at a cost of 7.5 billion US dollars to the refineries in Pakistan.

Deft exploitation of on-going volatile situation in NWFP and Afghanistan may bring more than expected gains to Pakistan in terms of refurbishment of her energy requirements from the two viable sources, namely the Iranian gas and Pak-US civilian nuclear programme. This is where she will have an edge over India.

Initially the idea was floated for extending this gas pipeline to India. But after much hesitation and indecision, India finally dropped out apparently on pricing disagreements. But in reality India did not like her talks with the US for civilian nuclear deal run into trouble.

After India backed out, there is the talk of gas pipeline being extended from Pakistan to China via Northern Areas. Since US would not be in a position to pressurize China into abandoning the proposal, it is clear that Pakistan has played the card very well. Reports are that China has completed the survey of the proposed extended gas pipeline which will run through the Aksaichin area, which Pakistan has illegally ceded to China in 1963.

The question is this: Is the contemplated Pak-US civilian nuclear deal going to harm India’s interests? Political circles will fiercely debate the proposition in days to come. A disinterested observer will say that if the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal did not jeopardize Pakistan’s security, why should doubts be raised against a similar deal between Pakistan and the US?  It has to be understood that Washington has been using different yardsticks for different nuclear countries outside the G-5 with the explicit objective of controlling their nuclear arsenal and confining them to its civilian use only. India and Pakistan, both fall in one category and the US could tackle the issue with the Indians just because an established and institutionalized Indian democracy provides dependable safeguards against wanton use of the WMD. This same objective lies at the root of US’ re-thinking on providing energy resource to Pakistan. This makes suppression of the anti-Pakistan terrorists crucial to America’s overall nuclear policy.

However, India will be within her right to be kept informed of the ins and outs of a deal the US is likely to enter into with Pakistan. The US must keep the security of the entire South and Central Asia in mind while handling the case with Pakistan.

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