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Nuclear deal next Pakistan?

ALTHOUGH most Iranians are celebrating their nuclear deal with the P5+1, the framework ‘understanding’, once implemented, will effectively block Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapons capability for the foreseeable future.

Hardly a week after the Iran deal was announced, the New York Times — which often reflects official US policy — editorially propagated that attention be turned to constraining Pakistan’s nuclear and strategic capabilities. The issue was also covered by other US media.

The NYT arguments, taken from the Indian hymnbook, were not surprising; the timing of the proposal to target Pakistan is significant. If the editorial indeed reflects official US thinking, it would confirm the view of many in Pakistan and the Muslim world that America’s aim is to denuclearise all Islamic countries. With Iran neutralised, Pakistan remains the only nuclear-capable Islamic nation.

The world should be made to understand why Pakistan remains ‘obsessed’ with India.

Pakistan has fought off numerous US attempts, initially to prevent and, after 1998, to retard Pakistan’s nuclear and strategic programmes. Pakistan’s ‘establishment’ is confident that future attempts will fail also. But, it would be a mistake to become complacent.

The US is engaged in a strategic contest with China. It sees India as a ‘strategic partner’ in this Asian power game. India can challenge China effectively only once it has neutralised Pakistan. The Indian lobby in the US is now second in influence only to the Israeli lobby. Thus, unless persuaded otherwise, Washington can be expected to do all that is possible to assist India in neutralising Pakistan’s power.

The following stratagem, used against Iran and others, may be used to restrict Pakistan:

First, concerns about Pakistan’s programmes will be spread through the media and diplomatic channels. Then, Islamabad would be pressed to give assurances and accept constraints ostensibly to assuage these ‘concerns’.

Next, an effort would be made to translate these restraints and restrictions into binding commitments, including through the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group, the IAEA and the UN Security Council.

If Pakistan then ‘violates’ such restrictions, it would be subjected to multilateral or unilateral sanctions.

Numerous grounds will be cited to restrain Pakistan. Previously, it was argued that Pakistan was a nuclear proliferator; that its nuclear weapons could be captured by ‘Islamist terrorists’; that the Pakistan Army could turn ‘Islamist’. The new tack, reflected in the editorial, is that:

— Pakistan should no longer be “obsessed” with India, which is now preoccupied with becoming “a regional economic and political power”;

— Pakistan’s nuclear and military deployments against India are destabilising; and;

— Pakistan is descending into chaos.

These motivated assertions need to be refuted effectively. Pakistan’s diplomacy should be actively mobilised for the purpose.

First, the world should be made to understand why Pakistan remains “obsessed” with India. As the editorial itself observes (almost approvingly), Prime Minister Modi has threatened “retaliation” against Pakistan “if Islamic militants carry out a terror attack in India” — irrespective of whether or not the Pakistan government is responsible for this. Given Modi’s aggressive policies in Kashmir and the BJP’s persecution of Indian Muslims, such a “terrorist” attack appears almost inevitable, sooner or later. If Modi’s doctrine is applied, an India-Pakistan conflict also becomes inevitable.

The Indian threat is real “on the ground”. Over 70pc of India’s land, air and sea forces are deployed against Pakistan. India’s capability for aggression against Pakistan is being rapidly enlarged by the $100 billion in advanced weaponry being sold to it including by the US, Europe and Israel. Indian generals have not disavowed their ‘Cold Start’ doctrine envisaging a sudden and massive attack against Pakistan.

Pakistan’s is not the “fastest growing nuclear arsenal”. In fact, with the revival of their Cold War post the Ukraine crisis, the US and Russia have deployed the largest number of additional nuclear weapons last year. Pakistan’s warheads are estimated in the Western media by assuming that all of its fissile material production capacity is being transformed into nuclear warheads. On the same assumption, India’s arsenal would be much larger than projected, since foreign nuclear fuel supplies, authorised by the Suppliers’ Group, enable India to use all of its indigenous uranium for weapons purposes.

The size of nuclear arsenals is relevant for mutual deterrence. During the Cold War, the US and the Soviet Union built over 20,000 warheads. Several US ‘experts’ have asserted that with its capacity to build a larger arsenal, and deployment of anti-ballistic missiles, and a ‘second strike’ capability, India would be able to destroy Pakistan’s nuclear and strategic capabilities in a pre-emptive nuclear strike. Pakistan can best preserve nuclear deterrence by developing larger and survivable numbers of nuclear warheads.

Likewise, Pakistan’s recently tested long-range missiles are defensive; designed to ensure that India cannot threaten Pakistan with impunity from the Nicobar and Andaman Islands or its long-range nuclear submarines.

Similarly, the deployment of nuclear-capable tactical missiles was in direct response to India’s growing and advanced military deployments and repeated threats to attack Pakistan. (It is similar to Nato’s deployment of battlefield nuclear weapons during the Cold War against the larger conventional forces of the Soviet Union.)

The assertion that Pakistan is “descending into chaos” is palpably false. Today, the politics of the street is over; the economy has stabilised, and a concerted civil-military campaign is under way to combat TTP terrorism and the Baloch insurgents, with the cooperation of the new Afghan government. (Meanwhile, 17 insurgencies simmer within India, unremarked by the Western media.)

The potentially disastrous consequences of the India-Pakistan nuclear and military stand-off cannot be left to be debated in the news media. But India refuses to discuss this seriously.

Under the circumstances, it would be wise for Pakistan to ask the US: if India indeed threatens to launch an attack against Pakistan after a ‘terrorist’ incident, will the US intervene to prevent the conflict, or to prevent Pakistan from resorting to nuclear deterrence?

The central question which Pakistan must pose to the world is: if the aim is to prevent a South Asian catastrophe, is it not better for the world powers to promote an equitable solution to the Kashmir dispute and an agreement on mutual military restraint between Pakistan and India?

By Munir Akram: The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

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