Critics of the U.S-India Deal have long warned that not only did the arrangement have the potential to undermine the global nonproliferation regime, but it would also make it more difficult to say no to other countries, particularly Pakistan, demanding the same treatment in the future. Unfortunately, the critics’ worst fears are now becoming reality…
Pakistan is no doubt interested in a cooperation agreement for the attractive energy benefits it would offer. However the key factor at work here is likely Pakistan’s desire to be treated on a similar footing as its long-time adversary India. Many observers have noted that the NSGs exemption for India conferred a sense of legitimacy on the Indian nuclear program – despite the fact that it is not a signatory to the NPT – and Pakistan – which has also not signed the NPT – wants similar recognition. As Leonor put it recently, “the fact that we gave India such a sweetheart deal set a very dangerous precedent and it’s no surprise that Pakistan wants a similar deal.”
Pakistan has also noted that by providing India with nuclear fuel and reactors for its civilian nuclear program, the deal would allow New Delhi to divert more of its domestic supply of uranium toward its weapons program. Since Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and stockpiles of fissile material are considerably smaller than those of India, Pakistan fears that the deal could upset regional stability.
Taking all this into account, Pakistan is beginning in earnest to pressure the U.S. for similar cooperation, and for the first time, some in the U.S. appear willing to explore the possibility.
On February 15, the Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, claimed that “the U.S. is not skeptical about our nuclear program. Talks between Pakistan and the U.S. for cooperation on atomic programs are underway, and we want the U.S. to have an agreement with us like the one it had with India on civil nuclear technology.”
While in the past the U.S. has insisted that the Indian agreement was exclusive to New Delhi, more recent reports suggest otherwise. The Pakistani foreign minister, army head, and spy chief met with Secretary of State Clinton and other U.S. officials from March 24-25 for talks on strategic issues after a nearly two year break. Civil nuclear cooperation was on the agenda, but the U.S. was silent on the substance of what was discussed on the nuclear front – though further talks on nuclear cooperation were not ruled out.
Prior to the talks, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi explained: “My message to Washington is: we’ve been talking a lot. The time has come to walk the talk… We’ve done our bit… We’ve delivered. (Now you) start delivering.”
Ambassador Anne Patterson, the U.S. envoy in Islamabad, conceded before the talks that the U.S. is “beginning to have a discussion with the Pakistan government” regarding nuclear power. Though she acknowledged the concerns about Pakistan’s nonproliferation record, Patterson expressed confidence that “we are beginning to pass those and this is a scenario that we are going to explore.” President Obama proclaimed last June that “the Pakistani government has safeguarded its nuclear arsenal. It’s Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.”
Similarly, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, noted: “We have a very broad and complex agenda in these talks, and this is the first strategic dialogue ever at this level, and the first of this administration. And we’re going to listen carefully to whatever the Pakistanis say.”
Support for cooperation with Islamabad has also been growing in strength outside of the government as well.
In a recent Washington Post op-ed, David Ignatius pointed to Pakistani security concerns that “the United States is secretly plotting to seize Pakistani nukes” and suggested that the U.S. should “implicitly accept Pakistan’s status as a declared nuclear weapons state” to counter this misperception.
Georgetown University Assistant Professor Christine Fair suggested a civilian nuclear pact could be just the incentive needed for Islamabad to move to conclusively sever ties with extremist groups, arguing: “We need a big idea for Pakistan, to transform it from a source of insecurity for the region to a country committed to eliminating terrorism and ensuring that nuclear proliferation doesn’t happen again.”
For its part, Pakistan appears to believe that it has significant leverage in pressuring for a deal, as the U.S. believes Pakistan’s support is necessary to stabilize neighboring Afghanistan.
If the U.S. does in fact opt to seriously pursue negotiations with Pakistan on a civilian nuclear energy cooperation agreement, the move has the potential to further undermine the rule-based nonproliferation regime, especially if Pakistan gets a deal that is devoid of any real, meaningful nonproliferation conditions, as was the case with India.
Perhaps there is some comfort to be taken from the fact that securing domestic and international support for such a deal would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible. As Daniel Markey, senior fellow at Council on Foreign Relations, notes “there is zero chance that Pakistan will get a nuclear deal of the sort that we have with India. They cannot get it through Congress or the NSG.” In a move probably orchestrated to demonstrate its commitment to nonproliferation, Pakistan announced plans to investigate A.Q. Khan’s ties with the Iranian nuclear program before strategic talks with the U.S.
But even preliminary discussions about a deal with Pakistan could be detrimental at a time when the Obama administration is preparing for the upcoming Nuclear Security Summit and Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. Rumblings that the U.S. is considering extending special rights and privileges to Pakistan that not even states in good standing under the NPT enjoy would weaken our argument to the international community that we are seriously pursuing our disarmament and nonproliferation commitments.