INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: by Sharif ShujaNews Weekly
Pakistan feels jilted by US-India nuclear deal
, February 17, 2007
The U.S. Bush Administration's recent nuclear deal with India not only risks alienating one of the U.S.'s key allies in the international war on terrorism, Pakistan, but could ignite a regional nuclear arms race, writes Sharif Shuja.The United States has struck a historic deal with India under which India will be permitted to buy nuclear reactor fuel and components from the U.S. and other suppliers. But, in return, it will have to allow international inspections and safeguards of its civilian nuclear program, and to refrain from any further nuclear weapons testing and transfers of arms technology to other countries.
India needs to import nuclear fuel and technology, but was refused because it did not sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The agreement would have marked a historical turning point, as it would have ended the ban on American nuclear technology sales to India, a major source of friction between India and the U.S.Attracted fire
The accord with India attracted immediate fire from some arms-control experts who said that India should not be given access to the civilian technology until it signs the NPT.
Responding to the question as to whether Pakistan would get similar treatment from the U.S., the U.S. assistant secretary of state, Richard Boucher, said: "Pakistan's energy requirements and economic needs are different from those of India." Therefore, he concluded that Pakistan should not expect similar arrangements to those the U.S. had made with India. When asked when Pakistan would be able to share the nuclear technology with the U.S. for civilian purposes, his answer was "Now, in 10 years, 20 years or 50 years. No, I don't see anything like that on the cards for Pakistan."
This seems to be the affirmed policy of the U.S., and it is based on the perception that India is emerging as an industrial country whose consumption of energy will double during this decade. Therefore, it will have to diversify its source of energy supply by having recourse to alternative fuel.
Justifying the nuclear deal with India, President George W. Bush argued that it was a boon for the environment and a way to cut the U.S. gas price. Given Bush's opposition to the Kyoto Protocol, it is rather surprising to see that the deal has made him an enthusiastic environmentalist.
One fails to understand the U.S. refusal to provide Pakistan with nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. To say that Pakistan's need for nuclear fuel is not the same as that of India does not sound convincing.
A cursory glance at Pakistan's rising oil import bills and their impact on the country's balance of trade and foreign exchange reserves would indicate its pressing need for alternative sources of energy. Pakistan's total need for crude oil is about 240,000 barrels a day, for which it imports around 177,000 barrels while producing 63,000 barrels per day.
Pakistan imports 45,000 barrels a day from Dubai, 15,000 barrels from Qatar and 6,000 barrels from Iran. In July-December 2005, oil was the second largest item to be imported, at a cost of $3.033 billion, next to machinery, which cost $3.496 billion.
Thus it is crystal clear that Pakistan, with its existing foreign exchange reserves of $12.5 billion, can ill afford to meet its total import bill for six months amounting to $13.65 billion. The country will soon need 8,800 megawatts of electricity. Compared to this, India's position is not as precarious. In the light of this balance sheet, it is Pakistan and not India that deserves a cheap nuclear energy producing facility.
Another argument against the transfer of nuclear energy technology to Pakistan is that its track record of proliferation is such that it cannot be trusted with any dual-use technology, especially nuclear. This argument has some force, given the shady deals in certain components with foreign powers and the blueprints for making the bomb, but the Musharraf Government has taken prompt and stringent measures to bust the rackets.
However, the U.S. and other Western powers are not satisfied with the action taken by the Musharraf Government. Nor are they convinced about Islamabad's counter-terrorist operation against the remnants of Afghanistan's deposed Taliban regime allegedly hiding in Pakistan. After the fall of the Taliban, al Qaeda forces crossed the border into Pakistan and took shelter in the tribal zones, autonomous areas that have never been under the control of the Pakistani Government.
In these very religious areas, militant Islamic forces have fomented extremism, creating both a hideout for al Qaeda leadership and a fertile recruiting ground for militant extremists. The Pakistani army has suffered 600 deaths in the politically difficult campaign to flush out the Taliban and al Qaeda operatives.
In addition to deploying military forces, Islamabad has outlined a plan that "would include a strong focus on economic development and infrastructure improvements, designed to bring the areas more in line with the rest of Pakistan", according to Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States, Mahmud Ali Durrani, in a recent meeting with Washington Times
reporters and editors (The Washington Times
, August 4, 2006).
This episode indicates that the "core" of U.S.-Pakistan relations is still counter-terrorism, and that the Pakistani army is committed to the war against al Qaeda and global terrorism. But the U.S.-India nuclear deal, many think, is a dangerous policy that could ignite an arms race in South Asia.
The Pakistan foreign office and the foreign minister have refused to accept the discriminatory U.S. nuclear policy, which they see as a prescription for proliferation and an arms race.
Pakistan's ruling elite is confused and bitter. They know that India has overtaken Pakistan in far too many areas for there to be any reasonable basis for symmetry. They see the U.S. as now interested in reconstructing the geopolitics of South Asia and in repairing relations with India.More bombs
Pakistan is bound to react — and react badly — once U.S. nuclear materials and equipment start rolling into India. One certain consequence will be more bombs on both sides of the border. A noted Pakistani commentator, Pervez Hoodbhoy, said: "The deal is widely seen in Pakistan as signalling America's support or acquiescence, or perhaps even surrender, to India's nuclear ambitions.
"India will be freely able to import uranium fuel for its safeguarded civilian reactors. This will free up the remainder of its scarce uranium resources for making plutonium. Further, when India's thorium-fuelled breeder reactors are fully operational, India will be able to produce more bombs in one year than in the last 30."
Nor surprisingly, important voices in Pakistan have started to demand that Pakistan match India bomb-for-bomb. Ex-foreign minister Abdus Sattar advocates "replication of the Kahuta plant to produce more fissile uranium … to rationalise and upgrade Pakistan's minimum deterrence capability". He has also written about the need to "accelerate its [Pakistan's] missile development program".
This is a prescription for an unlimited nuclear race, given that "minimum deterrence" is essentially an open-ended concept. Pakistan has mastered centrifuge technology, and giving birth to more Kahutas would require only a political decision. More-over, unlike India, Pakistan is not constrained by a scarcity of natural uranium. Thus, at least in principle, Pakistan can increase its bomb production considerably.
Although nuclear hawks in India and Pakistan once pooh-poohed the notion of an arms race, there is little doubt that India and Pakistan are solidly placed on a Cold War trajectory. As more bombs are added to the inventory every year, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles steadily roll off the production lines, both countries seek ever more potent weaponry.
Regional tensions will increase because of the deal. Given that the motivation for the U.S.-India nuclear agreement comes partly from the U.S.'s desire to limit and contain Chinese influence in Asia, the Pakistan-China strategic relationship will be considerably strengthened. In practical terms, this may amount to enhanced support for Pakistan's missile program, or even its military nuclear program.
Speaking at Pakistan's National Defence College in Islamabad a day before Bush's arrival there, Musharraf declared: "My recent trip to China was part of my effort to keep Pakistan's strategic options open."
Of course, it would be absurd to lay the blame on the U.S. for all that has gone wrong between the two countries. Surely the U.S. does not want to destabilise the subcontinent, and it does not want a South Asian holocaust. But one must be aware that for the U.S. this is only a peripheral interest — the core of its interest in South Asian nuclear issues stems from the need to limit Chinese power and influence, fear of al Qaeda and Muslim extremism, and the associated threat of nuclear terrorism.
The Americans will sort out their priorities as they see fit. But it is unwise to participate in a plan that leaves South Asian neighbours at each other's throats. The arms race directly benefits Indian and Pakistani elites. Instead of threatening to create more Kahutas, Pakistan should offer to stop production of highly enriched uranium, while India should respond by ceasing to reprocess its reactor wastes.
In his Pakistan's Independence Day remarks on August 14, Pakistani Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz, cited Pakistan's "vital role in the international war on terrorism". It is hard to overstate Pakistan's importance as an ally. Its nuclear weaponry alone makes Pakistan a special case in the Muslim world.Strategic value
The strategic value of its cooperation with the West should not be underestimated at a time when the Taliban is showing renewed vigour in Afghanistan. Without General Musharraf in power, Pakistan could have become the world's first nuclear-armed state sponsor of terrorism.
It can thus be argued that the political and economic stability of allied Muslim regimes ought to be a foremost consideration for American policy-makers.— Sharif Shuja is an academic staff member of the International Studies Program at Victoria University.