It should be obvious that the fates of the Pakistani and Indian nuclear programmes are tied together – as was witnessed in the recent meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. India cannot get an exception to the existing rules that require the signing of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty to get access to the elite group of global suppliers of nuclear materials. The US has been India’s key backer in its attempt to enter the NSG. So one must wonder why US Secretary of State John Kerry felt the need to urge Pakistan to restrain its nuclear programme. Coming at a time when Pak-US ties have been more strained that usual, Kerry’s insistence to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to restrain Pakistan’s nuclear programme makes no sense. The only possibility is that it was a way to appease India or members of the US Congress who have raised questions about American aid to Pakistan. One of the few nuclear powers in the world, Pakistan has made it clear that its nuclear programme was developed in response to a perceived threat from India. While it would be an ideal scenario for both countries to decide to disarm, there is a difference between expressing a dream and believing it can become true.
The US has always taken a hypocritical stance on nuclear weapons where its ‘allies’ can stockpile as many as they want and even get rewarded for it while others developing nuclear technology are seen as a threat to world peace. India has been given a civilian nuclear deal and the US supports its membership to the NSG while Pakistan, which is in far greater need of tapping nuclear sources for its energy crisis, is repeatedly rebuffed. When it comes to Israel and its massive stockpile of undeclared nuclear weapons, the US adopts a see-no-evil, hear-no-evil approach. Pakistan has a tightrope to walk when it comes to nuclear weapons. We have to repeatedly demonstrate that our weapons are secure and that the command-and-control structure in place cannot be breached. We have done this to the satisfaction of much of the world but the US nonetheless keeps raising the issue. At the same time, Pakistan has to maintain credible nuclear deterrence since that may be the only thing that may have stopped India from putting its Cold Start doctrine – wherein Pakistani military targets can be attacked before we can respond. This is why Pakistan has had to rebuff demands that it institute a no-first-use policy and have a policy that it will only use the weapons if it is attacked or invaded. For the record, India too has added the caveat to its no-first-use policy that it only applies to non-nuclear countries, meaning it reserves the right to strike at us with nuclear weapons. Yet is only Pakistan that comes under intense scrutiny and must hear constant lectures from the only country ever to actually use nuclear weapons. If the US is serious about stopping the global nuclear arms race it should also tie in military aid with non-proliferation. That would, of course, not only force Pakistan to respond to US concerns but also bring in line countries like India and Israel that are equally, if not more, culpable since they have larger arsenals than us. Kerry’s stance apparently has neither a carrot nor a stick attached, but is still rather foolish. Any progress on the nuclear disarmament of South Asia will have to be a commitment that involves both Pakistan and India.