Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has used the platform of the Nuclear Security Summit he is attending along with heads of state and government of 53 countries in The Hague to argue Pakistan’s case as a responsible nuclear power. He outlined Pakistan’s nuclear security architecture, including an effective command and control system, safety and security of nuclear materials, and preventive measures to prevent any leakage of such materials. Having operated civilian nuclear power facilities safely for 40 years, the prime minister plugged Pakistan as qualifying to be part of the international nuclear energy regime, including membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Given Pakistan’s serious energy crisis, the argument may be considered to have weight. However, Pakistan has a dark past and reputation to overcome before it can be accepted formally into the nuclear club and its civilian use technology. Pakistan ‘went’ nuclear (i.e. weaponised) in response to India’s first nuclear explosion in 1974. Since the nuclear haves practice a form of nuclear apartheid as far as sharing the technology and knowhow with the have-nots, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme had of necessity to be conducted clandestinely. However, after achieving nuclear capability, Pakistan got embroiled in the proliferation morass, with which Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan’s name has come to be associated, although he has always claimed he was made the fall guy by General Musharraf. Although India too had achieved nuclear weapons capability by clandestinely diverting nuclear material meant for civilian use to weapons development, it escaped with time the kind of strictures Pakistan was subjected to. So much so that India was offered a civilian nuclear energy deal by former US president George Bush, while Pakistan was and still is left out in the cold in this regard. China has come to Pakistan’s rescue in this as in so many other fields by setting up nuclear reactors for energy in Pakistan, a project still ongoing. Other than that, Pakistan has still to be accepted as a legitimate stakeholder in the nuclear field. The Nuclear Security Summit is seized of the threat of terrorists acquiring nuclear materials to build what has been dubbed a ‘dirty’ bomb for their nefarious agendas. Pakistan being a nuclear-capable country with a terrorist threat on its soil is considered in some circles as at risk of leakage of such materials to terrorists. These apprehensions are factually incorrect, given the tight control of Pakistan’s nuclear materials, but suspicion is easier generated than overcome. Although in a meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit Pakistan received an endorsement of its nuclear safety and security, with which the US has reportedly been involved and helped Pakistan to ensure control of its nuclear materials, this is still a long way to go from the privilege extended to India.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attempted to nudge the US in his meeting with Kerry towards playing a role in resolution of issues between India and Pakistan, especially the Kashmir dispute, but this is unlikely to change the by now long standing situation of India rejecting third party mediation (since the Simla Accord of 1972) and the US and other powers being reluctant to step into this ‘minefield’ unless requested to do so by both sides, an unlikely hope. The US, according to Kerry, is “deeply engaged” with Pakistan on many issues, terrorism, nuclear safety and energy being amongst them, but he was reportedly quiet on Nawaz Sharif’s requests for civilian nuclear energy, mediation between India and Pakistan on Kashmir, and Pakistan’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. This ‘diplomatic’ silence is reflective of the state of Pakistan’s ability to nudge the world powers, particularly the US, towards a sympathetic consideration of its concerns. So long as this situation prevails, Pakistan is on its own as far as normalisation of relations with India after resolving their mutual problems is concerned, as well as, arguably, entry into the nuclear club on acceptable terms. *