In an interview on Dec 18, 2006, Under-secretary Burns said “There are some Pakistanis who…are not happy about [the nuclear deal with India] — not President Musharraf, but people beneath him.” The question naturally arises why Musharraf was “happy” – or at least not unhappy – with the deal. Why was he able to declare that the results of Bush’s visit, in which the US president bluntly and categorically told the Pakistani people that Pakistan would not be given civil nuclear technology, were “positive”? Why did Musharraf not refute Bush’s arguments, at their joint press conference, that Pakistan could not get nuclear technology while India would?
The answer is to be found in the fact that Musharraf has a very different order of priorities than those “beneath” him. His main concern, as a military dictator bent on perpetuating his rule, was that Washington should not push him too hard on the issue of democracy, on holding an honest election and on giving up the office of army chief. Since Bush obliged him on all these vital issues, Musharraf did not want to press his honoured guest on a question as unimportant as nuclear energy for Pakistan.
One of those “beneath” Musharraf who was initially “unhappy” with the deal was then Foreign Minister Kasuri. His reaction to the nuclear deal was at first quite robust. In an interview with the British daily Financial Times (March 17, 2006), Kasuri warned that the Indo-US agreement would bring about the collapse of the NPT. “The whole Treaty will unravel. It’s only a matter of time before other countries will act in the same way.” He added: “Once this [deal] goes through, the NPT will be finished. It’s not just Iran and North Korea. Brazil, Argentina and Pakistan will all think differently.” However, Kasuri quickly changed his tune after a rebuke from Washington and “clarified” that he had been “misquoted” in his Financial Times interview.
The statement issued by the National Command and Control Authority (NCA) on April 12, 2006, like Musharraf’s public comments, played down the implications of the deal for Pakistan’s security. The NCA expressed satisfaction at the current state of Pakistan’s strategic deterrence, noting that the strategic capability was sufficient to meet current and future challenges. It nevertheless noted with concern the implications of the nuclear deal on strategic stability in South Asia in view of the fact that the agreement would enable India to produce significant quantities of fissile material and nuclear weapons from unsafeguarded nuclear reactors. Pakistan’s then ambassador to the United States, Mahmud Ali Durrani, currently national security adviser to the prime minister, said in an interview with The Washington Post (Dec 21, 2006) that the nuclear deal did not “worry” Islamabad, although there was recognition that the uninspected Indian reactors could be used to produce weapons-grade material.
The official position adopted by the government under Musharraf was that Pakistan was not opposed to the Indo-US nuclear deal but wanted a non-discriminatory and objective, criteria-based approach which would offer equal opportunity to both Pakistan and India to access civilian nuclear technology by meeting the relevant benchmarks. The NCA also resolved that Pakistan was determined to pursue its legitimate energy requirements, which included nuclear power generation under IAEA safeguards, with members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, including the United States. However, consistent with Nick Burns’ “revelation” that Musharraf was “not unhappy” with the India-US nuclear deal, our then military ruler made no serious effort to pursue this matter with the United States or with other supplier countries.
In particular, Musharraf made no use of Pakistan’s leverage as an “indispensible” ally of the West in the war against terror to win backing for their cooperation in meeting our nuclear energy needs. Instead, his endless harangues on his numerous junkets abroad focussed on how unstable a country Pakistan would be if he was not at the helm. The underlying message was that if he was not kept in power, our nuclear assets could fall into the hands of extremist elements. In his interview with the BBC on Nov 17, 2007, he made it explicit. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, Musharraf said, could not fall into the wrong hands “as long as the military [is in charge].” But if elections were held “in the wrong environment,” the results could lead to chaos, and if that happened, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons could become vulnerable. Since early 2007, Musharraf was, in any case, more focussed on the vital question of making a power-sharing deal with Benazir Bhutto under Washington’s patronage than in working for Pakistan’s nuclear energy needs.
This unimportant matter – from Musharraf’s point of view – of nuclear power for Pakistan was left solely to the official level and to our missions abroad. The assessment that Musharraf was not unhappy with the India-US nuclear deal was shared by Washington with other NSG members. Given Musharraf’s lack of interest and his warnings about Pakistan’s nuclear assets falling into the wrong hands, it is not surprising that these countries were not inclined to pay much heed to efforts made by officials “beneath,” as Nick Burns described them.
Musharraf’s sell-out on the nuclear issue has done serious harm to our security and economic interests and should be added to the list of charges for his impeachment. To undo this damage, the new government needs to take immediate corrective steps. So far, the actions of the government on this issue give mixed signals.
On the one hand, Pakistan has done well to circulate a letter to the IAEA board of governors expressing concern that if the safeguards agreement is approved, it will lead to increased Indian access to nuclear fuel and may contribute to a renewed nuclear arms race between the two South Asian nuclear powers. On the other hand, the statement by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in London on July 24 that Pakistan “does not want to be obstructive” suggests that the government might buckle under US pressure not to delay approval of the nuclear deal with IAEA.
The US ambassador to India has publicly warned Pakistan to be “cooperative” and “see things in the right light.” The issue is also expected to be taken up by the Americans during the prime minister’s visit to Washington. The move by Washington to shift $230 million of counterterrorism aid to Pakistan for upgrading its F16 fighters is also aimed at softening up Pakistani resistance in the IAEA. The US is in such a hurry to get the deal cleared by the IAEA and the NSG to enable Congress to approve it before it adjourns in late September. Without Congressional approval, every NSG member except the US would be able to make nuclear sales to India while US companies would still face legal restrictions.
The Musharraf regime was culpably derelict in not pursuing a nuclear deal with the US for Pakistan because his main priority was to consolidate and perpetuate his own hold on power with Washington’s support. The new government now bears the heavy responsibility of making up for the lost time and opportunity. It will be difficult, but it can be done, though it will take time, commitment and perseverance. If the government seriously pursues the matter, Pakistan will not be without supporters in the US. For example, in his testimony before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security on June 12, Stephen Cohen recommended that United Sates should “consider a criteria-based nuclear ‘deal’ with Pakistan as a way of encouraging it to limit and secure their existing nuclear weapons.”
We should make civil nuclear cooperation a high-priority issue in our agenda with the United States and other leading NSG members. Just as the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban tops the bilateral agenda of these countries with us, we should let them know that civil nuclear cooperation is the number-one item on our agenda with them. The prime minister should start by taking up the matter with President Bush.
Concluded: The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service. Email: email@example.com
The News, 31/7/2008