The American newspaper Wall Street Journal features a column by Ms. C. Christine Fair, assistant professor of South Asian political military affairs in the security studies program at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, that says the USA should sign a nuclear deal with Pakistan.
This is the second major article coming out the the US media that requests the American government to do more to secure a mutual beneficial partnership with Pakistan – the first being Ms. Eileen O’Connor’s column in The Hill, “Our security depends on aiding Pakistan.” But this new article by Ms. Fair presents an interesting suggestion, and one that bears consideration.
Anti-democratic and pro-jihadi elements have been using the USA-India nuclear deal to whip up a hysteria about the relationship between India and the USA as if they are brothers. Conspiracy theorists have conveniently poor memories and can not be bothered to consider the long and disagreeable history between the USA and India going back to the Cold War.
But if this request is indeed an open offer for negotiation (and the fact that this is published in the Wall Street Journal certainly suggests that the American government must be interested), it is something that should be noticed immediately.
More so than conventional weapons or large sums of cash, a conditions-based civilian nuclear deal may be able to diminish Pakistani fears of U.S. intentions while allowing Washington to leverage these gains for greater Pakistani cooperation on nuclear proliferation and terrorism. This deal would confer acceptance to Islamabad’s nuclear weapon program and reward it for the improvements in nuclear security that it has made since 2002. In the long shadow of A.Q. Khan and continued uncertainty about the status of his networks, it is easy to forget that Pakistan has established a Strategic Plans Division that has done much to improve safety of the country’s nuclear assets.
In exchange for fundamental recognition of its nuclear status and civilian assistance, Pakistan would have to meet two criteria. First, Pakistan would have to provide the kind of access and cooperation on nuclear suppliers’ networks identified in the Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation. Second, Pakistan would have to demonstrate sustained and verifiable commitment in combating all terrorist groups on its soil, including those groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba that Pakistan often calls “freedom fighters” acting on behalf of Kashmir and India’s Muslims.
Such a civilian nuclear deal could achieve the goals that Kerry-Lugar-Berman could not because it would offer Pakistan benefits that it actually values and which only the United States can meaningfully confer. Finding means of addressing these joint concerns is critical to U.S. international and regional interests. Pakistan currently operates on the assumption that its possession of nuclear weapons confers a degree of protection against American or Indian attempts to crack down on Pakistan’s home-grown terror groups. Ample experience has shown that “jihad under the nuclear umbrella” is a reliable means to secure Islamabad’s interests against a larger and more powerful set of adversaries.
This could present an opportunity to acheive many national objectives, including maintaining nuclear parity with our neighbor which can be used to leverage continued peace negotiations. It would also be a clear sign to that anti-democratic elements and their conspiracy theorist media types are wrong about American intentions towards our nuclear arsenal as well as finally turning the page on the A.Q. Khan chapter in history.
Let’s hope this is more than just idle chatter in newsprint, and is actually an open invitation for closer cooperation between two nations that are on centre stage in the world.