India “inching closer”
The Nuclear Suppliers Group’s 2016 annual plenary, began in Seoul this week and one of the decisions is to critically examine membership requests from both India and Pakistan. India, which submitted its membership application on May 12, the 18th anniversary of its nuclear tests in 1998, has walked the extra mile to ensure a positive response to its admission to the NSG.
It is paradoxical that the NSG, which was formed in 1974, in response to India’s first nuclear test, to prevent further proliferation, is now even considering India’s membership. The NSG is one of the main tools for controlling the exports and proliferation of materials that could potentially be used in making weapons of mass destruction and impede the black market trade of nuclear technologies.
It is equally ironic that India’s track record in nuclear proliferation has been pathetic that two Indian nuclear scientists, Dr. C Surinder Chaudhary and Dr. YSR Prasad were found guilty of engaging in proliferation activities and were put under sanctions by the US State Department on 29th September 2004 when the State Department took the action under Nonproliferation Act 200 through Public Notice No-4845, notified it in the Federal Register as 69FR 58212 Notice.
President Obama has called on NSG participating governments to support India’s application at the NSG plenary. Mr. Modi, who was refused visit visas to Europe and the US for his alleged indulgence in the 2002 genocide in the Indian State of Gujarat, when he was Chief Minister, has made full use of his backing by reaching out to all 48 members of the NSG to support India’s membership.
Everyone in the US is not excited by the prospects of India getting the NSG membership. Some opinion makers, legislators and nuclear experts warned the Obama administration not to push forward India’s application. A New York Times editorial titled ‘India’s membership of the NSG is not merited until the country meets the group’s standards’ warned that India could block Pakistan’s entry into NSG, if it got in earlier. The daily has pragmatically cautioned that the relationship with India rests on a dangerous bargain. For years, the United States has sought to bend the rules for India’s nuclear program to maintain India’s cooperation on trade and to counter China’s growing influence. In 2008, President George W. Bush signed a civilian nuclear deal with India that allowed it to trade in nuclear materials, much to the chagrin of Pakistan.
Membership would enhance India’s standing as a nuclear weapons state, but it is not merited until the country meets the group’s standards. The NSG had granted an exclusive waiver to India in 2008 to access civil nuclear technology after China reluctantly backed India’s case based on the Indo-US nuclear deal.
Pakistan, which also has a black mark, the AQ Khan episode, has come a long way in adhering to nuclear safety and security standards since then. Evolution of Pakistan’s Nuclear Command Authority and installation of checks and balances for ensuring the safety and security of its nuclear program, developing a strategic force to guard its nuclear assets, are all important steps. More importantly, Pakistan learnt important lessons from the AQ Khan fiasco and has vowed never to repeat them. This is contrary to the Indian attitude, which is in a state of denial of its nuclear proliferation blunders.
As far as Pakistan’s endeavour for attaining the NSG membership is concerned, it woke up from its slumber rather late in the day and submitted its membership application on May 19, a week after India. Unlike the Indian Prime Minister, who has made personal visits even to Mexico, Switzerland and the US to solicit support for its NSG membership, Pakistan has banked on telephone calls made by the Advisor to the Government for Foreign Affairs. What could be more pathetic than the fact that Pakistan does not have a full time Foreign Minister? Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose naiveté in the field of diplomacy and exterior maneuver is well chronicled, is recuperating from a supposed “open heart surgery” in the UK. The Foreign Office mandarins are under the tutelage of two advisors; one an octogenarian the other a septuagenarian, both jostling for personal supremacy, rather than devising strategies to pull out Pakistan from its isolation.
Pakistan would have been left in the doldrums if it were not for its “iron brother” China, which has come to its aid on numerous occasions.
China is being pragmatic in its approach. It is not resisting the Indian application out of spite, but is arguing that it would enhance a nuclear competition in South Asia by isolating Pakistan. China wants the group to admit Pakistan as well, pointing out that both India and Pakistan possessed nuclear weapons and had not signed the NPT.
Acknowledging that India is “inching closer” to get membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Chinese official media opines that if New Delhi is admitted into the elite grouping, “nuclear balance” between India and Pakistan will be broken.
Stating that India’s entry into NSG will “shake strategic balance in South Asia and even cast a cloud over peace and stability in the entire Asia-Pacific region”. Beijing has declared that it could support India’s inclusion in the 48 member nuclear club if it “played by rules”.
As if on cue, directly after China’s call to India to “play by the rules”, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj declared that India would not oppose Pakistan’s entry into the NSG. She may be playing to the gallery at Beijing, while her External Affairs Secretary S Jaishankar made an unannounced visit to Beijing on June 16-17 to enlist support for India’s bid for membership of the NSG which is being opposed by China.
This is a far cry from Modi’s overtures to Obama during the former’s visit to the US, where at Modi’s recommendation, the US President fired broadsides at Pakistan urging it to “do more” for bringing the alleged perpetrators of Mumbai and Pathankot attacks to task. Pakistan is already smarting under the impact of the India-led propaganda onslaught to influence US lawmakers to block the funding to 8 F-16 Block 52 fighter aircraft to be used in the war on terror. Now since its NSG membership is at stake, India is leaving no stone unturned.
Modi reached out to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in Tashkent on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit because it apparently held the key to Chinese approval for the consensus at Seoul. Ahead of the plenary session, Indian negotiators sought to de-link India’s membership bid to NSG and China’s possible entry to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). China has been trying to become a member of MTCR for more than a decade now. Its application in 2004 was rejected following allegations that it was passing on its missile technology to North Korea. There has been some talk about India not blocking China’s entry if Beijing goes along with the NSG consensus.
To dispel rumours by Indian media regarding their country’s assured entry into NSG, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said in reply to a question that admission of countries, who were yet to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, including India, was not on the agenda of the Seoul conference.
While China may not force the NSG to admit Pakistan, it can block India as new members are admitted with a consensus of the existing members. Under the circumstances, one can hope that the NSG will decide the case on merit and not be guided by biases or obvious tilts.