David Ignatius, famous Washington Post journalist, is usually more spot on about the Middle East than other regions (though that too might have changed since the Syrian war), but the war on terror has dragged his expertise to the South Asian region as well. His revelation that a Pak-US civil nuclear deal might be on the cards – on the lines of the Indian deal of ’05 – has kicked up quite a debate in Washington and Islamabad, and of course in New Delhi.
Successive US administrations have been ‘quite concerned’ about Pakistan’s arsenal, to say the least, and have wished to limit it. Pakistan, on the other hand, has been on a lookout for just such a deal for a decade – when the Musharraf government warned of consequences following upsetting the regional balance by allowing India a favourable deal. And India, naturally, is already unhappy about latest developments. The US apparently wishes to introduce controls on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons production and delivery systems. In return they are willing to extend cooperation in civil nuclear energy, which could benefit Pakistan to no end considering its chronic energy crisis.
No doubt the matter is likely to be taken up quite vigorously at the upcoming Nawaz-Obama meeting, but it’s unlikely to be a straight forward affair. As Pakistan made clear immediately after the news was out, its nuclear program is wholly of a defensive nature; hence its deterrent value. And if limiting Pakistan’s program is Washington’s desire, perhaps it should pay some attention to concerns coming out of Islamabad; that India’s provocative posturing forces Pakistan to focus on defence and deterrence now more than ever. The Americans will have a better chance approaching this problem through the Indians. The Modi government, especially, has chosen confrontation instead of reconciliation. And so long as the region remains tense, expecting a principal party to dilute its deterrent is not very realistic. There is no denying that the monies spent on nuclear weapons in the subcontinent are much better invested in social welfare. But it is also natural for all parties to safeguard their security first.