Since the signing of the civil nuclear deal between India and the United States in 2008, Pakistan has been demanding a similar deal for itself from Washington DC. The US has refused to offer a similar deal to Pakistan, pointing out the different nature of nuclear programmes in India and Pakistan — and the high levels of proliferation that took place in Pakistan under Dr AQ Khan. With Pakistan signing agreements with China for civil nuclear reactors and blocking negotiations on the Fissile Material Control Treaty (FMCT), this trial balloon from Pakistan has been a non-starter.
However, talk of a nuclear deal for Pakistan has again gained traction in Washington. Writing in the Washington Post, columnist David Ignatius says that the White House is working on an “an accord [which] might eventually open a path toward a Pakistani version of the civil nuclear deal that was launched with India in 2005.” According to Ignatius, Pakistan has been asked to consider “brackets”, whereby Washington will set “possible new limits and controls on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and delivery systems”.
The disclosure of the “brackets” idea precedes Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s scheduled visit to the US later this month. Knowing Pakistani sensitivities about its nuclear programme, it is unlikely that Islamabad – or rather, Rawalpindi the headquarters of the Pakistan army– will lap up the idea. Moreover, the Pakistan army has become increasingly dependent on its nuclear arsenal as the only way to “deter” India. That mindset will not allow the generals to accept the “brackets” proposed by White House.
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Meanwhile, Pakistan has been benefitting from its close cooperation with China on nuclear issues. Excluded from the global nuclear community, Pakistan’s requirements are being met adequately by Beijing. It thus has little incentive to accept any hard “brackets” imposed by Washington.
Any nuclear deal between Pakistan and the US will also be bound by Islamabad’s single-minded quest for parity with India in all respects. India and Pakistan are very different countries, with different geo-strategic positions, economic conditions and with diametrically different proliferation records. Thus, such parity is impossible to achieve and will remain a major stumbling block in any prospective deal.
Even if these roadblocks were to magically vanish, a deal of this nature will involve protracted negotiations between the two countries. With President Obama in the last years of his stint and multiple power centres in Pakistan, the negotiations will be far more complicated than they were in the case of Indo-US nuclear deal.
It can thus be safely said that except for a few op-eds and columns, this talk of a civil nuclear deal between Pakistan and the US will result in little of substance.