India’s latest attempt to seek admission into the 48-member strong Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) has been unsuccessful. Despite US assurances that its strategic partner for the 21st century easily meets all criteria. That this comes in the run-up to the 10-year anniversary of the landmark Indo-US nuclear deal only makes this set-back all the harder for New Delhi to swallow.
China vetoed the move. It may suit Washington to link this to ongoing tensions between it and Beijing; such as the question of foreign exchange reserves or tariffs. Pakistan, for its part, would do well to avoid quiet gloating. However tempting it may be to push home the point, across the eastern front, of how it, too, has important regional allies. For as past lessons inform: what is ‘bad’ for New Delhi is not necessarily ‘good’ for Islamabad.
The sticking point is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Neither India nor Pakistan are signatories while China insists that this must be a prerequisite to NSG membership. Islamabad previously maintained it would ink the treaty provided that its neighbour did the same. Though it changed tack in the wake of the Indo-US nuclear deal; which affords de facto recognition of New Delhi’s nuclear status. Thus Pakistan began suggesting that it was ready to become party to the NPT. But only as an established nuclear state.
This is something that the international community needs to consider. Not least because of the inherently discriminatory nature of the NPT that only recognises the ‘Permanent 5’ as being nuclear capable. Be that as it may, as things currently stand the US is viewed through Pakistani eyes as pursuing a policy of regional imbalance here in South Asia. Indeed, after Israel, India is the largest recipient of American assistance. And now the latter has been admitted into the US inner most circle of trading partners by way of the Strategic Trade Authorisation (STA-1); also covering defence.
There is merit in this country’s argument that inclusion into the elite NSG would strengthen the latter’s non-proliferation objectives. After all, it would signal the Pakistani state’s commitment to formally adhering to international protocols on the nuclear trade front in accordance with NSG guidelines; as well as accepting a strict monitoring regime. Neutralising the threat of an Indo-Pak arms race would be an added bonus. Especially in the event of Indian admission into the club; considering dual-purpose nuclear material and technology. Thus the way forward must lie in the simultaneous welcoming of both India and Pakistan into the NSG framework.
The US and the rest of the international community are wont to talk of how a peaceful South Asia is in everyone’s interest. In this they are right. But now is the time to translate word into deed. And this must begin with refraining from treating this country like a rogue nation. Which, of course, is another way of saying that Pakistan’s security concerns must be duly acknowledged.
In short, the NSG will be more efficient with both India and Pakistan in it. The question now remains as to whether the major powers are as committed to regional peace as they claim. *
Published in Daily Times, September 15th 2018.