Pakistan's splendid isolation


Nov 16, 2009
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This year's session of the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament (CD), which began in Geneva on January 25, promises to be a hot one for Pakistan. The heat is expected to be generated by an all out US push for the commencement of negotiations on a treaty to ban the production of fissile material (highly enriched uranium and plutonium needed to manufacture nuclear weapons). The main purpose of the proposed treaty is to cap Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme and to prevent acquisition of weapons-grade nuclear material by non-nuclear states such as Iran that are suspected of harbouring nuclear ambitions. Pakistan is opposed to negotiations on the treaty and has so far been able to resist efforts for it because consensus is required in the CD for taking such a decision.

Pakistan has long demanded that any treaty that bans the production of fissile material must address future production and existing disparities in stocks, in which it lags behind India. Pakistan's concern regarding these disparities was heightened further when in September 2008 the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), under US pressure, lifted the ban on the supply of nuclear material and technology to India, enabling the country to further enhance its capacity to produce nuclear weapons. In response to this development, Pakistan has since June 2009 blocked the commencement of negotiations on the proposed Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) in the CD.

Since the NSG waiver in favour of India, US has taken further steps that will boost India's fissile material production and enhance its capacity to produce more sophisticated nuclear weapons, missiles and advanced conventional weapons:

"¢ In August last year, the two countries signed an agreement that gives India the right to reprocess spent nuclear fuel of US origin. This agreement does not contain adequate safeguards against the diversion of plutonium that could potentially be extracted for India's weapons' programme.

"¢ During his visit to India last November, Obama announced that the US would sponsor India's full membership in the NSG, along with three other multilateral export control regimes aimed at controlling the transfer of technology for the production of missiles, chemical and biological weapons, and conventional arms, respectively. This would, in effect, practically exempt India from international restrictions on the transfer of advanced technology that the country needs to further develop its nuclear weapons, missiles, and conventional arsenal. Membership in NSG is particularly important for India because it will give India a veto over any possible future waiver in favour of Pakistan from the Group's guidelines.

"¢ The US Commerce Department last month removed India's space and defense agencies (ISRO and DRDO) from the Entity List of foreign companies and organisations to which the export of items that could be of use in the production of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction is restricted.

All these steps taken by the Obama administration will give a big boost to India's nuclear weapons programme. Yet, by coincidence or by design, US media (including stories in the Washington Post and New York Times last month) have been reporting that it is Pakistan that has steadily expanded its nuclear arsenal since Obama came to office, while maintaining complete silence on India's nuclear weapons programme which is older, bigger, more ambitious and more advanced. India is also developing a missile defense capability and hopes to become the fourth country – after US, Russia and China – to have a fully-operational nuclear weapons triad when the country's first indigenous nuclear submarine capable of firing nuclear-tipped missiles is commissioned by early 2012.

On the opening day of the CD session, the Pakistani Representative, Zamir Akram, told the conference that the irresponsible US decision to sponsor India's admission into NSG and other export control regimes had further strengthened Pakistan's opposition to the commencement of negotiations on the FMCT. He proposed that the Conference should focus instead on other core issues on its agenda.

Two days later, to no one's surprise, the US Representative, Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, made a strong call for launching negotiations on the FMCT in the CD. These negotiations, she said, were being blocked by "a single country," implying Pakistan. She vowed that the US would do everything to ensure that negotiations begin this year and warned that US patience would not last forever.

Gottemoeller, like other US officials earlier, also said that although their "absolute first priority" was to launch the FMCT negotiations in the CD, they would pursue "other options" if Pakistan continued to block negotiations. The suggestion to bypass the CD and hold negotiations in some other forum has also been made by other countries. But it cannot be taken as a serious proposal. Even the US would not like to transfer multilateral arms control negotiations to a body that does not work by consensus and where it could be outvoted. The purpose of making this suggestion is simply to pressure Pakistan.

Gottemoeller's salvo is the opening shot in a campaign that had been promised by Gary Samore, Obama's top nuclear adviser, who said in a newspaper interview last December that the US would launch an initiative in 2011 to reinstate negotiations on the FMCT in the CD. In fact, the US campaign to overcome Pakistani opposition to the FMCT is already a year old. Last September, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, with America's blessing, if not at its urging, called a high level meeting in New York, ostensibly to revitalise the work of the CD. At this conference, a US commentator wrote, the Secretary General "took Pakistan to the diplomatic equivalent of the woodshed", as foreign ministers and other dignitaries "excoriated Islamabad for blocking international negotiations aimed at banning the production of nuclear weapons fuel." (The allusion is to the now obsolete practice of sending a person to the woodshed to receive corporal punishment.)

Ban Ki-moon tried again in a speech in the CD a day after the Pakistani Ambassador spoke. The Secretary General said, "Just one or two countries must not be able to block the process indefinitely," and suggested that the CD start negotiations on the FMCT based on consensus reached in May 2009, which remained the most common denominator.

As Gottemoeller said, the US has been working with the other permanent members of the UN Security Council to get the FMCT negotiations started in the CD. Attention has focussed in particular on enlisting China's support in getting Pakistan on board. The issue was discussed in September 2009 between US Under Secretary Tauscher and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei. According to WikiLeaks, he said he understood Pakistan's "hesitancy," as well as its "logic" and "illogic". He also told Tauscher that China would engage the Pakistanis. More recently, the US-China joint statement issued after President Hu Jintao's visit to the US last month said that both sides had agreed to work together for the early commencement of the FMCT negotiations in the CD.

Whether China joins the US in urging Pakistan to give up its opposition to the FMCT negotiations remains to be seen. What is certain is there will be massive pressure from America on Pakistan and its allies. The government's response to this pressure will not only affect the security of 180 million Pakistanis, but also that of future generations. It will be a major test of our resolve to defend vital national security interests.

We may be largely isolated in the CD on the FMCT issue but that should be the least of our worries. We must remain firm and demand, as a condition for our agreement to the commencement of the FMCT negotiations, an NSG waiver similar to the one given to India, even if it takes half a century to come through. We should also make a declaration that without such a waiver we will not be party to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service.



Senior Member
Jan 4, 2011
It is true that India has been given enormous latitude and breaks, but that's the result of being a non proliferator and a responsible nuclear nation !

Pakistan's existence has been based on equal footing with India. And they will exert every leverage ( the few they have) to push that meme. however-This is a very important disarmament step for the world. if this passes- we could conceivably see the world stop production of new nuclear weapons.- well, after they go through their current stockpiles of those fissile material.:) You know they are hoarding it up because those stockpiles will be grandfathered in...
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