US and the South Asian Nuclear Question

On July 19 late night the Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf received a call from the US Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice. She wanted to reassure him that the advances in the US strategic partnership was not at the cost of Pakistan’s interests. Specifically US-Indo nuclear nuclear cooperation raises questions regarding Washington’s de-facto acceptance of India as a nuclear power.

Earlier the US Undersecretary of State, Nicholas Burns, pre-empting Pakistani concerns has already said , "the fact is that India has a record of non-proliferation, which is exceptional; very strong commitment to protection of fissile material, other nuclear materials and nuclear technology; and there is a transparency about India’s program, which has been welcomed." A similar statement from Washington on Pakistan could obviously not be forthcoming

In fact moving beyond into the broader question of US strategy in South Asia the Under Secretary added that "There is no reason for us to have a hyphenated strategic framework for South Asia. There are issues where the US policy intersects and there are issues where we can have individual relationships with both countries.” On nuclear cooperation with India he specifically said that "certainly in the case of civil nuclear cooperation, we are going to have individual relationships."

According to the official account of the Rice-Musharraf conversation Rice assured Musharraf that the Bush Administration values its “special” ties with Pakistan and was committed to a long-term relationship. Rice said that the US would do its best to address Pakistan’s economic and security

The Rice conversation and the Burns statement have coincided with other ‘statement support’ from Washington. Recently the Chief of US Central
Command, Gen John Abizaid visited Musharraf and undertook to cooperate with Pakistan in the defense and security areas. Musharraf is said to have complained against violation of Pakistan-Afghan border by US troops which killed over 20 people on Pakistani territory. This of course was not the first violation of Pakistani territory by the US troops. Significantly the American ambassador to Pakistan Ryan C.Crocker appeared the same evening on a private TV channel. He said the United States and Pakistan need to have a long-term strategic partnership, as suggested by the 9/11 commission report.

This statement support does not address Pakistan’s legitimate concerns regarding the recently signed Indo-US defense pact. Specific elements in that pact including cooperation on missile defense, the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) and joint weapons production, would erode the already fragile strategic stability in the region. India’s acquisition under the deal of missile defense capability would undermine nuclear deterrence in South Asia. In South Asia India would be the US partner on PSI. The PSI initiative “a coalition of the willing” would work as a parallel system to the international law of the Sea. And ofcourse the one with more ‘punch.’ This would finally undermine the international law of the Sea. PSI partners will be mandated to be the international cops with powers for forced inspection of traffic on the high seas and in international airspace. Any suspicion of transportation of WMD material or components would justify cop action.

Now the nuclear cooperation agreement after the Manmohan visit adds a new angle to Pakistan’s concerns. Is India now on the brink of being accepted a nuclear power? India too is playing its cards on the nucklear question.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s comments during his July 20 interview on two issues are particularly revealing of the Indian thinking on what nuclear-related issues they want internationalized from within the Pakistani context. One, extremists coming into power in Pakistan and gaining control of the Pakistani nuclear bomb. Two that some arrangements could be made to ensure the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

Manmohan was repeating not the first man to articulate these concerns. Only he must have believed repeating this would help India to stand apart from Pakistan as one of the two nuclear states in South Asia. He was framing them as a risk-free versus the risky nuclear power; hence justifying Congressional clearance for US support to India by side-stepping US regulation calling for no nuclear cooperation with countries having violated US proliferation laws. Also India increases wants to position itself as the internationally acknowledged ‘commanding’ power in South Asia. The one that qualifies for overseeing regional security. And the US now seems to now be acknowledging that Indian role.

Clearly the expectation in Islamabad from its US friend is more than US is willing to ‘give’ at this juncture. Many questions marks remain in Washington on Pakistan’s operational policies on the nuclear, Taliban and broader terrorism issues. Often Washington uses Pakistan’s weak democratic credentials to explain the limits to strategic cooperation.

Moreover, while Pakistan may be a key ally of the US in war against terrorism the latter realizes that it needs to woo India to advance its long term strategic interests in the region. During her visit to India early this year, US secretary of State declared that her government considered India as a major global player. Therefore it should not be surprising that all told some 18 bilateral agreements are to be signed between India and United States during Prime Minister Singh’s current visit.

Pakistan cannot deny the reality of India the emerging global economic power. Combining this with its growing military power enhances India’s global role. In South Asia Pakistan government has itself been stressing on the “irreversible peace process” with India. Pakistan-Indian ‘cold and hot wars’ had previously pinned down India to South Asia.

Pakistan despite being granted the status of a Major Non-Nato Ally by the US has yet not been offered such a comprehensive package. While Pakistan remains the Washington’s key ally in the ongoing war against terrorism, it is with India that in substance its long-term strategic partnership has grown.

Pakistan as yet has not been offered a comprehensive strategic package despite being granted the status of a Major Non-Nato Ally. Only some planes, joint exercises coupled with relentless discussion in the media, often through inspired leaks, if Pakistan can really be ‘trusted.’ The current reading is unmistakable-¦relationship of limited utility? Yes. Of broader strategic engagement ? No yet.

Pakistan finds itself in a particularly challenging spot in the international scene. Clearly at this juncture there are multiple pressure points posing a cumulative challenge for Pakistan. And new elements of US South Asian and the broader Asian policy also pose new challenges for Pakistan. Islamabad needs to undertake a serious strategic re-think.

On July 15 Pakistan had suddenly postponed its Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz’s much publicized trip July 28 trip to the United States.He was scheduled to meet the US President on July 29. The trip was cancelled after the July 6 White House statement that "President Bush looks forward to working with the prime minister to build on shared long-term vision for US-Pakistan relations." Pakistan has to do more than show its displeasure by last minute cancellation of the Prime Minister’s Washington trip.