Why Pakistan needs to evolve a clear-cut position on this nuclear issue

News Analysis

The National Command Authority, now headed by the Prime Minister, is meeting today to evolve a clear stance on Pakistan’s position on the Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty, which is being discussed presently in the CD session in Geneva. Over the last year or so, Pakistan’s position was not quite clear and despite repeated pleas by our diplomats dealing with nuclear arms control measures, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs failed to evolve a clear strategy not only on this issue but also on the issue of IAEA safeguards for India – which led our representatives in Geneva and Austria in very embarrassing positions.

Therefore, it is a welcome development that the NCA will now formulate a cohesive, institutional FMCT position for Pakistan – which will also make it difficult for anyone to politically backtrack from it.

At this juncture, the FMCT is critical for the future credibility of Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence. Pakistan had taken a position on two main issues within the FMCT:

One: That existing stockpiles of fissionable material should be reduced first.

Two: That international verifications were essential for any FMCT – in fact Pakistan would prefer a Fissile Material Treaty (FMT) rather than a FMCT.

Pakistan had earlier gone along with the Shannon Report of 1995 on a future FMCT and the programme for its negotiation, which created what is referred to as the Shannon Mandate. While the Bush Administration went away from this mandate, including an effort to fast track a FMCT without international verifications, Pakistan’s position was secure in terms of support for the Shannon Mandate, along with a number of other countries including China and Russia.

Now, the Obama Administration has agreed to include international verifications in an FMCT, and according to the Shannon Mandate, existing stockpiles were simply going to be discussed in terms of a future FMCT. The parameters laid out for a future FMCT and the mandate provided to the CD’s Ad Hoc Committee for this purpose were reflective of Resolution 48/75L of the UN General Assembly and so the Committee was directed to negotiate a “non-discriminatory, multilateral and internationally verifiable treaty” while the issue of existing stockpiles and Prevention of a Race in Outer Space (PAROS) was to be part of the discussions within the Committee as it evolved an acceptable FMCT.

However, now the situation has altered for Pakistan – in the wake of the Indo-US nuclear deal and the subsequent Indian deals with Russia and France. All these deals allow India to accumulate massive amounts of fissile material, which will totally destroy Pakistan’s nuclear capability for the future. For Pakistan, the form of a FMCT is crucial on two counts: First, if there are no provisions for reductions in existing stockpiles of fissile material, it will be at a permanent disadvantage in terms of the credibility of its nuclear deterrence vis-a-vis India. Worse still, eventually this deterrence capability will be compromised especially in the face of these deals, which will allow India to use its “liberated” and unsafeguarded nuclear fuel from its civil reactors for weapons production.

That is why, while Pakistan should continue to talk to China and other “like-minded” states, we should know that the Chinese will give limited commitments of support, but will probably accept the Obama FMCT. So, at the end of the day, Pakistan will have to go it alone on the FMCT.

We now need to alter our stance from the Shannon mandate and insist that any fissile material treaty must first include reductions in existing stockpiles. The starting point should be that even if Pakistan has to stand alone, it must do so. The issue is too critical for our nuclear deterrence’s credibility. In fact, it is on this position, regardless of who backs us or does not back us, that we should formulate our stand in the CD – we cannot do what we did in the IAEA on the issue of Indian safeguards. The position the NCA defines today on the FMCT will probably be the single most critical issue in defining our nuclear future.

— Dr. Shireen M Mazari

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About ThePeopleOfPakistan
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