Moves of carrots and brackets
Notwithstanding several official clarifications, curiosity continues. The repeated rejections, that no deal would come out of Sharif’s visit to Washington, have flaunted some impressions. It was already being expected that no deal is not likely to come to fruition during Sharif’s visit, and the post-dialogue preliminary reports also avowed that US officials have denied the news of negotiations with Pakistan on India-akin civil nuclear deal along with exception in Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to facilitate civil nuclear experts. Yet, it is projected by nuclear experts that the two sides may have ended up discussing the issue of a deal. Peter R Lavoy, a longtime intelligence expert on the Pakistani nuclear program and currently serving in the US National Security Council, said “a deal like the one that’s been discussed publicly is not something that’s likely to come to fruition next week and I would anticipate that dialogue would include conversations between the leaders of our two countries.”
The revelation about the possibility of a civil nuclear accord with Pakistan explored by US came into limelight vehemently following the recent article of David Ignatius. The undiplomatic narrative of David disclosed that ‘deal offered by Obama’s administration limits the scope of Pakistan’s nuclear programme in return for civil nuclear cooperation and an entry into NSG that regulates the global trade’. These trends nullify the apprehensions that Sharif went to beg a civil nuclear deal because if the deal was negotiated then it was offered and not demanded. Moreover, such a scenario also represents US recognition that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is safe. Reportedly, American officials have told Congress they are increasingly convinced that most of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is under good safeguards, with warheads separated from delivery vehicles and a series of measures in place to guard against unauthorised use.
Conversely, even if the deal has not been negotiated, the context of few recent developments including this visit flag significant shifts in policies. After Indo-US nuclear deal, Pakistan was seeking a similar civil nuclear arrangement. Nonetheless following recent reports about mainstreaming Pakistan in the global nuclear order after accepting ‘brackets’ on its nuclear programme, the policymaking body of Pakistan’s strategic programme, National Command Authority (NCA), explicitly rejected ‘brackets’ by reiterating the ‘national resolve to maintain Full Spectrum Deterrence Capability’. A Pakistani official was also quoted saying “we want a nuclear deal and are candidates for NSG membership but there is no desperation for this.” If this is the first time when US seriously made a move to discuss Pakistan’s nuclear program, so is Pakistan’s confidence to refuse any deal which is not as suitable as it was offered to India.
This shift on both sides is connected with several shifts in the international security order. The probable strongholds of IS in western Asia and Afghanistan has yet again underlined a reason for US to uphold stable relations with Pakistan, viewing its strategic significance in the region. On the other hand, Russia’s renaissance in the west-Asian landscape, from Ukraine to Syria, has exhibited serious challenges for US. In addition, the multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has evidently enhanced the geostrategic importance of the region and forced US not to let China become the dominant strategic player in the region. Possibly, the Obama administration may also want to offer a deal to score another diplomatic blockbuster after the Iranian nuclear deal.
Apart from the above mentioned diplomatic and security pressures, the timings about the deal’s revelation, just before Sharif’s visit, is also interesting. As said by a US senior official, “The idea is to try to change the dynamic, see if helping them on NSG would be a carrot for them to act in this other area.” As the comprehensive agenda discussed during the visit predominantly demanded cooperation in counter-terrorism, such an offer could be an effort to relate the strategic weapons with terrorism.
Pragmatically, a civil nuclear deal offered to Pakistan would bring the US to a crossroad. A senior Indian critic on the potential US-Pak deal said, “It will show how hollow is the strategic relationship between India and the US, and why it would not be wise to trust the US. The India-US nuclear deal will be eroded of much of its strategic importance bilaterally as a result.” Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, said, “When it comes to things nuclear, the prospects for getting Pakistan to do something are pretty slim because you can’t expect them to do something unless we’re willing to treat them identically with India.”
Accordingly, Pakistan will not and should not accept limits on its nuclear programme because India is purchasing nuclear technology under the Indo-US nuclear deal without limiting its nuclear programme. Pakistan is already engaged with China on civil nuclear cooperation and is steadily improving its relations with Russia. Evidently, in the transforming geostrategic landscape, the carrot to mainstream a nuclear Pakistan in the international order is a need misunderstood by the US.