Furthering the U.S. agenda

Print edition : January 30, 1999

THE United States is driving a hard bargain. The talks U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott has had with Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmad and India's External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh appear to be all about furthering the U.S. nuclear non-proliferation agenda; in the seven rounds of talks, there was little discussion in terms of security issues relating to Pakistan or India.

During his two-day visit to Islamabad in the first week of February, Talbott is expected to go over an agenda that the two sides are by now familiar with.

The U.S. is pushing for a strategic restraint regime in South Asia, which essentially amounts to capping the nuclear weaponisation and missile programmes of India and Pakistan at their present levels. Pakistan and India are committed to signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and getting their signatures on the treaty is believed to be among the easier items on the agenda. Tightening of export controls is another item that will not be too difficult to implement.

The U.S. is also expected to push hard for a moratorium on fissile material production, pending negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) in Geneva. For its part, Pakistan has rejected the idea of a unilateral or even multilateral cap on the production of fissile materials. Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz told the National Assembly on December 26: "Given our genuine security concerns, we cannot agree to any demand for a moratorium on the production of fissile materials, unilaterally or multilaterally, before the conclusion of or separately from a FMCT. We believe that a fissile material treaty should be an instrument promoting both nuclear proliferation and nuclear disarmament. A fissile material treaty aimed at only preventing further proliferation would be discriminatory and thus ineffective... Pakistan's other major problem is the unequal stockpile of fissile materials existing at the global, regional and sub-regional levels. We strongly believe that by cutting off the future production of fissile materials without taking into account the existing stockpiles at the global and regional levels, we will only freeze the nuclear imbalances."

It is clear that Pakistan has rejected the idea of capping fissile material production on the basis of its perceived security interests. The basic argument is that India has a much larger stockpile and Pakistan will lose out if it agrees to a moratorium at this stage.

As far as the strategic restraint regime is concerned, Pakistan has been in the good books of the U.S. ever since it presented as its own the American proposal to India during the October 1998 round of talks with the Indian Foreign Secretary. While Pakistan may well have its own interpretation of this restraint regime, Islamabad is aware that at this point "restraining" India is a good idea as far as its nuclear and missile programmes go. Given the state of the Pakistani economy, Pakistan has extended this "idea" of restraint even to the field of conventional arms simply because it does not have the resources to match India. For example, the Pakistan Air Force has not made any acquisitions after the 1990 Pressler Amendment.

In the long term, Pakistan is aware that the U.S. agenda is not restricted to undertaking short-term steps on the nuclear non-proliferation front. As admitted by U.S. officials, the long-term objective continues to be to get Pakistan (and India) to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The eighth round of talks between Talbott and Shamshad Ahmad will provide the U.S. with another occasion to further its nuclear agenda while reminding Pakistan that it was the U.S. that helped restore aid to Islamabad through the International Monetary Fund.

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