Pakistan's compulsions

Print edition : September 25, 1999

PAKISTAN'S decision not to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) at this stage comes as no surprise. Linked to this decision is the formal announcement that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will not visit New York to attend the ongoing United Nations General Assembly session. However, the issue reportedly figured in the discussion between Sharif's younger brother and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott in Washington on September 15.

Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz told Dawn on September 12: "We will not consider the signing of the CTBT till the time the sanctions imposed against Pakistan by the United States are removed." Aziz also told the newspaper that Pakistan had committed itself to signing it by September 1999 only if a coercion-free atmosphere was created. "Our condition has not yet been met so there is no question of signing the CTBT at this stage." The Foreign Minister said that the recent enunciation of a draft nuclea r doctrine by India would have nothing to do with Pakistan's decision in this regard.

Addressing the U.N. General Assembly on September 23, 1998, Nawaz Sharif said: "We have declared a moratorium on nuclear testing; so has India. There is no reason why the two countries cannot adhere to the CTBT. In a nuclearised South Asia, the CTBT woul d have relevance if Pakistan and India are both parties to the Treaty."

Sharif said then that Pakistan would be ready to sign up in September 1999 in conditions "free from coercion or pressure". If India resumed testing while Pakistan adhered to the CTBT, Islamabad would invoke the "supreme interests clause" as provided unde r Article 9 of the Treaty, he said.

Earlier, speaking to the foreign media on May 23, 1998, prior to the Pakistani nuclear tests, the Prime Minister had questioned the relevance of the CTBT and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Sharif said: "Apart from threatening Pakistan, India is now blackmailing the world by offers of bargain on the CTBT. We believe that the Indian actions (tests) have rendered the non-proliferation regime and instruments such as the NPT and the CTBT irrelevant. The Indian tests have posed new challenges and dilemmas in the field of non-proliferation. Fresh thinking is now needed on these issues."

Clearly, between May and September 1998, Pakistan's thinking on the "relevance" of the CTBT had undergone a major change. From a position of considering the Treaty irrelevant, Pakistan shifted to a position of adhering to the CTBT in conditions free from coercion and pressure.

Similarly, while the Foreign Minister in his comments to Dawn on September 12 denied any linkage between India's nuclear doctrine and Pakistan's position on the CTBT, Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmad gave a different opinion in a lecture delivered at the Institute of Strategic Studies (ISS) in Islamabad on September 7. He said: "If this (nuclear) doctrine is to be implemented, India will require nuclear warheads to be placed on its short, medium and longer-range missiles. It would want to match t he other nuclear powers by developing thermonuclear weapons. Unless India has received nuclear weapons designs from clandestine sources, it will need further nuclear tests to achieve the advanced deployment capabilities it desires... the very possibility that India may conduct further nuclear tests creates doubts in Pakistan regarding the advisability of our early adherence to the CTBT. If India conducts further nuclear tests, this will, once again, oblige Pakistan to respond."

Shamshad Ahmad added: "Further nuclear tests by India will completely subvert the CTBT. The first priority for the world must be, therefore, to press India - and not Pakistan - to sign and ratify the CTBT and to reverse the preparations it has made for f urther nuclear tests."

Pakistan is keen that the U.S. should withdraw the Pressler Amendment, which imposed a ban on arms sales to Pakistan. Pakistan also wants to link its decision on the CTBT to what India does - at this moment Nawaz Sharif can ill-afford to be attacked by t he Opposition for yet another "pro-U.S." action.

The Sharif Government had come in for considerable criticism for its July 4 accord with the United States to end the Kargil misadventure. With the Opposition mounting a challenge through street demonstrations, the Prime Minister would be loath to sign th e CTBT at this stage. Hence the decision not to go to New York at this juncture.

Had India been in a position to adhere to the CTBT, Pakistan could have taken a decision on signing the Treaty with relative ease. However, the fall of the Vajpayee government complicated the situation for Pakistan. It also stalled the parallel U.S.-Paki stan and U.S.-India dialogue on nuclear non-proliferation.

In his September 7 lecture, Shamshad Ahmad also proposed that until the CTBT came into force, Pakistan and India "could formalise their unilateral moratoriums into a binding bilateral arrangement".

Whatever be the U.S. decision on lifting the Pressler sanctions on Pakistan, Islamabad will still link its decision on the CTBT to what India does. It would appear that Pakistan's decision not to link its stand to that of India's on the CTBT stands rever sed.

The Sharif Government also faces flak from right-wing, Islamist elements which see any decision to sign the CTBT as a "sell-out" to the West. It is clear that for Pakistan, the domestic dimension is crucial to any decision on the Treaty.

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