The Nuclear Issue: Pakistan must do its Homework

In an unparalleled move Pakistan’s key political parties have passed a resolution on A.Q. Khan and Pakistan’s nuclear program.

The resolution categorically stated, “Pakistan’s nuclear program is vital to our defense and is not directed against anyone. Pakistan is a responsible nuclear state and is fully cognizant of its responsibilities in international politics.”

Pakistani scientists, resolution added, “enjoy the respect and appreciation of all Pakistanis and our nation is indebted to them for the remarkable progress that our country has made in the field of nuclear technology, weapon development and energy security.” The resolution also ruled out the handing over of A. Q. Khan to the United States.

While the points raised in the resolution have been repeatedly stated by different members of the Pakistani government, this resolution holds special significance for several reasons.

One is its timing. It has come as a direct response to the May 25 hearing of the US Congressional Sub Committee on Terrorism and Nuclear Non-Proliferation on the A.Q. Khan case. The committee basically concluded that Pakistan was the most dangerous country as far as proliferation activities were concerned.

Second the resolution is a direct response to the attempted pressure by Washington on the Pakistan government regarding the A.Q. Khan case, proliferation and Pakistan’s nuclear command and control system.

Third, this is perhaps the most clear and unambiguous articulation of Pakistan’s position on the repeated demand made by the US and the IAEA that Pakistan’s lead scientist be handed over to the IAEA or that the IAEA and US officials be given direct access to A.Q. Khan.

Fourthly, the assertion comes at the time of intense US pressure on Iran.

While the May 25 hearing was based on insufficient evidence, it will be a tool in the hands of various lobbies opposed to Pakistan’s nuclear program. A few think tanks in Washington have already organized simulation exercises premised on the possibility of Pakistan’s nuclear program falling into the hands of the “extremists.”

Officials at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington had met with senior State Department officials and raised the issue of the May 25 testimony. But the State Department officials did not show up at the hearing.

Clearly Pakistan is in this alone. The Bush administration, currently seeking Congressional support for the Indo-US nuclear deal, is keen to strengthen its nonproliferation credentials. Hence at this point there will be no support forthcoming for Pakistan.

So the Senate resolution was a necessary political statement spelling out Pakistan’s bottom line on these issues. Pakistan has already taken some major steps to safeguard its own nuclear program and nuclear arsenal and to promote international nuclear nonproliferation.

These include an ongoing dialogue on safety and security of nuclear/strategic facilities and assets; creation of a tight command and control structures over Pakistan’s nuclear-strategic “complex”; Pakistan ‘s cooperation with the IAEA and US on the Iranian nuclear issue; cooperation, through specific steps, in dismantling the proliferation network involving A.Q. Khan; adoption of export control legislation and regulations reflecting the highest standards.

These steps have been taken without compromising the tight security and secrecy of Pakistan’s own nuclear program. Many were taken with technical support from the US.

Pakistan needs to publicly articulate these steps. It needs to reiterate its commitment to a comprehensively and fairly worked-out fissile fuel cutoff treaty.

Similarly Pakistan needs to reiterate its commitment to signing the CTBT as part of a broad South Asian nuclear restraint regime that Islamabad first proposed in 1998. Islamabad also needs to publicly reiterate its earlier proposal that Pakistan and India discuss ways to strengthen nonproliferation and promote strategic stability.

In short, Pakistan should be seen as an active player on the world scene promoting nonproliferation while safeguarding its own security-driven nuclear program.

Pakistan needs to be proactive, imaginative and bold. Maybe the Parliament and especially the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should work out a strategy to promote and project Pakistan as a responsible nuclear state. Part of the pressure that Pakistan faces can be removed by eliminating the disconnect between Pakistan’s policy content and the articulation plus projection of policy.

The Senate’s multiparty committee maybe the appropriate platform from where the initiative should be taken to drain out populism from the public discourse on national security.

Often state institutions and the political parties have been responsible for reducing debate on national security issues like the nuclear program, to point-scoring battles. A matter-of-fact and well-informed debate means that the people of Pakistan are not reduced to thinking that taking steps to better manage our own nuclear program and to become a responsible nuclear state within the international community amounts to “selling” or compromising Pakistan’s nuclear program –” a fear that has been responsible for the government’s decision not to be more open about the steps taken to safeguard the country’s nuclear program and to promote nonproliferation.