For Pakistan, becoming a nuclear power was never an agenda item until it was forced to add it to its to-do list when its neighbor India started a nuclear arms race in South Asia in 1974 by conducting a nuclear explosion.
Islamabad was left with no other option and to ensure security of the country and maintain a balance of power in the region, it started its own nuclear program to maintain deterrence. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the-then Prime Mister of Pakistan addressed the nation and said “even if we have to eat grass, we will make nuclear bomb. We have no other choice”. An enemy with a track record of employing coercive means to challenge its neighbor on a regular basis, becoming a nuclear power was perhaps the safest bet at that time.
However, despite poor economic conditions, Pakistan became a nuclear power in May 1998 after successfully carrying out tests in Chaghi, Balochistan.
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As a consequence, Pakistan’s decision of making nukes for maintaining deterrence and balance of power has been proven right, as both states never went on a full scale war after acquiring WMDs.
Since the end of Cold War and the ensuing reshuffling of the international system, US maintained its presence in the region after ensuring that South Asia did not fall to the whims of Communism. Islamabad played a significant role during USA’s war with USSR at a time when Indian inclination was more towards the Soviet Union.
However, as soon as Washington’s target was achieved, it left Pakistan and the region in general, to its own devices, thus allowing circumstances to shape the respective destinies of both South Asian countries. India however, was still able to get due rewards for its loyalty towards the new Russia and was able to achieve greater heights in its nuclear program than Pakistan.
That was not the first time Pakistan was left as a hopeless case by Americans, despite its services. And to further compound on the misery, in 2005, US signed a civil nuclear deal with India, which was seen as another step toward hampering the balance of power in the region by many policymakers and analysts in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s stance over the 2005 civil nuclear deal was crystal clear right from the start – Islamabad wanted closure from US as to what particular mechanism it used in a bid to sign a civil nuclear deal with India when just like Pakistan, it had refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Indeed, one can forgive Pakistan for feeling left out by its oldest ally.
Making an effort to convince the safety of its nuclear program
Though, Pakistan kept on pursuing in the same channel by doing its best to convince the west that its nuclear program is secure and is in safe hands, it was to no avail. Moreover, being a nation with an acute energy shortage crisis, Pakistan badly needed to utilize reactors for peaceful purposes.
Furthermore, it is very clear that India will always oppose such action at every level, as they would never want to see Pakistan on equal footing. But the international scenario started to change and US was forced to consider tying up a deal with Pakistan in a bid to revive an alliance that has been weakening in its intensity for the past several months.
And while talks of Pakistan and US civil nuclear deal have been grabbing regular media attention, so far, nothing has been finalized and everything is still up in the air. It is a long process, as both parties have to pave out a way to seal the deal with positive outcomes and of course it is a matter of national security, which means that Pakistan will be looking to ensure that it is not at the end of a wrong bargain.
A nuclear deal after a lot of bargaining?
On the other had the secretary, Josh Earnest while speaking to the media expressed his concerns that such a deal will happen in a quick fashion considering the fact that there are a lot of complications. “A deal like the one that’s been discussed publicly is not something that’s likely to come to fruition next week. But the United States and Pakistan are regularly engaged in a dialogue about the importance of nuclear security. And I would anticipate that that dialogue would include conversations between the leaders of our two countries.”
Islamabad has to analyze this move from every angle, as this can be a move to limit Pakistan’s nuclear program. However, up till now Islamabad has not signed NPT, CTBT or FMCT, which doesn’t make it honor-bound to cut down on its stockpiling of WMDs.
It has been speculated that Pakistan has been stockpiling fissile material rapidly, which has raised concerns of western powers, especially US and this deal can be a step to put a lid on Pakistan’s recent nuclear activity.
However, if this deal happens one thing is for sure, Islamabad will not settle for anything less than India is enjoying through this deal which means that US will be forced to make a few concessions which in past, it hasn’t been willing to make when it comes to offering Pakistan any type of support.
US trying to balance its act in South Asia
It is not really surprising to see US trying to work out such a deal with Pakistan. With the likes of Russia and China already taking a lot of advantage out of USA’s hesitance in catering to Pakistan’s needs, Washington knows that it will only be a matter of time when Pakistan would simply free itself from its influence.
India on the other hand, has had quite a lot of reservations regarding the prospect of a civil nuclear deal happening on the other side of its border. New Delhi feels that a state that has been harboring terrorists for years should not be given such liberties. However, the fact that it has never been able to give a conclusive proof of Pakistan’s suspected activities in any international platform, renders its argument meaningless. Moreover, the fact that Pakistan has been stockpiling WMDs and small warheads for ages without letting any slip out of the facilities, means that the argument of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal not being in safe hands is also a far-fetched notion conjured by those who are not aware of the ground realities about the country’s nuclear program.