Pakistani Leader Said Intent on Developing New Nuclear ‘Understanding’ with India

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Pakistani Rangers, seen in black uniform, and Indian Border Security Force personnel, in khaki, perform the "flag off" ceremony at the Pakistan-India Wagah border post in January 2013. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is said interested in reducing nuclear-arms tensions between the two nations in upcoming peace talks.
National Journal
Elaine M. Grossman
July 31, 2014, 9:11 a.m.

As new peace talks ap­proach, Nawaz Sharif’s gov­ern­ment eyes a “very com­pre­hens­ive pro­pos­al” with In­dia on eas­ing atom­ic-arms ten­sions, says a seni­or Pakistani of­fi­cial.

A fresh bid by Is­lamabad to re­duce bi­lat­er­al nuc­le­ar stock­piles or the risk of their use could add an un­ex­pec­ted di­men­sion to the high-level dip­lomacy slated to be­gin Aug. 25, when the In­di­an for­eign sec­ret­ary meets with her coun­ter­part in the Pakistani cap­it­al.

“We have [a] very com­pre­hens­ive pro­pos­al that we have giv­en to In­dia, to es­tab­lish an un­der­stand­ing on the stra­tegic — mean­ing the non-con­ven­tion­al — as well as on the con­ven­tion­al weapons,” the seni­or Pakistani fig­ure told re­port­ers late last week while in Wash­ing­ton for talks with U.S. of­fi­cials. “We are very pro­act­ive on this.”

Yet, pro­spects for the idea — if it emerges form­ally from the heightened en­gage­ment — already are be­ing met with con­sid­er­able skep­ti­cism among is­sue ex­perts.

Pakistan has been rap­idly ex­pand­ing its abil­ity to pro­duce nuc­le­ar war­heads and de­liv­ery sys­tems in an ef­fort to off­set Del­hi’s su­per­i­or con­ven­tion­al cap­ab­il­it­ies, par­tic­u­larly since the 2008 Mum­bai ter­ror at­tacks that killed 166 people and deeply em­bittered re­la­tions between the neigh­bor­ing rivals.

Be­gin­ning a dec­ade ago, Pakistan at times has sug­ges­ted that the two sides en­gage in a “stra­tegic re­straint re­gime,” aimed at cap­ping their nuc­le­ar and mis­sile race. It would de­pend, though, on Is­lamabad con­vin­cing Del­hi to agree to cut­backs in its con­ven­tion­al forces.

As things stand, In­dia is seen as un­in­ter­ested in con­ven­tion­al mil­it­ary re­duc­tions. Its con­cerns are mount­ing about China’s mil­it­ary mod­ern­iz­a­tion and emer­gence as Asia’s dom­in­ant se­cur­ity play­er, amid Del­hi’s own broad­er as­pir­a­tions as a re­gion­al and glob­al power.

“No one ex­pects that to hap­pen,” Mi­chael Kre­pon, co-founder of the Stim­son Cen­ter, said re­gard­ing the pos­sib­il­ity of Del­hi trim­ming its con­ven­tion­al com­bat cap­ab­il­it­ies in any deal with Is­lamabad.

“Pakistan’s dip­lomacy tries to place the onus on In­dia as it ramps up its [own] fis­sile ma­ter­i­al pro­duc­tion and [plutoni­um] re­pro­cessing cap­ab­il­it­ies,” he said in a Wed­nes­day phone in­ter­view.

Sharif, who took of­fice in June 2013, agreed to deep­en bi­lat­er­al ties dur­ing a meet­ing with Nar­en­dra Modi, a day after the In­di­an prime min­is­ter’s May in­aug­ur­a­tion.

The up­com­ing talks between the two for­eign sec­ret­ar­ies, Pakistan’s Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry and In­dia’s Su­jatha Singh, are ex­pec­ted to fo­cus mainly on open­ing trade re­la­tions.

Still, the seni­or Pakistani of­fi­cial vis­it­ing Wash­ing­ton — who spoke on con­di­tion of an­onym­ity to ad­dress se­cur­ity and dip­lo­mat­ic is­sues — in­sisted that the ini­ti­at­ive could in­clude a nuc­le­ar-arms di­men­sion, as well.

Dur­ing a pri­or term as prime min­is­ter, Sharif in May 1998 floated the idea of bi­lat­er­al nuc­le­ar dis­arm­a­ment, the seni­or of­fi­cial noted. At the time, In­dia had just con­duc­ted two un­der­ground nuc­le­ar tests; Is­lamabad test-fired its own nuc­le­ar device later that month.

Today Pakistan is es­tim­ated to main­tain roughly 100 to 120 atom­ic war­heads, and In­dia’s nuc­le­ar ar­sen­al is be­lieved to num­ber between 90 and 110, ac­cord­ing to Hans Kristensen, who dir­ects the Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­ic­an Sci­ent­ists’ Nuc­le­ar In­form­a­tion Pro­ject.

Con­cerns are that any re­new­al of con­ven­tion­al con­flict between In­dia and Pakistan might quickly spir­al out of con­trol with an ex­change of nuc­le­ar weapons.

The Pakistani of­fi­cial last week said ini­tial dip­lo­mat­ic steps in an ef­fort to help quell on­go­ing bor­der ten­sions could be to “re­sur­rect the com­pos­ite dia­logue pro­cess that had been there for many years till it was sus­pen­ded, or we could think of an­oth­er mech­an­ism.”

“A dis­cus­sion of tac­tic­al weapons and re­plen­ish­ment of stocks of older mis­siles will prob­ably come up,” Shuja Nawaz, dir­ect­or of the At­lantic Coun­cil’s South Asia Cen­ter, said in re­sponse to emailed ques­tions. “A po­ten­tial source of pro­gress might be re­tire­ment of older mis­siles by both sides. That may help re­duce over­all num­bers.”

However, he said, he does “not ex­pect any break­through pro­pos­als.”

Sum­it Gan­guly, an In­di­ana Uni­versity polit­ic­al sci­ence pro­fess­or and In­di­an cul­tures schol­ar, said he doubts that any new con­fid­ence-build­ing ini­ti­at­ives “in the nuc­le­ar arena will be put for­ward.”

“These dis­cus­sions rep­res­ent an at­tempt to re­new past talks that had stalled” fol­low­ing the Mum­bai at­tacks, he said. “At best they will re­af­firm ex­ist­ing ac­cords and may agree on such meas­ures on pre-launch warn­ings of mis­sile tests and the like.”

The seni­or Pakistani of­fi­cial ac­know­ledged that any pro­gress on the nuc­le­ar-arms front — though de­sired by Sharif — likely could not pro­ceed quickly.

“You don’t want to rush it,” the of­fi­cial told re­port­ers last Thursday. “That the for­eign sec­ret­ary is com­ing to Is­lamabad, that’s a good sign. We have to move slowly, gradu­ally.”

“Man­aging the bi­lat­er­al nuc­le­ar rivalry is of low pri­or­ity to both sides — since both Is­lamabad and New Del­hi have their hands full with oth­er do­mest­ic prob­lems,” said Ash­ley Tel­lis, a Carne­gie En­dow­ment for In­ter­na­tion­al Peace ex­pert on Asi­an stra­tegic is­sues. “To the de­gree that any par­tic­u­lar is­sues have pri­or­ity, trade, ter­ror­ism, visa re­lax­a­tion, and en­sur­ing tran­quil­ity along the Line of Con­trol are likely to dom­in­ate the dis­cus­sion.”

Sharif and Modi each “face a huge chal­lenge from en­trenched in­terests at home: the mil­it­ary in Pakistan and the bur­eau­cracy in In­dia,” Nawaz said. But, he ad­ded, “they both have an op­por­tun­ity to show their lead­er­ship by be­ing bold and bring­ing along civil so­ci­ety and busi­nesses to bol­ster their ef­forts at cre­at­ing détente, fol­lowed by en­tente.”

Wheth­er there is room in that ef­fort for bold­ness in nuc­le­ar-arms cuts or risk re­duc­tion, as well, has yet to be seen.

“This is a cov­er­ing device,” Kre­pon said of the seni­or Pakistani of­fi­cial’s re­marks. “It sug­gests ex­traordin­ar­ily open-minded dip­lomacy as the nuc­le­ar cap­ab­il­it­ies grow stead­ily.

“So it’s a sol­emn dance,” he said. “I don’t see any evid­ence as yet that Pakistan is di­al­ing back on its nuc­le­ar weapon-re­lated pro­grams.”

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