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

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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