Pakistan has zero chance of getting a US civilian nuclear deal like the Indian one. Yet there was near panic among Indian analysts and politicians before last week’s US-Pak Strategic Dialogue in Washington, during which Pakistan demanded civilian nuclear parity with India.
The BJP protested against the ‘help-the-ally-at-any-cost’ attitude of the US. Now, the BJP had earlier lamented that the Indo-US deal was terrible for India. You might think it would be overjoyed that the same terrible fate might overtake Pakistan, but that was not the case. The BJP position was reminiscent of the old Woody Allen joke, “the food here is terrible, and the helpings are so small.”
Pakistan’s request for nuclear co-operation was deal before arrival. George Perkovic of the Carnegie Endowment pointed out that even if a deal became conceivable in the future, highly intrusive US conditions would “be so offensive to the Pakistanis that instead of improving relations, it would end up irritating them.” He added,” No US company in its right mind would build in Pakistan. Are they going to get paid? Are their workers going to be safe?”
Indian panic on the topic soon proved unfounded. The Washington talks pledged US aid for Pakistan’s energy—mainly dams—but pointedly ignored nuclear power.
Why was there any panic at all in India? Because, prior to the Washington meeting, US Ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, said the US was “beginning to have a discussion with the Pakistan government” on nuclear energy. She noted that earlier America’s “non-proliferation concerns were quite severe” but “I think we are beginning to pass those and this is a scenario that we are going to explore.”
Now, all Ambassadors suffer from an occupational disease called localitis, which makes them echo the sentiments of the country in which they are posted. Localitis helps Ambassadors become popular locally, but it is largely a form of sweet talk. It should never be mistaken for a foreign policy revolution.
The US has long been paranoid about nuclear proliferation. The Democratic Party in particular views this as one of the most important foreign policy issues of all. The US has marshaled all diplomatic resources to scotch Iran’s nuclear programme, which it sees as a catastrophic example of proliferation.
India was given a nuclear deal only because President Bush saw a long-term strategic Indo-US fit, and so used precious political capital to bulldoze the deal through Congress. But President Obama has neither the political capital nor the inclination to do anything similar for Pakistan.
Indeed, the New York Times recently highlighted the extent to which Dr AQ Khan and his Pakistani network helped Iran acquire centrifuges for uranium enrichment and drawings for a full-fledged nuclear bomb. This puts Islamabad in the doghouse. The Pakistan government may disclaim complicity, but the Americans are not naïve enough to believe that. They know Khan is viewed as a national hero, whom no Pakistani government dares act against.
That apart, Pakistan has been on the mat for diverting US military aid from the battle against the Taliban (for which it is intended) to arming against India. The US media has also exposed the diversion of huge sums into the pockets of Army brass. Further aid to Pakistan is being strictly monitored, and its request for F-16 fighters has not been finally cleared.
Since 9/11, Pakistan has captured and handed over several Al Qaeda operatives but it has given the Afghan Taliban—whom it created—a safe haven in Quetta. It did not realise that coddling fundamentalists would soon produce a Pakistani Taliban that now threatens the Pakistani state.
Islamabad has cracked down on the Pakistani Taliban, and seems to understand that it needs to act against the Afghan Taliban too. It has arrested a top Taliban leader, Mullah Baradar. However, Baradar was attempting to build bridges with President Karzai of Afghanistan, raising fears that his arrest may be aimed at strengthening the Taliban radicals, not eliminating them.
In this murky atmosphere, the US is trying to get Pakistan to implement its private agenda. But the latest Pew Survey shows fully 64% of Pakistanis view the US as an enemy, and only 9% as a partner. This cannot be the basis of a long term strategic partnership. By contrast, 71% of Indians have a favorable view of the US.
Today Pakistan is complying reluctantly, believing that the US will soon pull out and leave Islamabad as the key player in the region. Most Pakistanis say the US has simply used them and then dumped them when convenient. Very true. But that underlines the absence of a long-term strategic fit. Which is why Pakistan cannot hope to get nuclear parity with India.