A US South Asian security expert has suggested offering Pakistan its own India type nuclear deal, saying such a pact could finally offer the right set of carrots to ensure Islamabad's counter-terror cooperation.
"Nuclear cooperation could deliver results where billions of dollars of American aid have failed," suggests Christine Fair, an assistant professor of South Asian political military affairs at Georgetown University, in an article in the Wall Street Journal.
Noting that "Islamabad has refused to work against the Afghan Taliban and home-grown terror groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), or provide Washington access to (nuclear scientist) AQ Khan to verify that his nuclear black markets have been dismantled", she suggests two criteria for fundamental recognition of Pakistan's nuclear status and civilian assistance.
First, Pakistan would have to provide the kind of access and cooperation on nuclear suppliers' networks identified in the Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation.
Second, Pakistan would have to demonstrate sustained and verifiable commitment in combating all terrorist groups on its soil, including those groups such as LeT blamed for the Nov 26, 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
"Pakistan currently operates on the assumption that its possession of nuclear weapons confers a degree of protection against American or Indian attempts to crack down on Pakistan's home-grown terror groups," Fair writes.
Noting that "Pakistan's fears of India are chronic and are likely to deepen as India continues its ascent on the world stage", she says: "In the future Pakistan is likely to become more reliant, not less, on nuclear-protected jihad to secure its interests."
"Despite India's past restraint, a militant attack in India remains one of the most likely precipitants of an Indo-Pakistan war," Fair says.
Stating that "the spectre of further nuclear proliferation to states or non-state actors remains a serious concern", she says: "That's where a civilian nuclear deal between the US and Pakistan could prove so important."
"The US is currently limited in its ability to shore up Pakistan's confidence against India because Islamabad fears that Washington, perhaps working with India or Israel, seeks to dismantle Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme," Fair says.
"Fundamentally, Pakistan believes the US rejects its status as a nuclear-armed state, whereas Washington has accepted and even supported the other two states that have acquired nuclear weapons outside of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, Israel and India," she says.
But "with a civilian nuclear deal, Washington can trade the nuclear acceptance Pakistan craves for the cooperation the US needs", Fair says, though "a nuclear deal will not be an easy sale either in Washington or in Islamabad".
"It is possible that even this deal may not provide Pakistan adequate incentives to eliminate terror groups or provide access to persons like A.Q. Khan," she says.
"Yet there is value in putting this on the table now," Fair said as "ties between Washington and Islamabad have never been more strained, yet are critical to key interests of both states".