The deal US is considering with Pakistan to limit its nuclear arsenal in exchange for free access to nuclear material and supplies is very different from the one it has with India.
The US proposal, as reported by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, is to cap Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and delivery systems, tying them to the defence needs regarding India.
In other words, the deal seems designed to cover Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal — the warheads — fissile material and production facilities, giving US access to them.
In return, the US will facilitate for Pakistan easier access to nuclear material and supplies from the 38-member Nuclear Suppliers Group, which doesn’t trade with non-NPT countries.
The US nuclear deal with India covers only civilian use facilities, opening them to international inspection. But it does not cover weapons and related processes at all.
Pakistan has been seeking a nuclear deal like the one US has with India, arguing for a “non-discriminatory approach on nuclear issues”, but hasn’t had any success, not until now, it seems.
Now, however, the US seems to be moving towards using Pakistan’s desire of a deal to cap its weapons programme and delivery systems that had long been an international concern.
The White House refused to confirm or deny the Washington Post column saying it doesn’t typically comment on internal discussions. But, implicit here, is the absence of denial.
The Post said talks have been on quietly between the US and Pakistan in the run-up to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s coming visit to the US to meet President Barack Obama later this month.
The columnist called the move a “diplomatic blockbuster”, but warned progress could be “slow and difficult” as “Pakistan prizes its nuclear program … and it’s not clear if Islamabad would be willing to accept the limitations that would be required”.
Pakistan currently has between 100 and 120 nuclear warheads in its arsenal, to India’s 80-100, but is projected to become the world’s third largest in a decade, based on its production targets.
The US and Russia have the largest stockpile with an estimated 1,600 each. France, China and UK are next with 300, 250 and 225 respectively.
A recent study by Carnegie and Stimson Center, both think tanks, suggested Pakistan could go up to 350 in a decade based on its estimation of India’s stock of fissile material.
Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal worries the world given its proliferation history, Abdul Qadeer Khan’s nuclear black-market, and growing presence of extremists.
But the current move comes, the Washington Post columnist said, in the context of bringing lasting peace to Afghanistan and in recognition of Pakistan’s role in it.
Pakistan is already one round of talks between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban, in Murree, which was to be the venue for the next round also, but then talks broke down.