The US has nudged Pakistan to reduce its growing nuclear arsenal but Islamabad has refused to accept any curbs, saying Washington must show “greater understanding” of its security concerns in South Asia.
Citing the example of the US and Russia, which are working to further reduce their atomic arsenals, secretary of state John Kerry asked Pakistan to acknowledge this reality and review its nuclear policy.
“I think, it is important for Pakistan to really process that reality and put that front and centre in its policy,” Kerry said in an apparent reference to reports that Pakistan has the world’s fastest growing stockpile of nuclear weapons.
The nuclear issue figured during security talks held here on Monday under the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue. Kerry’s remarks came ahead of the Nuclear Security Summit to be hosted by President Barack Obama. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is among the world leaders who will attend the meet.
Kerry said “non-proliferation” and “nuclear safety” is of obvious concern to the US and Pakistan. “I expect that we continue to discuss the obligation of being a responsible state with nuclear weapons in the coming year,” he said.
He noted the US and the erstwhile Soviet Union had 50,000 nuclear warheads pointed at each other. “We have moved in a completely opposite direction. And today, Russia and the US are operating under a treaty that has about 1,500 or so nuclear warheads and we are seeking to reduce that,” he said.
Pakistan’s foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz sought the nuclear mainstreaming of his country. “Our engagement on non-proliferation and strategic stability will continue and Pakistan hopes to see greater US understanding of Pakistan’s security concerns and its desire to contribute actively as a mainstream nuclear power,” he said.
Pakistan has said it will not accept any unilateral curbs on its nuclear programme and any reduction should apply to India as well.
At the start of the talks, Pakistan said the sale of eight F-16 jets would strengthen its ability to mount counter-terrorist operations and promote regional stability. The US this month approved the sale of the aircraft, radars and electronic warfare equipment to Pakistan in a deal worth nearly $700 million.
The sale has been criticised by India and by US lawmakers.
The US also commended Pakistan’s commitment not to differentiate between terrorist groups, including those targeting India.
“We commend Pakistan for its whole-of-government approach to implement the National Action Plan and eliminate the ability of militant groups to recruit, to finance, and to incite violence,” Kerry said at the inaugural session of the dialogue.
“And we welcome Pakistan’s commitment not to differentiate between terrorist groups in the implementation of this strategy,” he said. “Groups like the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Taiba (that) seek to undermine Pakistan’s efforts to foster strong, positive relations with its neighbours.”
Groups like the Haqqani Network, LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammed, he said, are “literally stealing the sovereignty of a nation”.
Sartaj Aziz said Pakistan had “reached out to India” as part of its policy for a peaceful neighbourhood. “We believe the resolution of all outstanding issues, including the Kashmir dispute, is possible through resumption of full-scale and uninterrupted dialogue with India,” he said.
“It is unfortunate that the agreement on resuming the dialogue process was disrupted by the attack on Pathankot airbase on 2nd January,” he added.
Pakistan has taken some important steps in the aftermath of the attack, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif immediately called his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi and assured him of Pakistan’s support in the investigation.
The national security advisers are maintaining frequent contacts, a case has been registered, and a special investigation team is likely to visit Indian in the next few days, he said.
The US-Pakistan strategic dialogue process started in 2010 but it was interrupted the following year after a US raid in Abbottabad killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The process resumed in 2014.