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Pakistan Will Oppose the Fissile Materials Cut-Off Treaty at the Conference on Disarmament

Dr. Ch. Viyyanna Sastry was Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi
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  • January 29, 2010

    Continuing its opposition to the initiation of discussions on a global treaty to halt production of nuclear materials required for development of nuclear weapons at the United Nations Conference on Disarmament (CD) - the world’s sole multilateral forum to negotiate arms control and disarmament agreements - Pakistan blocked the adoption of the 2010 agenda for the CD on January 19, 2010 at Geneva. Its Permanent Representative at the CD, Zamir Akram, stated that his country did not want to work with a programme that was frozen in time and called for broadening the agenda to cover two other issues, which were directly aimed at India. According to him, the CD should also consider conventional arms control at the regional and sub-regional levels and also negotiate a global regime on all aspects of ballistic missiles. While calling for conventional arms control, Zamir was recalling the UN General Assembly resolution sponsored by Pakistan and passed in November 2009.

    After temporarily halting the passage of the agenda and after several countries urged Pakistan to relax its stance, Islamabad dropped its objection to the adoption of the agenda on January 22, 2010. However, Islamabad warned that it would continue to oppose a FMCT. While stating that it was not his government’s intention to block its adoption, Zakir made it clear that if the CD was going to negotiate a treaty which would only prohibit future production of fissile materials, the asymmetry between India and Pakistan would be frozen forever, posing a severe threat to Pakistan.

    It may be recalled that the CD remained deadlocked for 12 years after the adoption of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996 because of the lack of consensus among major nations on issues to be taken up by the CD. China and Russia were advocating a treaty banning the use of outer space for military applications, which was opposed by the United States. For its part, the United States was pushing for a Fissile Materials Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT). The logjam could only be overcome in May 2009 when a work plan was agreed to address issues such as the FMCT, prohibition of space-based weapons, nuclear disarmament and issuance of negative security assurances to non-weapons States from the nuclear weapons States. However, Pakistan objected to the consensus citing security issues and demanded additional consideration of the plan. As a result of the Pakistani posture, the CD was forced to end its session without an agreement.

    Pakistan’s position has always been linked to the Indian stance at all international fora. Be it the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or CTBT, Pakistan was willing to sign any international treaty only if India also became a party to it. However on the issue of FMCT, Pakistan was aware of the fact that there was a wide gap in the fissile materials stocks held by India and Pakistan. So, Pakistan has been insisting that any talks at the CD should also consider past stocks held by all the nations. India’s stance was close to that of the Nuclear Weapons States that the negotiations would be for ban on future production.

    The Pakistani decision to adopt an uncompromising stance appears to have been taken at the high level. The National Command Authority (NCA) of Pakistan, the highest body responsible for nuclear weapons, assets and policy, met for the first time under its new Chairman, Yousuf Raza Gilani, on January 13, 2010 and emphasised that promotion of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament objectives in South Asia was linked with regional security dynamics and the need to address existing asymmetries and resolution of outstanding disputes. It also stressed that the CD should play its due role in global nuclear disarmament. As far as FMCT is concerned, Pakistan’s position would be determined by its national security interests and the objectives of strategic stability in South Asia. A statement issued after the meeting mentioned that selective and discriminatory measures that perpetuate regional instability in any form and manner derogate from the objectives of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, and therefore cannot be accepted.

    Ever since India and the United States agreed to conclude a civil nuclear partnership in 2005 ending India’s nuclear isolation, Pakistan has been making all out efforts to clinch a similar deal for itself. It had even proposed a criteria-based approach for the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to relax its stringent export rules. The United States, however, declared that it was not willing to consider a similar deal for Pakistan.

    As an alternative, Pakistan approached China and France to forge nuclear cooperation agreements. However, Pakistan not being a party to the NPT and not having a full-scope safeguards agreement with the IAEA has so far made it difficult for other countries to do nuclear business with Islamabad. Pakistan’s proliferation track-record does not help either. Given the revelations about AQ Khan’s involvement in the nuclear black-market in 2003 and the supply of nuclear technologies to countries like Libya, Iran and North Korea, things do not look bright for Pakistan.

    Though world opinion is still divided on whether the FMCT would include past stocks or not, Pakistan appears to have decided to continue with the production of fissile materials and oppose any talks at the CD. Pakistan is known to be constructing two more plutonium production reactors along with a reprocessing plant at the Khushab site, where a 40 to 50 MWth reactor has been operational since 1998. As a result, the CD is likely to witness another year of halting progress.