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Nuclear Suppliers Group: Why Pakistan Needs to do More

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  • June 04, 2016

    Pakistan has been aspiring for membership of the 48-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for quite some time now, with this ambition intimately linked to its desire to gain parity with India, as New Delhi too seeks access to global nuclear commerce. China has supported Pakistan’s pursuit for membership on a rather frivolous basis, arguing that if India is accorded NSG membership even though it is not a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), then Pakistan also should be given a similar status. Irrespective of having a strong supporter in China, the cardinal issue that requires serious consideration is whether Pakistan should be allowed entry into the export control group.

    Why does Pakistan seek NSG membership?

    The negotiation of the India-United States civilian nuclear cooperation agreement in 2005 provided an impetus to Pakistan to seek civilian nuclear technology for meeting its energy requirements. With a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate of 4.71 percent and an estimated population of 200 million, Pakistan believes that nuclear energy is the solution to its ongoing energy crisis. To meet this challenge, Pakistan seeks entry into the NSG, which would facilitate nuclear commerce with the global community.

    However, Pakistan’s suggested rationale for NSG participation is unreasonable. Several experts believe that Pakistan’s energy crisis is primarily due to poor energy governance and mismanagement. Pakistan produces electricity at unaffordable prices, with the average cost currently between 14-17 rupees per kilowatt hour, the highest in South Asia. Additionally, widespread corruption leads to distribution and transmission losses which result in 22 percent of the generated electricity getting wasted. Pervez Hoodbhoy proclaims that “non payment of electricity bills by the military and various government departments to other government departments”[1]creates ‘circular debt.’ Pakistan’s electricity crisis is further intensified by pilferage and faulty electricity grids that cause inefficient distribution, leading to wastage.[2]Thus, it appears that the crisis is a man-made problem that can be internally managed with effective governance. Pakistan may also consider energy cooperation dialogues with willing partners to deal with this shortage. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has sought assistance to resolve the energy crisis in the country. In fact, in a bid to address its neighbor’s acute energy shortage, India jointly with Pakistan “announced several initiatives to accelerate cooperation in the oil and gas sector.” However, strained political relationships have prevented any forward movement on these initiatives. Arguably then, its energy crisis is not the reason behind Pakistan’s aspirations for NSG participation.

    Pakistan’s desire for entry into the NSG is rooted more in the quest for nuclear legitimacy, and parity with India. Whether these alone can be merits for entry into the NSG is debatable. Pakistan had expressed intense criticism over the 2005 India-United States civil nuclear deal on grounds that it will disturb the nuclear balance in the region. According to Pakistan, the imbalance can be restored with a similar deal that would not only provide Pakistan access to global trade in nuclear technology, but also put it at par with India. A third advantage would involve symbolic value in terms of nuclear legitimacy to Pakistan, and overshadow its past nuclear proliferation under A.Q. Khan. Pakistan believes that the civil nuclear deal has upped New Delhi’s overall nuclear clout vis-à-vis Islamabad. This weighs heavily on the psyche of Pakistani political and military establishments, which reckon that Islamabad is gradually losing influence in the region.

    Pakistan and NSG Membership

    To be a responsible nation, Pakistan must strive towards achieving nuclear legitimacy through more erudite means. Any fallacious presumptions of propagating controversial China-Pakistan nuclear trade as a fallout of the India-United States civilian nuclear deal cannot assist Islamabad to get entry into the NSG or obtain nuclear legitimacy. What is noteworthy is that the China-Pakistan nuclear agreement came before the India-United States nuclear deal, as shown in the timeline below.

    Table 1: Chronology of India-United States and China-Pakistan nuclear trade

    May 5, 2004 China committed to building a second nuclear power reactor (Chashma-2) in Pakistan
    April 10, 2005 Pakistan and China reached an agreement on two 300-megawatts-electric-capacity nuclear power reactors effective for the next ten years
    July 18, 2005 Official declaration of the India-United States nuclear deal

    Remarkably, the complexities inherent in Sino-Pakistan nuclear trade can never confer upon Pakistan the same nuclear benefits and global status as the India-United States nuclear deal has provided to India. This is because their controversial nuclear engagement generates global concerns and weakens the NPT. Hence, Sino-Pakistan nuclear power cooperation is not the desired pathway for Pakistan to seek nuclear legitimacy.

    Pakistan’s quest for NSG membership faces complications galore. However, it may consider adopting responsible strategies and policies to gain the trust of the global community. These measures include making substantial efforts to curb nuclear proliferation, eliminate terrorism, refrain from first-use strategies, stabilize relations with India, and cooperate with India to strengthen regional nuclear security. On a more tangible level, Pakistan must:

    • Sign and ratify the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism;
    • Improve transport security in accordance with Revision 5 of Nuclear Security Recommendations on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities;
    • Invite International Physical Protection Advisory Service (IPPAS) missions to existing nuclear facilities;
    • Commit not to build any more unsafeguarded fissile material production reactors, and put any new reactors built under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards;
    • Allow IAEA operational safety review and related teams to conduct routine inspection in cooperation with the IAEA Department of Nuclear Safety and Security;
    • Adhere in letter and principle to the Australia Group, Wassenaar Arrangement, NSG, and Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) export agreements;
    • Render cooperation to the IAEA and other international authorities to resolve past cases of illicit transfers of nuclear technology;
    • Not block Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty(FMCT) negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament.

    NSG membership comes with specified objectives and responsibilities. It involves obligations to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials, and a commitment to respect and abide by the global nuclear nonproliferation agenda. Hence, before its consideration for admission into the NSG, Pakistan is required to be more forthcoming on its nonproliferation efforts.

    [1] Pervez Hoodbhoy (ed), Confronting the Bomb: Pakistani and Indian Scientists Speak Out (Karachi, Pakistan, Oxford University Press, 2013), p.342.

    [2] Ibid.

    The article was originally published in The South Asian Voices