In India, though, the threats have been more recent, and point to the bigger danger of the link between nuclear facilities and militants. Earlier this month, it was reported that the Lashkar-e-Taiba, an extremist group, is planning to target nuclear scientists (security has reportedly been tightened around several of the alleged targets) while there have also been reports of plans to strike the country’s nuclear infrastructure.
This all comes as India works to expand its nuclear capacity after receiving a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group’s rules that allow its civilian nuclear deal with the United States to proceed, following strong US lobbying. India has signed treaties with several countries that will help it expand its nuclear infrastructure, but such an expansion needs to be matched by upgrades in security.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh is also working to establish a civilian nuclear power plant after signing a memorandum of understanding on peaceful use of nuclear energy with Russia. Like India and Pakistan, it also faces the challenge of dealing with radicalized groups.
Bringing India into the non-proliferation regime will be crucial if Pakistan is also to be drawn in, moves that would both help reduce the risk of nuclear conflict as well as the risk of nuclear materials falling into the wrong hands.
India and Pakistan made a good start in the field of nuclear cooperation when they signed an agreement in 1989 not to attack each other’s nuclear facilities. And in a more recent positive sign, in November 2008, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari stated Pakistan was willing to commit to a no first-use policy for its nuclear weapons-a policy he said he could secure backing from parliament for. However, only 4 days after the suggestion terrorists struck Mumbai, killing 176 people and stirring up tensions between the two.
Pakistan’s refusal to join the nuclear proliferation regime is also linked to India’s rejection of the same system. Both countries are not bound by the conditions reached after the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was agreed, such as the 1997 Additional Protocol, to strengthen the non-proliferation regime. As a consequence, the continued exclusion of Pakistan and India from the non-proliferation regime is actually intensifying the nuclear arms race in South Asia.
Bringing India into the regime will mean addressing its objections to becoming part of the arrangement-it believes that the non-proliferation regime is discriminatory as it is rooted in the NPT, which only gives nuclear weapons status to five countries.
The United States has already taken a significant step toward accepting India through the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement, the framework for which was agreed in 2005. Here, the US defended the exception for India because of its impeccable record in non-proliferation. But the move in turn upset Pakistan, which argued the exceptional treatment for India risked triggering an arms race.
It seems clear then that granting both countries de-facto nuclear weapons state status through suitable amendments to the NPT would be the best way of curbing the on-going arms race and reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism by making it easier for the International Atomic Energy Agency to hold the nuclear infrastructures of both countries to the highest scrutiny.
Many nations may baulk at such a move. But the stakes are too high to not let pragmatism be the guiding basis for policy.