Over the past fortnight, as the world’s attention has been focused on the evolving situation surrounding the crisis at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power stations, two other nuclear developments passed largely unnoticed.
First, the International Atomic Energy Agency granted its approval of two new nuclear reactors that China is planning to build at Chashma in Pakistan. This is in addition to the two that Beijing is already engaged in developing at the same site, something which it had disclosed at the time of its joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2004. China’s commitment to building Chashma 3 and 4 has only surfaced in the last couple of years, after the granting of the NSG waiver on international nuclear commerce to India.
The second key bit of news was the US decision to tamely accept the Chinese move to extend nuclear cooperation to Pakistan, a non-signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, despite a clear violation of the international guidelines on nuclear trade. Indeed, the US assistant secretary responsible for South Asian affairs even defended the deal by highlighting Pakistan’s energy deficit!
Whether or not the two new reactors are able to ease the electricity situation for Pakistan, it’s clear that a country with nuclear weapons can get away with a lot more than one that doesn’t have such weapons of mass destruction.
Pakistan’s ability to use its nuclear weapons as a bargaining chip—for conventional weaponry, for financial support from other Muslim nations, for evading sanctions over nuclear proliferation, for escaping retaliation by using the shield of nuclear weapons while allegedly fomenting cross-border terrorism in India—has been proven time and again. No wonder nuclear weapons are seen as the most important strategic asset of the Pakistani military establishment.
Ever since India was granted the NSG waiver that made it eligible for international nuclear trade, Pakistan has cried foul. The pity is when other nations, including the United States, begin to accept the Pakistani argument that it’s being discriminated against. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact of the matter is that India earned the waiver by strictly observing the principle of non-proliferation, and it has a six-decade track record to show for it. The Pakistani establishment, meanwhile, has run a well-documented nuclear proliferation enterprise in which it has at times clandestinely accepted nuclear weapons technology and material, and clandestinely retransferred it to others.
The international community hasn’t been able to punish Islamabad for any of these acts. But to condone them and actually accept that there should be parity in treatment between India and Pakistan on nuclear cooperation should be unacceptable.
The two countries are wide apart in their nuclear behavior. There can be no room for equal treatment.