Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Pakistan’s Zardari in China; nuclear deal in grasp
Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari is in China this week, making good his promise to visit the “all weather ally” every three months. During his previous trips, his hosts have sent him off to the provinces to see for himself the booming growth there, but this trip may turn out be a lot more productive.
Zardari may well return with a firm plan by China to build two reactors at Pakistan’s Chashma nuclear plant, as my colleague in Beijing reports in this article, overriding concern in Washington, New Delhi and other capitals that this undermined global non-proliferation objectives.
It’s a bit of a nuclear poker going on in the region and Afghanistan as the new battleground between the regional players cannot remain untouched.
The proposed Chinese nuclear transfer to Pakistan follows a groundbreaking deal that the United States and India sealed two years ago which allows New Delhi to access U.S. nuclear technology and fuel while retaining the right to pursue a military programme. It was a deal that raised eyebrows all around, overturning decades of U.S-led efforts to wear down India’s resistance to nuclear disarmament pacts through a combination of tough technology sanctions and offers of a a strategic relationship designed to appeal to New Delhi’s global aspirations.
In the event, Washington which invaded Iraq on the grounds that it was developing nuclear weapons, and has tightened the squeeze on Iran for its nuclear activities, virtually gave New Delhi pretty much what it has coveted all along. The right to pursue a weapons programme as well as complete access to international nuclear technology to boost civilian nuclear power for an energy-starved nation. It was as if the Pope had thrown the Bible away when it came to India, as an Indian diplomat long used to haranguing by U.S. officials over the country’s nuclear programmes told me back then.
But when Pakistan, which arguably has been the spearhead of America’s fight against Islamist militants, asked to be given a similar nuclear status it was turned down. Washington couldn’t be going around rewarding Pakistan, seen as a ”serial proliferator” following revelations that disgraced top scientist A.Q.Khan had run a smuggling network that may have helped North Korea, Iran and Libya.
And so Pakistan turned to China, which may well have its own reason to check the rise of India as a power beyond south Asia. In pushing ahead with the plan to build reactors at Pakistan’s Chashma plant, the Chinese, several analysts say, are operating on the logic that if the United States can change the rules to accommodate its friend – India – then China too could help out its ally – Pakistan.
Can America stop the Chinese? Some people think it’s neither in a position financially or otherwise to make Chinese nuclear assistance to Pakistan a make or break issue. Europe which feels as strongly about the dangers of proliferation is perhaps equally hamstrung.
But what the deal has done is to re-open the debate about making a special case for India. Several arms control experts are urging individual states such as Australia and Japan which have traditionally taken a tough stand on proliferation not to engage in nuclear trade with either India or for that matter Pakistan, it came to pass as I wrote in this analysis.
India’s position, though, is also fairly well-stated. If the world’s five nuclear states including neighbour China were ready to eliminate their weapons, it would move towards disarmament itself. What it has refused to do is to submit to a world of “nuclear haves and have nots”, based on an arbitrary set of rules.