U.S. should look at nuclear deal for Pakistan if militancy tackled-RAND report

June 21, 2010

damadola2The United States should consider offering Pakistan a civilian nuclear deal in return for a real and verifiable commitment to eradicate all militant groups operating from its territory, a new report by the RAND Corporation says.

The report, by Seth Jones and Christine Fair, echoes a criticism often levelled at Pakistan that it is only willing to tackle those militant organisations which threaten it directly, while retaining links with groups like the Afghan Taliban and the Lashkar-e-Taiba which can be used to expand its influence in Afghanistan or against India.  It argues that Washington needs to find a new mix of incentives and sanctions to convince Pakistan to abandon the use of militant groups as a foreign policy tool. 

Its suggestion that Washington – which has already agreed a civilian nuclear deal with India – consider using the offer of a nuclear agreement with Pakistan as an incentive comes as China pursues its own plans to help Islamabad’s civilian nuclear sector

“A key objective of U.S. policy must be to alter Pakistan’s strategic calculus and end its support to militant groups. Pakistan is unlikely to abandon militancy as a tool of foreign policy without a serious effort to alter its cost-benefit calculus. This requires the United States to clarify what its goals are, develop an international consensus on most (if not all) of these goals, and issue a clear demand to Pakistan regarding these objectives,” it says.

The report says that while Pakistan faces many difficulties in tackling militant groups on its border with Afghanistan or it its heartland Punjab province, ”Pakistan’s challenges are due as much to political will as to deficiencies in capability”.

Pakistan says it cannot tackle all militant groups at once and has complained about U.S. pressure to “do more” when its army is already taking heavy casualties fighting the Tehrik-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (TTP) or Pakistani Taliban in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

The report, however, is unsparing in its assessment of what it sees as Pakistan’s different attitude to different militant groups.

“At least three types of militant groups receive state support. First are those groups that Pakistan cultivated as state assets and that remain state proxies, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Mullah Mohammad Omar’s Taliban. In some cases, such as the 2010 capture of the Taliban’s second in command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Pakistan has been willing to target selected members,” it says.

“A second group comprises militant groups, such as Jaish-e-Mohammad and Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami, that have a history of state patronage and have long served the state in Afghanistan and India. However, unlike Lashkar-e-Taiba or the Afghan Taliban, these groups developed important fissures that emerged after 2001 in response to Pakistan’s participation in the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Elements of Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami, and other Deobandi militant groups were involved in attacks against President Musharraf, the army, ISI, and Pakistan’s civilian leadership. Some individuals from these Deobandi militant groups have also allied with the TTP. Even though elements of these groups have targeted the state, Pakistan has not opted to eliminate them. Rather, the strategy appears to be targeting only the individuals who threaten the state and deterring other group members from conducting attacks in Pakistan. These groups generally remain secure, perhaps because the state presumes that they may be useful at some point for pursuing Pakistan’s interests.”

“A third set of militants includes the TTP and elements of TNSM (Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi). In some cases, Pakistani government officials have provided support to militants in these organizations and negotiated peace deals … In other cases, such as in 2009 in South Waziristan and Swat, it has targeted them when they pose a threat to the Pakistan state.”

It argues that the United States must work with other countries, including China, to convince Pakistan to abandon support for all militant groups.  Among the sanctions Washington could consider if this did not happen would be to include Pakistan on its list of state sponsors of terrorism, or applying economic sanctions and visa bans on specific individuals or organisations, rather than on the country as a whole.

At the same time, it must also come up with imaginative incentives.  “Pakistan has come to view U.S. assistance as an entitlement. Therefore, offering more aid (as in the Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation) is unlikely to persuade Pakistan to stop using militants as a tool of foreign policy.”

Among these incentives could be a criteria-based civilian nuclear deal for Pakistan, roughly modelled on the agreement with India. Under this deal, India  agreed to separate its civil and military nuclear facilities and place its civil nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards in return for nuclear cooperation with the United States. Neither India nor Pakistan, which announced they had tested nuclear weapons in 1998, have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

“The explicit criteria could be tied to access to (disgraced Pakistani nuclear scientist) A. Q. Khan, greater visibility into Pakistan’s program, submission to safeguards, a strategic decision to abandon militancy as a tool of foreign and domestic policy, and empirically verifiable metrics in eliminating militant groups operating in and from Pakistan,” the report says.  “Such a civilian nuclear deal could achieve the goals that Kerry-Lugar-Berman could not because it would offer Pakistan benefits that it actually values and that only the United States can meaningfully confer.”

It acknowledges that a nuclear deal would not be an easy sell in either Washington or in Islamabad, much less in Delhi. 

But given President Barack Obama’s publicly stated desire to enlist China’s help in stabilising Pakistan, it will be interesting to see whether the two can find some convergence of interest – both on Pakistan’s civilian nuclear programme and on tackling militancy.

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