It is in the news again; and if the source of all news is an editorial of The New York Times, it is almost official. The US is going to broach the issue of Pakistan’s ever-expanding nuclear arsenal, particularly its tactical nuclear weapons, with Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) during his upcoming visit to Washington DC. They had all the intentions to discuss it with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the last month but everything fizzled out when under the pressure from security establishment, the Foreign Office conveyed to the Americans in no uncertain terms that Pakistan would not consider any suggestion to restrict its nuclear program. Whether or not the issue was discussed behind the closed doors, at least it was not officially recognized as an issue mutually discussed.
The Times editorial has taken to the beaten track like Pakistan’s nukes could possibly fall into the hands of extremists who have their sympathizers in the security institutions. This concern has already been addressed time and again. The world knows that Pakistan’s nuclear assets are secure to the satisfaction of IAEA, the nuclear watchdog, and there is no way anyone, even within the security establishment, can lay hands on these weapons.
Pakistan’s nukes, for their superior quality and quantity, are a matter of great concern to its arch-rival, India, which is five times mightier than Pakistan in terms of conventional military strength. Nukes were a credible deterrence against India’s aggressive designs. The tactical nukes were developed when India introduced its Cold Start doctrine in order to disintegrate Pakistan without triggering a nuclear war and exposing the region to the risk of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).
India, America’s new-found darling in South East Asia, is using this relationship to coerce Pakistan into submission so that it stops pursuing its tactical nukes development. This is the reason that The Times had to say that Pakistan would have to stop pursuing tactical nuclear weapons, which are more likely to be used in a conflict with India and could more easily fall into the hands of terrorists, and halt development of long-range missiles. Pakistan should also sign the treaty banning nuclear weapons tests.
How the US will broach the subject with COAS next week will be interesting to see. Right now, the US is facing a complex dilemma and it has to decide which of the following issues would be its priority number one:
- It has to deal with Russia’s expanding influence particularly in the Middle East, where Putin has challenged the Americans militarily by attacking its known proxies mostly those who otherwise qualify to be called terrorists. Its consistent bombing of ISIS targets has, for the time being, delayed realization of American dreams of regime change in Syria. The Russian posture, first in Ukraine and now in Middle East has exposed diplomatic, moral and military vulnerabilities of heretofore the sole Super Power.
- Russia has already checkmated the Americans in Ukraine which has emboldened President Putin to assume a more aggressive posture to regain the lost glory of the Soviet empire. The people of Ukraine generally feel that Americans made them vulnerable to Russia by forcing them to destroy their nukes.
- Afghanistan continues to be a bigger mess for Americans than Iraq and Vietnam put together. Americans have wasted trillions of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars without achieving any of its objectives in Afghanistan. The Taliban, the US wanted to annihilate, are stronger than before and they can hit any target with ease anywhere, even the areas where they had virtually little or no support when they were in power. American plan to undo Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan and install India as its Viceroy in Kabul has miserably failed. Even the Americans are looking towards Pakistan to help find a durable solution to Afghanistan’s problems created by Neocon misadventure in 2001. If they still choose to help India by forcing Pakistan to restrict its tactical nukes’ development, it won’t win them any favor in Pakistan for their Afghanistan debacle. It should be clear to the Americans that the Russia, or the USSR, who they successfully ousted from Afghanistan is waiting at the gates of Kabul to enter on the first opportunity made available through Washington DC’s first misstep.
- Russia has been able to elicit diplomatic support of Pakistan and China and the three countries by the dint of their military, economic and technological power are on their way to forge an alliance. This might spell undesirable consequences for the US and its allies.
- India is scared of Pakistan’s tactical nukes not because Pakistan will use them exercising its preemptive option but because these are a great hurdle in cutting Pakistan to size as per India’s long-nurtured designs for achieving regional hegemony. Due to recent spates of state and non-state atrocities and gory incidents of lynching Muslims and Dalits, India’s moral legitimacy as a democracy has plunged all-time low. Besides, Pakistan has effectively made out its case to UN and the US of India’s support for anti-Pakistan terrorist groups which has further eroded India’s position as a peace-loving nation. As a matter of fact, US should be wary of Indians as they could, like Israel, become a baggage for Uncle Sam. And this would be an unwelcome baggage because India, despite its lobbying diaspora in large numbers, does not enjoy support within the US as much as Israel does.
With these developments, Americans have to keep Pakistan in good humor for the time being because it needs Pakistan’s support in Afghanistan for stability and honorable exit. Will the US risk straining its already fragile relations with Pakistan just to please the Indians, particularly when Pakistan’s nukes do not intend to target any Western target? Knowing Americans and their obsession with benefit-cost analysis, it is very unlikely that they would push Pakistan for India’s sake but at their own cost if Pakistanis play their cards prudently.
If the Americans still choose to discuss Pakistan’s tactical nukes, the outcome of the talks can be predicted even before the talks get underway.