Nuclear Security Summit: Deja Vu

By Maimuna Ashraf

Any communication activity between two states hints towards significant developments, although such activities are usually complex and multifaceted than it appears. Accordingly, despite the international presence of the state in a particular country, through its embassies and diplomatic connections, working meetings between states representatives or official visits between premiers can be observed regularly. Notwithstanding technicalities involved, negotiations on bilateral level are usually exhibited as an expression of diplomatic relations or to incorporate specific terms and conditions. Therefore, the spectrum of two countries relations largely depends on the agenda and quality of such talks. This context hints towards a number of such meetings took place between Pakistan and US, while few more are slated.

At the end of last year, Pakistan’s PM visit followed by the visit of Army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif generated an impression that something is afoot because the media houses were already buzzing with debates surrounding the Western proposals for Pakistan’s nuclear mainstreaming. Various reports asserted that the US will be exploring a nuclear deal with Pakistan in order to put limits on its nuclear program. However the all time prevailing tragedy of US-Pakistan relations is that despite Islamabad has stepped up counter terrorism actions and safety-security measures for its nuclear program, as suggested by US, but the perception in Washington has in reality not changed. Earlier this year, Peter Lavoy, a veteran intelligence and Pakistan expert who is reported to be leading the talks on the American side, bluntly catalogued the American concerns. Moderating a discussion in the US with Khalid Kidwai, the founding director of the Strategic Plans Division, Lavoy said of the Nasr, the so-called battlefield nuke: “We (the US) moved away from them (short-range nuclear-armed missiles) ultimately because of concerns about the intermingling of conventional forces and nuclear weapons in a battlefield theatre. And one of the concerns is that this actually makes nuclear war more likely, rather than less likely, having these capabilities.” After this the idea to normalize nuclear Pakistan in international nuclear order, after restricting its nuclear program to weapons and delivery systems, came into the limelight more strongly by David Ignatius. An initial Pakistani rejoinder to the American overtures came via a National Command Authority meeting in September, 2015, ten days after US Secretary of State Susan Rice visited Pakistan to formally invite Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to the White House and firm up an agenda for the talks. The response conveyed ‘Yes, we’re interested in a deal, but forget about your terms’. The reiteration in the ISPR press release of “the national resolve to maintain ‘Full Spectrum Deterrence Capability’” was an explicit rejection of the so-called brackets, limits on extremely short range and very long range missiles, the American proposals are based on. The events revealed that although matters are calm at surface but agitated underneath.

Yet again the current-affairs platforms are thrilled with the announcement that Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will represent Pakistan at a nuclear summit in March this year when the outgoing Obama administration would try to reach some understanding with recognized and unrecognized nuclear states to control proliferation. The NSS process has been President Obama’s flagship initiative since his first term when he underlined security of nuclear materials as a priority of his administration. Since then Nuclear Security Summits have taken place in 2010, 2012 and 2014. This will be the fourth and final summit as President Obama completes his final term this year. The summit meeting will discuss the future of the nuclear security summit process and will determine pathways to secure and build on the achievements of the whole process.

Earlier this week, Pakistan attended a preparatory meeting for the summit in San Francisco. Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry and Ambas­sador Jalil Abbas Jilani represented Pakistan at the meeting. The United States, yet again, has been very appreciative of Pakistan’s participation in these meetings and has periodically recognized Pakis­tan’s active engagement with global community on the issue of nuclear security. It is not the first time that US has officially shown satisfaction over security of Pakistan’s nuclear program. Previously, Pakistan’s Former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani attended 2010 and 2012 summits (Nawaz Sharif attended the last summit in The Hague in 2014). The Prime Minister Gilani also held bilateral meetings with President Barack Obama and other world leaders on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit. Ahead of that summit, President Obama had voiced confidence in the safety of Pakistani strategic assets, yet later the various concerns appeared with stressed relations between both states.

Evidently, it has become an oft repeated cliché that before visits or summits, an official statement to appreciate Pakistan’s nuclear program flashes in media but later concerns with proposals surfaces after covert get-together. Consequently, eyebrows have been raised by the many over the recent announcement of PM’s visit to attend NSS as it hints at the possibility of dialogue over Pakistan’s nuclear program during the visit. The question thus arises are we expecting someone from US before NSS to negotiate on terms related to any possible civil nuclear deal or Pakistan’s membership to NSG? Are we ready to represent our stance besides our representation on NSS?

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Maimuna Ashraf

Maimuna Ashraf works as a Senior Research Associate for an Islamabad-based think tank Strategic Vision Institute. She works on issues related to nuclear non-proliferation, arms control and South Asian nuclear equation. She writes for South Asian Voices, international blogs and national dailies.

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