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Pakistans Nuclear Diplomacy and NSG Membership: Opportunities and


Waseem Qutab 21 July 2016

Ladies and gentlemen,

A very good afternoon!

First of all, let me express my profound gratitude to the International Institute

of Strategic Studies (IISS) London for giving me the opportunity to be here and share

my thoughts on this important topic of Pakistans Nuclear Diplomacy and NSG

Membership: Opportunities and Challenges. I will first reflect on Pakistans overall

approach towards nuclear diplomacy and nuclear policy, before focusing on the

ongoing debate on NSG membership issue.

Needless to emphasize that whatever I say here today is in the scholarly

capacity of Visiting Research Fellow at the IISS, and not necessarily a governmental

or organizational perspective.

Nuclear Diplomacy

Nuclear diplomacy is important component of Pakistans foreign policy.

Founder of Pakistan, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, once said that We do

not cherish aggressive designs against any country or nation. We believe in the

principle of honesty and fair play in national and international dealings and are

prepared to make our utmost contribution to the promotion of peace and prosperity

among the nations of the world. End quote.

These founding principles continue to guide Pakistans foreign policy and

remain at the core of Pakistan nuclear diplomacy. In my view, Pakistans nuclear

diplomacy has four broad objectives.

1. To preserve strategic stability and peace in South Asia at lowest level of


2. To pursue resolution of all disputes through comprehensive bilateral dialogue

with India.

3. To have non-discriminatory access to peaceful nuclear technology for socio-

economic development and cleaner environment.

4. To contribute as a responsible and mainstreamed partner in the global non-

proliferation efforts.

Pakistan continues to pursue these objectives earnestly in its nuclear

engagements with the bilateral partners, including the United Kingdom, United States

and others, as well as multilateral institutions such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Nuclear Policy

As you know, Pakistan was a reluctant entrant into the club of nuclear weapon

states. India conducted first nuclear test in 1974, by diverting nuclear material from its

peaceful nuclear program, which actually prompted the creation of the NSG to

prevent further misuse of peaceful nuclear trade. Going nuclear thus became a

strategic compulsion for Pakistan. Eventfully, Pakistan became an overt nuclear state

when it responded to series of nuclear tests by India in 1998, thereby restoring

strategic balance in the region. In fact, both India and Pakistan recognized early on

that nuclear capabilities of each other...constitute a factor of stability in the region.

After becoming overt nuclear weapon state, Pakistan has taken a number of

institutional measures to ensure complete and effective oversight of its nuclear

program. These steps have been taken in supreme national interest but they also

demonstrate Pakistans responsible state behaviour in stewardship of its nuclear


Pakistan has established a robust command and control structure led by the

National Command Authority (NCA), which is the apex decision-making body

chaired by the Prime Minister. The NCA represents a fusion of important civilian,

military and techno-scientific leadership. It exexcises complete command and control

over all aspects of Pakistans nuclear policy such as development, operations, security,

non-proliferation, WMD terrorism as well as nuclear diplomacy issues. The Strategic

Plans Division (SPD) is the Secretariat and the workhorse of the NCA. SPD ensures

smooth and effective implementation of all decisions taken by the NCA.

Pakistans national nuclear security regime is implementing the highest global

standards recommended by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). These

standards are described in IAEAs latest recommendations for physical protection of

nuclear material and facilities known as Information Circular (INFCIRC/225/Rev.5).

The NSG Guidelines also require that such high standards of nuclear security should

be ensured during nuclear transfers between states. Pakistan also ratified the 2005

Amendment to Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)

earlier this year, which is a practical manifestation of Pakistans confidence in its

national nuclear security efforts.

A Nuclear Emergency Management System (NEMS) has also been established

at the national level to handle nuclear and radiological emergencies. To prevent illicit

trafficking of nuclear and radiological materials, Pakistan is deploying radiation

portal monitors at entry/ exit points. In a short span of few years, Pakistans Centre of

Excellence in Nuclear Security has earned world-wide praise for its professional and

systematic conduct of nuclear security training.

Pakistan has also streamlined and strengthened its export control regime.

Pakistans export control lists are completely harmonized with standards adopted by

NSG and other multilateral export control regimes. Pakistan therefore considers that

it has strong credentials to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

I will make detailed comments on this issue in a short while.

Another important aspect of Pakistans nuclear program that remains

underappreciated is its peaceful dimension. Pakistan has a strong and diverse

peaceful nuclear program, which includes over four decades of experience of running

nuclear power plants, research reactors with impeccable safety, security and

safeguards record, as well as rich expertise in peaceful applications of agriculture,

medicine and industrial sectors. You would be happy to know that over two dozens

of nuclear medical centres are currently operating in Pakistan and providing quality

health care to fellow citizens.

During July last year Pakistan also became the Associate Member of the

prestigious European Organization for Nuclear Research or CERN, which is the

world's largest particle physics laboratory.

This is an astounding achievement and acknowledgement of Pakistans contribution

made to CERNs scientific endeavours and objectives since 1994.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Pakistans nuclear weapon capabilities are intended solely for Pakistans own

defence against a specific existential threat from India to preserve peace and stability

in South Asia. Unlike some other states, Pakistan has neither relied upon extended

deterrence from other nuclear weapon states nor has any commitment to extend its

nuclear umbrella to any non-nuclear weapon state against nuclear threats. There

seems no deterrence rationale for Pakistan to think beyond its immediate

neighbourhood, when its threat perception remains India-centric.

Restraint and responsibility remain the cardinal principles upon which

Pakistans policy of Credible Minimum Deterrence is based. Pakistan neither has the

intent nor can afford to engage in conventional or nuclear arms race with India.

Pakistan does not seek parity with India but a strategic balance that prevents space for

war and creates conducive environments for socio-economic development. Pakistan

therefore has always indicated willingness to engage in comprehensive bilateral

dialogue process with India. Nonetheless, durable peace in South Asia would remain

elusive if it does not envisage resolution of outstanding dispute, in particular the

Kashmir issue, alongside nuclear and missile restraints as well as conventional

balance. These three inter-locking elements are Pakistans proposal of establishing a

Strategic Restraint Regime (SRR) in South Asia.

It defies logic to expect Pakistan to accept unilateral nuclear restraints on its

missile capabilities in the face of increasing diversification of Indias strategic

capabilities such as imminent operationalization of sea-based leg of its nuclear triad,

introduction of Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) systems as well as growing

conventional asymmetries at regional level, due to Indias intense military

modernization with external support. India is also building largest enrichment

complex at Karnataka that could potentially be used for developing mega-ton yield

thermo-nuclear weapons.

Alongside these capabilities, India military has also developed offensive Cold

Start Doctrine (CSD), with an aim to fight limited conventional war below Pakistans

perceived nuclear threshold. The basic rationale behind CSD was that Indias military

could wage a conventional war against Pakistan, thinking that Pakistan would not

risk retaliating with its bigger strategic nuclear weapon. Since CSD was announced in

2004, the military forces in India have been re-organized, re-equipped and the concept

have been tested in military exercises. In order to deter India from such military

adventurism, Pakistan was bound to respond, which came in the form of Full

Spectrum Deterrence (FSD), which essentially signals that Pakistan has the nuclear

capability at entire threat spectrum, including the strategic, operational, and tactical

levels. It is worth emphasizing that while Indias Cold Start Doctrine is intended to

find space for war, Pakistans Full Spectrum Deterrence does exactly the opposite

deny space for war to India.

In fact, during conclusion of last Nuclear Security Summit held this year at

Washington D.C., the US President Obama himself has emphasized upon India and

Pakistan to not to move in wrong direction as they develop military doctrines.

While it is good that US President Obama has realized that Indias Cold Start Doctrine

is a dangerous development which needs to be reversed, but what this presidential

statement and most western narrative fails to consider is that Pakistan developed its

Full Spectrum Deterrence to deter limited conventional military adventurism from

India. This essentially means, in retrospective sense, that had there been no cold start,

there would not have been full spectrum deterrence by Pakistan. And in prospective

sense, if CSD does not operationalize, in all likelihood the FSD will also not get


I would again emphasize that Pakistans foreign policy and nuclear diplomacy

is aimed to preserve strategic stability in South Asia. It is also incumbent upon the

international community to also pursue policies, which contribute to peace and

stability in the region rather than undermining it. That is one of the reasons why the

ongoing discussion on membership of India and Pakistan in the NSG are so important.

NSG Membership

Allow me to share my thoughts in some detail on this important topic of NSG

membership before I conclude. For past few months, international media was abuzz

with news of intense nuclear diplomacy by India and Pakistan to build support for

their respective cases for membership of the NSG, which was expected to be decided

in its annual meeting held last month at Seoul. A month earlier, India and Pakistan

had formally applied for membership. Since NSG reinforces NPTs core objective of

preventing proliferation of nuclear weapons, as a matter of precedence and policy, it

requires a potential member to also be a state party to the NPT. This remains the major

roadblock in reaching a decision on membership bids of India and Pakistan, the other

being the consensus itself. The NSG faces the predicament of either choosing an India-

only preferential approach or admitting both together on the basis of specifically

developed non-proliferation criteria.

The NSG membership and South Asian security dynamics are closely inter-

linked. As I said before NSG was created in direct response to Indias diversion of

nuclear material from peaceful program to conduct nuclear test in 1974. In past four

decades, NSG has evolved into an effective and credible non-proliferation institution.

The NSG was also following a principled and objective approach of nuclear non-

commerce with India and Pakistan, primarily due to their non-NPT status. The NSG

was living up to its principle adopted with consensus in 1992 plenary meeting to

ensure that supplier cooperation does not contribute directly or indirectly to

nuclear proliferation, as well as the need to ensure that commercial competition

does not compromise their mutually shared non-proliferation objectives

Nonetheless, NSG as a regime sacrificed its non-proliferation principle in

fulfilling the commercial and geo-political interests of few member states and granted

an unprecedented and country-specific exemption to India to have nuclear

cooperation with NSG in 2008. It is well established that NSG exemption was driven

by US interest to build India as a counter-weight to China. France and Russia even

started negotiating nuclear cooperation with India, even a year before NSG exemption

got finalized. Instead of conscious decision, the NSG exemption was actually a

result of political arm-twisting of opposing states that went on until 2 a.m. on 6

September 2008, when the consensus was finally evolved. Since then India has

concluded more than dozen nuclear deals to secure foreign nuclear technology and


That decision was widely criticized by the non-proliferation community within

the US as well as elsewhere, for failing to seek strong non-proliferation commitments

from India such as signing or ratification of Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and

ending fissile material production. And it seems highly unlikely that India would

accept such conditions, if put as criteria for membership. Indias safeguards approach

negotiated with the IAEA contains several loopholes that could allow India, at its will,

to divert foreign nuclear material provided for peaceful purposes to significantly

augment its military nuclear arsenal. Indias Additional Protocol is deemed a mickey

mouse instrument with little substantive undertaking.

There was also a total disregard to how NSG exemption would impact the

regional stability in South Asia. The NSG exemption at one hand freed up Indias

domestic reserves for military program but at the same time due to lack of proper

safeguards in supply of foreign nuclear material, it further facilitated Indias nuclear

weapon developments.

Now the NSG is facing the unique and unprecedented question of giving NSG

membership to India and Pakistan. The US continues to push for India-only approach

which has support from other major players, including the United Kingdom. China

leads other members who call for through deliberations, while many amongst them

favour Pakistans argument of a criteria-based approach.

The 2008 India-exemption tainted the credibility of NSG, as an effective non-

proliferation institution. With membership applications of India and Pakistan at its

table, NSG has the golden opportunity to restore its credentials, by demanding

stringent non-proliferation criteria for admission, rather than succumbing yet again

under political pressure of few major powers.

Like it happened in 2008, voices against a repeat of 2008 exemption are gaining

strength within the US. The New York Times has written in its editorial against

country-specific exemption unless India meets NSGs standards, thirteen reputed

non-proliferation experts have argued against bending rules in favour of India and

key US officials have warned against dangers of renewed arms race in South Asia, as

a consequence of an India-only NSG membership. Besides other detrimental effects,

Pakistan clearly knows that once India becomes an NSG member ahead of Pakistan,

it would surely block a follow-on membership bid by Pakistan.

The NSG has to understand the motivations of Pakistan and India in seeking

membership and assess whether they conform to its non-proliferation objectives. For

example, NSG and India hold competing views on transfers related to sensitive

nuclear technologies such as Enrichment and reprocessing (ENR). India claims it won

clean exemption in 2008, with full access to such technologies, and wants to join NSG

with the same understanding. Whereas, ENR transfers are not permissible to non-NPT

states, such as India, as per 2011 revision of NSG guidelines. Indias NSG membership

bid should also be seen in the context of its aspiration to become a global power. India

has long pursued nuclear route to become a permanent member of United Nations

Security Council.

On its part, Pakistans position of criteria-based approach is premised on two

fundamental arguments: firstly, this would restore NSGs credibility as a non-

proliferation institution as well as provide a golden opportunity to integrate non-NPT

states into the fold of non-proliferation regime. In that context Pakistan has indicated

its interest to play its part as mainstreamed partner in global non-proliferation efforts

and shown willingness to accept any objective criteria for membership which should

be equally applicable on India and Pakistan; and secondly, Pakistan considers that

criteria-based approach would help preserve strategic stability in South Asia. It would

re-hyphenate the two nuclear states and might induce India to engage with Pakistan

in bilateral nuclear restraint and confidence building measures.


In conclusion, I would say that the lack of consensus on this issue at last

months plenary at Seoul reflects Groups internal resilience to external political

pressure. The division might also suggest that NSG is re-thinking its past decision of

lifting trade restrictions on India in 2008 and learning from it. That decision by the

NSG did not require strong non-proliferation commitments from India, inadvertently

facilitated Indias nuclear weapon development, with a detrimental knock-on effect

on nuclear restraint in South Asia. This legacy largely explains the current split within

the NSG. But the outgoing US administration may still attempt to win over the NSG,

in its final few months ahead. The irony is that the US continues to push contradictory

policies in South Asia. At one hand, it wants nuclear restraint and progress made in

dialogue between India and Pakistan but at the same time pursues actions which

breed arms race and instability. The US approach in NSG is reflective of this duplicity.

As Lawrence Freedom wrote before the Brexit actually happened, that:

extracting the United Kingdom from the European Union is not going to make

either body stronger With so little clarity on what Brexit is intended to achieve, it

is hard to think of a greater test of the law of unintended consequences.

Like the Brexit, it might not happen that the NSG in particular and the

international community in general has to face the unintended consequences of a

decision on membership issue, which is driven by geo-politics rather than

strengthening the non-proliferation regime and strategic stability in South Asia. The

wisdom therefore lies in thoroughly exploring the merits of alternate approach of

criteria-based membership of India and Pakistan into the NSG.

I thank you all.