Foreign Policy Blogs

Why a nuclear deal for Pakistan is a bad idea

As Pakistan and the United States begin their week long Strategic Dialogue in Washington, Pakistan based militants have renewed their call for jihad against India. On the occasion of Pakistan Day, hundreds of militants gathered in Kotli and called for jihad against India. Hizbul Mujahideen, one of the top militant groups in Pakistan, also announced an increase in its activities against Indian armed forces. This coupled with news of General Kayani’s prominence at the Strategic Dialogue , the possibility of Pakistan negotiating a nuclear deal with the US along with more military and civilian aid,  and demands for limiting Indian presence in Afghanistan and for US intervention in the Indo-Pak water sharing issue raise serious concerns about the meet’s impact on the status of Indo-US relations.

When it comes to US-Pak relations, geo-political and strategic considerations on the Afghanistan front make the US turn a blind eye to Pakistan’s transgressions. Terrorists and other militants have made Pakistan their safe haven in full view of the world, and yet that country can continue to play the victim card and milk the US for military and humanitarian aid. In spite of its notorious proliferation record the Pakistani leadership has the audacity to demand a nuclear deal, just to balance things with India. The US leadership has not issued a categorical denial, and might even entertain the idea. Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, Hussain Haqqani  told the Press Trust of India that, “the U.S. is not skeptical about our nuclear programme. The talks between Pakistan and the U.S. for cooperation on the atomic programmes are underway. And we want the U.S. to have an agreement with us like the one it had with India on civil nuclear technology.” It even wants the US to intervene in the water sharing issue between India and Pakistan, and to force India to resume the Composite Dialogue between the two countries that was discontinued after the Mumbai attacks. However, Hillary Clinton has refused to be involved in the bilateral issue of water sharing for which a mechanism is already in place.

The US has emphasized that relations with Pakistan do not come at the expense of those with India. But the repercussions for India cannot be denied. Because India and Pakistan have conflicting interests, giving into the demands of one is always going to be at the cost of the interests of the other. It is for the US to decide whose interests are aligned with its national interests. So far it has been Pakistan. Until now the US-Pak dynamic has meant that the Indo-US relationship took a backseat on the US priority list. A large part of all military assistance to Pakistan in the form of aid and weapons was diverted against India instead of being sufficiently used to fight terrorists and the Taliban on the western front, and yet more aid was forthcoming.  Neither has Pakistan taken sufficient action against terrorists operating from its soil to attack India, as was distinctly proven during the Mumbai attacks and ‘terror rallies’ held by Hizbul Mujahideen and Jamaatud Dawa. Instead it has blamed India for interfering in Balochistan, and wanting to disintegrate Pakistan. By dealing with General Kayani the US has also undermined the legitimacy of Indian interaction with Pakistan’s civilian government.

If the US does go ahead with a nuclear deal with Pakistan only to appease them into cooperating on the Afghanistan front, it could have disastrous consequences for the subcontinent and Indo-US relations. It would be construed as betrayal by the Indians who view their nuclear deal as a sign of the upturn in Indo-US relations. It would not be surprising to see India gravitate even further towards its traditional military exporter, Russia and other eager exporters like France. The loss of trust would not only affect diplomatic relations, but could also spill over into the economic front. Loss of trade and business would not be in the interest of either India or the US.

The nuclear deal would be no more a carrot for Pakistan than the billions of dollars in aid so far have been. Tribe and group loyalties in the Af-Pak region run very deep, as does the lawlessness in Pakistan’s north-western region. The Pakistani government has been unable to control that region in the 61 years of its independence, and there is nothing to ensure that it would be able in the years ahead. Pakistan has no commonalities or loyalties that would bind it to the US in the long-run, as they do bind it to Afghanistan or even the Taliban.

In the larger scheme of things, the US would be left with no grounds to oppose an Iranian nuclear program or impose sanction on them. The Pakistan deal would be used as a glaring example of US double-standards to spread anti-US sentiments. It would not only harm the global non-proliferation regime, but also increase risks of nuclear terrorism. This at a time when President Obama has pledged to work towards improving the non-proliferation regime and has also organized a Nuclear Security Summit next month. Agreeing to a nuclear deal for Pakistan would be a test of the US’s proclaimed principals of democracy and international security in whose interest it went to war with Iraq and Afghanistan. It would only add to Pakistan’s arrogance of its indispensability for the US and can come back to bite the US as did the Taliban.


Updates on US-Pak Strategic Dialogue:

1) Nuclear deal for Pakistan not part of discussions; only a modest aid package announced.

2) Clinton refuses to mediate between India and Pakistan.



Manasi Kakatkar-Kulkarni

Manasi Kakatkar-Kulkarni graduated from the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy. She received her degree in International Security and Economic Policy and interned with the Arms Control Association, Washington, D.C. She is particularly interested in matters of international arms control, nuclear non-proliferation and India’s relations with its neighbors across Asia. She currently works with the US India Political Action Committee (USINPAC).