In the end it was deal that was not to be. Pakistan did not even take the first step in a thousand-mile journey to get a civil nuclear deal from its guardian angel, the US.
Whatever gains Pakistan may have made, the episode showed India’s remarkable lack of confidence. This is unbecoming of a country that professes global ambitions.
The panic in India about a possible nuclear deal between Pakistan and the US began some days before the strategic dialogue between the US and Pakistan that concluded last Thursday. This happened after the US ambassador to Islamabad, Anne W. Patterson, remarked that “non-proliferation concerns were quite severe”, but attitudes in Washington were changing. She added: “I think we are beginning to pass those and this is a scenario that we are going to explore.”
A civilian nuclear agreement with a country that has a poor nuclear proliferation record is unlikely in today’s world. With a review of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty around the corner, the US is least likely, for the time being, to allow Pakistan to get anything with the word “N”. Even if the US does agree, it takes years to conclude agreements that go into making such a deal.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
That, however, should not breed complacency. At one level, if the US government had the ability to push such a deal with the Congress and the Senate, it would have. In the words of Daniel S. Markey, a senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, a prominent US think tank, “The question is, can you move somewhere toward giving legitimacy to a Pakistani nuclear program?” “Is there space between a civil nuclear deal and just saying ‘no’?”
It is the search for that space that made US secretary of state Hillary Clinton parry questions on a possible deal. She did not say “yes” and she did not say “no”. Such ambiguity serves the US very well. It keeps the carrot dangling for Pakistan, but also sends a warning to India. Pakistan is vital to US interests in South Asia. Afghanistan is just one part of that story. In spite of India powering leagues ahead of Pakistan, the Democratic Party establishment (which includes certain kinds of intellectuals) hankers for Cold War “stability”. Dreams of “rehyphenating” the two countries continue, even if the reality has changed. These dreams inhabit the space between an outright “no” and a possible nuclear deal. India should prepare for the day when such a deal can be seen on the horizon.
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