Pakistan-China civilian nuclear deal

Pakistan has long sought a civilian nuclear deal on the lines of a critical agreement signed between Washington and New Delhi in 2008.

Denied this by the US for concerns linked to nuclear proliferation that occurred some years back, Islamabad has been striving to achieve this through other means. Well now it seems to have achieved this objective through its long time ally, China that is to provide it two civilian-use nuclear reactors. As expected, this has raised many an eyebrow in Washington and also in Pakistan’s neighbourhood.

The US has asked China for clarifications on particulars of the deal and is expected to take up the issue in the Nuclear Supply Group’s (NSG) meeting next week. A member of the NSG since 2004, China has said that it’s agreement with Pakistan dates from before. Also it’s long standing cooperation with Pakistan on the nuclear front has always been in line with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s strictures. As an NSG member state, China is obliged to not export dual use nuclear fuel, nuclear material and technology to another state lacking strict IAEA safeguards. The US position on the issue is obvious. It is not comfortable with the deal and is likely to oppose it in the upcoming NSG meeting. It is striving to place this for specific exemption before a consensual vote in the NSG meeting.

Pakistan maintains that it is strictly following IAEA safeguards for its existing military and civilian use nuclear reactors. Islamabad put tighter security controls following unearthing of proliferation by its top nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, who has been kept under detention since 2004. For Pakistan, China’s support is critical in realising its ambitions of developing a civilian use energy programme. It has been facing a serious energy shortage which is likely to worsen over time. While Islamabad dismissed any concerns following the disclosure of the civilian use reactors with China, it is likely to be on tenterhooks for potential hitches, clearly on the horizon.

Islamabad, has found it hard to digest the awarding of a civilian nuclear fuel deal to India, a non-signatory of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and one that developed its own nuclear programme covertly. It’s persistent pressure on Washington to provide it with a similar arrangement has met with little success. So the deal with Beijing is a victory of sorts.

It is precisely why India has reason to feel perturbed. A further strengthening of strategic cooperation between Beijing and Islamabad is particularly disturbing for New Delhi. It has already cautioned Beijing of ties being affected in case of the deal coming to fruition.

The US needs to realise that it cannot control or dictate developments between third states no matter how distasteful they may be. It must not forget that China would not have done this if it was not comfortable with controls and security measures implemented by Pakistan. It is also a good opportunity for Pakistan to alleviate previous concerns about proliferation and prove it is a responsible nuclear state, one that deserves due respect.

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