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February 27, 2016

Pokhran, NSG and Pakistan


February 27, 2016

The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) was created after India’s nuclear tests in the Pokhran ranges in 1974. Inaugurated in November 1975, this elitist club of Nuclear Suppliers was to be a watchdog, meant to ensure that certain non-weapons-specific nuclear technology could not be readily developed into weapons. Signatories of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) saw the need to further limit the export of nuclear equipment, materials or technology.

Forty years down the line, the NSG is now ready to welcome India as a member, which is the antithesis of the very purpose of its creation – this could be a paradox in international relations. Morals don’t govern international relations, realpolitik and the power game to draw maximum mileage out of the existing strategic environment is what really drives them.

Pakistan’s nuclear programme has three major objectives: (i) to survive in a highly nuclearised regional environment created by living amongst giants like Russia, China and India; (ii) maintaining credible nuclear deterrence against a hostile India (imagine a non-nuclear Pakistan in the 21st Century becoming another Libya or Iraq); and (iii) meeting the growing energy needs.

Indian’s projected entry into the elite club of the NSG is not based on the principles enshrined in the manifesto of the group, but has more to do with creating an Asian pivot against China. The Asian pivot is the triangle of Australia, India and Japan, led by the mighty US, to check China’s rise to the status of a global power, especially in South China Sea, and put Asia into a new quagmire of chaos – so that interstate conflicts and tensions take care of the rise of Asian nations and allow the Western powers some breathing space to do something about China.

No doubt, the major exponents of India’s membership in the NSG have been the US and Australia; even a reluctant Japan was prodded by the US to support India’s entry into the NSG. Australia and India signed a civil-nuclear cooperation agreement in New Delhi in early 2015, which will allow India to purchase uranium from Australia. According to, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the deal in September 2015. Modi hailed the agreement as a “historical milestone” in the relationship between the two countries.

Abbott said that India has an ‘impeccable’ non-proliferation record and that Australia has received commitments from New Delhi that the uranium supplied to India will be used for civilian purposes and not for the development of nuclear weapons. India’s quest to use nuclear energy for ‘peaceful purposes’ can be gauged from recent developments; the blatant expansion of India’s Nuclear arsenal and technology is raising concerns in Asia.

Foreign Policy magazine recently reported that India is building a top-secret nuclear facility in the southern state of Karnataka. These reports highlight the nuclear proliferation and expansion programmes of India and how they affect regional security.

The Challakere (Karnataka) construction site is being looked after by the Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), which has played a leading role in nuclear weapons design. Robert Kelley, who served as the director of the Iraq Action Team at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from 1992-1993 and from 2001-2005, is a former project leader for nuclear intelligence at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

After analysing the available satellite imagery, as well as studying open source material on both sites, he has concluded that India is pursuing a larger thermonuclear arsenal. Its development, he warns, “will inevitably usher in a new nuclear arms race” in a volatile region.

NSG membership for India could actually become a source for an extra stockpile of enriched uranium, which could be used in thermonuclear weapons, substantially increasing the strength of its existing nuclear arsenal. According to Foreign Policy magazine, China and Pakistan would see this move as a provocation. Experts say that they might respond by ratcheting up their own nuclear firepower. Pakistan, in particular, considers itself India’s military rival.

China’s stance on India’s impending NSG membership is based on some basic criteria, which is why it has supported the simultaneous induction of Pakistan and India into the NSG. Pakistan’s team, which is heading to Washington in March, could bid for membership of the NSG on the following major grounds:

i. Pakistan’s nuclear programme has the dual purpose of ensuring its survival in a hostile nuclearised neighbourhood and meeting the growing energy needs of more than 200 million people.

ii. Despite an orchestrated campaign against Pakistan’s nuclear programme since its inception, its track record on nuclear safety and command and control is of the highest standards.

iii. Awarding India with membership of the NSG, despite the exponential growth of its nuclear arsenal, is discriminatory and would create instability in the region and trigger an arms race.

iv. The NSG doctrine should have a regional approach in South Asia, where the maintenance of the delicate balance of power would strengthen peace and stability.

v. Pakistan has a central role in the global war on terror; discrimination against the country could have negative repercussions for security and stability in the region.

Pakistan and India should be formally accepted as Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) and protocols for the NSG should incorporate this reality. Being responsible states with growing demands for energy, they should both get membership of the NSG, based on fair criteria and without any

The writer is a Lahore-based defence analyst.  Email: [email protected]



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