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March 4, 2016

Pakistan-US strategic dialogue


March 4, 2016

The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, congratulated Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy on her second Oscar win before continuing on to welcome Pakistan’s Adviser to the PM on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz to Washington DC for the sixth Pakistan-US Strategic Dialogue.

Remarks by both Kerry and Aziz explain the importance of the dialogue as it provides an opportunity to reaffirm the strong bilateral ties that exist between the two countries and a chance to further strengthen their relationship.

Pakistan and the US are on the same page when it comes to countering terrorism and extremism. The Americans realise that Pakistan has made great sacrifices as they push to eliminate terrorism in the country; and Pakistan appreciates the American support in this ongoing fight.

But the two are on different planets when it comes to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme. Media speculations hold that the Americans want Pakistan to reduce their nuclear arsenal and show restraint in expanding their nuclear weapons programme. Reportedly, the Pakistanis have ruled this out citing India as a top security concern.

The only reason Pakistan has nuclear weapons is because of the security threat posed by India’s nuclear arsenal. No matter how many times Pakistani officials repeat themselves, their American counterparts perhaps find comfort in cozying up to India than publically acknowledging Islamabad’s principled position. India poses a legitimate security concern and if it continues to have nuclear weapons, so will Pakistan. For all their brilliance, the Americans don’t seem to understand.

Why is it easy for the US to live with a nuclear India and not a nuclear Pakistan? The greater economic incentives India offers the US is blinding them to Pakistan’s genuine security concerns.

You will read headlines that say, ‘US asks Pakistan to reduce its nuclear arsenal’ but will never read a headline calling for India to stop proliferating. This notwithstanding the fact that in 1974 India tested a nuclear weapon, which they developed illegally. And despite the fact that Adrian Levy, an investigative journalist for the Guardian recently wrote about India building an entire city devoted to producing thermonuclear weapons, the US has made no demands of India.

It is bizarre that the country that introduced nuclear weapons in South Asia is allowed to construct an entire city for the sole purpose of building more nuclear weapons. And outrageous that instead of American leaders asking India to show restraint, they are helping them massively proliferate by giving them an exemption to the Nuclear Suppliers Group requirements; what terrible irony that the group, which was created to stop India from further proliferating following their 1974 test, is the same group that the US now hopes will make India a member.

India has the US’ blessings to import uranium from pretty much anyone willing to sell, including Canada, Australia, Mongolia, and a dozen other countries – freeing up their entire indigenous supply to build more nuclear bombs.

These facts beg the question: are American leaders dumb or are they blind? Their double standards and free hand to India have destroyed the nonproliferation regime, and threaten to destabilise South Asia. Why is it so hard for them to comprehend this fact?

It is absurd that the US is helping India arm itself to the teeth with nuclear weapons while asking Pakistan to disarm. Prime Minister Modi, his National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and countless other leaders in India have stated that they want to destroy Pakistan.

In 1947 India occupied a part of Pakistan, which it still occupies; in 1965 India invaded Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city at the time; and in 1971 it successfully split Pakistan in half (for which PM Modi took credit for during his tour to Bangladesh late last year). Are Pakistanis to believe that India has given up its aggressive designs? That if Pakistan limits or eliminates their nuclear weapons program that India will not threaten them or try to blackmail them with their nuclear arsenal?

It is hypocritical of the Americans to ask Pakistan to give up its nuclear weapons while helping India proliferate. Their hypocrisy is not limited only to nuclear weapons – it extends to nuclear energy as well.

John Kerry said, “We’re [..] working together to make Pakistan’s energy sector more market-based and its power supply more stable and sustainable.”

When it talks about clean energy the US never offers assistance in building nuclear power plants, the cleanest of all sources. Instead Americans only talk about setting up wind farms and solar parks under a clean energy partnership, whereas Americans have agreed to build nuclear power plants all over India. Again, why the hypocrisy?

Don’t get me wrong; I am thankful for their assistance in helping Pakistan generate more electricity, but if they were serious they would setup nuclear power plants.

Wind and solar are great but alone they will not address the massive energy shortage Pakistan faces. In addition, both are very expensive to maintain. Not to mention that, facing severe drought-like conditions and massive water shortages, it makes little sense for Pakistan to invest in solar panels, which require large amounts of water to be cleaned for them to effective.

The Pakistan-US Strategic Dialogue process is a fantastic effort and an important exercise to maintain our friendship. But let’s not let this process become a futile practice – if the US is serious about strengthening its ties with Pakistan, and they are genuinely interested in helping Pakistan become a stronger country and in turn a closer ally, then America needs to be mindful of its actions in this region. They have to be fair in dealing with Pakistan and India; otherwise they will end up destabilising the entire region.

The US must prove its sincerity; and this strategic dialogue is a wonderful opportunity for it to do so. I hope they don’t squander this chance.

The writer is an assistant professor at NUST in Islamabad.

Twitter: @umarwrites



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