Wednesday April 24, 2024

An incomprehensible silence

By Shireen M Mazari
April 28, 2016

While the national agenda has been overwhelmed with the Panama leaks, and rightly so given the enormity of the revelations relating to our PM’s family, some important developments impacting Pakistan’s security have gone unnoticed.

Worse still, the government’s silence on these issues is a source of concern for those who know the far-reaching ramifications for Pakistan, of critical developments in the international nuclear security issue area.

First, there was the attack by President Obama, at the Washington DC Nuclear Security Summit (March 31-April 1), on Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons – the reference being specifically to the Nasr – while he conveniently left out the massive Indian nuclear weapons build up. Surprisingly little was heard from the government to counter this accusation. This was followed by US Defence Secretary Ash Carter expressing concern from India about “terrorism flowing from Pakistan” with not a word about RAW terrorism flowing into Pakistan from India. Again, this was met with absolute silence from our government.

Ironically, a Call Attention Notice submitted by this scribe in the National Assembly referring to the Obama and Carter statements and why our government was silent on them was found “not acceptable” and I was informed that the Foreign Office had refused to accept and answer the same. That the bureaucracy dictated what could be raised in the National Assembly came as a shock.

There is also the case being heard in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against the nuclear weapons of Pakistan, India and the UK presently filed by the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI) and again no statement has come from the government on this issue. At present the case is about admissibility but if we lose this stage then the issue could take a serious turn but the nation is being kept totally in the dark, as is Parliament.

There is a pattern being built up here (the RMI case is being sponsored and supported by a number of international NGOs and American lawyers) and it is expected that in June this year there may be a plenary session of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) where once again the US would seek to get India admitted as a member. Given that NSG decisions are made through unanimity and that India has already been given an NSG waiver for the import of sensitive nuclear materials and technology, one would have expected a robust diplomatic campaign on opposing this country-specific exception being sought for India but again nothing is visible on this front by our government.

We seem to be relying solely on China to prevent India getting NSG membership with no major diplomatic offensive from our side – despite the fact that India’s membership of the NSG would place Pakistan at a permanent and costly strategic disadvantage in terms of our nuclear programme.

Even on the recent testing of India’s indigenously developed nuclear-powered submarine INS Arihant, which will accelerate the nuclear arms race in the Subcontinent, not only have the major global powers and anti-nuclear lobbyists maintained a deafening silence, our government has also made little noise on the issue. This is in sharp contrast to the noise the US, India and their allies make globally when Pakistan conducts any test related to its nuclear capability.

Why our government is adamant on keeping an uncalled-for low profile on the issues mentioned above is beyond any logic, especially since Pakistan’s nuclear safety record is immaculate – unlike either that of the US or of India. Only recently, a think tank of Harvard’s Kennedy School produced a scathing report on the safety of India’s expansive nuclear programme.

Pakistan, on the other hand, has not only ratified the 2005 Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM), it has built multiple layers of nuclear safety and security. Pakistan’s Centre of Excellence on Nuclear Security (PCENS) got international recognition this March when it hosted the annual meeting of the ‘International Network of Nuclear Security Support Centres’, which was the first meeting of the network held outside IAEA Headquarters, Vienna.

The Strategic Export Control Division (SECDIV) in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintains a periodically updated National Export Control List, which is classified on the basis of the EU’s integrated system and covers the scope of NSG, Australia Group and Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) export controls.

There are a host of other safety and security measures also in place so the absurdity of this silence by the government when Obama or Carter target Pakistan becomes more pronounced. Now the Pakistan government has also failed to respond to the Obama Doctrine published in the April 2016 issue of ‘The Atlantic’ where Obama is cited as referring to Pakistan as a “disastrously dysfunctional country” and questioning why it should be considered an ally of the US at all!

The Obama doctrine, as published, is extremely interesting on Saudi Arabia and Iran also, but that is another topic for a full-scale discussion. Right now, it is the disturbing silence of our government on accusations being hurled at Pakistan from the US to India, and from their allies in between, that is a cause of concern and raises serious questions about where our foreign and security policies are headed – that is if we have a coherent foreign policy at all to begin with.

Even on Afghanistan, our peace dialogue initiative seems to be fading, with the Taliban spring offensive in Kabul and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s latest statement saying they do not require Pakistan for the peace process. Yet the government’s lack of cohesive governance and clear-cut policies stand exposed as every minister focuses on proving his loyalty to the Sharifs by causing further confusion and contradictions on the Panama Leaks while other critical governance and policy issues remain neglected. The tweedle dee-tweedle dum duo meant to be looking after foreign policy are invisible and silent; the national security adviser and the defence minister have failed to respond to accusations from Washington, New Delhi and Kabul. Perhaps most distressing is that the PM said not a word on the capture of senior RAW operative Yadav and has continued to maintain this silence on India’s targeting of Pakistan.

So, the nation is as usual being kept in the dark on security issues with long-term repercussions for the country. As for the electronic media, there are few takers for discussions on nuclear security and foreign policy issues – because that arouses no hysteria or abusive exchanges amongst the participants. Does anyone care beyond immediate self-interest when the government headed by the PM shows little concern for Pakistan’s long-term security issues?

The writer is DG of SSII, a private think tank, and a PTI MNA. The views expressed are her own.