NUCLEAR ABOLITION: Post-Osama, Pakistan May Be More Unrelenting on FMCT

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By Shastri Ramachandaran*

An early resolution of the prolonged deadlock, in which the United Nations Conference on Disarmament is trapped for over two years, appears unlikely given the prevalent mood in Pakistan.

In the aftermath of the United States forces killing Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, about an hour's drive from Islamabad, Pakistan is bound to take a harder line in multilateral forums on issues that impact its security and strategic interests. Such a hardening, reinforced by Pakistan's India-centric security concerns, would be conspicuously manifest on issues perceived to be driven by "a West-scripted agenda in UN forums, such as disarmament and non-proliferation".

One such issue, which Pakistan has resolutely stonewalled thus far, is the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) under tortuous negotiation in the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD), and the conclusion of which, in Islamabad's view, would put India in a vastly more advantageous position vis-à-vis Pakistan.

Boxed into a corner by the international community as a "haven for terrorists" and the fount of both regional and global terrorism, a battered Pakistan, seething at the humiliation of foreign forces transgressing its sovereignty, is in no mood at present to strike compromises when it comes to larger global concerns.

Pakistan seems determined to continue obstructing any movement towards wrapping up the FMCT in its present form, as this does not take into account India's existing stockpile of fissile material. This was made clear, both on and off the record, by a number of high-ranking government officials and functionaries in state-funded institutions, in the course of interactions with this writer during his recent visit to Pakistan.

Even before U.S. forces struck to liquidate bin Laden, Pakistan had been blocking a consensus on FMCT -- a key item on the agenda of the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament for over a decade now.
The FMCT acquired a new urgency with the declaration of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, in April 2009, highlighting the need for an early agreement to halt production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.

It gained further impetus with President Barack Obama's Prague Speech in April 2010, wherein he sought the international community's support to negotiate and conclude an FMCT. In its Nuclear Posture Review (2010), the U.S. explicitly committed itself to negotiating a verifiable FMCT.

The Session of the UN Disarmament Commission in 2010 made it an issue of greater priority by urging early commencement of negotiations on FMCT in the CD. Thereafter, in May 2010, the NPT review conference exhorted Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) to declare and place their fissile material which are no longer required for military purposes under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In spite of these diverse moves that should have collectively hastened efforts and spurred the CD on to conclude the FMCT, there was startlingly no progress. In fact, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed his frustration at the CD being made hostage to India-Pakistan nuclear gamesmanship, though he took care to avoid naming them. His warning of the CD’s credibility being at stake came in January 2011.
However, that did not serve to prod Pakistan in the required direction along with the rest of the members in the CD. Pakistan's opposition to FMCT, as articulated by its representative to the CD, Zamir Akram, is that, in its present form, it is discriminatory and would enable India to increase its stockpile of nuclear warheads.

BILATERAL PROBLEM

Pakistani officials this writer spoke to in Islamabad in the third week of April 2011 are one in the view that the FMCT will allow India a free hand in stockpiling fissile material. "Existing stocks should be reduced and gradually eliminated. The first step towards that is to reckon with existing stocks," said a highly placed diplomat who is conversant with the issue but unwilling to go on record.

An overwhelming majority of CD members are said to view Pakistan's rejection of the FMCT negotiations as being compelled by its need to match India's strategic advantage; and, they feel this is a bilateral problem, between India and Pakistan, to which the larger issue of non-proliferation and disarmament should not be subordinated.

However, Islamabad's position is that every country decides on such issues on the basis of its national interest. "If Pakistan's interests are ill-served, it is immaterial whether one or more countries are involved; and, whether the country is far or near. The point is the principle, and the principle cannot be discriminatory," said an expert on disarmament at The Institute of Strategic Studies (ISS) in Islamabad.

The principle Pakistan invokes may be found in what is known as the Shannon Mandate of 1995, Canadian Ambassador Gerald Shannon's report proposing an ad hoc committee which would allow delegations to raise issues relating to future and present stocks of fissile material and managing such material.

Pakistan backed the Shannon Mandate as it would help deal with the question of past fissile stocks. Precisely for that reason, the FMCT has not moved beyond where it was in 1995 -- and is unlikely to unless either Pakistan goes along with the rest of the CD or FMCT is taken out of the CD.

"It is not a situation of Pakistan versus the rest as portrayed," Pakistan's Acting Foreign Secretary Muhammad Haroon Shaukat told this journalist on April 23, 2011 in Islamabad. "There are others, too, with us," he added.
Shaukat explained that Pakistan has a stake in stability in South Asia and CD is facing a fundamental threat. "Maybe, India, too, has similar concerns. In the CD, Pakistan is positive on South Asian stability and would be guided by consensus on stability and security of Pakistan as well," he stated.
He declined to be drawn into discussing Pakistan's guiding considerations, saying, "I have given a generic answer. Do not push me further," said Shaukat.

"There cannot be different yardsticks for different countries. No double standards are permissible," declared Pakistan's former foreign secretary Riaz Hussain Khokhar. A former ambassador to China and High Commissioner to India, Khokhar was firm that Pakistan should not change its position. "We should remain steadfast: existing stockpiles must be taken into account or countries like Pakistan will be at a disadvantage."

ILL-ADVISED

He felt that the UN Secretary-General would be ill-advised to take FMCT out of the CD. Pakistani diplomats point out that "Cut-off" implies only a halt in future production and this cannot be endorsed. "The CD's effort does not take into account existing stocks of fissile material. As a result, it pushes Pakistan into an inferior position vis-à-vis India, which has much larger stocks of weapons-grade uranium," observed Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, ISS Director-General.

A former ambassador to China and the U.S., and High Commissioner to India, Qazi also served as the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq and, later, the Sudan.

He pointed out that the U.S. signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with India. "It has allowed India to receive fuel from the U.S. for peaceful purposes, which gives India the option to direct the stockpile for weapons purposes."

If the CD wants to end the stalemate, Qazi told this correspondent, "The way forward is to take existing stocks of fissile material into account." He stressed that the FMCT, as it stands, does not take account of existing stocks. India has more stocks and this puts Pakistan at a disadvantage in the context of India's nuclear cooperation agreement with the U.S."

Across the community of officials, diplomats and strategic affairs experts, the view is that Pakistan is being pushed into a corner, and by the U.S. leaning in favour of India. "The U.S. wants to maintain its monopoly, and allow stockpiles only to those countries which are in line with its policy. Naturally, the pressure is on Pakistan," Malik Qasim Mustafa Khokhar, Research Fellow at the ISS, Islamabad, told this correspondent.

Khokhar who specializes on arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation is convinced that the UN Secretary-General is trying to move the issue out of the CD. "The reason is the CD functions on the consensus system. And, if they take it out of the CD, there are chances of forcing the issue through majority vote."

Khokhar says Pakistan has made it known that if FMCT is taken out of CD, it would be difficult for Pakistan to cooperate with the international community on disarmament. "China supports Pakistan’s position, and so do others," he added.

He says FMCT covers additional stocks and "CD is trying to cap future production of fissile material. The Pakistani position is: include existing stockpile, and proportionately, allow us to have a stockpile".

"For the balance required to maintain deterrence between India and Pakistan, we need to take into account both India's nuclear weapons and fissile material stockpiles. We cannot agree to freeze existing inequality, when it directly threatens our security." This is the bottom line for Pakistan, articulated by Khokhar but endorsed by everyone else.

*The writer, who travelled to Pakistan at the invitation of the Government of Pakistan, is a former Editor of Sunday Mail and has worked with leading newspapers in India and abroad. He was Senior Editor & Writer with China Daily and Global Times in Beijing. For nearly 20 years before that he was a senior editor with The Times of India and The Tribune. Besides commentaries on foreign affairs and politics, he has written books, monographs, reports and papers. He is co-editor of the book 'State of Nepal'.

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