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Nuclear nonproliferation ayatollahs

The Good Ol’ Boys Club of 1968 is dead.  Move on.

On his blog, Michael Krepon revisits the Indo-U.S. nuclear agreement today and asks whether it was a worthwhile project, when considered against the backdrop of existing nonproliferation norms and the idea of “Indian exceptionalism” that led to the eventual implementation of the nuclear deal. This comes on the heels of additional criteria laid out by the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) curbing Enrichment and Reprocessing (ENR) technology transfers to non-NPT signatories.  It appears that the nonproliferation ayatollahs in DC have awoken from a long slumber and have once again set their sights on India and the Indo-U.S. nuclear agreement.

But don’t take my word for it.  Consider some of the arguments put forth by Dr. Krepon:

One, even with the positive outcome of the 2010 NPT Review Conference, nonproliferation norms took a hit from the U.S.-India civil nuclear deal and, at best, will take time to reinforce. The deal has added to the IAEA’s woes and has made the NSG a weaker institution.

Two, negative nuclear trend lines within Pakistan have grown steeper and will be harder to reverse.

All good DC nonprolif ayatollahs like to make the case that Pakistan’s nuclear mess is inexorably linked to India’s status as a nuclear power.  But Pakistan has been operating outside the nonproliferation system for decades to develop nuclear weapons and build up its nuclear arsenal and delivery systems.  A gentleman by the name of AQ Khan can provide full and complete information about how Pakistan managed to develop a nuclear program in the first place.

And contrary to popular myth, Pakistan sought to build a nuclear weapons program well before India conducted a nuclear test in 1974.  Pakistan was up to no-good decades before the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal; the only difference post the nuclear deal is that it is far more brazen in admitting its violation of nonproliferation norms.  The rhetoric has changed, but actions haven’t.

Three, the arc of U.S.-Indian relations has improved, but with far less loft than the Bush administration’s deal makers conceived. Trade and investment will grow, as will defense sales and cooperation in some areas. This would have been the case whether or not the Bush administration had decided to pursue the civil nuclear deal. Indeed, these advances were delayed because it took five years of high-level attention to close this deal.

That Indo-U.S. trade would have grown with or without the nuclear deal is perhaps a fair argument. But the question here is not about if Indo-U.S. trade will grow, but by what magnitude.  Since 2000, Indo-U.S. trade has grown at an average of 13% year over year, and while Indo-U.S. trade dipped in 2009, it can largely be attributed to the global economic downturn.

Despite this, Indo-U.S. trade grew by 30% in 2010 — faster than at any time during the decade.  Bilateral trade will likely grow further were the U.S. to participate in India’s nuclear energy market, valued at $150 billion.  Let’s also not forget the the civil nuclear deal was passed in Congress in 2008.  Three years is an insufficient period of time to draw such broad conclusions on the utility of the nuclear deal — especially given the financial crisis.

Four, the notion of India joining the “nonproliferation mainstream,” as advocates of the deal predicted, has been a mirage. Instead, New Delhi has closed ranks with NAM states balking at stronger nonproliferation norms. India remains in limbo on the CTBT, seemingly far from ready to sign or to resume underground tests. Fissile material production for nuclear weapons continues; India, like Pakistan, may have doubled its inventory of nuclear weapons over the past decade.

Again, this is disingenuous.  It was Brazil and Egypt via the NAM that raised (valid, in my opinion) concerns about the nature of Additional Protocols articulated by the NSG; India for its part has always opposed the NPT in its current structure.  Its position on the discriminatory nature of the NPT has not changed, pre- or post-nuclear deal.  Yes, India hasn’t signed the CTBT, but if it is truly as spectacular as some would like us to believe it is, then why hasn’t the U.S. ratified the CTBT yet?

Further, comparing India and Pakistan on nuclear weapons production is absurd.  Yes, India has increased its inventory of nuclear weapons, because serious production only commenced after Pokhran-II in 1998.  Even this was severely curtailed because India’s CIRUS reactor was shut down for repairs in 1997 and was only reopened in 2003.  Contrast this against Pakistan, which went from having about 60 nuclear weapons in 2007 to an estimated 110 in 2011.  Still think India and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programs are comparable?  I guess not; but then the ability to distinguish between problem and solution has never been a hallmark of nonproliferation ayatollahs.

Five, New Delhi continues to titrate improved strategic cooperation with the United States, especially given domestic political sensitivities about U.S. infringements on Indian sovereignty. New Delhi also continues to improve ties with Beijing. It is folly to presume that Washington can leverage New Delhi’s dealings with Beijing. The civil nuclear deal was a poor choice to help India become a stronger counterweight to China.

Why, then, did the Bush administration make this deal the centerpiece of bilateral relations during its second term? Why tackle the toughest nut first, incurring unnecessary and perhaps long-lasting damage to nonproliferation norms? It’s obvious why New Delhi embraced the Bush administration’s gift horse of a civil nuclear deal. Those in India who argued that it was a Trojan horse have been proven wrong on every count. So far, U.S. backers of the deal have also been proven wrong on every count. [Arms Control Wonk]

First, India, left to its own, will always pursue an independent foreign policy; this was true in the decades past as it is true now.  Next, with the U.S.’s relative decline, it is not in a position to dictate to other countries whom they should or shouldn’t befriend, particularly when those countries are aspirant future powers.  If New Delhi continues to improve ties with China, so does the U.S.; it is the reality of the world we live in.

Now, India has dithered in the recent past on ties with the U.S., and those of us hoping for better bilateral relations have called on New Delhi to do its share of heavy-lifting too, and not just issue a litany of demands to the U.S. with a sense of entitlement, as is sometimes its wont.  But let’s also be clear that the reason why India and the U.S. ought to forge better ties with each other is because they share the same fundamental ideals about the global order, and not because one can be used as leverage against a third power.

In the end, DC’s nonproliferation ayatollahs are stuck in a time and place far removed from the present.  The nonproliferation order requires a major overhaul if it is to be relevant in the world today.  What does it say about the NPT’s value and enforceability in the world today, when a sitting NWS member scoffed at established rules and provided nuclear technology to anyone willing to pay, without any repercussions?

The Good Ol’ Boys Club of 1968 is dead.  If Nuclear Weapons States were really concerned about nonproliferation, they would bring India in as a member nuclear weapons state.  This requires structural reform, and unless the regime is reformed to reflect the realities of the 21st century, it will continue to grow less relevant with each passing day, as will its cheerleaders.

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Rotten Apple theory?

An arrest merely due to ties to Hizb-ut-Tahrir stretches credulity.

Dawn ran an article about recent arrests in Pakistan, which included a serving Brigadier affiliated with GHQ, allegedly for having ties with Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT), a pan-Islamic radical group whose aims include establishing an Islamic Khilafat.  In his interactions with BBC Urdu, army spokesperson Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas confirmed that Brig. Ali Khan was had been arrested for ties with HuT.  But really, those utterances are about as convincing as Tahawwur Rana’s defense team.

Firstly, the very basis for Brig. Khan’s arrest — affiliation with a banned organization — seems to be questionable.  While it is true that the HuT was proscribed by Gen. Musharraf in 2004, the ban was lifted after being challenged in the Lahore High Court.  Secondly, even if we are to accept ISPR’s version of the story, the sudden eagerness to target people with ties to a  group with unquestionably radical beliefs, but one that poses no direct or immediate threat to the Pakistani Army stretches credulity. After all, what does the ban on HuT mean to a Pakistani military establishment that created and nurtured the Taliban, provided shelter to Osama bin Laden, and spawned the alphabet-soup of jihadi groups in Jammu & Kashmir?

And since when has the Pakistani Army been the sort of entity to act against its members possessing links with radical groups?  Lest we forget former DG-ISI Lt. Gen. Mahmoud Ahmed, who was given his marching orders only after a great deal of reluctance, when Indian intelligence agencies informed the U.S. of the $100,000 he is said to have wired 9/11 attacker Mohammad Atta. Or indeed, the illustrious Lt. Gen. Nadeem Taj, who was relieved of duty as DG-ISI, after Washington pressured Rawalpindi with evidence of Lt. Gen. Taj’s direct involvement in the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, which resulted in 58 deaths.  And even then, the punishments meted out were anything but severe.  Lt. Gen. Ahmed retired from the army and is now a member of Tablighi Jamaat.  Lt. Gen. Taj was relieved of his duties as DG-ISI and given command of XXX Corps in Gujranwala.

But we digress. Whether and to what extent Brig. Ali Khan had ties to HuT may be less relevant.  Indeed, the good folks at GHQ are unlikely to arrest him only for maintaining ties with HuT, unless they also had paper on him on a far more serious charge that they wouldn’t care to advertise to the rest of the world.

So the question that needs to be asked is what is that other serious charge that Pakistan’s army wouldn’t care to see advertised?  So far, the only explanation for his arrest was provided by army sources.  While news of Brig. Khan’s arrest was made public just yesterday, BBC Urdu, which broke the story reports that he was in fact arrested on May 6, right after the time of the Abbottabad raid which killed bin Laden.  Indeed, Brig. Khan’s defense lawyer asserts (اردو) that he was arrested for raising inconvenient questions about the Abbottabad raid at a GHQ conference.

The question therefore needs to be asked — did Brig. Khan know something about the raid by U.S. Special Forces?  If so, what?  Did a serving Pakistan Army officer affiliated with GHQ provide intel to the U.S. that led to the Abbottabad raid?  The New York Times reports of an ongoing witch-hunt in Pakistan where people alleged to have provided intel to the CIA on bin Laden are being arrested.  Indeed, in light of this, Brig. Khan being taken into custody may not necessarily be a coincidence.

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A history of violence

On Saleem Shahzad’s killing.

The killing of Syed Saleem Shahzad near Islamabad is but another example of the perils journalists face in Pakistan today for challenging the conspiracy-riddled narratives of the military-jihadi complex.  Through his articles in Asia Times, Mr. Shahzad gave us perspective on the inner workings of the MJC and its internal competitive dynamics.  Lesser journalists in Pakistan who tow the line of the MJC by putting forth conspiracy theories of underhand foreign agencies working in concert to dismember Pakistan are lionized and rewarded.  Little wonder then, that Pakistan ranks as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists (Freedom House, 2011).

Voice of America Urdu’s Waseem A. Siddiqui catalogs the history of violence (اردو) :
Pakistan journalists killed

Readers of this blog are no doubt familiar with the conspiracy theory-ridden narratives in Pakistan’s vernacular press.  Almost every tragedy in Pakistan is attributable to the machinations of the CIA, R&AW, Blackwater or Mossad.  Their ultimate quest being Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.  It should come as no surprise then that the recent attacks against a Pakistan Navy base in Karachi were immediately attributed to India.  Because that’s easy. And convenient.

In her recent visit to Pakistan, following the raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton urged Pakistanis to understand that conspiracy theories “will not make their problems disappear.” But with journalists like these, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Further reading: A brave piece by Mehmal Sarfraz, and Syed Saleem Shahzad’s brilliant interview/report on the resurgence of Ilyas Kashmiri and the 313 Brigade.


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All-weather doormat

Old Chinese proverb say: Beggars can’t be choosers.

As relations between the U.S. and Pakistan deteriorate, Pakistan’s prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani referred to China as an “all-weather” friend who has stood by Pakistan through thick and thin.  The truth of course, is that China has used its weight to allow the Pakistanis to be naughty when it suited China’s purpose.  There are endless examples, the most significant being supporting Pakistan’s illicit nuclear program.  After the bin-Laden raid, the Pakistanis are keen to promulgate the notion that they have the ability to choose their primary benefactor, and that China can quite easily replace the U.S. in this regard.

But the facts speak for themselves.  The U.S. has contributed more than $20 billion to Pakistan since 2002.  It also gave Pakistan over $150 million in aid of last year’s flood victims.  China, almost belatedly, perhaps embarrassed by its own absence among the philanthropic few, donated $18 million.  For those under any illusions that China can effectively substitute the U.S. as Pakistan’s primary patron, a read-through of Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa’s September 2010 article is warranted (excerpts):

In Pakistan, most people view China as a saviour and time-tested friend – one that, unlike the US, will never abandon their country. According to former diplomat Tariq Fatimi, this is the only one of Pakistan’s links that can be considered truly ‘strategic’. To a great extent, however, this relationship is based on the transfer of military technology. Beijing played a key role in the development of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, and was also a source of weapons to fill the gaps left by the US arms embargo on the country until the blockade was lifted in 2001. China also provided military supplies when none were assured from the West.

Beyond the general perception that China is an all-weather friend there is also some negative opinion, particularly in the business community. The corporate sector has been badly affected by the dumping of cheap Chinese goods in Pakistan’s markets, but the high-stakes relationship between the two states means that the business community has not been able to protest too loudly. A senior official at the Ministry of Finance in Islamabad conceded that there is substantial informal trade in the form of smuggling of Chinese goods into Pakistan. However, Islamabad seems to consider it almost suicidal to broach the matter openly, given the importance of the defence ties with Beijing.

More interestingly, the second group that privately expresses reservations about China is the military personnel directly involved in weapons procurement. Junior and mid-ranking officers who come in contact with Chinese manufacturers express shock and disappointment at how Chinese businesses negotiate as ruthlessly as the weapons manufacturers of the West. In the minds of these military officers, this present-day reality clashes with the memory of China as a friend that provided Pakistan with free weaponry during the war with India in 1965. Although there is no proof to support this view, many continue to believe that China could play a decisive role as Pakistan’s saviour in case of an escalation of conflict with India.

According to an intelligence source who spoke on condition of anonymity, the Pakistani authorities go to great lengths to hide actions taken to appease Beijing. The source claims that a significant number of Pakistani citizens were caught between 2004 and 2009 by various intelligence agencies for alleged involvement in fomenting rebellion in China’s Xinjiang province, and were actually handed over to the Chinese intelligence agencies.

Likewise, in June 2007, President Pervez Musharraf reacted to the threat posed by clerics and seminary students aligned with the Lal Masjid in Lahore only after they attacked some Chinese citizens based in Pakistan, including the owner of a massage parlour in Islamabad. The Chinese ambassador in Islamabad at the time warned the government over the security of Chinese citizens, and many believe that this pressure contributed directly to the action eventually taken against the Lal Masjid clerics. Interestingly, Islamabad was silent when the Lal Masjid’s ‘burqa brigade’ had kidnapped a female professional escort and took a few police officials hostage who had come to rescue the woman. Reportedly, the Chinese ambassador had forcefully demanded protection of Chinese citizens.

In the long run, the relationship between China and Pakistan could be adversely affected if the increased militarisation and radicalism in the latter continues. Pakistan’s incessant political instability, the corruption and administrative inefficiency of its political leadership and problems of democracy are some of the many problems that feed into the inability of the China-Pakistan relationship to shift from a tactical to a strategic gear in a way that would be more beneficial to Pakistan than in the past. According to Yuqun Shao, from the Shanghai Institute of Strategic Studies, President Asif Ali Zardari does not have much credibility in Beijing, despite the fact that he is keen to further strengthen and expand bilateral links. This is hardly surprising, given Beijing’s culture of top-down authoritarian rule that emphasises political stability as a driver for economic growth. As such, the shift towards radicalism in Pakistan is bound to further negatively influence the relationship with the Pakistan government.

Ultimately, undermining the development of a more holistic relationship with China will prove disadvantageous to Pakistan, particularly now that Beijing’s strategists are reconsidering the relationship with India. In any case, Beijing seems willing to apply the model of Sino-US relations to its relationship with India as well. This means that while tensions with India – over Arunachal Pradesh, the potential strategic rivalry in the Southasian neighbourhood and the Indian Ocean, and competition for petroleum and mineral resources worldwide – could continue, it will not hamper the development of greater economic ties between the two states. But such conditions also mean that Sino-Pakistani relations could become even more tactical from Beijing’s point of view. Chinese officials, who are more concerned about improving relations with India and view the new set of relationship as an economic opportunity, will probably be averse to getting too distracted by the constant rivalry between Pakistan and India. [Himal South Asian]

After the bin-Laden raid, we have been victimized by cacophony emanating from Pakistan about how it can pick and choose its benefactors and that it doesn’t need the U.S. because it has China’s “support.”  The U.S. would do well to call Pakistan’s bluff.  Let the world see how much of a substitute China can be for the U.S. in Pakistan.  And when realization finally hits Islamabad, the U.S. should deal with Pakistan on its own terms.

Updated: Quote courtesy a friend: “Did it matter if a grain of dust in a whirlwind retained its dignity?” –  CS Forester’s “Horatio Hornblower” series

 

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