Zamir Akram’s comments in his interview with Arms Control Today (“The South Asian Nuclear Balance: An Interview With Pakistani Ambassador to the CD Zamir Akram,” December 2011) signal a potentially important shift in Pakistan’s position on allowing negotiations leading to a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT).
For many years, Pakistan has prevented the consensus decision required to start these talks at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva, citing its concerns that the mandate for the FMCT talks did not explicitly address asymmetries in existing stockpiles of fissile materials and emphasizing that India had a larger stockpile than Pakistan. In 2008, Pakistan added to its list of objections the decision by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to exempt India from NSG restrictions on the sale of nuclear technology and material to countries outside the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Pakistan also had argued that instead of focusing just on an FMCT, the CD needed to take up other long-standing important issues such as treaties on negative security assurances, prevention of an arms race in outer space, and nuclear disarmament obligations under Article VI of the NPT.
In the interview, Akram made clear that the NSG waiver is now the most important issue preventing Pakistan from letting FMCT talks begin. Asked directly “if Pakistan had an NSG waiver like India, Pakistan would be willing to enter negotiations on an FMCT?” Akram said, simply, “Yes.” If this indeed is now the sole condition for Pakistan to stop obstructing FMCT negotiations, Islamabad has put a very high price on its cooperation. The negotiations are then likely to remain stalled for quite some time.
On the other hand, the interview does not suggest that an NSG waiver for Pakistan will be a sufficient inducement for Pakistan to limit or end its fissile material production during FMCT talks. Akram said, “In the time that we can, we need to enhance our own capabilities so that we have sufficient fissile material for what we would then feel is a credible second-strike capability, or credible deterrence capability.” This could mean Pakistan will seek to slow down any FMCT talks to give itself as much time as possible to build its fissile materials stocks and might not even sign an FMCT whenever it is agreed.
Pakistan’s new position of setting an NSG waiver as the price for letting FMCT talks begin may have unintended consequences. Until now, Pakistan has enjoyed the quiet support of a number of countries that also believed that an FMCT needs to include provisions on accounting for and reducing fissile material stocks and wanted the CD to take up discussions on negative security assurances, preventing an arms race in outer space, and nuclear disarmament. After declaring that its opposition to FMCT negotiations would melt away if it is given an NSG waiver, Pakistan may lose the broad support it has enjoyed until now and may find itself completely isolated in the CD.
A. H. Nayyar is a visiting professor of physics at the Lahore University of Management Sciences in Pakistan and a member of the International Panel on Fissile Materials.