Civil Nuclear Cooperation with Pakistan: Prospects and Consequences

Although the Obama administration and Pakistani officials have both officially stated that formal negotiations are not under way for a civil-nuclear deal for Pakistan, several media reports suggest that elements in the current US administration think they can secure change in Pakistan’s policies by offering it a nuclear accord along the lines offered to India in 2005.

The expectation that Pakistan would limit its nuclear arsenal is similar to the unrealistic expectation during the 1980s that supplying Pakistan with large amounts of economic aid and state-of-the art military equipment, including F-16 aircraft, would lead to Pakistan stopping short of developing nuclear weapons altogether. Pakistan’s real aspiration is to be India’s equal, albeit with one-sixth the population and a ten-fold smaller economy. If the United States were to extend civil nuclear cooperation to Pakistan, it would only enhance the belief of Pakistan’s military, which dominates all aspects of Pakistani life, that Pakistan can get what it wants from the United States and that its goal of competing with India (as opposed to legitimate national defense) is within its grasp.

The U.S. objective should be to help Pakistan come to terms with its size and its economic and political needs. What we are seeing in Pakistan is a militarized state with geo-political objectives not commensurate with the real power potential of the country and American support plays into reinforcing these delusions rather than to bring them in check. Raising the prospect of a civil nuclear deal with Pakistan without addressing the country’s dysfunction and militarism will aid neither U.S. policy objectives nor the people of Pakistan who are perhaps the biggest victims of their national elite’s erroneous policies.

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