Thursday, February 25, 2010

A civilian nuclear deal with Pakistan?

A little over a year ago, in December '08, I had occasion to write:
"One aspect of a [U.S.] diplomatic strategy might be to offer Pakistan a nuclear deal similar to the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal, on condition that Pakistan take a more vigorously constructive and helpful stance toward the U.S./NATO position in Afghanistan. Now that the A.Q. Khan network has stopped functioning [I might have been premature in this judgment], even if Khan himself remains something of a revered figure in certain Pakistani quarters, there is no principled reason to deny Pakistan the same sort of nuclear arrangement that India has with the U.S. (Concerns about the long-term stability of the civilian government, however, admittedly might be a complicating factor.)"
I was therefore interested to read Christine Fair's recent op-ed column ("Pakistan Needs Its Own Nuclear Deal," Wall Street Journal, Feb. 11; available on her website) in which she proposes "a conditions-based civilian nuclear deal" between the U.S. and Pakistan. She writes:
"This deal would confer acceptance to Islamabad's nuclear weapon program and reward it for the improvements in nuclear security that it has made since 2002. In the long shadow of A.Q. Khan and continued uncertainty about the status of his networks, it is easy to forget that Pakistan has established a Strategic Plans Division that has done much to improve safety of the country's nuclear assets."
What would Pakistan have to do in return?
"First, Pakistan would have to provide the kind of access and cooperation on nuclear suppliers' networks identified in the Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation. Second, Pakistan would have to demonstrate sustained and verifiable commitment in combating all terrorist groups on its soil, including those groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba that Pakistan often calls 'freedom fighters' acting on behalf of Kashmir and India's Muslims."
Although recognizing that this proposal would be hard to sell in both capitals, Fair thinks it is worth "putting...on the table now."

Unlike the linkage schemes I criticized here as overly ambitious, this one appears to make some sense. Recently, however, there has been increased cooperation between Pakistan and the U.S., especially in the area of intelligence sharing and related matters (see Karin Brulliard and Karen DeYoung, "Greater U.S. pressure led to Pakistan arrests: new level of cooperation emerging in struggle against Afghan Taliban," Wash. Post, Feb. 19, p.A1). As reported on the NewsHour today, Pakistani officials say that almost 15 senior and mid-level Afghan Taliban figures have been captured recently. If this sort of cooperation continues, the need for a nuclear deal may become less pressing. But it's hard to know whether it will continue.
P.s. Jim Walsh offers a somewhat different (i.e. more skeptical) view of Pakistan-U.S. intelligence cooperation.

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