Increasing Pakistan’s Sense of Security

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By Michael Krepon – The Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, where negotiations on fissile material production for nuclear weapons are supposed to get underway, remains moribund.  Each of the 65 nations at the CD has a veto over its work agenda and several have reservations about getting underway.  But the most prominent hold-out, at present, is Pakistan.

Initially, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry expressed procedural reservations about the CD’s agenda, but Pakistan’s accomplished Ambassador in Geneva, Zamir Akram, has now upped the ante by calling for the CD to consider conventional arms control at the regional and sub-regional level.   
Nuclear arms control is very hard.  Conventional arms control may be even harder.  It’s doubtful that anyone in Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry or General Headquarters believes that the subcontinent and the CD will get serious about negotiating limits on tanks and combat aircraft.  Singing a solo aria in Geneva – and one that has no chance of finding a chorus – cannot feel very comfortable.  But that’s precisely the point: Pakistan’s national security establishment feels great discomfort at present, which is why it opposes constraints on nuclear weapon capabilities – even those that would constrain India, Israel, and Iran, as well.     

The sources of Pakistan’s growing insecurities are plain and do not require lengthy elaboration.  Pakistan’s military forces are belatedly reclaiming national territory from internal security threats, requiring the redeployment of forces away from a superior-armed neighbor with whom it has rocky relations.  Trend lines that matter between neighboring India and Pakistan are moving in New Delhi’s favor, especially with respect to economic growth and conventional military capabilities.  And to add insult to injury, the George W. Bush administration cleared the way for the international community to provide India with the means to greatly expand its nuclear infrastructure.

There are no shortcuts for Pakistan to diminish its sense of insecurity.  Indeed, in the short run, greater insecurity might be expected, as extremist groups carry out more mass casualty attacks in Pakistan’s cities in retaliation for the Army’s recent offensives.  Spoilers might also carry out additional attacks against India in the hope of spurring a clash between Indian and Pakistani forces.  And yet Pakistan’s future wellbeing depends on staying this course.  Economic growth and national tranquility require control over domestic threats to internal and regional security.

Other options proposed to increase Pakistan’s sense of security are unlikely, unwise, or infeasible in the near term.  One such idea would be to offer Pakistan a nuclear deal similar to the one given India.  But a US-Pakistan civil nuclear agreement would be weighted with such onerous conditions that it would be rejected by Pakistan.  Nor, given Pakistan’s nuclear history, would such a deal be likely to pass muster in the US Congress or the Nuclear Suppliers Group.  Besides, Pakistan’s energy needs are so pressing that less costly and time-consuming means to generate electricity deserve to be given priority.

A sensible resolution of the Kashmir dispute could increase Pakistan’s sense of security even if, in the short run, diplomatic engagements toward this end could spark more explosions.  Back channel talks between Islamabad and New Delhi before President Pervez Musharraf lost his grip on power reportedly came close to reaching common elements for an equitable outcome.  But it will take two politically-confident governments to revive a Kashmir settlement. 

Security guarantees from the United States or China are another conceivable mechanism for Pakistan to increase its sense of equanimity.  But Pakistani involvement in two earlier U.S.-led pacts, SEATO and CENTO, failed to assuage Pakistan’s security concerns, and both countries felt ill-served by them.  Nor, more recently, has Pakistan considered itself more secure by being designated a “major non-NATO ally” of the United States.  Pakistan’s relations with China are far better, and Beijing has become Pakistan’s primary source of military equipment.  But China, too, will be leery of providing a security guarantee, as Beijing has not wished to be dragged into Pakistan’s periodic disputes with India.  

What other options does Pakistan have?  Despite its discomfort with U.S. ties, Pakistan’s national security establishment would feel far less secure if existing means of cooperation deteriorate.  Both countries have to dig deeper to stabilize and improve ties.   This long, hard slog is now underway.  One aspect of this agenda is helping to improve Pakistan’s nuclear security – on Pakistan’s terms. 

Another way for Pakistan to increase its sense of security is by repairing relations with India.  This, too, will be a prolonged, difficult process for which there are no suitable alternatives.  Dialogue will resume after a fourteen-month hiatus caused by carnage in Mumbai that was planned and equipped by Pakistani nationals.  More such attacks can be expected, whether or not Pakistani forces prosecute domestic threats to its security.  But the more Pakistani forces stay on the offensive, the sooner this nightmare will end, and new attacks will be less likely to result in dangerous escalation.

Pakistan’s future security rests primarily in its own hands, but others are willing to help.  Increased security will be painfully hard to achieve because the domestic causes of Pakistan’s insecurity have been festering for decades.  A Pakistan that is not at peace with itself or with India will never feel secure.

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