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Why does the US still trust Pakistan?

Last updated on: December 14, 2015 11:49 IST

'Despite almost $30 billion of funding since 2001, all the US reaps today is unmitigated hostility of a Pakistan emboldened to flaunt its China card.'

'How can the US give credence to any offers from Pakistan, which has trotted out the standard alibi of non-State actors time and again, including dreaded terror outfits being out of State control, Pakistan itself being a victim and so forth?'

IMAGE: US President Barack Obama with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. 'The Pakistani nuclear weapons stockpile has risen alarmingly,' says Ambassador Sheel Kant Sharma. 'Islamabad has repeated with vengeance its readiness to 'first use' the bomb, under an open ended list of ruses.' Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

Sheel Kant Sharma, chief negotiator for India in the talks leading to the India-US civil nuclear agreement, tells Aditi Phadnis that for a United States-Pakistan nuclear deal to happen, credible guarantees have to be offered by the government in Pakistan, which seem to be an elusive entity.

The US has reportedly offered Pakistan a nuclear deal along the lines of the one it has with India. What is the rationale for this offer at this time? Given that Pakistan is the biggest beneficiary of nuclear assistance from China, is this even realistic?

It is hard to believe. Pakistan has been smarting ever since we had the deal with the US and has campaigned relentlessly to get such a deal from the latter. However, the official US stance has by and large appeared at variance from those think-tanks and scholars, who tried to make a case, most likely at Pakistan's behest.

If true, this would fly in the face of the following unparalleled record of Pakistan: The distinction of being the global epicentre of terrorism, which Pakistan stoutly denies, and rejects blaming all terror acts in and from its territory to non-state actors; it housed and protected Osama bin Laden through the US war on terror with official denials at the highest levels about his presence or any knowledge of his whereabouts.

When US Seals struck in May 2011 and killed Osama in Abbottabad, the tired alibi was given that the State in Pakistan knew nothing about it nor had any role in giving Osama safe haven.

This was a familiar refrain just as the global nuclear proliferation network run by Abdul Qadir Khan was flatly disowned by the State in Pakistan after that was uncovered in 2003. And under the compulsion of Pakistan's role then as a 'major non-NATO ally' the entire handiwork of Khan was brushed under the carpet and delicately finessed as 'international nuclear Walmart'.

As for the major non-NATO ally, it held hostage from time to time the NATO supplies meant from the port in Karachi for the troops in Afghanistan and collected ransom even as it received sanctioned funds for 'coalition support', which was ostensibly meant for helping NATO troops pitted in the war against the Taliban.

The consistent reports by eminent political leaders, military men and journalists in US about Pakistani military and intelligence complicity with Taliban, about the hopeless war in Afghanistan being fought against the 'wrong enemy' (Carlotta Gall) or Pakistan being the only country giving the US president sleepless nights.

Exposure about the Pakistani State's role in supporting the brutal Taliban networks in the barbaric killing of US and coalition soldiers. The sense of frustration of the goals behind the US war in Afghanistan is due in no small measure to Pakistan's involvement in destabilising governments in Kabul and the provinces, both under Hamid Karzai as well as Mohammad Ashraf Ghani.

In 2001 after 9/11, it was the onset of this duplicitous Pakistani role that promptly facilitated lifting in one fell swoop of all post-1998 US sanctions on Pakistan, by the US president invoking national security.

Despite almost $30 billion of funding under various garbs since 2001, all the US reaps today is unmitigated hostility of a Pakistan emboldened to flaunt its China card (or Russian too?).

What would the US get out of such an offer?

Maybe there are fresh promises made and voluntary assurances given by Pakistan today despite its past record of betrayal -- like selling the same horse again about stabilising Afghanistan?

Or fighting, this time around, against the Islamic State or parroting commitments to non-proliferation or nuclear weapons' security?

Maybe China is pushing it, including with the US.

How can the US give credence to any voluntary offers from the State in Pakistan, which has trotted out the standard alibi of non-State actors time and again, including dreaded terror outfits being out of State control, Pakistan itself being a victim and so forth?

Maybe it is once again the quintessential terrorist refrain from Pakistan that is working: Meet our demand or else it could be far worse.

Given the global politics of nuclear power, would the rest of the world countenance such a deal? Especially when you consider how hard it was for India to negotiate such a deal and how much effort negotiators such as yourself had to put in?

It will strain credulity.

Since conclusion of the India-US agreement, the Pakistani nuclear weapons stockpile has risen alarmingly. Islamabad has repeated with vengeance its readiness to 'first use' the bomb, under an open ended list of ruses.

It has tested and stockpiled short-range nuclear missiles for battlefield use and issued almost routine warnings to India about a nuclear strike.

Contrast this with the demands placed on India by the Nuclear Suppliers Group members to demonstrate restraint in doctrine and commitment about no first use, non-deployment and nuclear disarmament.

Can this contrast be also dismissed under a fresh voluntary offer or mere change of tone by Pakistan, as witnessed, say, in its statement to the United Nations General Assembly?

How would the US square up any credulity in this regard with its professed commitment to non-proliferation or for that matter the historic monitoring and verification enshrined in the Iran deal?

The core of the Iranian breach discovered in 2002-2003 rested on Pakistani proliferation of centrifuges and bomb design.

How much credibility would the global non-proliferation order invest in Pakistan's word?

Except China, it is hard to imagine global powers trusting Pakistan's word.

Transparency in Pakistan has been constantly undermined by fatal attacks on journalists and those differing from the deep State.

Disavowal of the violent extremism of Lashkar- e-Tayiba and its cohorts remains a distant dream -- their continued utility against India has been maintained by the Pakistani interlocutors to even those US scholars who visit South Asia and make a case for Pakistan.

Given Pakistan's fragile internal systems, can such a deal work?

It needs credible guarantees from the government in control, which seem to be elusive in Pakistan. What the prime minister might promise may be rejected by the army when it comes to crunch.

On critical matters, Pakistan's stock in trade is denial, followed by demand for proof, followed by rejection of evidence or stirring a blame game. They blame the US, for instance, for their three decades plus lapse into terrorism and blame India for any or every questionable conduct on their part.

One way of looking at it is that Pakistan is so badly in need of energy that shortage of it could be a reason for an implosion; and to avoid that it is better to address the need via trusted sources...

But China, a trusted ally, is already meeting Pakistan's nuclear power need. Does China need the US to do a deal to lend respectability to its ongoing reactor sales?

The NSG has not been effective in blocking the spin about the grandfather agreement. Nuclear power is far more expensive and oil and gas prices have fallen.

With the Pakistani economy in doldrums, how would they pay for nuclear reactors? Or is the deal going to include a hefty financial package to boot? Ransom, once again?

India has reacted sharply to the suggestion that such a deal might be in the offing. Need Delhi have bothered?

India's reaction can be even sharper since a favour to Pakistan is being piggybacked on India's long and sustained diplomatic endeavour.

To assign credence to pro-forma copycat utterances will be tantamount to making a travesty of the India-US relationship. That relationship has been assiduously built by both sides with enormous trust and bipartisan support. It cannot be re-hyphenated.

The welter of suspicion in which Pakistan is wrapped today is real, not imaginary, and Pakistan, as Christine Frey forcefully argued in her book, remains unreformed about hostility to India.

Any US-Pakistan deal will only bolster rather than tame Pakistani deep State's audacious behaviour.

Aditi Phadnis
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