WASHINGTON: The United States and Pakistan are heading towards yet another confrontation, perhaps consequentially more devastating than all previous disputes, as the Obama administration prepares to persuade Islamabad to halt the production of nuclear bomb materials.
Recent reports in the US media suggest that the UN General Assembly in New York next month will be the venue for this new push and the US has the blessings of four declared nuclear powers for its move.
Also on Wednesday, the NBC News channel reported that the US was preparing for “the worst-case scenario of attempting to snatch Pakistan`s 100-plus nuclear weapons if it feared they were about to fall into the wrong hands”.
The channel quoted former president Pervez Musharraf as warning that this “would be a disastrous miscalculation, as such an incursion would lead to `total confrontation` between the United States and Pakistan”.
Current and former US officials, however, told NBC News that “ensuring the security of Pakistan`s nuclear weapons has long been a high national security priority, even before the Sept 11 terrorist attacks, and that plans have been drawn up for dealing with worst-case scenarios in Pakistan”.
But the expected confrontation in New York has nothing to do with any secret plan to snatch Pakistan`s nukes. The United States will launch an open move â€“ with support from other powers â€“ to force Pakistan to sign the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty.
The US media reported that the Obama administration had won China`s support for finalising the FMCT. At a recent conference in Paris, Russia, France and Britain â€“ all declared nuclear powers like China â€“ also supported the US plan.
It is, however, not clear if China would back the move to cap Pakistan`s nuclear capability and thus allow India to become the sole nuclear power in South Asia.
The US and its allies are seeking an agreement by September and then go to the UN General Assembly with a joint plan for starting talks on the FMCT.
So far Pakistan has successfully resisted all international pressure to endorse the FMCT, warning that it would boycott any process to negotiate a US-backed treaty outside the deadlocked UN Conference on Disarmament (UNCD).
The Geneva-based UNCD is the sole negotiating forum for multilateral disarmament but the treaty has been stalled in the conference for 12 years, with Pakistan as the sole holdout against negotiations.
The US move aims at creating a new forum where it can persuade Pakistan to sign the FMCT.
“Our preference is to negotiate an FMCT within the Conference on Disarmament, but that body has been deadlocked by Pakistan,” US Under-secretary of State Ellen Tauscher told a seminar on July 28 in Lafayette, California.
“Thus the US is joining with other key countries to start preparations for a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty elsewhere until the conference can get down to work,” she said. Pakistan`s acting representative to the UN, Raza Bashir Tarar, last week told a General Assembly meeting in New York that his country “will not join any such process nor would it consider accession to the outcome of any such process”.
To deal with increasing international pressure to stop the production of fissile material, Pakistan tried unsuccessfully to enter into a nuclear agreement with the US similar to the one Washington has signed with India. The deal with the US has paved the way for India to get recognition as a nuclear power without signing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
The United States has rejected Pakistan`s request, pointing out that the discovery of a network of nuclear proliferators, headed allegedly by Dr A. Q. Khan, disqualifies Pakistan for any deal.
“Pakistan`s objections reflect its existential fear of nuclear archrival India,” noted the Bloomberg news agency in an article on the US move to persuade Pakistan to sign the FMCT.
The report quoted statistics released by the Washington-based Arms Control Association which says that India has enough plutonium for about 140 bombs. Pakistan has enough plutonium and uranium for 100 bombs.