Originally Published 2010-07-27 00:00:00 Published on Jul 27, 2010
It is ironic that the Obama administration, which has been persistently dogmatic about nuclear proliferation issues, has decided to turn a blind eye to China's attempts to fuel Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme.
Sino-Pak nuke deal and US
It is ironic that the Obama administration, which has been persistently dogmatic about nuclear proliferation issues, has decided to turn a blind eye to China’s attempts to fuel Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme.

The most critical aspect of the Sino-Pak alliance is China’s low-key but equally determined push to construct alternative security architecture in Asia. The nuclear agreement with Pakistan is part of the expanding nuclear umbrella over the region, pushing the American attempts to bring the region under its own nuclear regime. China is obviously not  keen on a bigger US footprint in the region. Since Pakistan will continue to be the main battleground of the `great game` for the next decade or so, China is moving its pawns and knights in the area to counter the American strategic moves. The nuclear agreement ensures Islamabad’s strategic loyalty to Beijing irrespective of the former’s relationship with Washington.

The most obvious objective of this move is to circumscribe the India-US relations, particularly the nuclear agreement. By signing a similar agreement with Pakistan, China has created a parallel universe of nuclear allies. For Pakistan, such a situation offers a win-win situation. It has a strategic alliance with the US which gives it a semblance of leverage over India. Cleverly using its physical proximity to Afghanistan and its hold over various terrorist and extremist groups in the region, Pakistan has become the cornerstone of the Obama administration’s strategy in Afghanistan. Its increasingly visible warmth towards China points to a more complex and effective strategy to stump the US-India strategic relationship. A strong China-Pak nuclear deal will undermine the India-US nuclear deal in many ways while creating a nuclear umbrella which keeps New Delhi and Washington at arm’s length.

Even without such geo-political manoeuvrings, the Sino-Pak nuclear nexus is one of the most serious threats confronting the world today. It is not difficult to understand the reasons for such a fear. Both China and Pakistan are known proliferators and have hardly shown any considerations for international norms and order. Both the countries have also been equally brazen about diverting materials meant for civilian use to military ones.

It is useful to know the level and variety of threats this alliance between a theocratic regime in China and a radicalized military in Pakistan will pose to the world in the years ahead. We can begin with the transnational proliferation network operated by Dr AQ Khan, often called the Father of Pakistani Nuclear Bomb and perhaps the most notorious of proliferators in recent times. Khan, head of Pakistan’s key nuclear establishment, Khan Research Laboratory at Kahuta, ran a network of rogue military officials and nuclear scientists for several years. He and his aides sold and bought, and in many cases simply stole, nuclear technology and materials, enabling rogue nations like North Korea to arm themselves with nuclear weapons.

Though Khan and some of his aides were identified and detained, there was never a serious attempt to track down the entire network which had its links across Europe, Middle East, South Asia and South-East Asia including China. After Khan apologized in a televised confession forced by President Pervez Musharraf who was shown the damning evidence against the `national hero` of Pakistan, no further effort was made to find out who else helped Khan to run his nefarious syndicate.

It is quite well known, and documented also, that Khan was working in close partnership with Pakistan Army. The nuclear establishment in Pakistan is under the tight control of Pakistan Army. Besides the layers of physical security around the perimeter of the nuclear installations, the army holds the command and control of the nuclear weapons and facilities across Pakistan. No way could Khan have run the operations without the Army’s knowledge. But neither the US administration nor any one else in the international community thought of pursuing the matter once Musharraf projected himself as the sole saviour of Pakistan.

So despite Khan and his close aides detained or kept under watch, none of their partners and facilitators in the army as well as the political establishment were investigated or kept under watch. There are quite a few of them who continue to remain out of the ambit of law and are highly likely to be part of more subterranean networks of proliferation. What makes the situation quite perilous is the possibility of these proliferation networks being infiltrated by extremist or terrorist elements or groups. There is evidence of men and officers in the armed forces of Pakistan `sympathetic` to radical and extremist elements and the likelihood of their helping such groups cannot be discounted entirely. Therefore it is quite clear that an expanding nuclear programme in Pakistan will simultaneously heighten the threats of nuclear terrorism in the region.

Considering the above ramifications of the development in the region, Washington’s tepid response to this clear challenge from the Sino-Pak nexus to its strategic interests in the region is puzzling.

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