One of the issues that Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif plans to take to the United Nations General Assembly, which he will address later this month, is that of nuclear relations with India. These have come into focus for two reasons. First, there has been an increased cut-and-thrust between the two countries on the Line of Control, which has increased the possibility of another war between them; which would be their fourth, but the first in which they would be nuclear powers. The other reason why the world might focus on them is because North Korea has conducted a nuclear test. While North Korea is a pariah like India and Pakistan, it also has unquantified links with the latter through Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, who had himself come under a cloud because of his proliferation. North Korea probably got its nuclear weapon from Chinese sources, but the Pakistani link illustrates one potential route of proliferation: getting the weapon from a non-member of the nuclear club.

Though India has not been accused of any involvement in nuclear proliferation, it does have the status of an outsider. Only if it acquires membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), will it be deemed to have won acceptance as the sixth nuclear power. It is the first country to have acquired a nuclear weapon after the coming into force of the Non-Proliferation. The next was Pakistan, and after it responded to the Indian test of 1999 with its own, came North Korea’s test, which is so far the eighth and last nuclear power.

While Pakistan and India can be seen as a nuclear binary, with their weapons directed against the other, North Korea’s nuclear weapon is aimed at South Korea, which has no nuclear weapons, but which is under the US nuclear umbrella, in the sense that the USA will consider a nuclear attack on it, an attack on itself. This explains North Korea’s almost comical efforts to obtain intercontinental ballistic missile technology which would enable it to attack the continental United States (and the equally comical fears expressed by those Americans who learnt of this).

The Pakistan-Indian binary could model itself on the US-Soviet one. While their huge nuclear arsenals gave the impression of an unconquerable opposition to one another, there was a forced cooperation as well. Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry reiterated this position recently, at the Islamabad seminar jointly organised by the USA’s Atlantic Council and the Center for International Strategic Studies. The offer was of sharing knowledge of how to set up a proper regulatory authority.

It was a very diplomatic offer, for it included the information that while Pakistan had an active nuclear regulatory authority, India did not. It accompanied the assertion that Pakistan had kept its nuclear weapon safe, that it had been kept out of the hands of terrorists, implying that the Indian weapon was unsafe.

Another issue that he raised was that of the NSG. There has been a recent tussle over membership. India is a strong applicant, especially after the civil nuclear accord with the USA. However, China was a strong opponent, as it saw that India was being propped up by the USA to contain it in Asia. Pakistan is also an applicant for NSG membership. Pakistani cooperation would pave the way for Indian membership, because Pakistan would deliver Chinese consent to Indian membership. However, India would then have to help Pakistan in the NSG.

NSG membership for Pakistan would mean that North Korea might well be an applicant, something it is not at the moment. Another proposal from Aizaz Chaudhry was of a bilateral moratorium on testing, which would be a bit like shutting the stabledoor after the horse has bolted. Though neither would test without being conscious of the political implications, India needs more testing of its thermonuclear device, because the Pokhran test of 1998 which it claims as a success, was actually a resounding failure as far as the thermonuclear device went, though it was otherwise successful. Pakistan would not prefer to carry out more tests for technical reasons, but can manage without them better than India.

Another issue is that India has made a no-first-use pledge, as had the USSR, while Pakistan had not, just like the USA. A no-first-use pledge is made by a power which believes it has an advantage in conventional arms, thus leaving to the weaker power the opprobrium of initiating a nuclear war. In the Indo-Pak scenario, a build-up of Indian armour, or even an incursion by a large Indian armoured formation into Pakistani soil, would be met by a Pakistani nuclear strike which would destroy it. This would then be followed by Indian nuclear strikes against Pakistani targets. How would the Pakistani leadership (assuming it had not been taken out by an Indian decapitation strike) react? With its own country destroyed, would it opt for countervalue targets in the knowledge that India would retaliate? At this stage, the world community would have to get involved, because the worst would have happened: nuclear war would have broken out. The problem with such a war is that others would be affected by the fallout, which would be spread by the wind and sea currents. Though India and Pakistan cannot set off nuclear winter yet, if they were to develop thermonuclear weapons, they could. In that case, a war between the two could plunge the entire globe into winter, caused by its being surrounded by a thick pall of smoke which would prevent sunlight from reaching the earth, and thus leading to the death of all forms of life (including mankind) of starvation.

India had gone nuclear so that it could browbeat Pakistan, as well as cock a snook at China. It has achieved the latter, but not the former. Therefore it would like nothing better than to see Pakistan stripped of nuclear weapons while being left undisturbed in their possession. It would certainly not like to fight any nuclear battles in company with Pakistan, even peaceful ones, because that would mean accepting its right to a nuclear weapon.

There are a number of Pak-India disjoints in the Pak-India nuclear debate. One of them is Pakistan accepts India’s right to a nuclear weapon. India does not, claiming that its own weapon is directed at China. It has been the strongest in hammering home two points. First, that the Pakistani weapon could fall into the hands of terrorists. Second, that it might be used against Israel. Both play on US fears and coincide with growing Indian ties with the USA.

Pakistan has warned of the potential for an arms race. In a sense, one has already started with India’s opting for nuclear submarines, which would make Pakistan do the same. The next steps would include obtaining bombers with Air-Launched Ballistic Missiles and launching dedicated satellites. Both countries have already paid heavily for their nuclear weapons, and seem condemned to eschew the diplomacy needed to stop further expenditures. As the history of nuclear weapons shows, that is merely to send good money after bad.

North Korea probably got its nuclear weapon from Chinese sources, but the Pakistani link illustrates one potential route of proliferation: getting the weapon from a non-member of the nuclear club.