Pakistan and India’s prospective membership in Nuclear Suppliers Group entails broad impact on South Asia’s nuclear future. Numbers of factors weigh upon the membership issue, including evolving global nuclear order and the global and regional strategic environment. In May, 2016, Pakistan and India applied for the membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Applications were discussed during 26th plenary meeting of the NSG in Seoul. India’s bid for getting the NSG membership began in 2008, when the Indo-US nuclear deal, signed in July 2005, came into effect three years later after IAEA approval and US Congressional endorsement. Pakistan submitted its formal application for the membership of the NSG on May 19, 2016,  a week after India, which formally applied on May 12, 2016. The submission of Pakistan and India’s applications raised questions about NSG membership process. Nuclear Suppliers Group participating governments presented their point of view in favor and against the acceptance of new members into the 48-nation export-control arrangement.

The arguments made on the admissibility of applications by the states focused on political and technical aspects of admitting non-NPT nuclear weapons states. The vital question, under which conditions ‘nuclear outsiders’ such as Pakistan and India will be integrated into the non-proliferation regime, remains unanswered.

Out of the 48 members of the NSG, the states with hard line non-proliferationist stance have an important role in deciding which way the membership case will go.

China announced its reservations on permitting states non signatory to Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) into the NSG. This put both the applicants Pakistan and India in the same position. On the other hand, the United States, was strident in its support for India’s membership, and also lobbied like-minded NSG members for their vote in favor of India. Similarly, a number of states opposed India’s admittance without signing NPT. India, however, already enjoys a waiver from NSG guidelines since 2008. Thus, diplomatic maneuvering for reaching consensus over the issue continues.

Membership into the coveted export-control regimes will confer quasi-legitimacy to Pakistan and India as nuclear weapon states. As members Islamabad and New Delhi will be able to trade in controlled items, goods and services for a range of peaceful nuclear applications.

Previously during 24th and 25th plenary meetings of NSG in 2014 and 2015, respectively, India’s case for membership was discussed as a single non-NPT candidate. The principal objection of the NSG countries to Indian membership was India’s status as a non-signatory to the NPT. The other requirements of the NSG membership included Indian adherence to the CTBT and signing of an Additional Protocol with the IAEA, as committed by it while negotiating the Indo-US nuclear deal. India signed Additional Protocol after the 2015 NSG Plenary held in Buenos Aires. But its bid for NSG membership remained unsuccessful. During 26th plenary meeting, in June 2016, Pakistan’s application for NSG membership changed the scenario of the Indian case.

Pakistan’s objectives for NSG membership, as stated by its foreign office include: (i) desire to strengthen global non-proliferation regimes; (ii) the need for strategic stability and level playing field in South Asia; (iii) its priority is for socio-economic development and technological advancement of the country; and (iv) capability to supply items on NSG lists Part1 and 2.

Pakistan is confident of its credentials. Its export controls are fully harmonized with those of the NSG, Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and Australia Group. It has made practical efforts and taken extensive measures to strengthen nuclear safety and security. In addition, recently, Pakistan has taken three important steps i.e. (i) public reiteration of its nuclear test moratorium and has offered to conclude bilateral a non-testing treaty with India, (ii) ratification of the 2005 amendment to the Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) and (iii) declaring adherence to NSG Guidelines.

Another important reason for seeking membership of NSG is fossil fuel deficiency in Pakistan and its vulnerability to the impact of climate change. It is compelled to acquire sources of clean energy, including nuclear energy. Pakistan envisages nuclear power generation capacity of 40,000 Mega Watts (MW) under its Nuclear Energy Vision 2050. Hence, Pakistan’s application stands on solid grounds of technical expertise, capability and well-established commitment to nuclear safety and security. It has established a complete programme for harnessing peaceful uses of nuclear energy. As the matter of fact, Pakistan has operated secure and safeguarded power plants for 42 years.

India is striving hard to get the NSG membership by all possible efforts, political, diplomatic and economic.  The review of NSG selection process is drawing attention of all the relevant states. The irony is that the NSG was founded in response to India’s 1974 nuclear test, and it had worked for decades to prevent the sharing of technology that could contribute to the further spread of nuclear weapons. If this point is overlooked, it will make the credibility of the selection process questionable.

The way forward for admitting new members can be addressed by formulating a fair and equitable criterion, and then process the issue of new membership. It is  incumbent upon the participating governments of the NSG to apply standards that are balanced, serve the nonproliferation objectives, and maintain uniformity in the application of rules in terms of obligations for new entrants.