As Pakistan completed two decades of being a nuclear power on Monday, what remains a challenge as great as it was 20 years ago, if not even bigger, is to seek its legitimacy. But then again, one could rightly argue that in a world with a blatantly skewed Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, no one is truly a ‘legitimate’ state, and eventually everyone comes around to the idea of there being another one.
In this regard, Pakistan’s long-held desire for acceptance centers around the membership for the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), of which India is also an aspirant, and quite evidently significantly closer to achieving it than its western archrival. And the NSG meeting in June will help decipher how closer, or otherwise, either state is to joining the elite group.
Notwithstanding the now redundant questions of how exactly Islamabad mustered weapons grade nuclear technology – much like everyone else, is the answer – the bigger question is over Pakistan’s weapons getting into the wrong hands.
Safeguarding jihadist elements is an allegation levelled on the state not just by the archrival and global powers, but those in the knowhow domestically – recently a certain former prime minister in an interview and another particular ex-ISI chief in his book, for instance.
This has meant that the primary concern for the NSG, spearheaded of course by the US, is considering that elements within the armed forces themselves have exhibited jihadist tendencies – if not wholeheartedly embraced the ideology as a state policy – is nuclear technology getting into the wrong hands.
Therein, a second June meeting becomes equally relevant, if not more.
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meeting is also scheduled for the next month, after February’s Paris meet decided to put Pakistan on the grey-list, with further actions to be potentially taken in June. These actions would depend on a proposal that Pakistan would be presenting before FATF, to counter financing of the jihadist groups. And should the proposal backfire, Pakistan could see itself blacklisted alongside Iran and North Korea.
This juxtaposition between FATF and NSG meetings underlines two contrasting ends of the spectrum that runs the wide gamut from ambitions to reality. And considering that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are regularly cited in the FATF meetings, with the potential proximity jihadist groups that receive funding in the country delineated.
Theoretically, Pakistan has as big a right to develop nuclear weapons as any other state. But what it also needs to demonstrate is that the weapons can’t be reached, let alone misused, by rogue military elements, or jihadist groups – regardless of their ideological inclination with respect to the state.
For instance, Pakistan cannot argue that Kashmir-bound militants, which as per Islamabad’s narrative are waging a freedom struggle are less of a militant threat than those jihadists that are targeting the state.
Considering how jihadism has erupted in the West since the turn of the century, no militant version of it can be sold, especially when you simultaneously have nuclear ambitions.
Therefore, how Pakistan fares at FATF will have a direct bearing on how it would do at NSG – even if eventually.
Also, Islamabad needs to keep in mind that its sole lifeline – much like in most other cases in recent times – is Beijing. For, Pakistan’s NSG membership depends entirely on how China views its relations with India, which is doing its best to keep Islamabad out of it.
And here is the crucial point: the US, which has increasingly backed Indian bids since the 2007 nuclear deal, and is increasingly singling out Pakistan for condemnation, practically spearheads both FATF and NSG. And, it was the US that convinced China to back out of voting in favour of Pakistan in February at the FATF meeting.
Therefore, as things stand, it is unlikely that China would provide unconditional support for Pakistan. What needs to happen, hence, is for Pakistan to completely overturn its support for any form of jihad – more than FATF and NSG, for its own wellbeing and progress.
The writer is a Lahore-based journalist.