Published On: Mon, Aug 22nd, 2016

Pakistan bids to join Nuclear Suppliers Group

The Pakistan Nuclear NightmareBy Joel Lee

Pakistan, one of nine states worldwide to possess nuclear weapons, aspires to be a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, an association of 48 nations that oversees the international trade of atomic and atomic-related materials and technologies with a shared commitment to global nonproliferation.

Although not a signatory of the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the country’s experience in civil nuclear program warrants attention of the NSG, said a leading Pakistani security official on a visit to Korea.

Mohammad Kamran Akhtar, director general of disarmament at Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the Korea Herald that his country’s membership would allow for a safer and more accountable trade of nuclear materials in line with global standards and best practices.

Dismissing recent allegations that Pakistan had supplied nuclear-related items to North Korea, Akhtar expounded Islamabad’s efforts to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions through the United Nations Security Council sanctions and allay regional tensions in South Asia through coordinated efforts at arms control with India.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Seoul’s membership in the group, and Korea hosted the 26th plenary meeting of the NSG in Seoul in late June for the second time, following the 2003 plenary in Busan. At the 26th plenary, the NSG expressed its concerns regarding continuing proliferation activities around the world, and stated its unwavering support for the full and effective implementation of the nonproliferation treaty.

The Korea Herald: What is the purpose of your visit to Korea?

Akhtar: Pakistan has applied for a membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group because we want to join international efforts to strengthen the nonproliferation regime. Korea is a very important member of the group and a chair through next year. Pakistan and Korea have developed very strong relationships over the last decades as development partners. We have explained the merits of our application and also interacted with think tanks and nongovernmental organizations in Korea.

KH: What qualifies Pakistan as a prospective member of the NSG?

Akhtar: Pakistan has a sizeable civilian nuclear program that operates materials controlled by the Nuclear Suppliers Group list. So we have the capacity to export these items. In trading these items, we want to abide by NSG guidelines on export. Our prospective membership will bring us closer to these guidelines and best practices and allow for more responsible trade.

A dossier called the Procedural Arrangement Document of the Nuclear Suppliers Group lists factors that all members should adhere to. Pakistan satisfies these requirements. First of all, we have legislative, administrative and regulatory infrastructures in place to control all exports in a manner that they are not diverted into non-peaceful use. Secondly, we have the capacity to produce these items through our vast civilian nuclear program in line with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s safeguards. Thirdly, we have established a system for operational safety and security that meets IAEA standards.

KH: What is the governance framework of the NSG and when does Pakistan expect to be a member?

Akhtar: All 48 member countries of the NSG must decide and agree on prospective membership through consensus. If a single member objects, the candidacy will go aground. The possibility and date of our membership will depend on its unanimous decision, which we do not want to be rushed.

Both Pakistan and India, which have not signed the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), have applied for NSG membership together. Although the NSG Procedural Arrangement Document stipulates that only signatories of the nonproliferation treaty can become members, we are arguing that there are ways to meet its criteria without the NPT signature. Pakistan and India can apply IAEA safeguards on all materials supplied from abroad and put them under the IAEA surveillance, so that no conversion to military purposes takes place.

KH: There have been reports, in particular from the Indian media, alleging that Pakistan has been supplying nuclear-related materials to North Korea through a Chinese company and Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission. Is this true?

Akhtar: No such alleged incidence has taken place. These reports surfaced during the 26th NSG Plenary meeting in Seoul in June, which suggests the allegation may have been politically motivated. Pakistan does not have any political or strategic incentive in trading such materials with Pyongyang.

KH: Then what is Pakistan doing to concretely help curb Pyongyang’s nuclear development program?

Akhtar: We are fully implementing the UN Security Council sanctions against the North, whose key objective is to make the communist regime comply with international standards and norms governing nuclear materials and their use. We are ensuring that no items prohibited under the sanctions are traded with North Korea, and no financial transaction or insurance deals are made with agencies related to the regime. We are closely cooperating with Seoul on these matters and transparently sharing information.

At the national level, we have instituted the Committee for 2270 resolution on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea’s official name) under our Ministry of Foreign Affairs that collaborates with various ministries to make sure all sanctions are fully enforced. We have also stopped issuing visas to North Korean diplomats without clearance from the Foreign Ministry.

KH: Pakistan has not signed the Nonproliferation Treaty or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Does your government have any plan to do so in the future, or at least make efforts to de-escalate the arms race?

Akhtar: We are fully supportive of the objective of nonproliferation. Despite India being our prime strategic rival in the region, we have offered to them to mutually agree on measures for arms controls and restraint. We have recently proposed a strategic restraint regime to India that includes nuclear and missile restraint, conventional balance of arms and peaceful resolution of conflicts through dialogue. Given the volatile security situation in the region, Pakistan cannot take any step unilaterally, and calls for India to join the efforts to deescalate military buildup.

On CTBT, we have declared a moratorium on testing nuclear weapons. We will not be the first country to test our nuclear weapons. Last week, our government proposed to India entering into a bilateral agreement on non-testing and we are waiting for their response. Pakistan and India have also agreed on a number of confidence-building measures for risk reduction, which have been implemented on the ground level. What we are concerned with now is avoiding an arms race with India. Based on mutual agreement, both countries can enter into more substantial measures for arms controls. That would enable better social and economic development and stability throughout South Asia, in tandem with our foreign policy aiming at peaceful relations with our neighbors.

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