US must bring Pakistan into counter-terror, not nuclear mainstream, says expert

Washington D.C.: Elevating discussions about a nuclear deal between the United States and Pakistan without linking it to Washington’s counter-terrorism concerns vis-a-viz Islamabad, would at best be, a waste of time, said an expert on South Asian affairs here.

Lisa Curtis, Senior Research Fellow for South Asia in the Asian Studies Center, of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, at The Heritage Foundation, said that while Pakistan deserves U.S. support in its fights against terrorists that have brought enormous death and destruction in that country, the U.S. cannot turn a blind eye to Islamabad’s failure to crack down on terrorists that threaten U.S. national security interests and regional stability.

Curtis, in her article, said, “At worst, it would facilitate Pakistan’s risky regional strategy of harboring terrorists under a nuclear shield.”

Writing about Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Washington this week, including a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday, Curtis said President Obama must ensure that the meeting focuses on gaining full Pakistani cooperation with the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan, rather than on striking a civil nuclear deal-the terms of which Pakistan would be unlikely to honor in any case.

“Discussing civil nuclear cooperation with the Pakistani government before it has begun to crack down on terrorist groups that are undermining the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and that fuel Indo-Pakistani tensions, would compromise vital U.S. national security interests in the region,” she opined.

“Rewarding a country that is responsible for the most significant nuclear proliferation disaster in history [the A.Q. Khan affair) and which has continually rebuffed U.S. appeals to crack down on terrorists (such as the Haqqani Network) would undermine U.S. credibility and contribute to regional instability,” she added.

Referring to a New York Times report, Curtis said Pakistan already has access to civilian nuclear technology it requires through a close nuclear relationship with China, which has built several civil nuclear reactors in Pakistan, and therefore, the benefits of a nuclear deal for Pakistan, would be more symbolic and give international legitimacy to Pakistan’s nuclear program, putting it on par with India, which received a civil nuclear waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in 2008.

Curtis pointed out neither Pakistan nor India has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

“It would be a mistake for the Obama Administration to separate the nuclear and counter-terrorism issues in its discussions with Pakistan. Compartmentalising Pakistan’s approach to terrorism from its handling of its nuclear assets is not sound policy when considering fundamental U.S. national security interests in South Asia, including preventing an Indo-Pakistani military conflict that could potentially go nuclear, and ensuring that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons stay safe and secure and out of the hands of terrorists,” she said.

Curtis said, “Given these inherent risks associated with Pakistan’s nuclear program, it makes little sense to bring Pakistan into the “nuclear mainstream” before it has entered the “counter-terrorism mainstream.”

“Before the U.S. considers conferring a degree of legitimacy on Pakistan’s nuclear program, it must insist that Pakistan make a strategic shift with regard to its reliance on terrorist proxies to achieve its regional ambitions,” she added.

According to credible media reports, the Obama Administration is set to withhold USD 300 million in Coalition Support Funds (CSF-reimbursement payments for Pakistani military deployments and operations along the border with Afghanistan) because of Pakistan’s failure to meet legislative conditions on U.S. military aid, which include cracking down on Haqqani Network bases within Pakistani territory.

Pakistan has some 150,000 troops stationed in regions bordering Afghanistan, and recently conducted military operations against Pakistani Taliban militants in North Waziristan. However, Pakistan’s military campaign spared the bases of the Haqqani Network, which has been responsible for some of the fiercest attacks against Afghan and coalition soldiers in Afghanistan and was, in 2011, labeled by former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen as a “veritable arm of Pakistani intelligence.”

President Obama has acknowledged that Pakistan has a role to play in cracking down on Taliban sanctuaries on its soil, and therefore, “must stress to Prime Minister Sharif the importance of Islamabad re-asserting its influence over the Taliban so that peace negotiations can resume. Pakistan has means to influence Taliban leaders on its territory; for starters, it can arrest them or shut down their freedom of movement and communication.”

Curtis warned that if President Obama focuses his meeting with Prime Minister Sharif on reaching a nuclear accommodation with Pakistan, rather than addressing Pakistan’s problematic terrorism policies, he will send the “wrong signal” that the counter-terrorism status quo in Pakistan is acceptable to the U.S.

President Obama should prioritise counter-terrorism issues and seek to convince Pakistan to: (1) Use its influence to bring the Taliban back to the negotiating table, (2) Crack down on Haqqani Network sanctuaries and (3) Re-arrest Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the LeT mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.