The day after

Today is an important day for two reasons. First of all the historic Brexit decision of the British people to leave European Union after four decades. Secondly equally important for South Asia the inability of India to get the Nuclear Suppliers Group at the just concluded NSG Summit in Seoul to favourably consider its application for membership despite the all-out support of the USA and many of its Western allies. A campaign into which India tenaciously threw everything including large political capital into its global effort.

Brexit has international implications whose ripples will impact on our region. The NSG decision or lack thereof in India’s case, de facto linked to Pakistan’s parallel application for membership, preserves for the time being strategic stability in South Asia and hence peace and security in this region, a factor which resonated amongst the NSG participating governments. But the day after Pakistan cannot afford to take these developments for granted and needs to work out and then implement a response strategy to the seismic shift Brexit represents, and on how to bolster its own case for NSG membership before the next Plenary.

Both developments, of which Brexit was unexpected by most countries and international observers, have three interlinked strands in common. The first is that the will of the people, their voice on internal and external affairs in the West is coming more to the fore: disregarding in the UK’s case their political leaders and the contrary advice from their traditional special partner the USA and other European allies. Secondly the international order has become even more complex and the ability of the USA and its developed country partners to suggest or shape outcomes, though still considerable, has become more limited. Thirdly Brexit has produced the element of uncertainty: the probable decline for now of UK influence; potential further fissures within the EU, and within member countries themselves, in the face of a resurgent Russia which has welcomed the referendum result. These uncertainties will reinforce the strong nationalistic public feeling within EU countries that their governments should concentrate on internal public welfare not foreign military interventions.

This will, in turn, impel Europe, America, and its western allies including those under the American/NATO nuclear umbrella, to prioritise how to readjust to this new scenario. The NSG is a relatively small though for nonproliferation critical part of the new equation. India’s allies will have other more pressing priorities, and the need for the NSG to become more inclusive rather than exclusive or discriminatory should become more apparent, leading towards a grand bargain taking in all three non NPT states under equitable criteria.

But Pakistan cannot afford to be complacent and continue business as usual. It has to sustainably focus on its NSG membership, correcting policy and operational shortcomings. Its Ambassadors and Embassies abroad must be motivated to be more proactive in projecting Pakistan’s position. Our leadership should make NSG membership a top priority in all high level contacts from now on, not just a few months before the next Plenary. Special Envoys should visit important capitals. We have important commonalities with many NSG countries and we should use them to seek understanding for an issue vital to our energy and overall security. Probably our small delegation in Seoul had more productive meetings with the NSG members than anywhere else in the past two years. The Indian Foreign Secretary visited Beijing and Seoul before the Plenary and led their delegation during the meeting and was probably instrumental in getting South Korea the new NSG Chair which was meant to be impartial to include a biased against us formulation in his opening statement which did not mention South Korea’s own earlier breakout attempt stopped by the USA and its NPT safeguards violations found by the IAEA.

Our disarmament decision is hobbled by the philosophy that working smart requires less officers, and consequently it is run off its feet with only three out of four sanctioned officers. The Strategic Exports Control rotates between the Foreign Office and the Strategic Plans Directorate and its now time that it was headed again by a foreign service officer as its face for the next phase, with a serving SPD officer as his or her deputy. The position of the Expert Member of the Oversight Board for Strategic Export Controls, which acts as a policy firewall should have its logistic support, which was approved from its inception by the Prime Minister, restored. The separation plan between the civil and military programmes, already an NSG condition, and on which planning work has begun should be expedited to be ready to credibly operationalise when membership is granted.

Pakistan calls for a criteria based approach but this has to be better spelt out. Aspiring members must place all their present and future civil nuclear reactors producing electricity for consumers and all the fuel so far produced by them under IAEA safeguards. All breeder reactors must also be placed under safeguards. This will significantly reduce weapons employable fissile material, and will rectify the proliferatory shortcoming of the exemption granted to India eight years ago resulting in a standard consistent with the objectives of global nonproliferation.

Nuclear restraint is in Pakistan’s DNA and when the USA entered into back-to- back rounds of talks with both Pakistan and India after both went nuclear in 1998, Pakistan proposed (and India rejected) its Strategic Restrain Regime (SRR) with its three interlocking elements of nuclear and missile restraint including the non induction of ABMs, conventional balance, and dispute resolution which remains on the table. Pakistan’s defensive and deterrent nuclear strategy and its operational aspects are responsible, logical, and justified but its articulation needs to be improved. In advising the National Command Authority the Foreign Office should coordinate the process taking both SPD and the Military Operations Directorate equally on board. The best stance for a nuclear power is be confident and to talk softly while carrying a big stick.

Pakistan needs internal and external policy and implementation focus to grow its economy, primarily by surmounting its energy shortfall including through trans Afghan pipeline and electricity projects and by realising its China Pakistan Economic Corridor

On the wider implications of Brexit a distraction of focus may lessen western, if not American, concentration on building up India to rival and contain China. Or lead to the reverse in America’s case. However Pakistan must use this new reality to increase its relevance in the region and seek better understanding from the USA, the West, Afghanistan, and Iran of its security dynamics. Brexit demonstrated the will of the people. Pakistan’s role on Afghanistan has been extraordinary: providing the oxygen- the air and land routes for the foreign forces in Afghanistan, not sending back, so far, three million mainly Pashtun Afghan refugees and undocumented economic migrants, when in any referendum 95% of its people would not support the Government’s policy.

The writer is a former Pakistani diplomat. Email:

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