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Complied by: Waqas Jan, Musawar Sandhu, Haris Malik

Edited by: Dr. Anjum Sarfraz

Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), Islamabad

Strategic Vision Institute (SVI) organized an In-house seminar to deliberate on the outcomes and impacts of the 29th NSG plenary meeting that was held on 20-21 June 2019 in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan. The purpose was to evaluate the key issues discussed during the meeting specifically the criteria for membership of non-NPT states into the NSG and to evaluate the policy options for Pakistan. Only senior officials from MOFA, SPD, JSHQ, AHQ, NHQ, NDU and the relevant think tanks were invited to attend the seminar.

Mr. Ross Masood Husain (Chairperson, SVI) welcomed the learned speakers and the audience who spared time to attend the In-house seminar. After briefly explaining   the scope and theme of the seminar he informed the audience that he was chairing the session in Dr. Zafar Cheema’s stead who had been unable to attend the seminar due to certain commitments. The worthy panel of speakers included Mr. Kamran Akhtar (DG Disarmament, MOFA), Amb (R) Tariq Osman Hyder (Former Additional Secretary, MOFA), Amb (R) Zamir Akram (Advisor to Strategic Plans Division), and Dr. Anjum Sarfraz (Senior Research Fellow, SVI).  After brief introduction of all the speakers he opened the floor for the subsequent presentations.

A brief primer on ‘India’s Quest for the NSG Membership and Pakistan’s Stance’ was presented by Dr. Anjum Sarfraz.  He provided a concise overview of the NSG, its aims and objectives and the ongoing debate regarding extending membership to non-NPT states such as India and Pakistan. This included a general introduction to the Grossi formula, China’s stance on this issue, the Indo-US nuclear deal, and the potential benefits to Pakistan that would be gained by becoming an NSG member.

He explained that the NSG is a multilateral export control regime that was formed in 1975 in response to India’s first nuclear weapons test. This test had used Plutonium produced by nuclear technology that had been sourced from Canada and the United States. In order to prevent such misuses to happen in the future the NSG was thus formed. At present, the NSG’s membership rules require a state to sign the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) before joining this exclusive club. India remains one of the only three countries along with Israel and Pakistan which never signed the NPT.

Delving into the working mechanism of the NSG, he explained how the group works on the basis of consensus. A rotating Chair has the overall responsibility for coordination of work and outreach activities. Elaborating on the process of extending membership to aspiring members, Dr. Sarfraz stated that there are certain prerequisites that need to be met by applicants. These include the capability to supply nuclear related items and technology along with the willingness to strictly adhere to the guidelines of NSG and the NPT. This included supporting international efforts towards non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery vehicles, as well as the enforcement of a legally based domestic export control system in accordance with the NSG Guidelines.

He further presented a brief summary of the cases of both Pakistan and India’s applications to the NSG. Both these applications were submitted around the same time with India applying for the membership on 12 May 2016 and Pakistan on 19 May 2016. Most of the NSG member states have also shown leniency towards India and are supportive of the Grossi Formula that proposes a way for India to secure a smooth entry into the NSG.

Dwelling deeper into the Grossi formula, Dr. Sarfraz presented a brief overview of its most salient points and their relevance to the cases of both India and Pakistan. He explained how the formula named after Rafael Mariano Grossi was put forth on 6 December 2016, suggesting a set criterion for the membership of non-NPT states such as India. This includes:

  • A clear and strict separation of current and future civilian nuclear facilities from non-civilian nuclear facilities.
  • A declaration to IAEA that identifies all current and future civilian nuclear facilities.
  • Have in force safeguards agreement with the IAEA covering all declared and future civilian facilities.
  • Have in force an Additional Protocol covering the identified civilian nuclear facilities, which together with safeguards agreement, allows the IAEA to detect the diversion of safeguarded nuclear material and to ensure that safeguarded nuclear material is used exclusively for peaceful purposes.
  • A commitment not to use any item transferred either directly or indirectly from an NSG participating government or any item derived from transferred items in unsafeguarded facilities or activities.
  • A commitment not to conduct any nuclear explosive test.
  • A clear description of intentions, plans, and policies in support of the CTBT upon becoming a participating government.
  • A commitment to support and strengthen the multilateral non-proliferation and disarmament regime by working towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons and enhancing the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
  • An understanding that due to the unique nature of the non-NPT Party, applications would join a consensus of all other participating governments on the merits of any non-NPT Party application.

Dr. Sarfraz pointed out that Pakistan had not accepted this formula and acknowledged Amb (R) Zamir Akram’s position that Mr. Grossi had perhaps over-stepped his mandate. He also mentioned China’s stance on this issue explaining that China in contrast has a clear stance which calls for the new members to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) making India’s entry difficult. It is worth noting however, that based on this stance Pakistan’s entry into the NSG is also made difficult.

In contrast to China’s stance, the 2008 Indo-US deal however has been widely considered a precursor to India’s potential membership into the NSG. According to this deal, India has agreed to allow inspectors from the IAEA to have access to its civilian nuclear program. It has also committed to signing an Additional Protocol which allows more intrusive IAEA inspections of its civilian facilities. Furthermore, India has agreed to continue its moratorium on nuclear weapons testing and strengthening the security of its nuclear arsenals. Building on these points India is also working towards negotiating a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) with the US banning the production of fissile material for weapons purposes. Based on these steps to be taken by India, the US companies will be allowed to build nuclear reactors in India and provide nuclear fuel for its civilian energy program.

In the end he highlighted the expected benefits that Pakistan is likely to receive if it became an NSG member. At present Pakistan has the expertise, manpower, infrastructure, and the ability to supply NSG controlled items, goods and services for a full range of nuclear applications for peaceful uses. If made an NSG member, Pakistan would be eligible to receive advanced nuclear technologies that could be used to enrich Uranium and/or reprocess Plutonium for peaceful purposes. This would essentially increase Pakistan’s access to state-of-the-art technology from the other 48 members of the group. This would particularly help Pakistan in meeting its growing energy requirements. In addition to this it would also open doors for Pakistan to commercially produce nuclear power equipment which it can then even export to other countries, greatly benefiting its economy.

Second speaker Mr. Kamran Akhtar presented a detailed ‘Review of the 29th Plenary Meeting of the NSG’ that was recently held in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan. He elaborated on Pakistan’s most recent efforts in presenting its case for membership to the NSG member states on the sidelines of this meeting. In relating the issue to Pakistan’s position, he opined that the very title of the seminar gave the impression that this ‘quest’ for NSG membership was solely India’s and that Pakistan merely had a stance on it. However, in reality, Pakistan too is engaged in the same quest and is in fact better placed than India in a number of aspects in terms of its eligibility to becoming a potential member.

In terms of what Pakistan was aiming to achieve by gaining membership, he explained how Pakistan, unlike India, was self-sufficient in maintaining its nuclear fuel cycle and did not require the NSG waiver to import nuclear raw materials. What Pakistan instead needed the NSG membership for is the ability to import advanced technology for socio-economic progress. This includes the import of dual-use materials and machinery which it coincidentally also had the capacity of further refining and exporting to other countries.

Hence, it was based on these requirements that the representatives from Pakistan including himself met around 22 key NSG members at the sidelines of this summit who in turn were equally willing to meet the Pakistani delegation. He pointed out that the most important development which the Pakistani delegation gleaned from this meeting was a suspected change in China’s long-standing stance regarding the inclusion of non-NPT states into the NSG.

Pakistani delegation shares the opinion that there was a slight change in China’s previous ‘principled’ stance on excluding non-NPT states as part of the political, legal and technological requirements of the NSG.  This was noticeable largely due to the fact that China this time hinted at supporting the solution if it was ‘non-discriminatory’ while this development has the potential to improve Pakistan’s case for membership, Pakistan still must take certain steps such as those taken by India in order to meet the NSG’s requirements.

In order to add further context to both India’s and Pakistan’s quests for NSG membership, Mr. Akhtar explained that at present there are three main groups within the NSG member states based on their diverging stance on this issue. The first group believes that all the NSG aspirants should be signatories of the NPT or any of its related or equivalent treaties. The second group comprises of countries which while prioritizing their commercial and/or strategic interests are of the view that the NSG membership should be granted as a corollary to existing commercial and strategic partnerships. The third and final group comprises of countries which believe that the non-NPT states are a reality and that they should be accommodated as such. According to the last group India meets the criteria and should be allowed into the NSG. The Grossi formula for instance is considered a step further in this direction.

Considering Pakistan’s case against the criteria of the Grossi formula however, Mr. Akhtar stated that this formula was more applicable to Pakistan than India across several key aspects. He cited the requirement stipulating the clear separation of military and civilian nuclear programs which for instance Pakistan was in a much better position of fulfilling as opposed to India. He also cited a number of discrepancies regarding India’s supposed adherence to the Grossi formula such as its commitment to non-testing and non-proliferation for which there was ample evidence to the contrary. This was exactly the case made by the Pakistani delegation on the sidelines of the recent NSG meeting where Pakistan’s case, viewed from a normative, technical and legal sense, was much stronger than India’s case for membership.

In terms of the steps that are needed to be taken further he stated that Pakistan should be more assertive regarding its already clear separation of civilian and military nuclear programs. Stating his own personal opinion outside of the official position of the government, he emphasized that Pakistan should be more confident in showing its compliance and opening up to the IAEA. Pakistan has already taken a number of key steps such as the adoption of key legislation and guidelines related to nuclear safety and security as well as on the export control of goods, technologies, materials and equipment related to nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. These add to the strength of Pakistan’s case allowing it to be more assertive in its application for the NSG membership. He did caution however, that there were still specific steps regarding IAEA safeguards that were required for the addition of new nuclear reactors.

Based on these requirements, he stated that Pakistan’s lobbying efforts need to be complimented by further actions.  These also included actions that would significantly enhance Pakistan’s supplier credentials by the indigenization of numerous technologies while also marketing its commercial potential. He explained that in order to do this a greater inter-agency coordination was required and Pakistan needs to be more pro-active and assertive to plead the case.

Speaking on ‘India’s Approach towards the NSG,’ Amb (R) Tariq Osman Hyder explained that it should not be viewed in isolation and instead should be understood in accordance with the historic trajectory that its nuclear program has taken throughout its development. This is evident in how the earliest foundations of the Indian nuclear program were laid according to the vision of its first atomic energy head Homi Bhabha as far back as 1949. It was his ability to realize what Nehru had termed as the peaceful and defensive attributes of nuclear technology that formed one of the earliest rationales for India’s nuclear ambitions. Even when the IAEA was being formulated, it was India that was opposed to some of its safeguards as they threatened to limit the development of its nuclear program.

In contrast, Pakistan’s nuclear program was set up much later. While this was mostly because of Pakistan having relatively lesser resources than India, Pakistan has in general been more reactive to India’s nuclear developments.  This was also evident during the 2008 Indo-US nuclear deal and its preceding IAEA waiver in 2005. At that time Pakistan neither stated its reservations nor pursued its own case as it was perceived that such a move would impose constraints on its nuclear program. By the time President Obama stated that the US would endorse India’s NSG bid, Pakistan was once again late in making its case and hence reacted to these developments as opposed to dealing with them in a more pro-active manner. The reason behind such concerns is that if India were to gain membership to the NSG before Pakistan, it could then leverage its newfound position to block Pakistan’s entry into the NSG. This would greatly limit further development of Pakistan’s nuclear program while invariably setting a cap on its progress.

Referring to the Grossi formula, Amb (R) Hyder pointed out that the Grossi formula has a provision that apparently addresses Pakistan’s reservations. If India is given the NSG membership, it would not have a say in Pakistan’s case under this provision. If Pakistan agreed to this proposition and rescind its reservations against Indian membership, it would be granted a conditional membership. However, this was deemed more of a poisoned pill to swallow as Pakistan would still not be guaranteed full membership on non-discriminatory terms. The objective was to placate China and Pakistan while in fact keeping Pakistan effectively out of the nuclear commerce advantages of the NSG.

Moving beyond the more normative aspects of the debate regarding both India and Pakistan’s applications to the NSG, there were still certain technical and legal requirements that were worth addressing. He acknowledged that while there was a certain benefit to Pakistan improving its supplier credentials, the extent to which it should do so still merited caution. These included its commitments and cooperation with the IAEA which India on the other hand was in clear violation of in a number of aspects. For instance, there is an incomplete separation of India’s military and civilian programs. Using even 60% of its reactors could allow India to produce 200-250 nuclear weapons per year. While this is a serious violation of India’s commitments to separating its civilian and military nuclear programs, Pakistan should also move to make this separation even clearer for its own case.

Coming back to India’s objectives in relation to the NSG, it should be clearly understood that India’s pursuit of the NSG is purely status-driven and more of a stepping stone to their long-cherished goal of a permanent seat in the Security Council. The argument that India needs it for energy security and cutting greenhouse gases emissions carries no weight. The exemption allows India to engage in nuclear commerce as much as it wants; there is no bar. This conclusion is further reinforced by the Indian assertion that it would not sign up to further commitments for the membership. If membership is to be obtained through further commitments, it becomes self-defeating from the Indian perspective as it would not carry the same prestige value as India’s “due” as a rising regional/global power.

Amb (R) Hyder mentioned that the membership dossier has been pushed to the back burner but Pakistan could see a renewed thrust with Modi’s re-election. For now even the US has been relatively less aggressive in this area with the French being the most vocal at recent meetings. He agreed with Mr. Kamran Akhtar that Pakistan’s outreach on the sidelines of the Kazakhstan Plenary was quite extensive where Pakistani delegation managed to see 22 delegations. However, he maintained that mostly there is no shift in the positions. Given its desire to build up a profile in the non-proliferation arena and as it is a major supplier of natural Uranium to India, Kazakhstan could feel tempted to produce some movement during its term as the NSG Chair. He cautioned that Pakistan will need to be watchful.

In conclusion Amb (R) Tariq Osman Hyder stated that China’s position on this issue remains crucial for Pakistan. There have been apprehensions that China may show flexibility. How would that reflect on Pakistan’s nuclear cooperation with China, is an important point of consideration.  He opined that any change of position at Pakistan’s expense would signal a tectonic shift in China-Pak relations and in the entire regional and global calculus. Although it is not likely to happen, yet there is no room for Pakistan to be complacent. He felt it was high time that Pakistan addressed crucial issues such as violent extremism, political stability, economic uplift and ensure the success of CPEC which faces several external and internal challenges.

While deliberating on ‘Political and Diplomatic Aspects of the NSG and Pakistan’s Perspective and Future Course of Action’ Amb (R) Zamir Akram underscored that at present NSG doesn’t offer a mandate which would identify how applications from non-NPT states would be considered. In his view, India’s membership of the NSG is driven primarily by the desire to be recognized as de-jure rather than de-facto nuclear weapon state. For the US, the political objective is to be as helpful and supportive in its desires and designs, not as such for India alone but how India is useful for the US as a strategic partner against China.

He further explained the reason why China is opposed to the Indian membership of the NSG. He maintained that China is sympathetic to Pakistan’s concerns ut it is  also driven mainly by the determination to prevent India from acquiring the NSG member status which would give it a de-jure recognition as a nuclear weapon state. China has taken the position that a country had to be signatory of the NPT in order to be member of the NSG. It is also interesting to consider the Russian position. Off the record conversation with the Russian counterpart reveals that Russia has no objection to Pakistan and India becoming the NSG members. However, officially Russia is in a difficult situation because on one hand it has good relations with India and on the other hand it has an important converging relationship with China. Hence, the position that Russia adopts is membership through consensus.

Role of non-nuclear NPT member states is equally important. Countries such as Brazil and South Africa had to scuttle their active nuclear weapon programs and joined the NPT for achieving the NSG membership. Even though these countries maintain close relationships with India, they still find it difficult to accept into the NSG folds any country outside the realm of NPT.

Then there are those countries which believe that the membership of the NSG should not be for free. They believe that both India and Pakistan should sign the CTBT and start FMCT negotiations. This position is mostly propagated by New Zealand, Ireland and Italy. They strongly believe that there has to be some added value if the non-NPT countries are to be admitted to the NSG. Turkey has expressed the desire to see Pakistan as a member of the NSG. The strongest opposition to Pakistan’s membership comes from the US and its Western partners. US consistently raises the issue of proliferation record and alleges that Pakistan’s record does not support credentials for the NSG membership whereas India has proved itself to be a responsible nuclear weapon state.

Highlighting Pakistan’s diplomatic position he shared his own experience of interacting with several countries in his official capacity. He was of the view that there are countries which had listened to Pakistan’s stance and have an understanding that a non-discriminatory, non-preferential treatment should be given to the applications of Pakistan and India for the NSG membership. Hence, the diplomatic efforts were successful to a certain extent in creating a nucleus of countries that have taken a position in NSG. Right now, there are no criteria that would guide the decision for NSG membership in terms of its political, technical and legal aspects.

While suggesting Pakistan’s future course of action he added that there should be a clear separation between the civil and military facilities. However, signing additional protocols, agreeing to umbrella agreements and other such measures would be pre-mature. Pakistan should pursue the same course with the same steps as were laid out by India. There should be a quid pro quo in relation to the steps that are taken. Pakistan also needs to be more pro-active in furthering its position via diplomacy. There is a need for aggressive, consistent, sustained and more geared-up diplomatic efforts in this domain. Pakistan has done so much but that needs to be highlighted at international forums. India has probably been involved in proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to Iran and Iraq. Recently, the UN sanction committee on North Korea reported that India is violating North Korean sanctions yet Pakistan did not raise this issue.

On the whole, there is ample evidence showing how India has manipulated and violated the additional protocols of the IAEA. This includes three reports published by the Harvard University which point out that India has also violated its commitments to separation of Indian civil safe-guarded facilities, its civil unsafe-guarded facilities and its nuclear weapon unsafe-guarded facilities. It has also been observed that how fissile material, nuclear technologies and India’s safe-guarded civilian reactors have ended up in a loss of fissile material and production of nuclear weapons. There is no acknowledgement of India’s new nuclear city that is being built in South India where according to certain reports; it is using fissile material in the production of Hydrogen bomb. India will probably enhance its nuclear capacity together with the development of Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS), anti-satellite space warfare, cyber warfare, long range missiles and sub-marine launched missile capabilities. All these capabilities would eventually enable India to carry out a preemptive first strike against Pakistan i.e. a counter-force strike rather than a counter-value one.

Question and Answer Session:

Ambassador (R) Syed Hassan Javed (Director Chinese Studies Center, NUST) posed a question to Mr. Kamran Akhtar about the possibility of Pakistan-Russia nuclear cooperation and if Pakistan has the capability to develop research reactors for export?  Mr. Kamran Akhtar answered that there is no acknowledgement of India’s new nuclear city that is being built in South India where according to certain reports; it is using fissile material in the production of Hydrogen bomb. Pakistan possesses the capability to manufacture nuclear reactors. Pakistan also has possible market to export but for that the NSG membership is needed. Possibilities of cooperation with Russia are being pursued but details are not available.

Dr. Syed Javed Khurshid (Senior Research Fellow, CISS) asked Mr. Kamran Akhtar why Pakistan has not yet been able to get the NSG membership despite having better credentials than India.   Mr. Kamran Akhtar responded that Pakistan needs to take bold steps and be confident about them. Though Pakistan has a clear-cut separation between civil and nuclear reactors, it can also have umbrella agreements with IAEA.  In order to get the membership Pakistan needs to employ all the available means.

Dr. Rubina Waseem (Lecturer, SS Dept, NDU) asked whether it is possible to suggest to the international community not to focus so much on vertical proliferation and instead steer the debate more towards the main objective of nuclear export control and NSG that halts horizontal proliferation where the case of Pakistan makes better sense? Is it not better to take an argument in a different direction by asking to take both Pakistan and India into the NSG to twist the debate because if India is not able to get into the NSG then Pakistan won’t be in also? Mr. Kamran Akhtar replied that Pakistan has always emphasized that there should be non-discriminatory criteria and any country should be allowed the membership if it meets the criteria. Pakistan stands for non-discriminatory approach where both countries get equal chance for membership. As for the question of proliferation, both vertical and horizontal proliferations are important concerns especially because Indian nuclear program is going at a very fast pace. Anything that can inject any criteria that commits India to non-testing would benefit Pakistan.

Mr. Raza Khan (Senior Correspondent, PTV World News) asked if it is possible to focus on one point agenda i.e. not allowing India to become member of the NSG with support from China? Amb (R) Zamir Akram replied that given the limitations Pakistan has done a good job in representing its own case and preventing India from getting the NSG membership uncontested. Mr. Kamran Akhtar added to the discussion and emphasized that the NSG has to adopt a non-discriminatory criteria-based approach that would benefit the non-proliferation regime.

Mr. Aiman Amjed (Planning Officer, Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform) asked if the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has undertaken any quantitative studies to gauge economic impact of NSG membership for Pakistan? Such as what would be the economic benefit of NSG inclusion on the GDP of Pakistan? How much will it help increase Pakistan’s export? Mr. Kamran Akhtar didn’t provide the statistical data but explained that Foreign Office deals with the legal, technical, political and diplomatic aspects of the NSG membership. Pakistan is not obsessed with the nuclear energy as is the case with India because Pakistan has economic constraints. Certainly, Pakistan wants to move away from 1% to 20% in terms of renewable energy in the future to come. Energy crisis is the major issue of Pakistan which can be overcome through renewable energy.

Dr. Ghulam Mujaddid (Chair DASSS, Air University) asked if India really needs the NSG membership. Amb (R) Zamir Akram stated that India is keen to acquire NSG membership as it wants to change its status from de-facto to de-jure nuclear weapon state. There are three other cartels but NSG remains the most important. He suggested that Pakistan should not join the MTCR as Pakistan has serious reservations about its code of conduct and the categories of missiles. Regarding future course of action for Pakistan, he emphasized on the need for widely projecting Indian violation of all these protocols. For that Pakistan needs to be diplomatically more aggressive and pro-active.

Mr. Khalid Banuri (Former DG, ACDA) commented that whatever one makes of the NSG’s technical and legal aspects, the decision making will always be political. He agreed that Pakistan has a good case for the NSG membership but it would take time to bear fruit. He emphasized that a greater emphasis should be laid on what can be done in the meanwhile. He suggested collaboration by employing track-I and track-II diplomacy and maintained that Pakistan needs to work closely on objective analysis strictly based on pure knowledge and less emotions.

In the closing remarks Mr. Ross Masood Husain thanked all the speakers and participants for their valued contribution in the seminar.

Media Coverage

The event was covered by PTV World news

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