The Pakistani Nuclear Deal That Wasn’t

LAHORE – Recently, it came to light that the United States was attempting to negotiate with Pakistan a deal to constrain the Pakistanis’ fast-growing nuclear weapons program. That sounds like good news: Any move toward non-proliferation seems like a positive step. Unfortunately, in this case the effort has had some dangerous unintended consequences.

It all started last month, when US media reported that an agreement was already near completion. First, David Ignatius of The Washington Post reported, on the basis of conversations with senior US officials, that agreement had already been reached on a number of steps Pakistan would take to reduce its dependence on nuclear weapons for deterrence. A few days later, David Sanger of The New York Times confirmed. Both accounts suggested that the agreement would be announced in a joint statement following the October 23 meeting in Washington, DC, between US President Barack Obama and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

But the reality is that those media reports were the beginning, not the end, of the process. According to senior Pakistani officials – including Sartaj Aziz, a key adviser on foreign affairs and national security – there was no agreement in the works when the stories appeared. Rather, it seemed that the US was using the media to put pressure on Pakistan’s government to respond more readily to America’s pleas to cap production of tactical weapons and the short-range missiles that could deliver them.

The reports put Pakistan’s political leaders in an awkward position. They could not possibly succeed in convincing the country’s powerful military establishment to place constraints on the development of the country’s nuclear arsenal. Indeed, the US effort merely widened the divide on security issues within Pakistani– a situation that serves no one’s interests.