The civilian factor

Editorial April 13, 2010

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani will be hoping to return from the US with a prize Islamabad has set its eyes on for a very long time: assistance for its nuclear programme in the civilian sector.

The fact that India has already been granted this by the US means the prize is a particularly coveted one. The omens are good. The invitation to Pakistan to attend the nuclear security summit marks a change in tone. The decrease in levels of hostility was obvious also in March, when a high-powered team led by Pakistan’s foreign minister visited Washington. At that time too the issue of granting Pakistan nuclear status dominated talks.

Washington is quite obviously keen to establish stronger ties with Pakistan. It has acknowledged too that the country has done well to combat militancy. It must however realize that a change in attitudes towards the US within the towns and cities of Pakistan is essential to any real, long-term transformation in the rather awkward relations between the two countries. Even now suspicion for the US runs deep and is shared by people who stand at all places on the political spectrum. This change can come only when people see the relationship is one that brings concrete gains. The use of nuclear energy for civilian purposes could offer just this. As a start it could provide much needed respite to ordinary people reeling from massive loadshedding every day and in turn could help ward off power riots.

This is alone a strong reason for Pakistan to receive what it seeks. There are others too. Discrimination only upsets the delicate balance of power in the region. Islamabad must not be denied the trust reposed in New Delhi. By ensuring the balance is kept, Washington would do a great deal to win friends and build a strong partnership with Pakistan that can serve both countries and their people well.