The politics of the CTBT

Published: May 31, 2014
The writer is Special Assistant to Federal Minister at the Ministry of Planning, Development & Reforms. 
He tweets @HNadim87

The writer is Special Assistant to Federal Minister at the Ministry of Planning, Development & Reforms. He tweets @HNadim87

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is not a nuclear issue anymore. It’s actually a political one with nuclear powers pointing fingers at one another for not doing enough to ratify the treaty. However, most of the countries at the moment face internal problems –– both political and legal –– that are becoming their serious barrier to entry to the CTBT.

This was the highlight of the UK Project on Nuclear Issues (PONI) event that was recently organised by Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI) in London where I was representing Pakistan’s view on the CTBT.

Pakistan is, what I like to call, a reluctant nuclear power. It never really chose to be one; instead it was forced to take that path. Having lost half of the country in the 1971 war with India, the 1974 nuclear tests conducted by India sent an alarm throughout the security apparatus of Pakistan, thereby creating a serious security dilemma. For the next two decades, the establishment of Pakistan had a one-point agenda: develop nuclear capacity, and on the road to that, the country deprioritised everything else. Whether right or wrong, that is how the Pakistani establishment looked at the problem back in the day. Moreover, Pakistan was never the first one to test its nuclear capacity either. In 1998 again, it was India that went ahead with the tests, forcing Pakistan to follow. Hence, began the nuclear arms race in the region that Pakistan had to reluctantly be a party to.

Given that context, what are some of the barriers to entry to the CTBT for Pakistan? At the moment, after 16 years of nuclear tests in Pakistan, the barriers to entry are both external and internal. Externally, Pakistan has been in a state of war throughout most of its existence with two of its neighbours not accepting its borders. Given the Kashmir issue, it is highly unlikely that Pakistan will be able to reach that level of trust to sign and ratify the CTBT without India doing it first. Signing it means political responsibility, and ratification means legal responsibility that neither of the countries is ready to consider at the moment.

Another barrier to entry is driven by how Pakistan is treated differently from India on the subject of nuclear technology. While India and Pakistan have the same status on the nuclear issue, the United States went ahead and offered a civil nuclear deal to India and extended its support to become part of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, whereas Pakistan was completely ignored on that front. Such discrimination creates a serious hurdle for Pakistan to even consider the CTBT.

The external narrative on Pakistan’s nuclear capacity has a direct impact on its internal barriers to entry. For instance, there are non-state and political actors who have labelled the nuclear bomb as an ‘Islamic bomb’. The amount of sentiment and significance that has been attached to the nuclear bomb in Pakistan goes beyond just politics.

However, the depressing part is that despite all the technical issues associated with the CTBT, Pakistan’s desperate efforts to denuclearise the region have failed. The security establishment is well aware that India’s nuclear ambitions are not solely targeted towards Pakistan, but that India has international aspirations as well, which is why to reduce the burden, Pakistan has over the years made several attempts to sort out the nuclear issue. On 22 occasions –– internationally and elsewhere –– Pakistan has endorsed the CTBT, whereas India has always rejected it.

For Pakistan, achieving some level of trust and understanding with India on the issue is not just a high priority, but something that’s extremely beneficial. With a halt on the nuclear arms race, Pakistan can focus its efforts and energies on developing its economy, infrastructure and pacing up its efforts on achieving the MDGs. The nuclear issue is holding back Pakistan, and Indian arrogance on the subject isn’t helping the cause either.

The only way forward on the CTBT is by solving the pressing border problems, the Kashmir issue, and cross-border militancy. Also, it is important to educate the people in Pakistan and India on the nuclear programme to flush out the emotions attached to the bomb so that pragmatism can prevail.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 31st, 2014.

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Reader Comments (8)

  • Raj - USA
    May 31, 2014 - 6:38AM

    Pakistan is proud to be the only Islamic nuclear power. But the retired and serving generals proliferated the technology to other Islamic countries and had these been successful, Pakistan would not be the on,y Islamic nuclear power today.
    Saudi Arabia funded Pakistan’s nuclear program and also rescued Pakistan after it tested the device by giving free oil. What did Pakistan do? It proliferated the technology to Gadaffi, who has called the Saudi monarch all sorts of names. Pakistan also proliferated the technology to Iran, the sworn enemy of the Saudis. Proliferating it to N.Korea however gave some advantage to Pakistan as it got missiles in exchange.
    Of the three countries Pakistan proliferated the technology, two were Muslim countries and the third was non-Muslim country. Both Muslim countries gave away Pakistan and supplied prof to UN and US, without which it would have been difficult if not impossible to pin down Pakistan. Only N. Korea, the non-Muslim country did not give away Pakistan.
    On Kashmir, Pakistan’s obsession has motivated it to harbor jihadi’s and terrorists in its territory. These same terrorists are taking away Pakistan’s territory and breaking Pakistan to pieces. FATA and Waziristan have almost ceded from Pakistan. Pakistan says that Hindu India should give away Muslim Kashmir to Pakistan. The talibans and terrorists attacking Pakistan are saying almost he same thing. They are saying Pakistan is not Islamic enough to hold on to FATA and Waziristan.


  • zoro
    May 31, 2014 - 9:43AM

    It seems the editor of this newspaper has published only 1st page of the authors total 15 pages of the op-ed.
    The only other thing I can think otherwise is the author is completely “NAIEVE” to write on the said subject.


  • Loraine
    May 31, 2014 - 3:51PM

    Pakistan’s position on the CTBT remains very clear that Pakistan will not be the first to resume testing in the region since it was not the one to start it in the first place. This notwithstanding, the dynamics in South Asia at play today are different from those 16 years earlier when both India and Pakistan were new nuclear states. With the current developments on Indian side and its consistent efforts to build up its military muscle have somehow made the prospects and determinants of signing the CTBT difficult for Pakistan Pakistan for the sake of satisfying international community should discard the symbolic significance of signing the CTBT. It will be suicidal for Pakistan to sign CTBT as the regional strategic compulsions suggest at the time.


  • aaaaa
    May 31, 2014 - 4:27PM

    Forget CTBT, Pakistan’s stated position on the nuclear front is Minimum Credible Deterrence, which requires second strike capability, which theoretically requires 2 nuclear weapons situated far enough apart so that one weapon would be outside the nuclear blast radius of an attack, and will be ready to fired in retaliation, thus the name SECOND strike capability.

    Pakistan has more than a 100 weapons, by most accounts more than India. Why is this, since our own stated goal in minimum credible deterrence? We should prioritise reducing our nuclear stockpile first, which will be at absolutely no cost to our national security. CTBT comes second, if at all. It is not relevant in the current situation.

    What business does a ministry of planning person have with nuclear weapons anyways? You seem to be of a species that has proliferated in Pakistan recently. Jack of all master of none.


  • Ali Pakistani
    May 31, 2014 - 5:20PM

    What are the author’s credentials to represent Pakistan at the form like this?


  • Prashant
    May 31, 2014 - 10:40PM

    The west is regretting the fact that it did not stop Pakistan from developing nuclear weapons when it could . Expecting the west to sign a nuclear deal with Pakistan is something the west would not go for even in their dreams.


  • a_writer
    May 31, 2014 - 11:48PM

    It is really pitiful to read articles such as these. Format of most of the opinion writers is : gleefully list all the problems facing India ( India already knows of its multitude of social and other problems), repeat the litany of complaints how Pakistan is unfairly persecuted by the world (The world doesn’t think so and really doesn’t care) and finally, like singing the National Anthem at the beginning or end of any function/ceremony, salivate for Kashmir real estate and try to mask it by talking about plebiscite in Kashmir (after 65 years Pakistan hasn’t managed to change the status
    quo on iota)


  • Majid
    Jun 1, 2014 - 12:39AM

    First of all author does not really understands the technical side of nuclear weapons testing and its relation to establishing credibility of nuclear deterrence. Whether or not India accedes to CTBT, Pakistan must not close its options to test its new generation of nuclear warheads as cold testing has its limits. It is important therefore to understand that the necessity of hot testing will arise soon so Pakistan acceding to CTBT will be detrimental in establishing the credibility of deterrence. Moreover, in US itself, important scientific constituencies are not yet ready to ratify the treaty so CTBT is a dead treaty for now.

    and what does the author mean exactly when he says ” it is important to educate the people in Pakistan and India on the nuclear programme to flush out the emotions attached to the bomb so that pragmatism can prevail.” ?

    It seems to me that he is suggesting surrender on nuclear matters and labeling it as pragmatism.Recommend

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