Signing the CTBT:
The Erroneous Premise


From the BOARD of EDITORIAL ADVISORS, Ms NASIM ZEHRA recommends very strongly that the CTBT should not be signed by Pakistan

On the question of signing the CTBT Pakistan's new government appears to carving out a new approach. Beginning with the Chief Executive General Musharraf himself, officials are indicating change on two fronts; giving up the demand that the coercive atmosphere be first removed and two that Islamabad is willing to sign the CTBT before India does so. In case this is in fact the general thrust of this government's changed approach towards the CTBT it signals a departure from the decisions taken during the September 10 DCC meeting in which the three current forces chiefs also Participated. It was decided unanimously to pursue a policy of constructive engagement with the US on the issue of the CTBT and press for removal of the sanctions imposed under Pressler, Glenn and the Symington amendments, the removal of the G-8 sanctions and demand equal treatment with India on nuclear-related matters. It was agreed to continue to adopt a positive attitude towards the CTBT treaty itself.

This was the continuation of a policy developed after the nuclear tests and the subsequent sanctions that were imposed on Pakistan. Despite all predictions that the Nawaz Sharif government was about to sign the CTBT he did not. It is also clear after his departure that contrary to allegations that he had made a secret commitment to sign the CTBT, the Nawaz government had pursued an above board and overt policy. It therefore went to the credit of the Nawaz Sharif government that at the most difficult of economic and diplomatic times it was not only able to ward off international pressure on signing the CTBT but was infact able to link its signing to the fulfillment of specific demands. Thus a wisely deliberated policy, within the institutional framework of the DCC, that factored in the economic, political, diplomatic and security elements, helped the government to turn an adversity into an opportunity. Pursuing its CTBT policy the Nawaz government was able to get debts worth around 3 billion dollars rescheduled, partial lifting of sanctions took place and IMF tranches were released (other than those related to the Nawaz government's IPP disaster). Also, irrespective of what was publicly stated, operationally this policy meant that Islamabad's signing would be linked to Delhi signing the treaty.

However the current regime appears to be reviewing the Nawaz Sharif policy. This includes signing the CTBT before India signs. Any decision to rush and sign before India does, will be amount to committing a strategic level blunder. After all Islamabad's earlier decision of linking its signing of the CTBT to the Indian signing was driven by the strategic purpose of ensuring that India will first bound down by the CTBT thereby foreclosing to itself the option of live nuclear tests. Significantly the international community has, even if grudgingly, acknowledged the rationale for this linkage and continue to pressurize India to sign the CTBT so that Pakistan can follow suit. Over the years against the backdrop of an India-triggered deteriorating security environment within South Asia the G-8 countries have almost accepted the inextricable linkage between Delhi's and Islamabad broad moves, like nuclear tests, missile development, production of fissile material etc, related to the development of defence-related nuclear technology.

Though linkage in these areas has been unavoidable for Pakistan in order to maintain a minimum credible nuclear deterrence vis-a-vis India's superior conventional forces, Pakistan has otherwise continued to pursue a policy of self-imposed restraint on defence-related nuclear matters front. Its iron-clad export controls on nuclear technology especially given the market for this technology and the cash-strapped status of the Pakistani state, its numerous proposals for making South Asia a nuclear free zone, its declaration of a unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing unless India opts for testing, the numerous conventional and nuclear disarmament proposals tabled at various UN forums and its repeated offers to Delhi to enter into negotiations for establishing a Strategic Restraint Regime for South Asia , all testify Pakistan's commitment to nuclear non-proliferation within the South Asian context.

In considering to de-link its signing of the CTBT from Delhi's inking of the treaty Islamabad runs three risks. First that given Delhi's commitment to develop an elaborate nuclear arsenal and its ability to live with the impact of the sanctions that come with not signing the CTBT , Delhi may not sign it at all. Second that once Islamabad signs, an international community which barring Japan appears more understanding of Indian nuclear ambition, will no longer feel the pressure to push India to sign. Thus in signing before India does Islamabad will help India in 'getting off-the-hook.' The international community after all also concedes that the treaty is for now a 'dead one' so pushing India after Pakistan has signed will accrue no substantive and immediate gains to the non-proliferation regime. However Pakistan, in signing the CTBT will have conceded something substantive on the psychological and diplomatic front. Also it is unlikely that if confronted with nuclear testing by an India who is a non-signatory to the CTBT, Islamabad will feel confident to go against the treaty it has signed and actually test. The international censure and threat of economic sanctions would weaken the resolve now being declared. In ways no different from those that are making this government apparently opt for a change in a policy that has actually been a successful one.

In de-linking from India on the CTBT Pakistan will commit a major blunder which will erode an advantage that astute diplomacy and an aggressive India, had accrued to Pakistan since the last two decades. Linkage with India on non-proliferation matters had rightly earned Islamabad a genuine premise which Islamabad has ably used to deflect international pressure targeting its own nuclear programme. Whatever claims the government may make at this juncture, knocking out this 'premise' will indeed haunt Islamabad in its future negotiations with the G-8 on other non-proliferation benchmarks. Notably few people in Pakistan have argued against de-linking Islamabad's signing of the CTBT from the Indian decision as ably as Pakistan's present foreign minister.

Those who advocate immediate signing of the CTBT obviously are also arguing for de-linking Islamabad's signing from Delhi. They make five arguments which require examination. One that de-linking signing from India will make the international community perceive us as autonomous negotiators as opposed to automatic followers of the Indian position and compel them to negotiate with us. True. Islamabad has pursued that policy for a year and it has yielded positive results while at the same time in practice enabling it to pursue a policy of linkage with India. So then why change the policy and rush in to sign?

The second argument is that if India signs first we will not get the advantages that we may otherwise get. The list of advantages is a wish list. It includes a degree of debt relief, some economic benefits, access to dual purpose technology, American investment. This list is based to some extent on what many believe that India will gain by signing. The reality is that Washington will not extend free handouts to Pakistan for a treaty which for now appears to be one 'without any teeth.' Also if Washington detects a weakening in Islamabad's resolve on the CTBT and a change in its stance on 'removal of the coercive atmosphere' and demand for equal status on nuclear-related matters the why should Washington concede to any benefits.

In any event what India earns from inking the treaty, so it decides, will be related to India's attractiveness as an economic and strategic partner for Washington and not solely because it has signed the CTBT. India's attractiveness stems from multiple elements inherent in the strength and scale of the Indian industry, its trained manpower, its strategic links with Israel and its ability to contain the Chinese and the Islamic 'threats.'

The third argument is that signing the CTBT will ease Pakistan's economic troubles and will help to ease its international isolation. Signature on the CTBT will not translate into a magic wand that will ease Pakistan's economic troubles. Those have to do , as General Musharraf himself has ably articulated, with Pakistan's internal weaknesses related to law and order, arbitration mechanisms, stable and consistent policy, investor confidence etc.

Signing the CTBT will not translate into any concrete economic benefits. As for Islamabad's need to further reschedule loans, as asserted by the Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz , that will be possible even without signing the CTBT. International lending agencies cannot afford defaults. They will bail Pakistan out, as they continue to bail out a Russia that is busy butchering its own citizens.

On the economic front the case for immediate signing of the CTBT is also being linked to 550 million dollar Japanese funds that will be released after Islamabad signs the CTBT. What ofcourse is being ignored is that while the commitment maybe of this amount, the last 15 years of aid utilization record shows that only 8-10% of the committed amount is used in a given year. The amount therefore is approximately 50 million dollars. Whatever the amount, this reasoning which views aid money as a panacea for Pakistan's economic and social sector inadequacies is an inherently flawed one. Even worse, it is a dependant mindset that looks for external props, the short-cut route to what may appear to be problem solving. While Pakistan must ofcourse remain an active and vibrant actor on the global scene but to seek economic strengthening externally without addressing our own fundamental weaknesses smacks of dependant mindsets born in the cold war era. In these difficult times when regional and global hegemonistic states seek to make economically and military weaker states pursue externally dictated policies Islamabad must learn to approach issues of economic and security difficulty with a sophistication, diplomatic skill and self-confidence.

The argument that signing the CTBT will help to improve an isolated Pakistan's image internationally is also a simplistic one. First to ascribe isolationism to one's own country when faced with the task of defending a difficult foreign policy is the sign of a defeatist and dependant mindset. The problem is not with the pursuit rather with the projection of our foreign policy. That is another issue. However our haste in describing us in the terms that our adversaries do, is an amazing Pakistan-specific capacity prevalent mostly among us analysts. It demotes a derivative mindset that views its ownself in terms of what use others can put us to. Its their vision, their view of us rather than our own vision of ourselves that makes us assess our self-worth, our self-respect and consequently our self-confidence. This imaginary isolation is a manifestation of our own low self-esteem. It is therefore unlikely to end until we ourselves do not begin to respect ourselves. This ofcourse is not to at all hide away from our internal crisis and problems but to have the confidence to effect internal change without being perpetually apologetic on the external front.

Meanwhile Pakistan's foreign policy does counter trends supported by the economically and militarily stronger powers and therefore will inevitably face criticism. Those who brand this criticism as 'isolation' must understand that this criticism will continue unless global powers become more rational towards the needs of smaller states or when we give up our nuclear deterrence, our support to the Kashmiris under Indian occupation and to the Taliban who are now coming out from an internationally imposed isolation. In case the Musharraf government holds any illusions that signing of the CTBT will become a goodwill insurance for it in Washington, earning it political, economic and military support, it is based on dangerously naive assumptions.

Whatever the compulsions forcing an ostensible change in Islamabad's hitherto successful policy on CTBT the fact remains that only one approach to signing the CTBT is in Pakistan's national interest; one that will continue to link its signing to India's signing, demand comprehensive removal of the 'coercive atmosphere' and demand Pakistan be given the same status as India on nuclear-related matters. Meanwhile Islamabad must remain firmly committed to its policy of unilateral moratorium on testing and continue to seek Indian engagement on the Strategic Restraint Regime it had put forward during its October 1998 Pak-India bilateral talks.