By Aamir Latif
KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) – Longtime rivals Pakistan and India are both seeking entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a multinational body devoted to the export and re-transfer of materials related to nuclear-weapons development.
Only days after New Delhi formally applied for NSG membership earlier this week, Islamabad made a similar demand.
India, which has lobbied for membership in the 48-nation club for over a decade, has already garnered the support of four nuclear heavyweights -- namely, the U.S., U.K., Russia and France.
It faces strong opposition from China, however, which remains a close ally of Pakistan.
Indian media often blames Beijing for blocking India’s entry into the NSG "in the name of parity"-- a reference to Beijing’s stated position that it will either support both countries’ admission into the group or neither of them.
More significantly, China claims to have mustered the support of several other NSG states for its longstanding call for membership in the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) to be a criterion for NSG membership.
India, Pakistan and Israel are the three nuclear states (the first two are declared while the third is undeclared) to have so far failed to join the NPT, an international pact aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.
Islamabad, for its part, claims to have recently received "positive signals" from the U.S. -- its ally the war against terrorism -- in its quest for NSG membership.
The issue reportedly came up for discussion at an eighth round of bilateral strategic talks between Washington and Islamabad earlier this month.
"We have received positive signals from the U.S. in regard to our request [for NSG membership], as Washington has already expressed its full satisfaction over safety and command standards of our nuclear program," a top official from the Pakistani Foreign Office told Anadolu Agency on Saturday on condition of anonymity as he was not allowed to speak to the media.
In a letter addressed to NSG Chairman Rafael Grossi on Friday, Pakistan’s ambassador to Vienna said the decision to seek membership in the group reflected Islamabad’s support for international efforts aimed at preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
"Pakistan has the expertise, manpower, infrastructure and ability to supply NSG-controlled items, goods and services for a full range of nuclear applications for peaceful uses," the letter read.
It went on to urge the NSG to adopt a non-discriminatory criteria-based approach for group membership.
According to the Sweden-based Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Pakistan possesses between 90 and 110 atomic weapons, while India holds between 80 and 100.
International think tanks, while blaming China for assisting Pakistan’s nuclear program, claim the size of Islamabad’s nuclear arsenal will pass the 2,000-mark within the next five years.
- Dilemma for U.S.
Security experts believe the latest developments will serve as a test for the U.S., which wants to maintain good relations with both India and Pakistan.
"The U.S. is facing a dilemma," Talat Masood, an Islamabad-based security analyst, told Anadolu Agency.
"It wants to support New Delhi on this issue and punish Pakistan for its nuclear program and its closeness with China," he said. "But this won’t be easy."
Masood believes Washington’s reliance on Islamabad -- especially in terms of the Afghan peace process -- will work in Pakistan’s favor.
"It’s very difficult for Washington to simply dump Islamabad on this [i.e., the NSG] issue," he asserted. "But it’s equally hard to ignore India, which is already Washington’s partner in a civil nuclear treaty."
Masood believes China’s role will be "decisive" in terms of NSG expansion.
"China will block any move that paves the way for India only [into the group]. If that happens [i.e., if India’s membership is blocked], Washington will be more than happy to get out of the dilemma," he said, adding that Islamabad was also exploiting a recent shift in Russia’s India policy.
"Russia… is not happy with India for its closeness to the U.S. and has softened its otherwise strict stance towards Pakistan on this issue," he said, going on to suggest that recent defense deals between Moscow and Islamabad appeared to support this assertion.