ISLAMABAD/WASHINGTON, Oct 22, (Agencies): Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will tell US President Barack Obama this week that Islamabad will not accept limits on its use of small tactical nuclear weapons, Pakistani officials said on Wednesday. Pakistan insists smaller weapons would deter a sudden attack by its bigger neighbour India, which is also a nuclear power. But the United States worries tactical weapons may further destabilise an already volatile region because their smaller size makes them more tempting to use in a conventional war. Sharif and Obama were due to meet at the White House on Thursday. The New York Times, quoting senior US officials, reported on Wednesday that the Obama administration is preparing to sell eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan in an attempt to bolster the two countries’ relationship despite Washington’s concerns about Pakistan’s growing nuclear arsenal. The aircraft sales, which the US Congress could block, would be a symbolic step given Pakistan’s already large fleet of fighter jets, the Times added.
The United States wants Pakistan to commit to not using tactical nuclear weapons but Islamabad wants to keep its options open as a way of deterring a potential Indian attack, said Maria Sultan, head of the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute. Pakistan says the United States is demanding unreasonable limits on its use of nuclear weapons and not offering much in return apart from a hazy promise to consider Pakistan as a recognised recipient of nuclear technology. “Pakistan’s nuclear programme is … India-centric. And it exists to make war a non-option … Tactical nuclear weapons block off this room (for war) completely”, said a Pakistani security official with knowledge of the country’s nuclear program. “No one can dictate what kind of weapons we will make or use”. Pakistan was working on developing a nuclear submarine, he added. “The goal is a sea-based second strike capability”, he said, referring to a submarine that could carry nuclear warheads and strike in case land-based nuclear weapons were wiped out. US Secretary of State John Kerry met Sharif on Wednesday but State Department spokesman John Kirby declined to say whether a US call for nuclear restraint was discussed. Kirby told a regular news briefing Pakistan remained engaged with the international community on nuclear security and added: “We believe that they believe in the importance of nuclear security issues”.
Kirby also said the United States encouraged India and Pakistan to engage in direct dialogue to reduce tensions. “The normalization of relations between Pakistan and India is vital to both countries and to the region”, he said, while adding Kerry and Sharif discussed the need for more efforts against militants in Pakistan. For the past two years, Pakistan has tested missiles that can reach all of India, and very short-range missiles that could be used if Indian troops cross onto Pakistani soil.
Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry said on Tuesday this was a reaction to Indian threats to make a limited, lightning raid with conventional forces in case of militant attack, an idea known as the “Cold Start” doctrine. “In India, they brought the Cold Start doctrine”, he said. “So we have also preserved our deterrence capability”. Meanwhile, one week after reversing his pledge to pull American troops out of Afghanistan before he leaves office, Obama is turning to two core political dimensions of the war: obstacles to a negotiated peace, and Pakistan as a Taleban sanctuary.
Obama is welcoming Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif to the White House on Thursday for talks also expected to touch on US financial assistance to Islamabad and the prospects for Pakistani acceptance of limits on the scope of its nuclear weapons arsenal. Major breakthroughs are seen as unlikely. The visit highlights the complexities of a 14-year-old Afghan war that Obama inherited in 2009, escalated a year later with a surge of American troops designed in part to force the Taleban to the negotiating table, and then vowed to end before he hands off to a new president in Jan 2017. Instead, Obama announced last week that he plans to retain 5,500 US troops there beyond 2016 to continue training and advising Afghan forces and to hunt al-Qaida terrorists. Obama’s decision was an acknowledgement that the war’s end game is not going according to plan.
The US-Pakistan relationship has been rocky over the years, not least because of US concerns about the growth of Pakistan’s secretive nuclear arsenal. The US is interested in moving Pakistan toward an arrangement limiting the scope of its nuclear stockpile, but there are few signs that any breakthrough is in sight.