General Ashfaq Kayani, Chief of the Pakistani Army, and a delegation of Pakistani ministers are in Washington, D.C. this week to begin a "strategic dialogue" with the U.S. Although he holds no civilian office, Kayani is the head of Pakistan's strongest political institution, its military, and so has the credibility to negotiate on the behalf of the Government of Pakistan. The president, Asif Ali Zardari, has been sidelined, and Pakistan's foreign policy is now blatantly in military hands. The Pakistani delegation brought with it a 56-page document-a wish list that includes demands for new and cool helicopters, drones, and U.S. financial assistance. Considering the fact that Pakistan has spent so much blood and treasure in the fight against the Taliban along its Afghan border, the aid and weaponry are in many respects overdue. Yes, the country has received billions since 9/11, but what is currently at stake-peace and stability in Afghanistan-has required Islamabad to alter its strategic orientation, which was primarily focused on its eastern neighbour, India. And for this, Washington should be grateful and generous.
But Pakistan has more than money on its mind: it is seeking recognition as a legitimate nuclear power and a civilian nuclear energy deal on par with the deal the Bush administration gave to India in 2008. Some have argued that Pakistan deserves such a deal. That suggestion is, however, irresponsible and ignores fundamental realities in Pakistan.
There are three main concerns about the prospects of such a deal. Firstly, as the Washington trip this week demonstrates, Pakistan's civilian government has little to no control over the country's defencse and foreign policies. It was the country's chief general who headed the Pakistani delegation, not its President. Pakistan's political system is also notoriously unstable, swinging from democracy to dictatorship at a whim. Entrusting Pakistan with a nuclear deal would hand over precious fuel and technology to an unstable government, where the possibility of an unfriendly Islamist government coming to power is always plausible.
Secondly, Pakistan's nuclear program makes no distinction between the military and the civilian sector. The military reigns supreme and manages the country's nuclear energy needs. A civilian nuclear agreement would be one only in name. A nuclear deal for Pakistan would mean handing over fuel and technology to the Pakistani military, which would obviously divert away resources towards its nuclear weapons program. Some suggest that oversight over Pakistan's nuclear facilities would allay such concerns. India famously refused American oversight over its nuclear facilities, and Pakistan-far more paranoid of American regional ambitions-would outright deny any access to its facilities.
Pakistan's record of nuclear proliferation offers the most convincing argument against any attempts to recognize the country's legitimacy as a nuclear power. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the former head of Pakistan's nuclear program, admittedly transferred nuclear weapons technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. And he did so with few repercussions: he faced no trial and continues to reside in Islamabad, albeit under house arrest.
Pakistan's political instability, its military's enmeshment with the country's politics and civilian institutions, and its record of nuclear proliferation should disqualify it from receiving recognition as a nuclear power and any assistance from the U.S. The Obama administration would be right to scoff at Pakistan's suggestions that it deserves to be legitimate nuclear power.
Cross-posted from Affaires étrangères