Indo-Pak Rivalry Jeopardises Disarmament Conference

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Secretary-General of the Conference On Disarmament, Sergei Ordzhonikidze.

Nuclear Abolition News | IDN

By Ramesh Jaura
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

BERLIN (IDN) - Will the persistent distrust between Pakistan and India continue to litter the bumpy road to nuclear disarmament with shrapnel and spikes and bring to naught the multilateral conference in Geneva?

Or, will the nuclear armed neighbours bury the hatchet defying legacy of the British divide-and-rule that culminated in partition in 1947, and rescue the Conference on Disarmament?

Bilateral peace talks -- begun in 2004 and suspended by India following the attacks in November 2008 that killed more than 160 people in the megacity of Mumbai -- are scheduled to resume on February 25 in New Delhi.

India has accused Pakistan of doing little to bring under control extremists allegedly based in Pakistan, whom it blames for the attack. New Delhi has proposed fresh talks which it wants to address counterterrorism and other matters that weigh on peace and security issues.

Islamabad however favours what it calls comprehensive peace negotiations that would involve the disputed Kashmir region.

The fear that the Conference on Disarmament, the single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum of the international community, set up in 1979, might become “irrelevant” was expressed by the Secretary-General of the Conference, Sergei Ordzhonikidze, on February 11.

Ordzhonikidze, who is also the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, underscored that what the 65-nation Conference had done for the previous four weeks -- “for the enormous financial expenditure out of the United Nations budget -- was nothing”. They had to recognize that.

That was not only intolerable in the Conference, but it was also becoming intolerable in international relations -- with the most important United Nations body dealing with disarmament not able to do anything but even regressing.

Ordzhonikidze warned the participants that unless the Conference was in tune with current trends in international relations it was “not relevant”.

While it remains to be seen whether the Conference would advance in the new round beginning February 16 under the presidency of Ambassador Mikhail Khvostov of Belarus, Ordzhonikidze’s unvarnished remarks tinged with deep disappointment were unprecedented but not groundless.

In 2009 the Conference broke a deadlock that had lasted for more than ten years. It agreed on a work plan that dealt with four issues: nuclear disarmament, a fissile material control treaty addressing highly-enriched uranium and plutonium, the prohibition of space-based weapons, and an agreement by nuclear-armed states not to use their strategic weapons against nations that do not possess such arsenal.

Pakistan initially approved the plan, but later withdrew its consent and demanded further consideration of the programme.

When the Conference resumed in January in Geneva, Pakistan temporarily blocked endorsement of an agenda for the year. Decisions at the international body must be made by consensus, and Pakistan allowed the agenda to be approved on January 27.

"It was not my government's intention to block adoption of the agenda," a news agency report quoted Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United Nations Zamir Akram. "We are very keen to move beyond consideration of the agenda to the more important task of working out a programme of work. We will make our contribution in this regard."

While this assurance sounded promising, Conference sources said that "Pakistan doesn't want to hear about" a fissile material cutoff treaty.

On behalf of the UN Secretary-General, Ordzhonikidze appealed to members to be "a little more flexible" and overcome the bickering over which items to tackle in 2010, known as the programme of work.

"It is not the finalization of the elaboration of any treaty, it is just the programme of work," he said.

Parallel to deliberations at the Conference, a senior Indian diplomat said that a universal, transparent and verifiable regime of nuclear disarmament was the only way to prevent terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons.

"India is deeply worried about the potential nexus between clandestine proliferation and terrorism and the ever-present danger of such weapons or vulnerable nuclear materials falling into the hands of jihadi and nonstate actors," Shyam Saran, who led the team that negotiated the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal, told the Global Zero summit in Paris on February 2.

"However, over the long term, it is also our view that it is only through the complete elimination of nuclear weapons and by putting in place universally applicable, nondiscriminatory and fully transparent verification procedures, that we can fully prevent and deny nuclear materials from falling into dangerous hands," Press Trust of India news agency quoted Saran.

India, like neighbouring Pakistan, possesses a nuclear arsenal and has refused to join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to be reviewed at a landmark UN conference in May 2010.

But Saran reaffirmed India’s intention to maintain a suspension of nuclear testing and its interest in discussing a treaty that would prohibit member nations from producing fissile material for weapons purposes, the Indo-Asian News Service reported.

"Despite our well-known reservations on the Comprehensive (Nuclear) Test Ban Treaty, India is committed to its voluntary unilateral moratorium on nuclear explosive testing," he said at the summit in Paris.

"We are prepared to negotiate a verifiable fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) in the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. We are not a party to the NPT and cannot respond to calls for universal adherence to that treaty as a non-nuclear weapons state," he said.

Saran also raised the matter of the proliferation network once operated by former top Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer (A. Q.) Khan widely regarded as the founder of Pakistan's nuclear program.

A.Q. is viewed in Washington as a “serious proliferation risk” in view of allegations that he supplied critical nuclear technology to Iran and North Korea.

"India's security has been adversely impacted by the clandestine proliferation of nuclear weapons in its neighborhood, often ignored and on occasion, encouraged by certain important countries," Saran said.

"The activities of the so-called A.Q. Khan network is an ominous reminder of the threats India continues to face in this respect," he added.

Whether such remarks, though justified from India’s viewpoint, would facilitate the forthcoming Indo-Pak talks and the Conference in Geneva is unlikely.

Despite Pakistan’s crucial role in stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan, much to the chagrin of influential circles in Islamabad, it has ceased to be a “blue eyed boy” of the United States since the end of the Cold War when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

India, on the other hand, has come to be accepted as a “responsible nuclear power” in addition to having proved its credentials as “the world’s largest democracy”.

Now it is for the two South Asian neighbours to guard against falling into a new ‘divide-and-rule’ trap -- and stop diverting their economic and financial resources from development to weapons of mutual destruction. (IDN-InDepthNews/16.02.2010)

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