Nuclear Suppliers Group: Why Pakistan Needs to do More

Pakistan has been aspiring for membership of the 48-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for quite some time now, with this ambition intimately linked to its desire to gain parity with India, as New Delhi too seeks access to global nuclear commerce. China has supported Pakistan’s pursuit for membership on a rather frivolous basis, arguing that if India is accorded NSG membership even though it is not a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), then Pakistan also should be given a similar status. Irrespective of having a strong supporter in China, the cardinal issue that requires serious consideration is whether Pakistan should be allowed entry into the export control group.

Why does Pakistan seek NSG membership?

The negotiation of the India-United States civilian nuclear cooperation agreement in 2005 provided an impetus to Pakistan to seek civilian nuclear technology for meeting its energy requirements. With a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate of 4.71 percent and an estimated population of 200 million, Pakistan believes that nuclear energy is the solution to its ongoing energy crisis. To meet this challenge, Pakistan seeks entry into the NSG, which would facilitate nuclear commerce with the global community.

However, Pakistan’s suggested rationale for NSG participation is unreasonable. Several experts believe that Pakistan’s energy crisis is primarily due to poor energy governance and mismanagement. Pakistan produces electricity at unaffordable prices, with the average cost currently between 14-17 rupees per kilowatt hour, the highest in South Asia. Additionally, widespread corruption leads to distribution and transmission losses which result in 22 percent of the generated electricity getting wasted. Pervez Hoodbhoy proclaims that “non payment of electricity bills by the military and various government departments to other government departments”[1] creates ‘circular debt.’ Pakistan’s electricity crisis is further intensified by pilferage and faulty electricity grids that cause inefficient distribution, leading to wastage.[2] Thus, it appears that the crisis is a man-made problem that can be internally managed with effective governance. Pakistan may also consider energy cooperation dialogues with willing partners to deal with this shortage. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has sought assistance to resolve the energy crisis in the country. In fact, in a bid to address its neighbor’s acute energy shortage, India jointly with Pakistan “announced several initiatives to accelerate cooperation in the oil and gas sector.” However, strained political relationships have prevented any forward movement on these initiatives. Arguably then, its energy crisis is not the reason behind Pakistan’s aspirations for NSG participation.

Pakistan’s desire for entry into the NSG is rooted more in the quest for nuclear legitimacy, and parity with India. Whether these alone can be merits for entry into the NSG is debatable. Pakistan had expressed intense criticism over the 2005 India-United States civil nuclear deal on grounds that it will disturb the nuclear balance in the region. According to Pakistan, the imbalance can be restored with a similar deal that would not only provide Pakistan access to global trade in nuclear technology, but also put it at par with India. A third advantage would involve symbolic value in terms of nuclear legitimacy to Pakistan, and overshadow its past nuclear proliferation under A.Q. Khan. Pakistan believes that the civil nuclear deal has upped New Delhi’s overall nuclear clout vis-à-vis Islamabad. This weighs heavily on the psyche of Pakistani political and military establishments, which reckon that Islamabad is gradually losing influence in the region.

Pakistan and NSG Membership

To be a responsible nation, Pakistan must strive towards achieving nuclear legitimacy through more erudite means. Any fallacious presumptions of propagating controversial China-Pakistan nuclear trade as a fallout of the India-United States civilian nuclear deal cannot assist Islamabad to get entry into the NSG or obtain nuclear legitimacy. What is noteworthy is that the China-Pakistan nuclear agreement came before the India-United States nuclear deal, as shown in the timeline below.

Table 1: Chronology of India-United States and China-Pakistan nuclear trade

May 5, 2004 China committed to building a second nuclear power reactor      (Chashma-2) in Pakistan
April 10, 2005 Pakistan and China reached an agreement on two 300-megawatts-electric-capacity nuclear power reactors effective for the next ten years
July 18, 2005 Official declaration of the India-United States nuclear deal

Remarkably, the complexities inherent in Sino-Pakistan nuclear trade can never confer upon Pakistan the same nuclear benefits and global status as the India-United States nuclear deal has provided to India. This is because their controversial nuclear engagement generates global concerns and weakens the NPT. Hence, Sino-Pakistan nuclear power cooperation is not the desired pathway for Pakistan to seek nuclear legitimacy.

Pakistan’s quest for NSG membership faces complications galore. However, it may consider adopting responsible strategies and policies to gain the trust of the global community. These measures include making substantial efforts to curb nuclear proliferation, eliminate terrorism, refrain from first-use strategies, stabilize relations with India, and cooperate with India to strengthen regional nuclear security. On a more tangible level, Pakistan must:

  • Sign and ratify the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism;
  • Improve transport security in accordance with Revision 5 of Nuclear Security Recommendations on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities;
  • Invite International Physical Protection Advisory Service (IPPAS) missions to existing nuclear facilities;
  • Commit not to build any more unsafeguarded fissile material production reactors, and put any new reactors built under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards;
  • Allow IAEA operational safety review and related teams to conduct routine inspection in cooperation with the IAEA Department of Nuclear Safety and Security;
  • Adhere in letter and principle to the Australia Group, Wassenaar Arrangement, NSG, and Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) export agreements;
  • Render cooperation to the IAEA and other international authorities to resolve past cases of illicit transfers of nuclear technology;
  • Not block Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty(FMCT) negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament.

NSG membership comes with specified objectives and responsibilities. It involves obligations to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials, and a commitment to respect and abide by the global nuclear nonproliferation agenda. Hence, before its consideration for admission into the NSG, Pakistan is required to be more forthcoming on its nonproliferation efforts.

[1] Pervez Hoodbhoy (ed), Confronting the Bomb: Pakistani and Indian Scientists Speak Out (Karachi, Pakistan, Oxford University Press, 2013), p.342.

[2] Ibid.


As the Nuclear Suppliers Group considers the membership of India and Pakistan at its next plenary meeting this month, SAV contributors Saima Sial, Ruhee Neog, Reshmi Kazi, and Beenish Altaf think through the outcome of the vote, and analyze the potential aftermath of both the acceptance and denial of each country’s membership. Read the entire series here.


Image: Anadolu Agency, Getty

Posted in , NSG, Nuclear, Pakistan

Reshmi Kazi

Reshmi Kazi

Dr Reshmi Kazi is Associate Fellow in the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, specializing on nuclear testing, nuclear terrorism and radiological terrorism in India, nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament issues.. Her doctoral thesis is on ‘Evolution of India’s Nuclear Doctrine: A Study of Political, Economic and Technological Dimensions.’ Presently she is finishing her monograph Nuclear Terrorism: The Grand New Terror of the 21st Century.

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9 thoughts on “Nuclear Suppliers Group: Why Pakistan Needs to do More

  1. Flawed arguments.

    As far as safeguarded/unsafeguarded reactors are concerned, India is the only country in the world where several civilian nuclear power plants are outside IAEA Safeguards. Pakistan has already put all its civilian nuclear facilities under safeguards and have committed to do so in future.

    On Safety/Security, Pakistan is already implementing majority of the steps that the author mentioned including hosting Safety Peer Review Missions from the IAEA, implementing transport security from INFCIRC/225/Rev5

    If you compare the track record of nuclear safety and security of Pakistan and India, you’d find Pakistan at a better spot. On paper, when it comes to safeguards or engagement on non-proliferation instruments like CTBT, Pakistan enjoys a better track record than India.

    In the end, the decision in the NSG would be made based on commercial/economic considerations, which would trump the global non-proliferation values, as it did in 2008.

  2. Well researched and elaborate paper covering all aspects of Pakistan’s illegitimate quest for membership of NSG and for nuclear parity with India.
    Well written paper by Reshmi Kazi.

  3. Your analysis was one-sided. You, no doubt, have given very valuable advice what Pakistan should do to get the membership. Yes, you are right about Pakistan’s desire to have military parity with India. But what is about India membership? Does it deserve the seat in the London group which was made after India’s Atomic explosions to stop India from such further tests?
    India has not ratified neither CTBT nor NPT, but still giving the membership, And for Pakistan all the treaties must be ratified.
    I believe in peace, and i know there is no atomic war going to be fought between Pak and Ind. And India is far greater economy than Pakistan; we must not take part in arm race with India. But it is un-just to give India the membership and decline Pakistan.

  4. A research piece should be based on research and should not be biased. The effort is good but it is very much written like a pro indian perspective. In order to bring coherence in your writing try to read more.

  5. Reshmi,
    Thank you for weighing in.
    Blocking FMCT negotiations would seem to me to be disqualifying on its face.

  6. Thank you, Michael.

    Indeed Pakistan blocking the FMCT is a huge setback towards strengthening the non-proliferation objectives. And perhaps this is more workable only if Pakistan discards its taciturn approach on this very important issue. I deliberately kept the CTBT out of the debate because even if Pakistan and India both sign and ratify the Treaty, it will still remain in limbo unless adhered to by US and China along with Egypt, Iran, Israel.

  7. The real problem between India and Pakistan is the nuclear nonproliferation issue and and in my opinion the only solution to this problem is a regional approach devoid of jingoism, obstructionist attitude and a tendency to live in the past. The new generation want to move away from that. We want regional stability, peace and prosperity. But to get to that one has be fair in every respect. Fallacious assertions will only facilitate in keeping the bitterness alive.

    On being “un-just to give India the membership and decline Pakistan” is a very weak argument. It again highlights the eagerness to seek parity and compete with India. Pakistan must work on its nonproliferation record for securing the kind of support India (though China is a bitter opposer) has at present for admission into the NSG.

    On having “pro indian perspective” – I advise you to move on from this mindset of hostile attitude. Being pro-Indian certainly does not imply to be anti-Pakistan. Please read existing literature on GCNEP where I have argued for possible collaboration between India and Pakistan’s respective centres of excellence.

    Admission into the NSG should not be confined to the condotion of signing the NPT . There is a need to include non-NPT member countries who have uphold non-proliferation objectives and are interested in strengthening the non-proliferation regime.

  8. The whole argument and recommendations would emasculate Pakistan as a nuclear power and to bring from the dead Huntingdon’s argument of controlling the world by the Zionists occupied the US. The whole argument does not make sense.

  9. I too agree with Anil that a research paper be unbiased. Just have one question and I think answer could easily help to understand the real story,
    Did India also accepted and went through all the eight (8)conditions laid out above? If not and these are specifically for Pakistan then please understand that this more of a business deal between US and India , more than any thing else. Please also give consideration to the other things announced along with this announcement that they would support indianfor NSG I.e. Military use of Indian facilities….If Pakistan is blamed for nuclear proliferation then why the other countries which did the same in history are part of NSG today?

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