Ever since it emerged as the sole Islamic nuclear state, Pakistan’s nuclear program has been viewed anxiously. Even if Islamabad were to offer the world’s best economic incentives to the West-dominated nuclear regime, this assumed religiosity of Pakistani nuclear capability would not change the thinking of the Christian and Hindu possessors of the bomb. This is despite the fact that no religion—Islam, Hinduism, Christianity or any other— has anything to do with the possession of nuclear weapons. The utterly fantastic idea of Pakistan extending nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia is offensive, because there is nothing religious about Islamabad’s nuclear weapons. Pakistan’s nuclear weapon capability is India-centric, and would not be extended to any other state, including Saudi Arabia.
Despite Pakistan’s constant denial, Western media often claims that Pakistan would sell nukes to the Saudis. This myth of selling nukes to Riyadh reemerged during the nuclear deal negotiations between Iran and P5+1. Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, stated during a conference in Sweden that if Iran got the bomb, “the Saudis will not wait one month. They already paid for the bomb, they will go to Pakistan and bring what they need to bring.”
Allegations against Saudi Arabia for financing Pakistan’s nuclear program are not new. In the past, it has also been alleged that the Saudis financed Iraq’s nuclear weapon program. Riyadh has financially bailed out Islamabad on several occasions— it supplied 50,000 barrels of free oil per day when economic and military sanctions were imposed on Pakistan after the 1998 tests. The Saudis also gave $1.5 billion in support of Pakistan’s dwindling foreign currency reserves in 2014.
But that does not mean Saudi Arabia owns Pakistan’s nukes. In return for Riyadh’s financial assistance, Islamabad has provided extensive military aid to the country. Pakistan has had troops stationed in the country since the 1960s, and its manpower and military expertise still play a pivotal role in the Kingdom’s security.
In a recent interview, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that Saudi Arabia would face “all kinds of (nonproliferation treaty) consequences” if they pursue nuclear weapons. It is important to note that Saudi Arabia is bound by international nuclear nonproliferation norms, and is a signatory to the NPT that has ratified Article II. The article states: “Each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to receive the transfer from any transferor whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or of control over such weapons or explosive devices direct, or indirectly; not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices; and not to seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”
Also, Saudi Arabia is a proponent of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. Moreover, Riyadh inked a memorandum of understanding with Washington in 2008, where America agreed to help them develop civilian nuclear energy. In return, the Kingdom has given its support for the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), to address the challenges posed by proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. PSI is intended to “stop proliferation related trade in WMDs, related materials and delivery systems.” Thus, claims regarding a possible Saudi-Pakistani nuclear deal make little sense.
More importantly, with the ratification of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action it seems unlikely that Iran will be able to develop nuclear weapons in the near future. Iran has started dismantling centrifuges and other potential bomb-making capabilities that will prevent breakout weapon capability. Hence, in the contemporary strategic environment, it doesn’t make sense for Riyadh to go nuclear. Saudi Arabia cannot afford the international political and economic backlash that Iran experienced. Due to an overwhelming dependence on foreign labor, international isolation would cripple Riyadh economically. This is certainly a far more disastrous consequence than nuclear Iran. Pakistan would face widespread sanctions as well, and Islamabad is quite aware that it may not be able to withstand such constraints.
Pakistan has established a multi-layered, strong command and control system over the safety and security of its nuclear facilities. Furthermore, the nation has contributed significantly to international norms on nuclear nonproliferation. Pakistan is working to bring its trade controls in line with global export control regimes, regularly hosts IAEA training activities at its Nuclear Security Center of Excellence, and also participates in the Nuclear Security Summit. Islamabad cannot afford any kind of nuclear deal that would bring unbearable pressure from the international community.
For a long time, Pakistan has appealed for access to the global nuclear market. Islamabad has been insistent on the normalization of its nuclear program and acceptance into the global nuclear order. Any kind of nuclear accord with Saudi Arabia would isolate Pakistan. Thereupon, nuclear cooperation between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia would bring economic as well as social calamity. Hence, a Pak-Saudi nuclear accord under such circumstances seems extremely unlikely to occur. Rather, a narrative has been created to restrict Pakistan’s access to global nuclear cartels such as Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Image: Anadolu Agency, Getty