“Who am I to interfere with what goes on between the United States and Pakistan? That’s a matter for these two countries to consider,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh responded in April 2010. He had been asked, in a Washington press conference, whether India objected to Pakistan and the U.S. reaching a deal on civil nuclear cooperation. The same logic should now apply to reports that China is planning to supply two additional safeguarded nuclear reactors to Pakistan. For those who still look at the region through ‘hyphenated’ lenses, what is good for Pakistan must necessarily be bad for India. But the reality is not so Manichean. The rules of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, of which China is a member, prohibit reactor sales to countries that do not have full-scope safeguards. By claiming its proposed export of the Chashma-3 and 4 pressurised water reactors forms part of an earlier agreement with Pakistan that predates its membership of the NSG, Beijing denies the sale would violate the guidelines of the 46-nation cartel. Other NSG members dispute that, pointing to China’s 2004 declaration limiting its ‘grandfathering’ obligations to just the equipment and fuel for Chashma-1 and 2. How this dispute is settled depends on the balance of power within the cartel. India is not a member, and its response should be guided not by non-proliferation theology or anti-Pakistani prejudice but by a careful assessment of what impact the two additional safeguarded reactors would have on Pakistan’s strategic programme. The answer is: not a lot.
Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal consists mainly of weapons manufactured from highly enriched uranium produced by centrifuges at Kahuta. The unsafeguarded Khushab pressurised heavy water reactor offers additionality along the plutonium route. Since all the current and future PWRs at Chashma will be under IAEA safeguards, there is no fear of any leakage from there to a weapons programme. One could, of course, argue that new reactors indirectly boost the weapons programme by freeing up uranium for exclusive military use. But this argument is true for the external supply of any power source, nuclear or conventional. Chashma-3 and 4 may allow Pakistan to forgo the need to produce electricity from any future reactor it builds and allow it to be run in weapons mode. But an imported coal-fired thermal station would allow the same degree of fungibility. In short, there is no need for India to lose sleep over Chashma. If it is worried about Pakistan’s growing stocks of bomb-making material, it should push for the conclusion of a verifiable Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty on a priority basis. Agitating against the sale makes no sense from a diplomatic or strategic point of view.