US talking civilian nuke deal with Pak ahead of Nawaz Sharif’s visit

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The United States is exploring a civilian nuclear deal with Pakistan. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is to visit Washington later this month. Citing a sole source familiar with the talks, said Islamabad, has been asked to consider certain “brackets” relating to the deal. Brackets, in diplomatic parlance, are alternative formulations negotiated towards an eventual agreement.

The deal is similar to the one the US arrived at with India, in exchange for a Pakistani commitment that would “restrict its nuclear programme to weapons and delivery systems against India’s nuclear threat”.

Pakistan might agree, not to deploy missiles capable of reaching beyond a certain range, the source indicated. The US might support an eventual waiver for Pakistan by the 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

The Obama administration said it was in “regular contact” with Pakistan on “several issues” before Sharif’s visit on October 22.

Successive US administrations have knocked down the idea of a deal for Pakistan like the one Washington arrived at with India, saying the background and circumstances surrounding the US-India civilian nuclear pact was different.

There is another problem about Pakistan in Washington’s official circles. Many recall Pakistan’s role during the Cold War when it offered services for a price—nuclear non-proliferation roadblocks.

In recent months, Pakistan has tried to project itself as a responsible nuclear power, although some of its politicians and generals speak about the N-factor to assure themselves and their constituents. “We are a nuclear-armed country and we know how to defend ourselves,” Pakistan’s NSA Sartaj Aziz had said recently.

While a few regional experts have floated the idea of a nuclear deal for Pakistan in the past, most analysts are aghast at the prospect. It will be “sheer madness”, said Sumit Ganguly, a South Asia scholar at Indiana University.

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