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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and the United States expressed on Tuesday concerns over the ‘nuclear and missile developments’ in South Asia and called for resolution of outstanding disputes between India and Pakistan for lasting peace in the region.

“Both sides recognised their interest in strategic stability and discussed their respective concerns over nuclear and missile developments in South Asia,” a joint statement issued at the end of the eighth round of the Pakistan-US Security, Strategic Stability, and Nonpro­liferation Working Group said.

The meeting of the Working Group, which is a component of bilateral Strategic Dialogue, was co-chaired by Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry and Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller.

Induction of four regiments of BrahMos cruise missiles, and testing of nuclear-capable K-4 Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles and supersonic interceptor missile by India had led to concerns that strategic balance in the region would be disturbed and could set off an arms race. Indian moves to upgrade its military hardware and procure newer systems are further believed to be disturbing the conventional balance.

Pakistan has been expressing concern over the Indo-US nuclear deal that has freed its indigenous fissile material stocks for its weapons programme as manifested by its expanding programme.

The statement noted that Pakistan, in this regard, “expressed concerns on the growing conventional imbalance and reiterated its longstanding proposal for Strategic Restraint Regime (SRR) in South Asia and its readiness to pursue measures in the region aimed at building confidence and avoidance of arms race”.

The Pakistani proposal for Strategic Restraint Regime has been on the table since Oct 1998, but the Indians, who are deeply opposed to a regional mechanism, have always avoided discussions on it.

Experts believe that regional stability, in the absence of such overarching strategic stability architecture, has been tenuous.

In this context, the two sides stressed on peaceful resolution of disputes between India and Pakistan through a meaningful dialogue.

“Both sides emphasised the importance of meaningful dialogue and progress in this area and expressed the hope for lasting peace in South Asia and the resolution of outstanding disputes through peaceful means,” the statement said.

This was implied as US endorsement for Pakistani position that India would have to resolve Kashmir dispute through negotiations.

The US, at the talks, asked Pakistan to lift its hold on Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT), but there was no breakthrough, with the Pakistani delegation firmly sticking to its position on the matter.

Pakistan fears that concluding FMCT in the current form would freeze its existing asymmetries with India and has instead been calling for a more comprehensive Fissile Material Treaty.

“The United States underscored the need to commence negotiations on a treaty dealing with fissile materials for use in nuclear weapons. Pakistan underlined its preference for a broader Fissile Material Treaty (FMT) that addresses the asymmetries in existing stocks and highlighted that its position will be determined by its national security interests and the objectives of strategic stability in South Asia,” the statement said.

Pakistan at the same time assured that it would not be the first to resume nuclear testing and would support the objectives of CTBT, but stayed short of commitment to sign it.

The Pakistani side stressed that it had enough credentials, because of the steps it had taken in the realm of export controls, to gain membership of cartels including the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2016