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WASHINGTON: A key US Senator, Ed Markey, has warned that enabling India to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) would cause a “never-ending” nuclear race in South Asia.

The NSG is a multinational body, which seeks to reduce nuclear proliferation by monitoring the export, re-transfer and protection of sensitive materials.

“What you are doing is creating an action-reaction that is leading to a never-ending escalation cycle that ultimately leads to development of nuclear weapons including battlefield nuclear weapons,” Senator Markey warned US Assistant Secretary for South Asia Nisha Biswal.

At a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on US-India Relations on Tuesday evening, Senator Markey reminded the US official that the Obama administration’s policy of helping India join NSG was a dangerous and unnecessary.

“Making these exemptions further infuriates Pakistan into further expanding its nuclear capacity. It is a very dangerous long-term trend, especially when we are so concerned on the spectre of nuclear weapons falling in the hands of non-state actors,” he said.

Since 2010, the US administration has been actively supporting India’s efforts to NSG.

“If India gained the membership of NSG then it would be the only participating government that was not a member of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). Despite lack of consensus in the NSG on India’s membership, the Obama administration is forcefully pressing for a vote in the coming months,” Senator Markey noted.

He said that the US had repeatedly carved out exemptions for India, starting with the sale of uranium in 1980, which was in 2008 through US-India nuclear deal that did not require full scope safeguards.

“Today we are not only granting India an exemption from global non-proliferation rules but instead we are working to include India in the body that decides on those rules,” he said.

Assistant Secretary Biswal said that President Obama had reaffirmed that India met the criteria and was ready to join the NSG and it also had harmonised its export control with the NSG and has adhered to the group’s guidelines.

Senator Markey disagreed, pointing out that India was not in compliance of the membership rules.

In our engagement with the NSG we have made the case that our considered view is that India has met the requirements for entry into NSG,” Ms Biswal said. “I will consult with my colleagues for a more technical response.”

“I don’t think any clear reading of the NSG rules can lead to that logical conclusion. I will be honest on that,” Senator Markey responded.

He noted that since 2008, when the US gave India an exemption, it has continued to produce fissile material for its nuclear weapons program “virtually unchecked.”

“At that time Pakistan warned us that the deal would increase the chances of the nuclear arms race in South Asia. It is clear that since then Pakistan has developed battlefield nuclear weapons that could be given to frontline Commanders and there is a likelihood of the use,” the senator added.

“In your view how would granting a state specific exemption would affect Pakistan’s nuclear choices. Would it complicate efforts to refrain Pakistan from undertaking further destabilising efforts such as the battlefield nuclear weapons?” he asked.

“Is there a relationship between what we do with India such as granting them exemptions from the rules and how we deal with Pakistan in restraining them from making certain choices?”

“We have distinct and robust dialogues with both countries and address interests of both countries on their respective merit,” Assistant Secretary Nisha Biswal said.

Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2016