NEARLY eight years since China agreed at the very last minute to a Nuclear Suppliers Group waiver for India — a waiver that was the cornerstone of the Indo-US nuclear deal and opened the door to civilian nuclear trade between India and the 48-member cartel — Indian membership once again appears to hang on Chinese consent.

Pakistan, which argues that Indian membership without a similar entry pass to Pakistan would exacerbate military nuclear competition between the two countries, appears to be one of the two basic reasons why China has withheld its support thus far for India’s membership.

The other is the China-India relationship, or rivalry, and how that connects with the US’s relationship with the two countries: growing alignment and cooperation with India; intensifying rivalry with China.

While the scale of the power and ambitions of the US, China and India dwarf anything that Pakistan can realistically aspire to in the medium term, Pakistan’s threat perception from India — rooted in some very real security and military concerns — means that it is intrinsic to the wrangling over Indian NSG membership. But has Pakistan got its strategy right?

Consider the belated attempt by Pakistan to rally some semblance of international support for a criteria-based entry to the NSG rather than the India-specific one the US has pushed and a section of the NSG has been willing to comply with.

The NSG waiver and the possibility of Indian membership have not been universally popular. Within the US strategic community and among many of the countries that the US has coaxed and arm-twisted into complying with the American line, there remains a great deal of unease with the India-specific approach.

Few of those reservations will likely translate into any country championing Pakistan’s inclusion in the NSG, but they did offer an opportunity to reset the rules of the cartel in a way that keeps the door open to eventual Pakistani inclusion — or keep both India and Pakistan out.

Contrast the Indian and American diplomatic push, however, with the seemingly haphazard efforts of Pakistan.

Perhaps the security establishment here is confident that Chinese assent will be withheld. But China’s blocking effort could have been bolstered by separate efforts on Pakistan’s part to lobby potentially sympathetic countries in the NSG.

Yet, those efforts have only been apparent in recent days, after the extraordinary meeting at GHQ attended by the three joint custodians of the Foreign Office.

It is possible to lament the civil-military divide in the country. It is also possible to condemn the increasing dysfunction in the Foreign Office and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s bizarre insistence on not appointing a full-time foreign minister.

But far more dangerous is what the implications for national security are when the state itself is warning of an arms race with India and is increasingly reliant on the relationship with China in the international arena.

The NSG race does not portend well for Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, June 21th, 2016

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