THE decision by Australia's ruling party to lift the country's ban on exporting uranium to India raises questions, once again, about the international treatment of Pakistan when it comes to peaceful nuclear technology. It's true that Pakistan is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Neither is India, however, and its landmark 2008 civil nuclear cooperation deal with the US set a precedent in which a signatory to the agreement was willing to do business with a country that is not. Australia's prime minister also used this as justification when she argued for the economic and geopolitical benefits to her country, the world's largest uranium producer, of making an exception for India. With other agreements with France, Russia and Canada, along with a number of other countries, India has firmly been brought into the fold when it comes to the global transfer of nuclear fuel and equipment for peaceful purposes.
Meanwhile, Pakistan is struggling with an energy crisis that has dragged down GDP growth and become a source of ongoing frustration for citizens. And as the world signs agreements with India, Pakistan does have concerns that providing new nuclear resources will allow that country to divert existing resources towards weapons development. Whether or not these fears are well-founded, they are serious enough to raise tensions and even lead to the resurgence of a nuclear arms race in the region. Pakistan's history of nuclear proliferation cannot be denied, and to secure any deal the country must, of course, agree to stringent conditions. Facilities using imported material must be fully accessible by the International Atomic Energy Agency. There is already precedent for this in the Pakistani facilities that are currently under IAEA safeguards and are heavily monitored. There must also be an assurance that the imported material will not be passed on to any other nation. But bringing India into the nuclear fold while continuing to treat Pakistan as a pariah because of past mistakes denies the reality that an even-handed approach would be a better recipe for stability in both Pakistan and the wider region of South Asia.