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Muslims’ Compassion and Tolerance towards other Religions-A Strategic Deficit?

Dr. Muhammad Aslam Khan

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The recorded history of our planet for several thousand years has seen dawn of three major divine religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Each faith showed remarkable progression of individuals’ exclusive penchant for spiritual journey whosoever sought for it at different stages of life and history that belonged to their inner-self.

However all religions stretch across the spectrum of ones life to the domains that are also inclusive of societies. Here lies exactly the juncture when religions became the tools of coercion and exploitive forces, particularly towards minorities. Karen Armstrong aptly captured the thesis hubris when she remarked, “They (leaders) fight with members of other faiths, who seem to challenge their claim to a monopoly of absolute truth; they also persecute their co-religionists…. Very often priests, rabbis, imams and shamans are just as consumed by worldly ambitions as regular politicians. But all this is generally seen as an abuse of a sacred ideal.”

While the West addressed the threatening menace of plunder and persecutions of medieval age in the name of religion by separating Church from State, Muslims were ordained to enforce their religion, revealed as a complete code of life and successfully demonstrated by the last Prophet, Muhammad (peace be upon him:pbuh) and his early companions. Yet all the faiths followers strayed at one stage of the history or the other, particularly during the expanding and contracting phenomenon of empires since 18th Century onwards. The minorities like Christians, Jews and Muslims bore the brunt of massive genocides during action-reaction syndrome when Russian, Ottoman and Hapsburg Empires were contesting Europe-Eurasian arena. The urge of the empires to impose their mythical homogenized cultural, religious and racial order tempted them to commit mass atrocities on their own or captured minorities. By the end of Second World War, millions had perished until Europe-Eurasia emerged from the debris of prolonged but relatively recent conflagration raging since the beginning of the 20th Century. Thereafter the West committed itself to uphold values like respect for human rights, freedom of speech and religious tolerance.

 

Islam, an epitome of these values as well as main contributor to the Western Renaissance, lost the pace. It was the brilliant  charter of Islam that prompted even Mr. Richard Nixon to speak for Muslims when he advised the West, “Just as knowledge from the East helped trigger the ‘Renaissance’ in the West, the time has come for the West to contribute to a renaissance of the Muslim world.” Benevolent essence of Islam fell victim to corrupt political ambitions of its rulers, pushing it to the vortex of crises. Within the design of conduct of international relations, it is a strange paradox that Muslim countries’ governments, friendly towards the Western powers simmer with antagonistic wave despite the latters’ remarkably tolerant policies. Sane people are at loss to comprehend when millions of Muslims draw succor from their fat economies and seeking the Western countries’ citizenship makes a prime nostalgia for them, yet we do not miss any opportunity to target Christain minority in some Muslim countries like Egypt, Nigeria, Iraq, Indonesia and Pakistan. It is also true that Muslims grievances are growing manifold in the wake of rampant regional wars and territorial occupation disputes the world over but among the galaxy of nations, the resolution of the simmering conflicts  has to be sought through means recognised by international laws. During U.S. Vice President Mr. Joe Biden’s recent visit to Pakistan, his emphasis that the West does not grudge Islam which is a fast expanding religion in America, is a precursor to the massive awareness permeating through the West. Even the U.S. is being advised to desist from ideological expansive designs of which she is being suspected by some of her antagonists.

 

On the contrary, Islam that means ‘peace’ has been hijacked by a fraction of radicals and criminals who kill fellow Muslims and minority civilians, women and children, bomb mosques, churches and kidnap people to raise money for sustaining ‘fitna’ that  has won Islam universally several titles like millitant Islam, radical Islam, political Islam and barbarian Islam though it is eternally lustrous and glorious which recognizes no other brand. All titles being attributed to it are  retaliatory symptoms for which, we ourselves are to blame. Qur’an and authentic ‘hadith’ treatises are laden by the holy verses and narrations that exemplify Islam as the religion which herladed peace, grace, dignity, honour and fraternity among its ardent  faithfuls as well as followers of the Abrahamic religions of common ancestry. Holy Quran, being the latest divine revelation to our last Holy Prophet, not only recognizes Bible and Torah but encumbers us, the Muslims, to have faith in them being the divine books, its Prophets and respect their followers.

 

Recent wave of bombing Christians’ churches and their mass celebration of religious rituals has dented the inter-faiths harmony irreparably. Such violence that struck Indonesian, Nigerian, Iraqi, Pakistani and Egyptian Christians at intervals, has become a matter of grave concern, triggering a serious debate not only among Christians but also among (silent) Muslim majority that stands subdued by the specter of becoming hostage to a misled minority of the religious fanatics. It was this feeling that inspired venerable Shiekh of Jamia al-Azhar to condemn instantly the car-bombing of the Coptic Christians’ church at the dawn of new year in the port city of Alexandria in Egypt, terming it as an odious crime. The Church Priest, whom the Shiekh rushed to meet, advised the mourners to stay calm, reminding them that we, the followers of religions of Abraham are brothers and no one could divide us. Egyptian President also condemned the attack. Within days, an Egyptian court sentenced a murderer to death who had killed three Coptic Christians and a policeman during a shoot out a year earlier on January 6, 2010 in southern Egypt. While such sporadic but violent crimes against the civilian citizens of minorities in Muslim world gravely jeopardise the future sustenance of millions of Muslims earning thier bread and butter in the West, some like Dr.Hubertus Hoffmann express anguish, raising convincing questions to challenge such crimes not through the Christian holy scriptures but emphatically through the verses of Holy Quran that are difficult to refute. Referring to the compassion and tolerance towards other faith by our Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), he befittingly mentions about a delegation of the Christians of Najran visiting Medina, when the Prophet lodged them too in the mosque and permitted them to hold their prayers on one side of the mosque with Muslims on the other side. In this mosque, dialogues between Christians and Muslims were conducted with freedom, respect and tolerance. Would it happen today though compliance of Quran and ‘Sunnah’ is mandatory for all of us and any of our acts to the contrary would render us to be the grievous sinners?

 

Dr. Hubertus Hoffmann who is a witness to the miseries wrought on the Muslims of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan(FATA) and even Palestine for decades as collateral losses, always takes the principled stand from high moral ground on these issues, would have ordinarily not waxed, had threat to the faiths were not really colossal. He draws our attention to Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) Charter of Privileges granted to the monks of St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai. It reads “This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far: we are with them. Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day.”

The charter authenticity could never be in doubt and the Prophets’ companions ensured its implementation from all the angles of interpretation even when the Caliph happened to be the victim. Umar ibne al Khatab (may Allah be pleased with him), the second caliph of great virtues and an icon of Islam, after having been fatally stabbed by a minority-assassin did not have any worry except about the possible breach of the Prophet’s pledge, given to the minorities, as a reactionary commotion and revenge seeking craze by the grieved faithfuls. He preempted an ugly situation through a historic personal example. His message for the Caliph-to-be from the death-bed was, “I urge him to take care of those non-Muslims who are under the protection of Allah and His Apostle (pbuh), in that he should observe the convention agreed upon with them and fight on their behalf (to secure their safety) and he should not overtax them beyond their capability” (Sahih al Bukhari, Hadith: 4.287).”

 

It becomes imperative therefore, for the ‘silent majority’ of Muslims to act and compensate for the huge strategic deficit while abiding by true spirit of Islam so that glorious Islam shines the way as it did during the Holy Prophet’s era. We would thus achieve greater inter-faiths and intra-faith harmony among the subjects of the state(s).

(The writer is a member of WSN International Advisory Board and author of a book, “The New Great Game: Oil and Gas Politics in Central Eurasia” by Dr. Makni (his acronym):     makni49@hotmail.com)

Dr. Muhammad Aslam Khan is a retired Brig Gen from Pakistan Army, served 32 years. A veteran of ‘1971 Indo-Pak War’ has been instructor in officers’ Pakistan Military Academy, commanded Divisional as well as Corps Artillery. Holds first class Masters degree in International Relations and PhD degree, acquired in 2002-2007 from University of Peshawar, Pakistan. Authored a book, writes frequently in national and international media. Has attended several seminars and conferences within the country and abroad on invitation. Travelled to Switzerland (twice), UK, US, UAE, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Germany (twice). Cambodia and Thailand. Email: dr.makni49@yahoo.com

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South Asia

Into the Sea: Nepal in International Waters

Sisir Devkota

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A visit to the only dry port of Nepal will immediately captivate busy scenes with hundreds of trucks, some railway carriages and huge Maersk containers at play. Trains from the Port of Kolkata in India carry tons of Nepal’s exports every week. Every year, Nepal is fined millions of rupees for overstaying its containers at the designated dock in Haldiya Port of Kolkata. Nepal pays for spaces inside Indian ships to carry out its exports via the sea. This is the closest Nepal has come in exploiting economic opportunities through sea waters. Prime Minister KP Oli went one step further and presented an idea of steering Nepal’s own fleets in the vast international sea space. While his idea of Nepal affording its own ship was mocked; on the contrary, he was right. The idea is practical but herculean.

To start with, Nepal has a landlocked right to use international waters via a third country for economic purposes only. Law of the Sea conferences held during the 80’s, guarantees Nepal’s right to use the exclusive economic zone all around the globe. Article 69 of the Law of the Sea convention states that Nepal could both use sea as a trading route and exploit the exclusive economic zone of its sea facing neighbors. Nepal’s closest neighbor, India has a wide exclusive economic zone which consists of 7500 km long coastline. The article also allows landlocked nations to use docking facilities of the nearest coastal nation to run its fleets. An exclusive economic zone in sea waters is designated after a coastal nation’s eleven mile parallel water boundary ends; which is also a part of the coastal nations territory. Simply put, Nepali fleets can dock at India’s port, sail eleven miles further into international waters-carry out fishing and other activities, sail back to the Indian coast and transfer its catches back to Nepal.

Floating Challenges

Before ships can carry the triangular flag into sea waters, Nepal will need treaties in place to use coastal nation’s water to take off and build shipment facilities. Law of the Sea convention clearly mentions that the right to use another nation’s coast will depend solely on the will of the hosting coastal nation. Does Nepal have the political will to communicate and forge a comprehensive sea transit agreement with its coastal neighbors? Nepal’s chance of securing fleets in and around the Indian Ocean will depend on whether it can convince nations like India of mutual benefits and cancel any apprehension regarding its security that might be compromised via Nepal’s sea activity. The convention itself is one among the most controversial international agreements where deteriorating marine ecosystems, sovereignty issues and maritime crimes are at its core. Majority of global and environmental problems persist in the high seas; ranging from territorial acquisitions to resource drilling offences. Nepal is welcome into the high seas, but does it comprehend the sensitivity that clouts sea horizons? Nepal needs a diplomatic strategy, but lacking experience, Nepal will need to develop institutional capacities to materialize the oceanic dream. Secondly, the cost of operating such a national project will be dreadfully expensive. Does the Nepali treasury boast finances for a leapfrogging adventure?

How is it possible?

The good news is that many landlocked nations operate in international waters. Switzerland, as an example might not assure the Nepali case, but Ethiopia exercising its sea rights via Djibouti’s port could be inspiring. Before Nepal can start ordering its fleets, it will need to design its own political and diplomatic strategy. Nepal’s best rationale would lie in working together with its neighbors. The South Asian network of nations could finally come into use. Along with Nepal, Bhutan is another landlocked nation where possible alliances await. If India’s coasts are unapproachable, Nepal and Bhutan could vie for Bangladeshi coastlines to experience sea trading. Maldivian and Pakistani waters are geographically and economically inaccessible but Sri Lanka lies deep down the South Asian continent. If Nepal and Bhutan can satisfy Sri Lankan interests, the landlocked union could not only skim through thousands of nautical miles around the Bay of Bengal without entering Indian water space; but also neutralize the hegemonic status of India in the region. If such a multinational agreement can be sought; SAARC- the passive regional body will not only gain political prowess but other areas of regional development will also kickstart.

Most importantly, a transit route (such as the Rohanpur-Singhdabad transit route) from Bangladesh to Nepal and Bhutan will need to be constructed well before ships start running in the Indian Ocean. In doing so, Nepal will not only tranquilize Nepal-Bhutan relations but also exercise leadership role in South Asia. A regional agreement will flourish trade but will also make landlocked Nepal’s agenda of sailing through other regions of international sea strong and plausible. A landlocked union with Bhutan will trim the costs than that of which Nepal will be spending alone. Such regional compliance would also encourage international financial institutions to fund Nepal’s sea project. Apart from political leverages, Nepal’s economy would scale new heights with decreasing price of paramount goods and services. Flourishing exports and increased tourism opportunities would be Nepal’s grandiloquence. Nepal’s main challenge lies in assuring its neighbors on how its idea would be mutually beneficial. Nepal’s work starts here. Nepal needs to put together a cunning diplomatic show.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hug Diplomacy Fails

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s enthusiasm is only to capture power; the same, however, cannot be said of foreign policy administration, especially in dealing with our immediate neighbors, and China. The best examples of his policy paralysis are the way in which demonetization and GSTs are implemented, or his sudden visit to Pakistan in December 2015. He is always in election mode. During the first two years, he was in the humor of a general election victory. Thereafter, he has spent much of his energy in establishing himself as the sole savior of the BJP in state elections, and this year he will turn his attention to the 2019 general elections.

Two years ago, without doing any homework or planning, Modi travelled to Pakistan from Afghanistan to greet his counterpart, the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to wish him well on his birthday. He hugged Sharif and spent only two hours with him to try to sort out the 70 year outstanding divergence between India and Pakistan.

Modi strategically hugs fellow world leaders. He has no strategic perception. He believes only in the power of his personal charisma in dealing with foreign policy matters. This strategy has failed considerably with China and with our other immediate neighbors, but he neither intends to accept these mistakes, nor is he interested in learning from them. More importantly, an alternative diplomatic strategy is necessary to maintain our international position; through prudent policy articulations. Let us examine the impact of his hug diplomacy.

During the 2013/14 general elections campaign he attacked the Congress-led UPA government on multiple fronts, including towards former Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh’s policy on Pakistan. He proposed that the BJP government would have more guts to better deal with Pakistan. Under his administration, we lost numerous soldiers in fighting with Pakistan terrorists, experienced a 100-day shutdown in Kashmir, blindly allowed a Pakistan team to inspect our Pathankot Air Force Station, and generally continued down a visionless path in foreign policy. These indicate that Modi’s defensive and offensive strokes against Pakistan have failed completely, including the most politicized ‘surgical strike’ that did not contain the terrorists from Pakistan. Today, the Modi government is searching for policy directions in handling Pakistan, but sat in a corner like a lame duck.

In the beginning, when he took office, Modi perhaps believed that ‘everything is possible’ in international affairs simply by virtue of occupying the prime minister seat. Further, he thought that all his visits abroad would bring a breakthrough. His hugs with counterparts, various costume changes, and the serving of tea, indicate that our prime minister is using soft power approaches. These approaches were used by our first Prime Minister Nehru whilst India did not have a strong military or economy. However, India is not today what it was in the 1950/60s. Presently, hugging and changing costumes will not necessarily keep India influential in international relations, especially at a time when the world is undergoing multi-polar disorder. However, he is in continuous denial that his paths are wrong, especially in dealing with our neighbors.

What is the BJP led-NDA government policy on Pakistan? Does this government have any policy for Pakistan? Since 2014,Modi has not permitted the Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, to contribute to any foreign policy articulations. As long as Sushma fulfills the duty of Ministry of Indian Overseas Affairs she will receive praise from the prime minister’s office.

During 2015 he met Sharif at his residence in Islamabad to give him a hug. This happened exactly two years ago. Further, this is a very serious question that the Media and Modi-supporting TV channels forgot to raise. Instead, without hesitation, they praised him for touching the sky, and described the moment as a diplomatic initiative for a breakthrough with our neighbor Pakistan. The Media will realize this mistake when their traditional viewers switch over to other channels to get centrist news.

What are the outcomes of Modi hugging Sharif at his residence? The results are terrible. India’s relation with Pakistan touches the lowest ever level in a history of 70 years. The Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed was released from house arrest and has started a political party to contest the general elections in Pakistan next year. This government does not have the guts to put pressure on Pakistan to provide the evidence – as requested by the Pakistan’s Court – essential to keeping the trial alive against Saeed. Modi has often preached that his government succeeded in isolating Pakistan in the international domain. The reality would be as much India diplomatically isolating Pakistan from the international community as the vacuum has been comfortably filled by China without any difficulty. These are the achievements that Modi’s hugs have brought to India.

The stability of Afghanistan is in India’s long-term strategic interest. India’s ‘aid diplomacy’ to Afghanistan in various fields has been increasing day after day, including infrastructure development and the training of Afghan security forces. Yet, India’s influence in Afghanistan is in disarray. Former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said, “India should have its own policy on Afghanistan”. However, Modi’s policy makers in New Delhi are expecting the US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to maintain India’s active and significant role in Afghanistan.

India showed its displeasure during the constitutional crisis in Nepal, in halting energy supply to Kathmandu. This forced the land-locked country to obtain easy support from Beijing. Nepal was once the buffer state between India and China; it is now sitting on China’s lap and steering India. Modi’s mute approach to the Rohingya crisis speculates India’s major power ambition. This is a serious setback to India’s diplomacy: it is now pushing Myanmar to get support from China, along with our neighbor Bangladesh, in resolving the crisis with Rohingya refugees.

The first democratically elected government under Mohamed Nasheed was toppled unconstitutionally in Maldives. Since India has failed to raise any substantial voice against this atrocity, China has jumped onto the scene. New Delhi ought to have designed a policy to resolve the political crisis, but India, the world’s largest democracy, has watched this incident as a movie in the Indian Ocean Theatre. The highlight was the decision of our Prime Minister to skip a visit to the Maldives whilst on his tour of the Indian Ocean islands.

In Sri Lanka, China is designing its future battlefield against India. As the war against LTTE was over, Colombo started travelling in a two-way track, with India and China. Beijing’s love affair, apparently with Colombo, but with an eye on New Delhi, is no secret. Since Modi has allowed these developments without exercising any diplomatic resistance, he has given China a comfortable seat inside Sri Lanka. China has now realised that her weaved network against India can be strengthened easily in the Indian Ocean, because New Delhi only displays silent concern. After Modi took office, India – China relations have remained static. The border talks are on stand still. Beijing holds on to extend a technical hold on Masood Azhar, a UN designated terrorist. The dragon pulls our immediate neighbors to her side. These developments indicate that our foreign policy articulations are not supported by any clear strategic trajectory.

Modi’s diplomacy is like an air balloon which, once torn, cannot be refilled; a new balloon is needed. Hugging a leader does not lead to any commitment in foreign affairs. Personal charisma does not work as a foreign policy tool in dealing with a world power. For this reason, Modi cannot understand the setback he is facing with China, Pakistan, and our other neighbors. In comparison, Vajpayee’s or Dr. Manmohan Singh’s combined simple charisma as leaders or economists with appropriate home-work in the past; has caused tremendous results in foreign policy, including expected results in Indo-US nuclear negotiations. This is completely missing in Modi’s administration.

Hence, the newly elected Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi has said, “Modi’s hug diplomacy fails”. It was a valuable comment that the ruling elite should consider as a meaningful insight. Alternative approaches are vital to regain our neighbors’ trust, as opposed to China’s. However, Prime Minister Modi’s this year of work will be focused on the 2019 general elections, compromising the proper attention due to India’s international diplomacy.

First published in Congress Sandesh

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Potential Consequences of Nuclear Politics in South Asia

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Established in 1948, Indian atomic energy commission turned towards United Kingdom for their first help in the making of Apsara. Subsequently, with a similar vision, the CIRUS reactor was supplied by Canada, where, the heavy water came from the United States.

India, over the years, has built a nuclear program that has led to the making of a number of reactors. India’s 1974 “Peaceful nuclear explosion” implies to their hegemonic ambitions as India has the capacity to produce around 300-400 nuclear weapons. The continuous upgradation of weapons by India could lead her as a hegemon nuclear power that can deeply unsettle Pakistan and China.

Calling into question India’s stated intentions, when it comes to nuclear tests, the plutonium for its 1974 and 1998 tests was diverted from its “civilian” nuclear facilities. After 1974, India continued to claim its explosion was “peaceful” and advocated global nuclear disarmament, even as it rejected proposals by Pakistan to denuclearize South Asia.

From Pokhran-I to Operation Shakti, India has traditionally relied on plutonium and thermonuclear technology. In 1992, the then Chairman of Department of Indian Atomic Energy  acknowledged that India had succeeded in the past for achieving the target of highly enriched uranium, while the centrifuge program was facing critical and technical hindrances. Also, it was admitted by the former Chairman of AEC, Raja Ramanna that India was working to produce more efficient centrifuges which were used for military purposes.  At the peak of all these developments, it is important to note that thermonuclear weapons have far more destructive power than a nuclear bomb.

India may also be considering using its civil power reactors to increase its stock of weapon-grade plutonium. Robert Einhorn, the State Department’s former top nonproliferation official told the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference in March that the officials in the Bush administration had the ambition to sign a nuclear deal with India, to “work together to counter China- to be a counterweight to an emerging China.” He further expressed his views that the nuclear deal had unfortunate repercussions, because other nations concluded that Washington was playing favorites with India.

India is the only country in the region having uranium reserves that are higher than what other countries in the region hold. India has already received roughly 4,914 tons of uranium from France, Russia, and Kazakhstan, and it has agreements with Canada, Mongolia, Argentina, and Namibia for additional shipments. It also signed a uranium deal with Australia that has sparked considerable controversy at home.

This massive production of uranium annually can support its nuclear submarine program and current weapons grade plutonium production rate indirectly. These uranium reserves are enough for approx. 6-10 bombs per year.

Adding a twist to the existing fissile material build-up process, the Indo-US strategic partnership supplemented it. Under this dangerous bargain, it would continue to not only allow India to increase its fissile material but also the capacity to increase the build-up of nuclear weapon material.

Hence, the strategic stability in South Asia has been negatively impacted since the initial stages due to the hegemonic designs which India pursued with the start of CIRUS reactor. With the passage of time, the Indo-US nuclear deal and Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) waiver have already added more repercussions and now the discriminatory move to try to facilitate Indian NSG membership will further erode the strategic stability in South Asia.

Indian NSG membership and its potential exemption has adverse implications on non-proliferation regime. This has allowed India to expand its military program. As a result of 2008 exemption it has signed a number of agreement in nuclear domain with different countries. Interestingly, Mansoor Ahmed states that India has the capacity to utilize the uranium it is importing from these countries to produce more bombs.  The aforementioned reasons sum up India’s keenness to obtain NSG’s membership. This U.S.-backed move to make India a member of the NSG will be good neither for Pakistan nor for China, and it would set off nuclear instability in the region.

While looking at the dynamics of left alone Pakistan since late 1990’s, starting from Indo-US strategic partnership to now this geoploliticising of NSG. Consequently, this shall allow India to use all this a means of making the most optimum use of all its natural uranium stocks for weaponization. To offset the stakes, it might be prudent to have a close check on the international architects of India’s nuclear build-up. The alleged misuse of U.S. and Canadian controlled items by India must be enough to refrain from any cooperation if it is not abiding by group’s guidelines and commodity control list.

Furthermore, the more discriminatory the international nuclear order becomes, the less would be the effectiveness of deterrence and strategic balance in the region. The NSG will have to identify that India’s 1974 nuclear explosive test was the reason that nuclear supplier states established the NSG. It must also emphasize upon its commitment to uphold the principles of the nonproliferation.

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