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China-Pakistan deal raises fears of nuclear proliferation

China’s plan to build two nuclear reactors in Pakistan has prompted concern about nuclear proliferation. The two nations may aim to counter mutual rival India, which signed a nuclear deal with the US last year.

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“These are the most important weapons in the Pakistani arsenal. That is understood by the leadership, and they go to extraordinary efforts to protect and secure them. These are their crown jewels,” HE said.

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Pakistan may have turned to its long-term ally and sponsor China as a result, says Anatol Lieven a Pakistan analyst at the Department of War Studies at King’s College, London.

“Traditionally, the Pakistani establishment has in the back of its mind that it can play China off against the US,” he says.

The deal would double the number of Pakistan’s civilian nuclear reactors, and help it ease an energy shortfall of about 3,000 Megawatts, or 17 percent of demand.

China may be eager to cement an alternative power nexus in the region, and gain one-up on regional rival India according to Christine Fair, a security analyst at Georgetown University.

Pakistan and China have maintained good relations for six decades. In 1951 Pakistan was among the first countries to recognize the People’s Republic of China founded in two years earlier by the Communist party, which still governs China today.

China has steadily supplied arms to Pakistan over the decades – motivated in part to curtail India's power – and is widely believed to have helped develop its nuclear weapons program. It is also the biggest investor in Pakistan’s new Gwadar Deep Sea Port.

At the same time China has avoided the financial commitments to Pakistan that the US has made, most recently in its $7.5 billion aid package. It refused President Zardari’s request for a financial bailout in late 2008. And, despite its military support, China refused to aid Pakistan during its 1999 Kargil conflict with India.

“It benefits China that India and Pakistan are locked into this security complex even though it’s not in their interest that it comes to blows,” Ms. Fair says, adding that China is likely to seek a quid pro quo in terms of commercial opportunities in Pakistan.

US’s loss?

Fair believes the US may have missed a “key opportunity” to forge its own conditions-based nuclear deal, which would give the US greater leverage to force Pakistan to crack down on domestic militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, and mend relations between the two countries. The US has grown frustrated in recent months at Pakistan’s unwillingness to tackle the Haqqani militant group based in its northwestern tribal area of North Waziristan.

A report published this week by the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think-tank, makes a similar case, noting that a US-Pakistan nuclear deal could be “biggest game changer in terms of public perception” in Pakistan.

“That will treat it on par with neighbor India,” the report said. “But at the same time begin to draw it into the safeguards network of the International Atomic Energy Agency and thereby dissuade it from any recidivist tendencies toward proliferation.”

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