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Pervez the proliferator

G. Parthasarathy

While the US may find it expedient to slur over Pakistan's nuclear and missile connections with North Korea, neither India nor the US can afford to ignore the long-term implications of missile and nuclear proliferation in India's neighbourhood, says G. Parthasarathy.

THE US President, Mr George Bush, described North Korea, not too long ago, as a part and parcel of an "axis of evil". American intelligence officials have now concluded that Gen Colin Powell's favourite dictator and "key ally" in Mr Bush's "war against terrorism", Gen Pervez Musharraf has played a lead role in providing North Korea with critical components for its clandestine nuclear weapons programme. Not surprisingly, the Bush administration is sparing no effort to see that it is not required to implement American laws that necessitate it to impose sanctions on Pakistan.

After speaking to Gen Pervez Musharraf, Gen Colin Powell now says that his good friend has assured him that there will be no transfer of such capabilities to North Korea by Pakistan. In so glibly accepting this assurance, Gen Powell conveniently ignores the fact that only a few months ago Gen Musharraf had assured him that he would "permanently end" all infiltration across the Line of Control — a promise that he obviously does not intend to fulfil.

The US has a track record of feigning amnesia in dealing with nuclear or missile proliferation by it friends such as Pakistan and China. When the Reagan administration needed Pakistan's assistance to force the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan, President Zia-ul-Haq sent his highly capable Chief of Staff, Gen K.M. Arif, to tell Washington that Pakistan's support would be forthcoming only if no queries were raised about its nuclear weapons programme. The Reagan administration duly obliged. For nearly a decade Washington turned a Nelson's eye to Pakistan's moves to acquire nuclear weapons capability and build a nuclear arsenal with Chinese assistance.

Similarly, when China supplied M 11, and medium-range M 9 missiles to Pakistan, the Clinton administration claimed that as it had not been able to conclusively determine such supplies were taking place, it would not implement American laws requiring sanctions against both China and Pakistan. Gen Powell will, no doubt, find equally convoluted reasons for avoiding sanctions required to be imposed on Pakistan by the US law.

While the US may find it expedient to slur over Pakistan's nuclear and missile connections with North Korea, neither India nor the US can afford to ignore the long-term implications of missile and nuclear proliferation in India's neighbourhood.

There is now ample evidence to establish that not only did China provide nuclear weapon designs to Pakistan in the 1980s, but it also augmented and sustained Pakistan's nuclear-enrichment facilities by the supply of critical components such as ring magnets more recently. Less than two years after Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's visit to China, in December 1988, China commenced supply of nuclear-capable M 11 missiles to Pakistan.

It has assisted Pakistan not only by supplying missile components, but also by establishing a missile production unit described as the National Development Complex at Fatehjang in Punjab province. This complex produces the M 9 missiles with a range of around 750 km (christened "Shaheen I" by the Pakistanis) and the intermediate range M 18 missiles (Shaheen II). China has, thus, given Pakistan the delivery systems for missiles that can target most population centres in India. These are realities that cannot be ignored by India in dealing with China.

Pakistan's missile collaboration with North Korea started in the 1990s, when Ms Benazir Bhutto made a secret visit to Pyongyang. Pakistan's nuclear scientist, Dr A.Q. Khan, also visited Pyongyang on a number of occasions. It is now evident that the two sides agreed that in return for North Korea's supply of its nuclear-capable 1200-km range "Nodong" missile, Pakistan would provide the equipment and know-how for Pyongyang to develop gas centrifuge facilities to produce weapons grade enriched uranium. It is inconceivable that such an agreement could have been arrived at between two close allies of China without Beijing's knowledge and approval.

This deal enabled North Korea to go ahead with a nuclear weapons programme, even while pretending to adhere to conditions set by the US and Japan not to develop nuclear weapons capabilities, and subject its plutonium producing facilities to international inspections. There are reports indicating that the nuclear-missile trade between Islamabad and Pyongyang is routed across the Karakoram Highway through China.

In these circumstances, queries do arise about whether there are any other parts of the world to which the China-Pakistan missile/nuclear collaboration extends.

Even when Beijing and Riyadh did not have diplomatic relations, China supplied Saudi Arabia with intermediate range (2000 km) CSS 2 ballistic missiles in the mid-1980s. Unlike in the 1980s, China today needs oil supplies from West Asia. Saudi Arabia is the logical source. At the same time, the otherwise tight-fisted Saudis, who prefer to spend their surplus money in spreading Wahabi extremism rather than financing economic development, have been more than generous in their economic assistance to Pakistan. It was Saudi Arabia that bailed out Pakistan, when its economy was on the verge of collapse following its May 1998 nuclear weapons tests, with supplies of oil at highly concessional credit terms.

Even today the Saudis play a high profile political role in Pakistan. Interestingly, while Pakistani troops were stationed in Saudi Arabia to protect its monarchy with American blessings in the 1980s, the Saudis terminated this arrangement because of, amongst other reasons, the presence of Shias in Pakistan army units.

But what raised eyebrows, and diplomatic observers worldwide noted, was that apart from the Chinese and North Koreans, the only foreigners permitted into Pakistan's nuclear enrichment complex at Kahuta have been the Saudis. Crown Prince Abdullah was an honoured guest at Kahuta during his visit to Pakistan in 1998. Given what has transpired in the Pakistan-North Korean nuclear/missile relationship it would be essential for India and the international community to keep a watchful eye on, and monitor, any Pakistani transfers of nuclear weapons capabilities to Saudi Arabia — capabilities that can be mated to the Chinese CSS 2 missiles or American F 15 warplanes.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto did after all justify Pakistan's quest for nuclear weapons by referring to the fact that no Islamic country possessed the bomb.

The American reaction to the Pakistan-North Korean missile/nuclear nexus only confirms that Washington is not going to cool its support for its favourite general in Islamabad, whatever his transgressions of democratic norms, or non-proliferation guidelines.

This is no different from how the Reagan administration dealt with Zia. Gen Musharraf knows this and has, therefore, not complied with repeated requests from Mr Bush to end cross-border terrorism. The Pakistani media is elated at the manner in which New Delhi has withdrawn its forces from the international border.

Islamabad has evidently concluded that if New Delhi was not prepared to take hard measures even after the attack on its Parliament, and the Kaluchak massacre, it is incapable of translating its brave words, and posturing, into deeds.

One hopes that we have learnt some lessons about the limits of American understanding of our concerns about Pakistan-sponsored terrorism by our recent experiences.

The US does seek a long-term strategic partnership with India. We need to conduct our diplomacy with Pakistan, and the international community, in an imaginative, proactive, and aggressive manner in the coming months. But nations that expect others to pull their chestnuts out of the fire will never be respected, or taken seriously, by the international community.

(The author is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan)

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