Pakistan can’t guard its nuclear assets

Friday 4 April 2003, by Khalid HASAN

WASHINGTON: Speakers at a one-day conference on Pakistan on Wednesday found the country economically fragile, home to violent and terrorist movements and insufficiently equipped to guard its nuclear assets or stop them from falling into other hands.

The session on Pakistan was organised at the South Asia Studies department of the Johns Hopkins University and heard Hussain Haqqani from Pakistan, Christopher Jaffrelot from France, Anatol Lieven, a British journalist now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and George Perkovich, also from Carnegie.

Mr Perkovich said Pakistan was faced with a nuclear challenge and there were a number of concerns felt in the West on this issue. The Pakistani state could sell or transfer nuclear technology to others and had probably done so. Pakistan could be taken over by an "irresponsible" leader who could act in unpredictable ways. The state could face long-term decline in which case the custody and safety of nuclear weapons could be in jeopardy. There could be an India-Pakistan war involving nuclear weapons. No other state, he added, posed so many challenges when it came to the nuclear issue than Pakistan.

Mr Perkovich said many of these scenarios were in the "least likely" category, adding that the Pakistan army was a "very responsible" institution. However, its "obsession" with India could destabilise things. If the Pakistani state failed to modernise, the management of nuclear weapons it possessed could pose a challenge. He said transfer of nuclear know-how had occurred. Pakistan, he added, was "adept" at establishing procurement networks for nuclear materials, information it could pass on to states like Iran. He said Iran was very concerned when Pakistan exploded its nuclear bomb in 1998. However, when the Iranian foreign minister visited Pakistan, he went back fully reassured. Mr Perkovich implied that Pakistan had promised Iran what it might require by way of help in its own programme.

Mr Perkovich said that Dr A Q Khan had made 13 trips to North Korea, which could not have been made without the approval of the government. In the 1980s, he added, Dr Khan had been caught with a fake passport in Holland and when questioned had replied that his government wanted him to travel on such a document.

He was released. He also repeated the oft-repeated story that Dr Khan had "stolen" the blueprint of what became Pakistan’s nuclear programme from Holland. When this correspondent pointed out to Mr Perkovich that a Dutch court had held Dr Khan innocent of such a charge, he replied that Dr Khan had "got off on a technical point." Mr Jeffrelot who heads a research institute in Paris pointed out that the undertaking given by President Musharraf in his speech of 12 January 2002 had not been kept. The extremist parties banned had reappeared under different names and the principal figures like Maulana Masood Azhar and Azam Tariq had been freed. He suggested that there was close linkage between the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and Islamic fundamentalist groups whom the ISI had used and was using in Kashmir.

The extremist elements had regrouped with the ISI’s blessings and were "back to business" in Indian-held Kashmir. Some people like Fazlur Rehman Khalil had not been arrested at all. Another figure, Abdul Jabbar who was "very important" to the ISI was now training jihadis in Azad Kashmir, Hafiz Saeed had been freed too and was operating openly. The government was doing little to curb these groups and parties.

He said none of these things could happen without President Musharraf’s permission. He also charged that the President had "struck a deal" with these elements, hence the runaway victories scored by the Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal in two provinces. For the time being, the US was not pressuring Gen. Musharraf to abide by his promises on cracking down on terrorism because of the Afghanistan situation and the situation in the Middle East. Mr Lieven, who was the London Times’ South Asia correspondent and has frequently visited Pakistan, said that Pakistan was vital in the US-led war on terrorism. He said Pakistan had to be "controlled" through a combination of "carrots and sticks". So far, the Bush administration was more in favour of the stick than the carrot. He said any attempt to "neutralise" Pakistan through India would be "exceptionally dangerous" and play into the hands of outfits and forces such as al Qaeda. He said the break-up of Pakistan would be destabilising for the entire region and no state would be able to control a broken up Pakistan. The US should see Pakistan as a "client state" in the foreseeable future and as long as the fundamentalist Islamist threat continued. He also cautioned against throwing money at countries when the US needed them, as if they were "shoeshine boys." He also urged Washington to open its markets to countries like Pakistan in order to strengthen their economies.

Dayli Times

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