Press Room: Interviews

Pakistan Looms as Nuclear Menace

News Max | 06-04-03

Pakistan may become the world's nuclear pariah state, arming volatile Islamic nations such as Saudi Arabia with nuclear technology transfers, and continuing its support of Islamic militancy – if the U.S. fails to use its economic leverage over Pakistan's military strongman Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
This is the warning of Selig S. Harrison, a prominent U.S. Asia expert and the Asia director of the Center for International Policy, in an exclusive interview with NewsMax.

He said it was now common knowledge that Gen. Musharraf helped North Korea with uranium enrichment technology transfers in return for missiles. "The CIA gathered incontrovertible proof that U.S.-supplied C-130 transport planes were used to ship six Nodong missiles from North Korea to the AQ Khan research laboratories in March."

Harrison, who is author of “Korean Endgame,” told NewsMax the missile transfer led to U.S. trade sanctions against the Khan Laboratories and the North Korean Changgwong Corporation.

Harrison added, "The continuing missile transfers are worrisome in the sense that Pakistan in the first place traded uranium enrichment technology as it did not have money to pay for the missiles." He expressed fears Musharraf was maybe passing on the U.S. economic aid moneys for defense purchases.

Harrison called for U.S. nuclear inspections to ensure that Islamabad was meeting non-proliferation standards. "My view is that Pakistan's bomb is not really an Islamic Bomb at this point of time, since the purpose is deterrence against India. But it can become one in two ways: if terrorists in Pakistan get access to the fissile materials in storage and if Saudi Arabia decides it needs a nuclear deterrent against Iran, in which case it would press Pakistan to provide it."

Harrison pointed out that former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia Charles Freeman had gone on record to say the Saudis were concerned about Iran going nuclear, and had been demanding a U.S. nuclear umbrella. "Given the recent U.S.-Saudi tensions because of the Iraq war, the likelihood is Saudi Arabia would distance itself from the U.S. militarily. Pakistan would thus become a more plausible partner for the Saudis," Harrison cautioned.

Harrison also said that Bush needn’t be so grateful and thankful to Pakistan and Musharraf. "There is no need to lionize Musharraf. If the U.S. needs his support to battle Al Qaeda, he needs U.S. support thousands times more for his political survival."

Pakistan has over two dozen missiles with nuclear warheads positioned against India. "These missiles are moved from one place to another for security reasons," a well-informed source, who had access to classified documents, told NewsMax, on condition of anonymity.

In fact, Musharraf is said to have told Gen. Colin Powell in clear terms that nuclear weapons were Pakistan's first option in case India used its right of hot pursuit to follow militants in Kashmir. The nuclear rivals had come eyeball-to-eyeball after a terrorist attack on the Indian parliament a year and a half ago.

Pakistan also fears an Indian-inspired Israeli attack against its nuclear facilities, since New Delhi and Tel Aviv's defense and intelligence relationship has been growing in leaps and bounds for several years now.

Pakistan’s fabled publisher-cum-editor Najam Sethi has argued against the possibility of the country's nuclear button getting into Islamist hands. "The fear of Pakistan's nuclear weapons getting into the hands of fundamentalists is totally misplaced," Sethi told this correspondent from Lahore, capital of Pakistan’s largest Punjab province – a bastion of the country’s soldiers.

"First, General Musharraf has made attempts to purge the Pakistan army of avowed religious hard-liners. Second, the Pakistan army high command will never let politicians of any shade, especially religious ones, get anywhere near the country's nuclear assets," Sethi explained.

He added "Even politicians like ex-prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were not allowed into nuclear facilities, let alone take decisions regarding nuclear weapons that were opposed to the army's point of view."

Both Bhutto and Sharif are living in exile, and the Pakistani administration under Musharraf’s order had succeeded in minimizing their party’s influence on the nation’s politics. Most election results are state tailored, under the army’s watchful eyes.

Sethi pointed out that both the army and their long-term fundamentalist allies have learned certain bitter lessons from the U.S. war in Iraq. "Everyone in the country, including the army and the fundamentalists, knows that the U.S. would use every element of its power to stop Pakistan in its tracks if evidence of any nuclear proliferation were at hand. After the demonstration of U.S. resolve in Iraq, this too can be ruled out."

Sethi however admitted that the army had rigged the elections last year to make room for fundamentalist parties in the political life of the country, but said the country’s soldiers would never allow them to call the shots in the South Asian nations politics. "Although the army rigged the electoral scene to facilitate the entry of the religious parties into the system in order to offset the strength of the two main political parties, led by ousted premiers Bhutto and Sharif, it will never allow them to acquire sufficient strength to form the federal government on their own even if, and it is big IF, the electorate were to try and vote them into power."

Pakistan has in the past seen at least two fundamentalist generals rising to head the country’s premier quasi military Inter Services Intelligence – Generals Hamid Gul and Javed Nasir – and the former had ambitiously eyed becoming the country’s president and blames U.S. for coming the way of his dreams.

Sethi said, "The Pakistan army jealously controls the nuclear program and won’t let anyone near it." He however conceded that an army chief with fundamentalist passions may one day come to head the country’s military, pointing that Gul and Nasir did make it to the highly sensitive post of leading the ISI.

"The only fear is that a "sleeping" or "born again" fundamentalist might one day become army chief owing to a combination of luck and circumstances. In that event, the country's nuclear program would be deemed to have “fallen into the wrong hands," Sethi acknowledged.

"But the chances of that happening are not high, given the way the system of promotions in the army runs," he concluded.


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