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U.S. Is Urged to Seek S. Asia Arms Curbs : Senate Report Calls for Return to Goal of Nuclear-Free Zone

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Times Staff Writer

Restoration of peace in Afghanistan should return the question of control of nuclear weapons to the top of U.S. policy objectives in South Asia, a Senate Foreign Relations Committee aide said in a report released Sunday.

For more than a quarter century, Washington sought, with only limited success, to halt the development of nuclear arms by India and Pakistan, the report said. But in the 1980s, the Afghanistan conflict increasingly dominated U.S. strategy for the region, and the need to supply anti-Communist rebels in Afghanistan took precedence over concerns about nuclear weapons.

“The 1979 Soviet invasion changed American perspectives on South Asia; it transformed the region from a backwater for U.S. policy to the front line of confrontation with the Soviet Union,” said the report by Peter W. Galbraith, who traveled extensively throughout the region earlier this year.

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Even if peace in Afghanistan makes it possible for Washington to return to its prewar policy, Galbraith maintains, a regional agreement including China would now be needed to achieve the goal of a nuclear-free South Asia. Pakistan might renounce its nuclear weapons aspirations in exchange for a “no nuke” pledge from New Delhi, the report said, but India views China as a greater threat to its security.

It said that, according to this view, Beijing must participate in any non-proliferation treaty. Prestige, as well as security, is involved because India regards itself as China’s peer and would resist any condition that did not also apply to Beijing.

When Pakistan emerged as the main channel for arms aid to Afghan guerrillas fighting the Soviet-backed Kabul regime in late 1979, congressional limits on economic and military aid intended to control Pakistani nuclear efforts virtually disappeared. The administration of then-President Jimmy Carter and later the Reagan Administration instituted policies that kept guerrilla aid flowing.

Although Congress largely acquiesced, a 1984 Senate amendment required an annual certification by President Reagan that Pakistan “does not possess a nuclear explosive device.” The late President Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan, according to the committee study, gave Reagan a commitment in December, 1984, that the Islamabad government would not enrich uranium above 5% at its Kahuta plant, the single Pakistani nuclear works capable of doing so. Weapons grade uranium must be enriched to at least 93%.

Leverage Weaker in India

U.S. leverage in India has been weaker, Galbraith said, because Washington’s once extensive aid program to New Delhi has tapered off. He cited the existence of six Indian nuclear plants capable of producing fissionable material in contrast to Pakistan’s Kahuta plant and one small experimental plant. Four of the older Indian installations are subject to international safeguards.

Two newer Indian plants are free of restrictions, and the Senate report estimated that India could produce 12 to 18 small nuclear bombs a year compared to 1 to 3 by Pakistan.

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Although Pakistan once pursued nuclear capability so zealously that its agents were arrested for attempted theft of U.S. technology, Galbraith reported that anti-nuclear opinion is growing in Pakistan. He noted that Benazir Bhutto, daughter of the late Pakistani prime minister who launched the weapons program, is now campaigning against the government party on an anti-nuclear plank.

Galbraith said that Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi--whose mother, the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, initiated the Indian drive for a bomb--opposes the program’s continuation. Gandhi, in an interview, was said to have welcomed a plan for each country to submit to inspection one of its nuclear facilities not presently covered by international safeguards.

But Galbraith warned that “India is unwilling to accept any comprehensive nuclear arrangements limited to the Indian subcontinent.” He suggested that a broader agreement to bar nuclear weapons from western China and Tibet and the Indian Ocean as well as the subcontinent might be hard to sell to Beijing, which now sees less danger from New Delhi than from the superpowers.

The United States has resisted earlier proposals for banning strategic nuclear weapons in the Indian Ocean, but Galbraith pointed out that the deployment of the Trident 2 missile eliminates the need for U.S. submarines to be stationed there to reach targets in the center of the Soviet Union.

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