ASIA : U.S.-Pakistani Ties Unravel Over A-Arms, Terrorism Issue


When the Cold War was iciest, Pakistan “agreed to play America’s game,” a senior Pakistani official explained here recently.

The game was partly cloak and dagger. In the late 1950s, the United States secretly based spy planes in western Pakistan, including the famed U-2 shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960 with pilot Francis Gary Powers.

Since Pakistan was allowed to fly over then-closed China in 1966, Americans coated the bottom of Pakistani civilian aircraft with special paint and told the pilots where to fly, the official said. The secret substance “reacted to fissionable material” as it passed over nuclear facilities, he said, and thus helped gauge Beijing’s nuzclear-weapons status.


Henry Kissinger left from Pakistan on his first clandestine trip to Beijing in July, 1971, opening that long-shut door. And after Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the United States funneled more than $5 billion through Pakistan to train and arm anti-Communist moujahedeen rebels.

“Pakistan has always gone wholeheartedly on the side of America,” said the intelligence official, who spoke in a rare interview and asked not to be named.

But the game has changed since the end of the Cold War. Today, Islamabad and Washington are engaged in an odd diplomatic dance over Pakistan’s own nuclear program and its alleged support for international terrorism. Relations between the two longtime allies have never been so strained.

In October, 1990, after the Soviets had pulled out of Afghanistan, then-President George Bush failed to certify to Congress that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear device. Under the Pressler Amendment, that meant all economic and military aid to Pakistan, one of the top recipients, was cut.

Pakistan’s navy and air force, which includes F-16s and other sophisticated U.S. hardware, have been seriously degraded by a lack of spare parts since the aid ban, officials here concede. But a weaker conventional force, they argue, makes the military more likely to use nuclear arms in a war, not less.

And in January, Washington placed Pakistan on a terrorist watch list. At issue was Islamabad’s alleged supply of arms and training to Muslim guerrillas fighting India in the disputed Himalayan state of Kashmir, as well as support for militant Sikh separatists in the Indian state of Punjab.

President Clinton has given Islamabad six months to rebut the allegations. If it can’t, Pakistan conceivably could be named a state sponsoring terrorism and be given the same pariah rank as Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, North Korea and Cuba.


“Pakistan is not that kind of country at all,” complained Abdul Basit Haqqani, secretary for the United States and Europe in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “What exactly is Pakistan being accused of? At best, it is accused of providing material support, weapons and training. . . . Which is exactly what we and the U.S. were doing in Afghanistan.”

Sympathetic U.S. diplomats say Pakistan remains an important ally in a strategic, dangerous part of the world. They see the Muslim nation and struggling democracy as a moderating influence on fundamentalist Islamic states--and arguably the most pro-Western government between Thailand and Israel.

Some diplomats fear pushing Islamabad too hard may encourage it to deal more with hard-line governments. “They have the potential . . . of sharing nuclear technology,” said one.

Those concerns explain why Washington and Islamabad have begun a high-level series of diplomatic and military visits that seem to defy the dire warnings and threats.

This week, for example, Nisar Ali Khan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s chief political adviser, met with Secretary of State Warren Christopher in Washington. While Ali Khan called the talks “very useful,” the State Department said in a statement that the Administration remains “concerned with continuing reports of Pakistani support for militant groups engaged in terrorism in India. We are keeping the situation under review.”