THE NEW YORK TIMES, EDITORIAL
Pakistan's Nuclear Commerce
Published: December 23, 2003
The United States has again been given good reason to wonder whether Pakistan is the trustworthy ally it claims to be. Fresh evidence indicates that it has sold nuclear-weapons secrets to Iran, North Korea and perhaps other countries over the years. Pakistan's military ruler, , insists that he stopped such sales after seizing power four years ago. Yet just last year, American spy satellites detected a Pakistani plane picking up North Korean missile parts thought to be part of a swap for Pakistani nuclear technology. The Bush administration must demand stronger controls over Pakistan's nuclear labs, which seem to have been central to the transfers.
General Musharraf, who narrowly escaped assassination last week, is a key to American policy in south-central Asia. The general supported America's war in Afghanistan and has helped arrest Al Qaeda fugitives in Pakistan. Yet it is not clear how fully he shares American objectives on fighting nuclear proliferation and international terrorism.
During the 1980's and 90's, Pakistan, although closely allied with Washington, was virtually a rogue state. It shared nuclear bomb technology with Iran and North Korea, sponsored terrorism in Indian-ruled Kashmir and backed the Taliban government that sheltered Osama bin Laden. General Musharraf has changed some of these policies. But Washington must pressure him to do more.
The latest evidence on nuclear exports came to light when Iran recently shared with international regulators information about its nuclear suppliers. Earlier this year, international inspectors found uranium enrichment centrifuges in Iran that were identical to early Pakistani designs. The technology trail points to Pakistan's A. Q. Khan Research Laboratories, and several of its leading scientists have now been questioned. Three years ago, at Washington's urging, General Musharraf removed Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's own nuclear weapons program, as the laboratories' director. It is possible that nuclear technology exports continued, as the intercepted North Korean missile shipment suggests. The laboratories have allies in Pakistan's army and its powerful military intelligence agency. To ensure that nuclear exports are truly halted, General Musharraf must tighten government control over the laboratories.
Washington should demand changes in other policies as well. General Musharraf's undermining of mainstream opposition parties has helped strengthen the Islamic parties that now rule areas along the Afghan border where Taliban recruiters openly operate. Containing Islamic extremism in Pakistan requires allowing mainstream opposition parties to function freely.
General Musharraf is again pledging to stop terrorists crossing into Indian-controlled Kashmir. Such vows are easily made in December, when infiltration routes are blocked with snow. An effective crackdown requires reining in army leaders who use the Kashmir issue to win higher military budgets than Pakistan can afford and local commanders who wink at border-crossing militants.
The Bush administration, which sees General Musharraf as a valuable ally against terrorism, has not pressured him to restore democracy. Betting American security on one man in a troubled country of 150 million is risky. A wiser course would be to hold General Musharraf to all of his promises, on nuclear exports, terrorist infiltration and restoring democracy.