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Despite Khan, Military Ties With Pakistan to Grow

Karen Yourish Roston and Delano D'Souza


President George W. Bush has lifted all sanctions against Pakistan and will designate the country a “major non-NATO ally”—an elite status that entitles recipients to preferential treatment in military-military operations. The two policy shifts come on the heels of February disclosures that A.Q. Khan, the father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb, had for years been providing nuclear weapons technology to Iran, Pakistan, and North Korea.

Secretary of State Colin Powell announced Bush’s intent to designate Pakistan a major non-NATO ally on March 18, following a meeting with Pakistani Foreign Minister Kursheed Mehmood Kasuri in Islamabad. He said the move will facilitate cooperation between the United States and Pakistan in the war against terrorism.

The trip offered little insight into whether top Pakistani government and military officials were aware of or even involved in Khan’s network. Powell told reporters after a meeting with Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf that he received some new information about the network during the discussion but that he wanted to “reflect on what he said to me and discuss it with some of my other colleagues back in Washington” before commenting on specifics.

During a March 30 hearing of the House International Relations Committee, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton addressed the issue. “Based on the information we have now, we believe that the proliferation activities that Mr. Khan confessed to recently...were activities that he was carrying on without the approval of the top levels of the government of Pakistan.”
Bolton did say, however, that he is certain that some government officials did participate in and benefit from Khan’s network.

The administration says the decision to bestow “non-NATO ally” status on Pakistan underscores the importance of the country’s role in the war against international terrorism, particularly in the continuing fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban. With the designation, Pakistan will join an exclusive club of nations, including Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, New Zealand, South Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines. Major non-NATO allies are given greater access to U.S. defense equipment and supplies and are allowed to participate in cooperative research and development programs with the United States.

Further cementing U.S.-Pakistani relations, Bush said March 24 that he is lifting all remaining sanctions imposed in 1999 after Musharraf seized power in a coup, although most of these had already been waived or eliminated during the past five years. Bush said the action would “facilitate the transition to democratic rule in Pakistan and is important to United States efforts to respond to, deter, or prevent acts of international terrorism.”

Not surprisingly, the news of Pakistan’s new status is not sitting well with the Indian government. Although relations between the two countries have been improving—a series of peace talks are scheduled over the next few months—India has long accused Pakistan of fomenting cross-border terrorism, and the two countries are locked in a strategic battle over Kashmir. The tit for tat continued, with Pakistan testing its Shaheen II intermediate-range ballistic missile on March 9 and India testing its Trident short-range surface-to-air missile at month’s end.

Following Powell’s announcement, Navtej Sarna, a spokesperson for Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, noted that “it is disappointing that [Powell] did not share with us this decision” when he was in India two days before he made the statement in Islamabad. “We are studying the details of this decision, which has significant implications for India-U.S. relations,” Sarna stated.

India goes to the polls from April 20 to May 10 in an election that is expected to keep the Vajpayee coalition government in power. Still, Indian officials worry that the U.S. decision to grant Pakistan special military status could affect Vajpayee’s position in the upcoming election. Anand Sharma, spokesperson for India’s main opposition Congress Party, has called the U.S. decision a “public repudiation” for New Delhi.

The United States is trying to dispel Indian government concerns over its decision to grant Pakistan major non-NATO ally status. During questioning from reporters March 22, White House spokesperson Scott McClellan said the United States has “made it clear that we’re willing to explore the same possibility of similar cooperation with India.”