Washington, Oct. 18: The Bush administration, which has been caught off guard by Pyongyang’s admission of a clandestine nuclear programme, faces more trouble in its path with a chorus here that Pakistan helped North Korea build its bombs.
Robert Einhorn, who was former President Bill Clinton’s assistant secretary of state for non-proliferation, told The Washington Post that “North Korea and Pakistan have been known to engage in sensitive trade, including Pakistan’s purchase of Nodong missiles from North Korea”.
He was referring to Islamabad’s acquisition of North Korean missiles in 1997. The Pakistanis renamed these Nodong missiles as Ghauri and tested them a month before India’s nuclear tests in May 1998.
The Clinton administration imposed sanctions on North Korea’s Changgwang Sinyong Corporation and the Khan Research Laboratories in Pakistan for these missile deals.
Einhorn told the Post yesterday after Pyongyang’s admission became public that “US officials were concerned at the time about what the quid pro quo might be”.
He said of North Korean efforts to get overseas help for gas-centrifuge technology for enriching uranium for nuclear weapons. “Pakistan would be a possibility because it used gas centrifuges and its own nuclear weapons initially used enriched uranium.”
The New York Times quoted unnamed intelligence officials as saying: “What you have here is a perfect meeting of interests — the North had what the Pakistanis needed and the Pakistanis had a way for Kim Jong Il to restart a nuclear programme we had stopped.”
Although embarrassed, Bush administration officials are, as yet, unwilling to discuss Pakistan’s role in arming North Korea with nuclear weapons, they are privately letting opinion circulate that all this happened two years before General Pervez Musharraf, their close ally, took power. But the US, which has a strong non-proliferation lobby within and outside the administration — as India knows after its Pokhran tests — is unlikely to let the issue rest there.
A forceful argument in support of holding Musharraf accountable will be that civilian leaders in Pakistan, be it Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif, had no say in their country’s nuclear programme.
All decisions regarding its programme, including trade in sensitive technologies, were taken by the Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, often without even the knowledge of civilian prime ministers.
The Times today referred to evidence that cooperation between Pakistan and North Korea continued even after the September 11 terrorist attacks against America. Shortly thereafter president George W. Bush named North Korea as part of the “axis of evil” with weapons of mass destruction.
Experts here today recalled that in 1998, a commission on missile proliferation, headed by Donald Rumsfeld, now defence secretary, had concluded that the missiles tested by Pakistan in that year were modified versions of those obtained by Islamabad from Pyongyang.
As a new debate begins here about nuclear issues with the North Korean revelation, a leading academic painted a nightmare scenario of weakened central control of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal as the result of a pro-Islamic coup or outright civil war.
Peter Wilson, a specialist at Rand Corporation and Richard Sokolsky, a Distinguished Research Fellow at the National Defence University, wrote in their study that “in these circumstances, there would be the distinct prospect of Indian military intervention (with possible Israeli assistance) and the prospect of a major regional war in which the use of nuclear weapons could not be precluded”.
Delhi seeks probe
Expressing grave concern, India today urged the international community to investigate the reports, adds our special correspondent in New Delhi.
Delhi said the matter gathers more seriousness as Pakistan has now become the “epicentre” of terrorism. The expose vindicates what India has been saying for the past several years about missile and nuclear proliferation involving Pakistan, officials said.
It also comes at a time when India is planning to move a resolution in the UN First Committee that deals with disarmament on the link between weapons of mass destruction and terrorists.