In Pakistan, U.S. Embraces Friend of a Foe - By Howard W. French Back   Home  
The Bush administration has embraced this country as one of its most important allies in its campaign against terror. But like nowhere else, South Asia highlights just how murky the world of friends and enemies has become since Sept. 11.

Not far from here, hidden in the distance beyond the mud huts of peasants and the smoke of old brick kilns, hundreds of Pakistani scientists are laboring to design nuclear missiles. For reasons of prestige, Pakistan regards the weapons designers at the plant, known as the Kahuta Khan Research Laboratories, as national heroes. Indeed, Pakistan erects statues around the country in honor of its first ballistic missile, the Ghauri I.

But international arms experts, diplomats and retired senior Pakistani officers say that in fact Pakistan obtained most of its present missile ability directly from North Korea, a charter member of President Bush's "axis of evil."

"The Ghauri 1 is definitely a North Korean missile, made, manufactured and assembled there, although some were assembled in Pakistan," said Joseph S. Bermudez, a ballistic weapons expert who has written extensively on the North Korean missile program.

"The Clinton administration made significant efforts to block this cooperation," he said, "but the Pakistani leadership perceived a serious threat from India, and needed to match its neighbors quickly."

Not only has Pakistan cooperated closely on its nuclear and missile programs with North Korea, experts say, but also with Iran and Syria, countries that the Bush administration said this week could someday put weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists.

The possibility of weapons of mass destruction from Pakistan falling into the hands of Islamic extremists remains a worrisome concern, as does the risk of a nuclear conflagration with India.

Today, Pakistan and India once again stand at the brink of war over Kashmir, a border region they both claim, and there are widespread fears that an all-out conflict could lead to an exchange of nuclear strikes between the countries.

Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, director of the Kahuta plant and the man regarded by many Pakistanis as the father of the country's nuclear and missile programs, boasted in an interview that Pakistan has developed two kinds of nuclear arms.

"One is a smaller weapon that can be delivered by an aircraft," he said. "The other is bigger. One of the bombs that was tested can easily be deployed on our Ghauri missile."

During Pakistan's last confrontation with India over Kashmir, American intelligence agencies found "disturbing evidence that the Pakistanis were preparing their nuclear arsenals for possible deployment," according to a recent paper by Bruce O. Riedel, a former member of the Clinton administration's National Security Council.

The spur for much of Pakistan's weapons programs has come from its rivalry with India and has borrowed heavily on the designs of others, from its traditional former ally, the Soviet Union, to an old American missile system it has reportedly copied, the Scout.

In 1998, India abandoned decades of official ambiguity over its nuclear weapons program, exploding three nuclear devices in its first test detonations in over 23 years. Scarcely three weeks later, Pakistan conducted its first three nuclear tests.

"India's first nuclear test in 1974 made weapons development an organizing fact of life on the subcontinent," said Talat Massood, a retired Pakistani general. "We had to develop nuclear bombs, and then, the systems to weaponize them.

"Through means both overt and covert we began picking up capabilities, and may have relied on the North Koreans for about 10 percent of our program. By now, though, we have become quite independent."

Experts differ on just how independent Pakistan's missile program has actually become since its early tests. "The Pakistanis say the Ghauri 2 and Ghauri 3 are significantly better than the Ghauri 1, and can claim some real work of their own," Mr. Bermudez said. "They still don't admit that it is a Korean missile, but it is all built on Korean technology."

The original Ghauri, named for a 12th-century Muslim emperor who invaded the subcontinent and defeated Prithvi, the Hindu ruler of New Delhi, dates to late 1993, when former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto followed up her re-election with a trip to China and North Korea.

Under heavy pressure from Washington not to sell missiles to Pakistan, China reportedly provided financing instead to North Korea for the creation of a Pakistani missile program. The next year, North Korea agreed to provide Pakistan with components from its Nodong missile line, which was itself based on an old Soviet Scud design.

Soon, according to Mr. Bermudez's research, which is largely confirmed by diplomats, North Korea's Fourth Machine Industry Bureau began delivering the first components to Pakistan's Kahuta labs.

Pakistan conducted its first test of the Ghauri missile amid great fanfare on April 6, 1998, with North Korean technicians reportedly looking on.

Pakistan has never been a stable democracy, and leaders of the country's nuclear weapons program, armed forces and state intelligence services have long flirted with radical Islam. That flirtation remains a concern today.

In the weeks before Sept. 11, a 38-year veteran of Pakistan's nuclear program, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, was discovered to have visited with Osama bin Laden at least twice in Afghanistan, where the two are reported to have discussed nuclear weapons.

The director of central intelligence, George J. Tenet, was so alarmed that he flew to Pakistan to inquire personally into the matter last fall. Mr. Mahmood was later placed under house arrest by the Pakistani government, although he has not been charged with any crime.

The Mahmood case provoked strong resentment in militant Islamic circles here, with television commentators and Urdu language newspapers condemning United States interference in Pakistani affairs, and warning darkly that Washington and its allies' hidden agenda is to destroy what many here call their country's "Islamic bomb."

One of the most fervent promoters of this viewpoint is Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, the retired former head of Pakistan's largest intelligence body, Inter-Services Intelligence.

"This is an Islamic army. This is a nuclear armed army. And this is our army," General Gul said in a lengthy interview, in which he praised the Taliban as "absolutely remarkable" for having imposed what he called a crime-free Islamic order on Afghan society.

"Why should people be afraid of Pakistan's couple of dozen nuclear weapons," Mr. Gul said? "America is not concerned. India has never raised an objection. It is the Zionists who object, because they feel threatened and vulnerable. They think that an Islamic country should not have this."
Published in NewYorkTimes