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Pakistan policy sends dangerous signal
 
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Originally published March 31, 2004
WASHINGTON - The United States has rewarded Pakistan yet again for its support of the U.S. war on terror with increased access to U.S. weapons and technology even though the father of Pakistan's nuclear program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, admitted supplying nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya.

The reward is the U.S. designation of Pakistan as a "major non-NATO ally," or MNNA. Pakistan thus joins an exclusive club that includes Australia, Japan, Egypt, Kuwait, South Korea, Argentina, New Zealand, Israel and the Philippines.

MNNA allies don't receive the same mutual defense guarantees as NATO countries. But they do enjoy priority delivery of excess defense items, stockpiling of U.S. defense gear, purchase of depleted uranium antitank rounds and participation in cooperative research and development programs.

MNNA status is the latest in a series of dramatic changes to U.S. policies on arms exports to Pakistan. In the late 1990s, the Clinton administration banned all arms sales to Pakistan following its 1998 nuclear weapons tests and the 1999 military coup that brought its current leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, to power.

Sanctions remained in place until after Sept. 11, 2001, when the United States suddenly found itself in need of Pakistan's cooperation in the war against al-Qaida. Overnight, Pakistan went from being an outcast to an indispensable ally. It has received $596.3 million in weapons and military aid since 9/11. In the most recent budget request, the Bush administration has called for an additional $300 million to underwrite future arms sales to the South Asian country, which borders Afghanistan.

Compared with other recent changes in U.S.-Pakistani relations, designation as an MNNA country is not the most worrisome. Pakistan will not automatically receive the F-16 fighter aircraft it has sought for so long, and barriers to other particularly sensitive military technology will not suddenly disappear.

What is truly remarkable and troubling about this announcement is that it comes only weeks after international inspectors confirmed the existence of a global proliferation network that peddled Pakistani military technology to rogue regimes, and the pardoning of its ringleader, Mr. Khan.

Despite the potentially catastrophic consequences of his malfeasance, Mr. Khan's punishment hardly even qualifies as a slap on the wrist. In 2001, he was forced to step down as the director of A. Q. Khan Laboratories. No prison time, no fines - not even a trial. The decision to proceed with the MNNA designation despite these developments speaks to a disturbing trend in post-9/11 U.S. policy: Regardless of past (or even current) behavior, if a country is on the right side of the war on terror, sins will be forgiven.

In light of General Musharraf's precarious domestic political position, it is understandable that he would want to go easy on a national icon. And in light of his cooperation in the war on terrorism, it is understandable that the United States would want to go easy on him.

But by appearing to increase the amount of U.S. weapons and equipment made available to Pakistan so soon after such a grave discovery, Washington is sending a message that, in the case of a strategically important country, it will wink at that country's inability to maintain control over its military technology and stockpiles.

Even so, providing General Musharraf with new multimillion-dollar military aid packages and special access to U.S. military aid programs might be more palatable if they came with guarantees that the holes in Pakistan's leaky arsenals have all been plugged.

But U.S. officials are in no position to offer such assurances. The U.S. investigation into Mr. Khan's network has just begun, and until it is complete and corrective action is taken, the risk is real that U.S.-made weapons and military technology will find their way out of Pakistan and into the hands of America's enemies.

Maintaining good relations with, and shoring up, General Musharraf's moderate regime is not merely desirable, it is crucial. But there are real costs to providing more U.S. weapons to a regime whose ability to keep them secure is questionable.

By adding Pakistan to its short list of weapons recipients despite unresolved proliferation concerns - and then showering it with money to buy those weapons - the Bush administration is sending a very dangerous message to other importers of U.S. arms and to the rest of the world.

Matt Schroeder is a research associate at the Federation of American Scientists' Arms Sales Monitoring Project. Rachel Stohl is a senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information.


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