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Wednesday 13th October 1999 PAKISTAN COUP: US CALLS FOR A RAPID RETURN TO DEMOCRACY


AFTER A cautious initial response to the coup in Pakistan, Washington looked set to react more negatively to a change of power that fulfilled many Americans' worst fears: a military coup in a nuclear-armed third world country. A senior State Department official said that there was no prospect of "business as usual" as long as power was in military hands.

The Pentagon sought to calm worries about control over Pakistan's nuclear capability, saying that there was no reason anything should change on this score. "It's my understanding," the spokesman said, "that the Pakistani army has controlled the nuclear programme and the security of nuclear weapons as a matter of course." The State Department spokesman, James Rubin, tried to calm fears that a change of power in Pakistan could lead to laxer control over the country's nuclear capability. "I don't think there is a fear right now," he said, "that control is jeopardised by recent developments."

Leading US South Asia watchers noted, however, that the army chief had been the force behind Pakistan's incursion into Indian-administered Kashmir three months ago and had also been responsible for restoring army control over the country's nuclear weapons programme. This combination, they said, was potentially destabilising. They also warned that any change of power in Pakistan could trigger a crisis in relations with neighbouring India and that what happened then depended on how responsibly a Pakistani military regime acted.