See More on Facebook

Analysis, Curiosity

Afghan war helped Pakistan keep nuclear option: US papers

US backing for anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan may have enabled the Pakistan bomb.


Written by

Updated: December 24, 2018

Torn between preventing Pakistan from going nuclear and fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, the United States appears to have decided that pushing the Russians out of Kabul was more important, shows a set of documents released by the US State Department.

Official US memos and letter — released under an arrangement to make public official documents after 30 years — show that Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (in office from 1978 to 1989) also played a key role in convincing Washington to continue to support Islamabad despite its nuclear programme.

Timeline: History of US-Pakistan relations

A confidential State Department report, dated Aug 20, 1984, shows that by 1984 Washington knew Islamabad had acquired the capability to build nuclear weapons.

“Despite public and private assurances by President Zia (ul Haq) that Pakistan has neither the intention, means, nor capability to acquire nuclear explosives, we have extensive and convincing intelligence that the Pakistanis are pressing forward to perfect the design of a nuclear weapon, fabricate nuclear weapon components, and acquire the necessary nuclear material for such a device,” the report says.

Going nuclear: 1990-1993/1997-1999

“Recent progress in Pakistan’s uranium enrichment programme may … soon create a situation in which we could not rule out the possibility that Pakistan was taking all of the steps required to assemble a nuclear device, or even to stockpile nuclear weapons.”

The document notes that the development forced Washington to make “a stark choice” between: (1) Acquiescing in Pakistan’s nuclear activities and thus incurring almost certain Congressional action against US security assistance to Pakistan, the possibility of an Indian pre-emptive strike against the Pakistani nuclear facilities, and seriously undermining the credibility of US global non-proliferation policy. (2) Terminating the US-Pakistan security relationship, thereby imperilling the Afghan resistance to Soviet occupation, doing grave and long-term harm to US political and security interests in Southwest Asia and with China, and convincing Pakistan it had nothing further to lose by building nuclear weapons or even conducting a nuclear test.

Also read: Inside the CIA’s secret war in Afghanistan

“Either outcome would constitute a serious foreign policy defeat,” the report warns.

It notes that Washington concluded a $3.2 billion, six-year security and development assistance package with Pakistan to obtain its restraint in the nuclear area. Washington also hoped that a security relationship with the US would “eventually convince Pakistan, that it could forego a nuclear weapons option”.

Other documents show that Deng Xiaoping not only convinced Washington to tolerate Pakistan’s nuclear programme but also persuaded it to start giving more military and financial aid to Islamabad.

Deng worked closely with Zia to convince the then Jimmy Carter administration that India under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi would be pro-Soviet.

“There are limits on our ability to aid Pakistan because of their nuclear explosive programme. Although we still object to their doing so, we will now set that aside for the time being, to facilitate strengthening Pakistan against potential Soviet action,” the then US Defence Secretary Harold Brown said in a Jan 8, 1980 meeting with Deng.

The documents show that the Chinese leader called this “a very good approach”, telling Washington that “Pakistan has its own reasons for developing a nuclear programme”.

Deng points out that India started the nuclear race in South Asia, causing Pakistan to start its own programme.

“Pakistan has its own arguments, i.e., India has exploded a nuclear device but the world has not seemed to complain about this,” Deng told Brown.

“So, now you have decided to put this aside and solve the question of military and economic aid to Pakistan. We applaud this decision,” said Deng.

He also convinced the US not to equate India and Pakistan when it comes to giving aid.

“You may recall that I raised the question of aid to Pakistan with President Carter. He said the US will give aid in proportion to the population of the two countries. I said this was not feasible.”

Deng explained to Brown why he thought it was a bad idea.

Afraid of each other

“The Pakistanis and Indians are afraid of each other. If the population ratio formula should be used, Pakistan will be in an increasingly inferior position. We hope that since the United States decided to give aid to Pakistan, it will really satisfy Pakistan’s requirements. We hope your aid to Pakistan will not be affected too much by India’s reaction,” he said.

“With regard to question of South Asia, there is no other way except giving aid to Pakistan. It has always been our view that the US policy giving more attention to India than Pakistan is not an appropriate policy.”

Deng argues that India was not a stabilising factor. Perhaps you already know the general election results,” he said. The elections brought Indira Gandhi to power.

“Perhaps after Pakistan has been strengthened, India will become a more stabilising factor. What one should try to achieve is to make Pakistan a genuine stabilising factor in South Asia,” he argued.

Urging the United States to “give earnest and sincere thought” to this question,” Deng says, “If one does not keep this clear in one’s mind, then one’s attitude toward India will make one vacillate in one’s position toward Pakistan.”

Deng notes that in the past the US had refrained from, perhaps under Indian influence. “Since you now have decided to aid Pakistan, I am sure India will send you one note after another, strongly objecting,” he added.

Another memo of a Jan 14, 1980, meeting between Zia and the then US ambassador to Pakistan, shows the general urging Washington to ignore its nuclear programme because Pakistan was playing a key role in the Afghan war.

President Carter’s statement of Jan 4 “gives impression that nuclear issue need not be an obstacle, and Pakistan needs to know precisely what America proposes to do to help Pakistan,” Zia was quoted as saying in a readout of the meeting.



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


Dawn
About the Author: Dawn is Pakistan's oldest and most widely read English-language newspaper.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Analysis, Curiosity

The counter-terrorism challenge in West Asia

A action plan must be hatched and implemented in Pakistan and its surrounding countries. Pakistan has stepped up its anti-militant campaign, apparently to steer clear of being blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force. Pakistan had already narrowly escaped that listing, with the support of China, Malaysia and Turkey, during the last FATF review meeting held in Orlando, Florida. Read: FATF compliance will require all-out effort Yet the country remains under immense pressure to take action against all militant groups that are proscribed by the UN Security Council. Pakistan has also been viewed as employing a selective approach towards different militant groups. The FATF meeting held in Paris last February had rejected Pakistan’s assessment based on a classification of militant groups into diff


By Dawn
July 15, 2019

Analysis, Curiosity

Indonesian pre-teen writes to Trump

Why do you always export your waste to my country. A surge of waste imports into cities in East Java has prompted a teenager to write to United States President Donald Trump to protest about the incoming trash. Aeshnina Azzahra, a 12-year-old from Gresik, East Java, wrote that the river in her neighborhood was “very dirty and smelly” as many factories dispose of their waste carelessly on land and water. She said she had to write to Trump because the US was among the largest exporters of waste to Indonesia. “Why do you always export your waste to my country? Why don’t you take care of your own waste,” she wrote in her letter. Aeshnina also participated in a protest held by environmentalists in front of the United States Consulate General in Surabaya, East Java, on Friday. She said America’s waste had also polluted Indonesia’s oceans and consumed by


By The Jakarta Post
July 15, 2019

Analysis, Curiosity

Arms sales to Taiwan a blow to Sino-US ties

An editorial from Chinese state media about the arms sale to Taiwan. By approving the potential sale of arms worth $2.2 billion to Taiwan, the US State Department has not only further strained cross-Straits relations, it is also trying Beijing’s patience. And by passing a series of acts and resolutions related to Taiwan this year, the US Congress has dealt a serious blow to Sino-US relations, as well as undermined peace and stability across the Straits. The US House of Representatives enacted the Taiwan Assurance Act of 2019 and passed a resolution reaffirming the US’ commitment to Taiwan on May 7, which essentially means the US would sell arms to the island regularly and back its participation in international organizations. That the US has continued to meddle in Taiwan affairs shows it is desperate to use the “Taiwan card” to contain the Chinese mainland. The US believes


By China Daily
July 12, 2019

Analysis, Curiosity

Why is Korea so dependent on Japanese materials?

Korea’s neglect in basic technologies leaves major industries vulnerable. The aggravating trade dispute with Japan reveals some hard truths about South Korea’s lack of basic technologies despite being dubbed as a tech powerhouse, not to mention the dire need to diversify its supply channels to reduce its heavy dependence on the neighboring nation. On July 1, the Japanese government tightened the export process to Korea of three classes of hi-tech materials crucial to the production of chips and display panels and removing it from the white list. The materials include fluorinated polyimide, photoresist and hydrogen fluoride, which are dominated by Japanese companies globally. Fluorinated polyimide is used to make flexible organic light-emitting diode displays. Photoresist is a thin layer applied to transfer a circuit pattern to a semiconductor substrate. Hydrogen fluoride, or etching gas, is needed i


By The Korea Herald
July 12, 2019

Analysis, Curiosity

Satellites making stars harder to study

The announcement was made by Japan’s national observatory. The National Astronomical Observatory of Japan has expressed concern that satellites orbiting the Earth are having a negative impact on astronomical observations. In a statement released Tuesday, the observatory called on satellite-related businesses to consider the impact of their actions and to take appropriate countermeasures. The NAOJ said the hundreds of satellites currently in operation are starting to hinder astronomical observations, such as by reflecting the rays of the sun and when the radio waves they emit get mixed up with those from heavenly bodies. The issue gained prominence when a U.S. observatory photographed numerous light rays from 60 communications satellites launched in May by Space Exploration Technologies Corp. of the United States.


By The Japan News
July 11, 2019

Analysis, Curiosity

Overview: India Economy

India set to retain title of fastest growing economy. When India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presented the Union Budget to Parliament on 5 July, it underlined the effort by New Delhi to headline the fact that it is still the fastest growing major economy in the world. India, now the globe’s sixth largest economy, was projected to become a $3 trillion economy in the current fiscal year(2019-20) up from $2.7 trillion as of today and on its way to becoming a $5 trillion economy by 2024. Crucially, GDP growth has been pegged at 7.5% for India by the World Bank in its latest report buttressing the government’s claim. India’s growth projection is well ahead of the other major Asian economy of comparable size, China. The ongoing trade war and structural issues have resulted in the World Bank moderating China’s expected growth rate to 6.2%. Of the other economies in Asia, Japan


By Ishan Joshi
July 8, 2019