Pakistan-North Korea Weapons Trade Continued Through 2002
Defying U.S. Sanctions, Islamabad Provides Pyongyang with Nuke Tech
Pakistan continued to buy missiles from North Korea - using nuclear technology as payment - until as late as autumn 2002, resulting in sanctions against a nuclear laboratory, but not the Pakistani government.
American policymakers have frequently adopted double standards to ensure smooth sailing in regard to foreign policy, however, the most recent double standard may be necessary to ensure the success of the war on terror. According to CIA reports from 2002, Pakistan has continued to buy short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles from North Korea that are capable of reaching every major city in India. In exchange, Pakistan is providing North Korea with technology and machinery to make highly enriched uranium usable in nuclear weapons. In March 2003, Washington imposed new sanctions on North Korea for the clandestine missile supply relationship, but none on Pakistan.
The National Intelligence Estimate released to high level U.S. government officials in late 2002 revealed that Pakistan has been sharing sophisticated technology, warhead-design information, and weapons-testing data with Pyongyang beginning in 1997, under then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. A relationship between the two countries has been in place since the 1970s when then-Pakistani leader Zia-ul-Haq began buying missiles from Pyongyang. This relationship continued until the mid-1990s, when the Pakistani economy began to falter. Instead of discontinuing the purchases, then-Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto began to barter for the missiles, trading high-speed centrifuge machines, blueprints for the production of nuclear weapons and other materials for the manufacture of nuclear weaponry to the North Korean government.
General Pervez Musharraf denies that any such trade has occurred since the overthrow of the Bhutto government in 1998. Speaking to reporters in Paris last fall, Musharraf said, "There is no relationship with North Korea either on conventional or non-conventional level. We purchased surface-to-air missile from North Korea sometime back and now we are producing the same type of missiles at home. There is no conventional or unconventional agreement with Pyongyang." However, in July 2002, U.S. intelligence tracked a C-130 cargo plane, that Washington had provided to Pakistan to help fight the al-Qaida terror organization Ð as it flew to North Korea, where it picked up missile parts and returned to Pakistan. Trade with Pakistan may explain how a country as poor and isolated as North Korea could produce nuclear weapons in such a short time span. It usually takes a modernized country at least 15 years to start up a working nuclear program, and North Korea was thought to have been operating at scientific levels practiced in the 1930s. Also, according to the November 24, 2002 the New York Times article, "Pakistan, North Korea Set Up Nuclear Swap," by David E. Sanger, the centrifuge designs that North Korea is using are strikingly similar to what is used in Pakistan.
After Musharraf denied the allegations, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters, "Musharraf said 'four hundred percent assurance that there is no such interchange taking place now.'" He also mentioned that the two had not talked about the past, and he did not intend to talk about the past as it would disclose how the U.S. government collects evidence. However, Powell warned Musharraf that the U.S. will not tolerate any more exchanges, and the U.S is watching that Pakistan closely.
It is also under dubious circumstances that Pakistan acquired nuclear capabilities to begin with. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the controversial czar of Pakistan's nuclear program and often referred to as "the father of Pakistan's bomb," was ousted from his government position in March 2003, but still remains a special advisor to Musharraf. In the mid 1970s, Khan worked in Western Europe with the Physical Dynamics Research Laboratory (FDO). He was asked to translate classified design documents for the world's most advanced industrial enrichment technology, and he also took countless pages of notes on the side, according to NBC News reporter Robert Windrem in his article, "Pakistan Scientist Brokered N. Korea Deal - A.Q. Khan, Country's Nuclear Father, Aided Pyongyang's Weapons Program" that appeared on MSNBC, October 18, 2002. In 1976, Khan suddenly fled the Netherlands under suspicious circumstances, shortly thereafter, re-emerging in Pakistan and founding Engineering Research Laboratories, later renamed the A.Q. Khan Research Laboratories (KRL). He was given full control over the budding uranium enrichment program, and is known to have visited North Korea at least 13 times. Later, the Dutch government convicted Khan in abstentia for stealing classified plans and technology from the tri-national European uranium enrichment centrifuge consortium (URENCO) for which he had worked.
According to Teresita Schaffer, Director of the South Asia Program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, Pakistan and North Korea have most likely ended whatever nuclear trading relationship they might have had. "It is probable something happened, but it probably is not going on now," Schaffer said. "A.Q. Khan made many trips to North Korea while he held senior positions in the Pakistani nuclear program, and it is possible he brought the know-how to North Korean scientists, even if Pakistan did not provide the North with actual nuclear materials. It is also possible that Khan taught the Koreans how to shop for the necessary materials," she added. Schaffer called this practice the "Rolodex approach." But she did add that chances are high that Pakistan has helped the North Korean nuclear program in some way.
Although the U.S. sanctioned the A.Q. Khan Research Laboratories in Pakistan, the Bush administration decided not to impose the same sanctions on Pakistan as it has on North Korea. Many experts believe this is because international terrorism is a more important problem the U.S. needs to solve Ð possibly even before dealing with North Korea. And Pakistan is a key component in this fight against Islamist groups in the Middle East because of its strategic location bordering Afghanistan. The North West Frontier Provinces are, by Musharraf's own admission, almost impossible to penetrate. Pakistan is also allowing the U.S. use of its strategically-located air bases for use in the war on terror. In addition, many experts worry that if relations between the U.S. and Pakistan were to deteriorate, it is possible that Pakistan would choose to harbor known terrorists within its borders.
According to Schaffer, the U.S. has always had more than one objective when it comes to Pakistan. "Right now, the U.S. wants Pakistan to aid us in the fight against al-Qaida," she said; other objectives, including stopping nuclear relations with North Korea, have been given less priority. The U.S. has taken no action against Pakistan because of its relationship with North Korea, other than to put A.Q. Khan's laboratory under sanctions, an action that basically confirms reconfirms sanctions that were imposed earlier. As far as imposing trade sanctions on North Korea, "the U.S. can do nothing further," Schaffer said, since North Korea is already under a U.S. trade embargo. "Has the U.S. made the right decision? I don't know," she said. Officials in the Pakistani government may once again "persuade themselves" that the U.S. won't do anything, because of our multiple aims concerning the region.