Monday, October 23, 2006

Pakistan has adopted a vast system of checks and balances in its military nuclear program to prevent nonproliferation abuses such as the nuclear black market run by top scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, a senior Pakistani military official said yesterday.

The official, in an unusually detailed background briefing for reporters at the Pakistani Embassy, also warned that the proposed U.S.-India nuclear-cooperation pact was a “one-sided deal” that could prove “counterproductive for U.S. strategic objectives” in South Asia if Islamabad was not offered a similar deal.

The Pakistani military official, who has extensive familiarity with the country’s nuclear bureaucracy, could not be quoted by name under the ground rules of the briefing.

But the session reflected Pakistani concerns that its nuclear-proliferation failings were in the spotlight again after this month’s nuclear test by North Korea.

The network run by Mr. Khan, still a revered figure in Pakistan for his role in developing the country’s nuclear arsenal, “cast a long shadow over Pakistan’s image,” the official said. “We have years of baggage to shed.”

Mr. Khan, who is under house arrest, traveled to Pyongyang often before his nuclear-smuggling ring was exposed in 2003. His network is thought to have provided North Korea with designs, parts, and working models of centrifuges needed to manufacture nuclear fuel. The Pakistani researcher also provided centrifuges for Iran’s clandestine nuclear programs.

Many nonproliferation specialists fear that Pakistan is the world’s greatest cause for worry, with the government of President Pervez Musharraf facing challenges from within and without.

But the Pakistani military official said that nearly a decade ago, the country began a thorough revamping of its nuclear bureaucracy, increasing the levels of oversight, implementing new controls on the production and transfer of nuclear materials and establishing “reliability tests” for Pakistani nuclear researchers.

He confirmed that U.S. nuclear specialists had been providing technical advice and some “off-the-shelf” basic equipment to aid Pakistan’s nonproliferation efforts, but stressed that Pakistan had total say over what help it accepts.

“We have a good system now down to the grass roots,” he insisted.

Islamabad still prevents investigators from the U.S. and the United Nations from directly interviewing Mr. Khan about his nuclear dealings, and the official said Mr. Khan remains “a hero” to Pakistanis.

The official said he saw little hope of derailing the U.S. nuclear deal with rival India.

The accord, strongly backed by the Bush administration and being considered by Congress, would open up major cooperation and trade between the United States and India on civilian nuclear projects, while allowing India to keep its nuclear military programs free from international monitoring. Pakistan and many U.S. critics fear the deal could allow India to bulk up its own nuclear arsenal and overwhelm Pakistan’s smaller deterrent.

The official said the United States should make it clear that Pakistan would be eligible for a similar nuclear-cooperation deal in the future.

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