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Pakistan-Saudi trade nuke tech for oil

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor in Chief   |   Oct. 20, 2003 at 6:59 PM   |   Comments

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Oct. 20 (UPI) -- Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have concluded a secret agreement on nuclear cooperation, an unimpeachable source said Monday.

"It will be vehemently denied by both countries," added this ranking Pakistani source known to this correspondent for more than a decade as a knowledgeable insider, "but future events will confirm that Pakistan has agreed to provide KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) with the wherewithal for a nuclear deterrent."

In a lightning, hastily arranged, 26-hour "state visit" in Islamabad, Crown Prince Abdullah Abdulaziz, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, flew across the Arabian Sea with an entourage of 200, including Foreign Minister Prince Saud and several Cabinet ministers. The pro-American Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan, who is next in line to succeed to the throne after Abdullah, was not part of the delegation.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf met Abdullah at the airport and saw him off Sunday night with a 21-gun salute.

In Washington, Mohammed Sadiq, Pakistan's deputy chief of mission, said Monday the report about Pakistan and Saudi Arabia reaching agreement on nuclear cooperation was "totally wrong."

"This is against our policy," Sadiq told UPI. "Pakistan would never proliferate its nuclear technology. It's a very clear policy. This was not even discussed in the talks we held with the Saudis in Islamabad this week. It was not even on the agenda. It is out of the question."

The Saudi Embassy in Washington did not immediately comment on the report. A joint Pakistani-Saudi communiqué posted on the embassy's Web site concerning Abdullah's visit to Islamabad mentioned only an agreement for "the maximum utilization of the existing economic potential of the two countries." There was no mention of military cooperation, nuclear or conventional.

The CIA believes that Pakistan already exported nuclear know-how to North Korea in exchange for missile technology. Last year, a Pakistani C-130 was spotted by satellite loading North Korean missiles at Pyongyang airport. Pakistan said this was a straight purchase for cash and denied a nuclear quid pro quo.

This correspondent and the chief of staff of the North Korean Air Force stayed at the same Islamabad hotel in May 2001.

"Both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia," the Pakistani source explained, "see a world that is moving from non-proliferation to proliferation of nuclear weapons."

Pakistan, under the late dictator Gen. Zia ul-Haq decided to pursue the nuclear option following India's first nuclear test in 1974. Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is now estimated at between 35 and 60 weapons.

The Sunni Saudis have concluded that nothing will deter Shiite Iran from continuing its quest for nuclear weapons. Pakistan, on the other hand, is openly concerned about the recent armaments agreement between India, its nuclear rival, and Israel, a long-time nuclear power whose inventory is estimated at between 200 and 400 weapons. Iran and India, located on either side of Pakistan, have also signed a strategic agreement whose aim is regarded with suspicion in Islamabad.

Pakistani Prime Minister Mir Zafrullah Jamali is scheduled to fly to Tehran later this week to sound out Iranian leaders on the reasons for the defense deal with New Delhi.

To counter what Pakistani and Saudi leaders regard as a multiregional threats, they have decided quietly to move ahead with a two-way exchange -- free or cheap oil for nuclear know-how and expertise.

Pakistani pilots have been employed as contract pilots for the Royal Saudi Air Force for the past 30 years. Several hundred thousand Pakistani workers are employed by the Gulf states, both as skilled and unskilled workers, and their remittances are a hard currency boon for the Pakistani Treasury.

In their private talks, according to the United Press International source, Abdullah and Musharraf also discussed the possibility of Pakistan supplying troops, not to Iraq, but to the kingdom. Abdullah can see that the world's largest oil reserves look increasingly vulnerable over the next 10 years.

By mutual agreement, U.S. forces withdrew from Saudi Arabia earlier this year to relocate across the border in the tiny oil sheikhdom of Qatar. Saudi officials also remind their interlocutors that a closed meeting -- later well publicized -- of the U.S. Defense Policy Board in 2002 listened to an expert explain, with a 16-slide presentation, why and how the United States should seize and occupy Saudi oilfields in the country's eastern province.

Richard Perle was then the chairman of the Pentagon-funded Defense Policy Board. Later in 2002, he resigned the chairmanship following a conflict with his business interests, but he remains a member of the influential panel.

Perle is also known throughout the Middle East as one of the key architects of Operation Iraqi Freedom and a former strategic adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu while the latter was Israel's prime minister.

The denials of any secret nuclear agreement between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the source said, "must be seen in the same context as Iranian denials about its own nuclear weapons plans."

Prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, along with the United Arab Emirates, were the only countries that recognized and aided Afghanistan's Taliban regime that had been educated in Pakistan's madrasas (Koranic schools). Taliban is now resurgent along the mountainous regions that straddle the Pakistan-Afghan border. Pakistani and U.S. Special Forces have been working the area in tandem since last summer to flush out Taliban and al-Qaida high altitude hideouts.

Pakistani officials are also fearful that the Bush administration will leave them in the lurch after al-Qaida leader Osama bin laden has been killed or captured. They also speculate about what the policy would be in the event of a Democratic Party victory in the 2004 U.S. elections.

To this day, the Saudi clergy continues to fund Pakistan's madrasas that are a substitute for the country's non-existent national education system. The only schools outside madrasas are expensive private institutions. Pakistan, with a crushing defense burden, only spends 1.7 percent of GDP on education (vs. 8 percent in India and 16.5 percent in the United States).

Some 12,000 Koranic schools provide free room and board to some 700,000 Pakistani boys (ages 6 to 16) where they are taught to read and write in Urdu and Arabic and recite the Koran by heart. No other disciplines are practiced, but students are proselytized with anti-American, anti-Israeli and anti-Indian propaganda. By the time they graduate, the majority is convinced that becoming a jihadi, or holy warrior, is the only way to block America's alleged plans to destroy Islam.

Musharraf, in a milestone speech three months before Sept. 11, 2001, denounced the danger of these schools and urged syllabus reform.

"We are producing terrorists," he warned at the time.

But all attempts at reform have been blocked by the mullahs with the support of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal -- a coalition of the six major politico-religious parties -- that now governs two of Pakistan's four provinces.

Musharraf has opted for appeasement of the MMA rather than confrontation. At the state banquet for Saudi Arabia's Abdullah, the principal MMA chieftains were invited and attended. The two traditional mainstream parties were not present. They were pointedly left off the guest list.

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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