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Paper No. 12

Nawaz Sharif's forthcoming visit to the US from November 30,1998, during which he is scheduled to meet President Clinton at Washington on December 2, is the first bilateral visit to the US by a Pakistani Prime Minister since Mrs. Benazir Bhutto's successful visit in April,1995, during which she persuaded the Clinton Administration and US Congressmen to dilute the sanctions imposed against Pakistan under the Pressler Amendment by the Bush Administration in 1990, thereby paving the way for the supply of the three Orion maritime surveillance aircraft and some other items such as Sidewinder and Harpoon missiles, night conversion kit for helicopters etc ordered and paid for by Pakistan before 1990 and the release of all Pakistani military equipment of US origin, which had been sent to the US for repairs and whose return after repairs had been blocked by the Bush Administration under the Pressler Amendment. 

Another favourable outcome of her visit was the removal of restrictions on political risk guarantees to US investors by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and on the admission of Pakistani military officers to US training institutions. She could not, however, succeed in persuading the Clinton Administration to release the F-16 aircraft ordered and paid for by Pakistan before 1990 and to remove the ban on the supply of fresh military equipment and dual-purpose equipment and technologies to Pakistan and the restrictions on the issue of visas to Pakistani nuclear and space scientists for attending courses and seminars which could , in the US perception, help Pakistan in its nuclear and missile development. 

While declining to release the F-16 aircraft, the US agreed to sell them to any interested third country and give to Pakistan the sale proceeds in partial re-imbursement of the amount paid by Pakistan while ordering these aircraft. An increase in the flow of US investments to Pakistan in the power sector, despite the disturbed law and order situation in Karachi, was another favourable outcome of her visit.

Benazir's success in improving Pakistan's relations with the US could be attributed to the following factors: 

  • Her favourable image in the US as a US-educated, sophisticated individual and as a modern, forward-looking Muslim leader. 
  • Her excellent contacts in the US Administration, bureaucracy and Congressional circles as a result of the network of personal friends which she had carefully built up since her days as a student in the US. 
  • Her willingness to co-operate with the US in the implementation of its policy of dual containment of Iran and Iraq and in sponsoring and assisting the Taliban in gaining control of Afghanistan and in frustrating Iranian objectives. 
  • Her agreement to let the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA) of the US to strengthen their set-up in Pakistan in order to better monitor developments in Iran. 
  • Her assistance to the CIA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the capture and removal to the US of Ramzi Yousef, a terrorist wanted in the New York World Trade Centre bombing case of February,1993. 
  • Her amenability to suggestions from the Jewish lobbies in the US to make an informal opening in Pakistan's relations with Israel for which she reportedly had a secret meeting with Israeli Government emissaries during one of her visits to New York to attend an UN session. 
  • Her backing to UNOCAL, the US oil company, in getting the support of the Turkmenistan Government and the Taliban authorities for its oil and gas pipelines proposals to bring oil/gas from Turkmenistan to Pakistan through Afghan territory.

Her influence with the US Administration was also evident from the fact that whereas the Clinton Administration imposed two-year limited sanctions against Pakistan in August,1993, before she returned to power, for the clandestine procurement of M-11 missile parts from China, it did not renew the sanctions after she returned to office despite strong evidence of continuing missile transactions with China. It also turned a blind eye to her procuring missiles and the relevant technology from North Korea in return for cash and foodgrains.

In contrast, the relations of Nawaz Sharif, as Prime Minister, with Washington were uncomfortable during his first as well as second term. Amongst the indicators of the USA's distrust of the bona fides of the Nawaz Administration during his first term (1990-end to middle 1993) were: 

  • Its placing Pakistan for six months from January,1993, in the so-called watch list of State-sponsors of international terrorism and thus forcing Sharif to remove Lt.Gen.Javed Nassir from the post of Director-General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate and shift about 20 other officers from the ISI for not co-operating with the CIA in its efforts to persuade the Afghan Mujahideen groups to sell back to the US the unused Stinger missiles and for not taking action against Arab terrorist elements operating from Pakistani territory. 
  • Its imposing two-year limited sanctions against Pakistan for clandestinely procuring M-11 parts from China. 

The relations were not without strain during Sharif's present term too as seen from the US action against a senior Pakistani Air Force officer in a drug smuggling case and Pakistan's retaliatory arrest of a Pakistani employee of the US Narcotics Control Agency officers in Pakistan and the US displeasure over the frequent anti-US statements of Gohar Ayub, former Pakistani Foreign Minister, who has since been shifted from the post. Another indicator of the continued US distrust of Nawaz Sharif was its declaration in October,1997, of the Harkat-ul-Ansar (since re-named as Harkat-ul-Mujahideen) as a terrorist organisation. 

Though the Harkat-ul-Ansar was instrumental in kidnapping some Western tourists from Kashmir in July,1995, under the name of Al Faran, and was allegedly involved with some middle-level officers of the Pakistan army who were arrested and court-martialled by the Benazir Government in 1995 for trying to overthrow her Government and set up an Islamic Caliphate in Pakistan, the US refrained from declaring it as a terrorist organisation so long as she was in power. 

Past US distrust of Sharif arose essentially from his perceived softness towards Islamic fundamentalist elements such as the Markaz Dawa Al Irshad, the Harkat-ul-Ansar and the Tablighi Jamaat and his reluctance to act firmly against the Arab terrorist elements operating from Pakistani territory. This distrust was confirmed by Sharif's selection of Mohammad Rafique Tarar , reportedly known for many years for his association with the Islamic fundamentalist organisations even while he was a Judge of the Pakistani Supreme Court, as President. The US has also not been happy with Sharif's review of contracts awarded by the Benazir Government to US investors on grounds of bribery. 

Despite this, the two sides have taken since the middle of last year a series of steps to remove the mutual mistrust. To remove US suspicions of softness towards fundamentalist and terrorist elements, the Sharif Government helped the CIA and the FBI in arresting and removing to the US from Pakistani territory Mir Aimal Kansi, wanted by the US for killing two CIA officers in January,1993, and promptly handed over to the FBI a follower of Osama Bin Laden, who was allegedly involved in the Nairobi blasts of August 5 this year. 

Peshawar-based Pakistani journalists have been repeatedly reporting since July last year that under Sharif's instructions the Pakistani intelligence agencies have been co-operating with the CIA and the FBI in monitoring the activities of Bin Laden and for mounting a clandestine operation to capture him and whisk him out of Kandahar in Afghanistan where he lives. 

Despite vehement denials by the Sharif Government, his critics allege that he was privy to the recent US bombings of terrorist camps in Afghanistan. Sharif's recent legislative measures to speed up the Islamisation of the laws and administration has not evoked the same concern in the US as they would normally have because the US perceives it as an attempt to pre-empt the campaign against him by the Islamic fundamentalist parties following the US bombings and not as a measure born out of genuine conviction in the need to further Islamise the laws and administration. 

From the US side, there has been a re-appraisal of Sharif as a leader. This re-appraisal has been triggered off by the disenchantment with Benazir following allegations, supported even by the Swiss authorities, of large-scale corruption by her and her husband while she was in power before November,1996. In the US perception, the misdeeds of her administration have considerably weakened her stature as a national leader and made difficult the possibility of her return to power in the near future. 

Thus, Sharif is the only mainstream political leader with a national following left in Pakistan for the moment. Former President Farooq Leghari has been trying to move into the political space rendered vacant by the weakening of Benazir, but his success is doubtful. Sharif's success in asserting political control over the army as evidenced by the ease with which he made Gen.Jehangir Karamat recently quit as the Army chief following a controversial statement made by the General and by his earlier wresting from the military the political primacy in nuclear matters has impressed the US. 

Pakistan's testing in April of a North Korean-supplied missile and its nuclear tests in Chagai in May led not only to the re-imposition by the US of some of the sanctions removed following Benazir's visit in April 1995, such as those relating to OPIC political risk guarantees, the training of Pakistani military officers in the US and the repair and servicing of military equipment of US origin supplied in the past, but also to the banning of US support to Pakistan's request for bail-out packages from the IMF and other multilateral financial institutions, a ban which was never imposed under the Pressler Amendment sanctions. 

However, on the eve of Sharif's visit, the US has removed all sanctions relating to EX-IM Bank and OPIC credits and guarantees, military training and also apparently (not yet confirmed) repairs and servicing of equipment and decided to support Pakistan's request for a fresh bail-out package by the IMF as an one-time exception. 

These measures, which need not necessarily be seen as evidence of renewed partiality to Pakistan and discriminatory attitude towards India, have been facilitated by the reported Pakistani willingness to sign the CTBT without waiting for India to do so. However, Pakistan is still resisting US pressure to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and to freeze its fissile material stocks pending the negotiation of a fissile material cut-off treaty at Geneva. 

After the Chagai tests, Pakistan has acquired a renewed importance in the eyes of US policy-makers, but this time the importance is not due to positive factors as in the 1980s because of Pakistan's then perceived role as an instrument for advancing US objectives in Afghanistan and Iran, but negative factors due to fears of Islamic fundamentalist elements, whether in the political or military establishment, gaining control of the nuclear trigger one day. 

The US feels confident that there is no possibility of any leakage of nuclear and missile technologies from India to any third country or party. But, it doesn't have the same confidence with regard to Pakistan. At its middle levels, the Pakistani military has many officers recruited during the Zia-Ul-Haq era who are strong trans-national Islamists and Pakistan's nuclear and space establishments have many rogue elephants. 

Thus, more than the danger of official leakage of nuclear and missile technologies to other countries such as Iran, Iraq and Libya with the complicity of the Government, which seems unlikely, the US is greatly concerned over the possibility of unofficial leakage, not only to other Governments, but also to anti-US and anti-Israel Islamic terrorist groups, of such technologies by these rogue elements without the knowledge of the Government. 

Thus, the US sees it as in its interests and in the interest of further non-proliferation to strengthen the hands of Nawaz Sharif in order to prevent such a scenario. Such an US objective need not necessarily be counter to the basic interests of India .

B.RAMAN                                                                              16-11-98 
  (Former Additional Secretary,Cabinet  Secretariat and presently Director, Institute for Topical Studies)