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Saturday, December 22, 2018
US knew about Pakistan’s nuke programme, overlooked to get support in Afghanistan
A year after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, then US secretary of defence Harold Brown and Chinese vice-premier Deng Xioping decided to ‘set aside’ concerns regarding Pakistan’s nuclear programme to strengthen it ‘against potential Soviet action’, documents reveal.
It’s been known for some years now that the United States and China helped Pakistan build up its nuclear arsenal actively or by overlooking it to purchase Islamabad’s cooperation. But recently declassified official documents reaffirm it.
“There are limits on our ability to aid Pakistan because of their nuclear programme,” then US secretary of defence Harold Brown told Chinese vice-premier Deng Xiaoping at a meeting in Beijing in January 1980, as the two leaders discussed strategy on countering Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the previous year.
“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 US official said, according to the minutes of the meeting, contained in the US Foreign Relations 1977-1980 volume on Afghanistan, released this week.
Deng, who later went on to rise to the top of the Chinese government, and set the country on the path of economic prosperity that would turn it into the world’s second largest economy, had approved.
“That is a very good approach,” Deng had said. “Pakistan has its own reasons for developing a nuclear programme. We ourselves oppose Pakistan’s effort on nuclear weapons because we believe it is meaningless to spend money on such a programme.”
But Pakistan, he had added, understandingly, “as its own arguments, i.e., India has exploded a nuclear device but the world has not seemed to complain about this”.
Pakistan, whose nuclear scientists had been trained by the United States in the 1950s and 1970s, according to a New York Times report in 1998, had continued to work on its nuclear programme as the US had looked away in the 1980s — Islamabad had become by then a conduit for billions of dollars of weapons smuggled to Afghanistan fighters by the CIA.