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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 60, September 2001

News Review

US Lifts 1998 South Asia Sanctions

On September 23, President Bush announced the lifting of all sanctions imposed on India and Pakistan in the wake of the May 1998 nuclear tests by the two states. Presidential Determination 2001-28 stated: "I hereby determine and certify to the Congress that the application to India and Pakistan of the sanctions...would not be in the national security interests of the United States." Sanctions imposed on Pakistan followed the 1999 military coup remain in place. On September 24, the US announced the rescheduling of $379 million of debt owed by Islamabad.

A spokesperson for the Pakistan Foreign Ministry described the lifting of the nuclear-related sanctions as "a positive development". Speaking on September 24, the spokesperson declared: "We always considered these sanctions to be unjustified... Pakistan appreciates the decision and is confident that it will help strengthen the mutually cooperative relationship between our two countries." Referring to the sanctions still in effect, Information Minister Mushahid Hussain stated on September 23: "This is a first step but not enough... But it shows a change in American attitudes, [demonstrating that] a new kind of relationship is being built between the US and Pakistan." India's Finance Minister, Yashwant Sinha, reacted in muted fashion on September 23: "It's a good thing the sanctions have been lifted but it's a minor issue as far as the Indian economy was concerned. Except for certain defence supplies, sanctions have no meaning. I don't think this is a development of earth-shaking importance." The same day, Indian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao noted in a more upbeat tone: "With the removal of sanctions, we can strengthen a broad based, forward looking and mutually beneficial relationship with the US."

As reported in recent issues, the administration had clearly been moving toward the lifting of sanctions in the near future. In an ABC television interview on September 23, Secretary of State Powell noted: "frankly, I had made the judgment to recommend to the President some weeks ago that some of these sanctions be lifted." Asked whether "lifting the sanctions [may be] something that in the long run may come back to haunt us" because of any perceived weakness on nuclear proliferation issues, Powell replied: "I don't think it will come back to haunt us. I think we have made it clear to both of these countries that we don't want to see a nuclear escalation any further in the region and I think they both have been acting rather responsibly..."

The exact timing of the move is clearly acknowledged to be linked to the commitment of India and Pakistan to the anti-terrorism coalition rapidly established after September 11 - a commitment of particular risk to the Musharraf military regime in Pakistan, with its evident geostrategic significance in US military action against Afghanistan, and with its traditionally close political and popular links with the Taliban.

It seems likely that the lifting of the sanctions, certainly against India, would have received broad bipartisan support in Congress even before the terrorist attacks. In a letter to President Bush released on August 27, Joseph Biden, the Democratic Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, argued: "Today, the economic sanctions against India serve to stigmatise rather than stabilise. ... [If the sanctions are removed, I believe that] India will respond with reciprocal acts of goodwill in non-proliferation and other areas."

In a statement issued on September 20, Biden welcomed reports in the media that sanctions against both New Delhi and Islamabad were about to be lifted. General Musharraf, Biden noted, had offered "full unstinting support to us at the time when we need it most. In order for him to deliver on his pledge, he will have to take grave political risks and ask his people to make painful sacrifices. We asked the Pakistani government to choose sides and they have chosen to stand with us. I believe that we, in turn, must stand with them." In the words of Republican Representative Henry Hyde, Chair of the House International Relations Committee (September 20): "We have to give something to them, and I think the sanctions have outlived their usefulness. They're in a dangerous situation. ... We're asking for a lot. They've been very forthcoming."

A number of experts are pointing to a worst-case scenario in the event of US military attacks on Afghanistan: a destabilisation of Pakistan throwing into question the command, control and security of the country's nuclear weapons and materials. On September 25, Pakistan's UN ambassador Shamshad Ahmed insisted: "I can only reject any such concerns because our nuclear command-and-control system is in very responsible hands. We are capable of taking care of our responsibilities as a nuclear member state." On September 20, George Perkovich, a respected authority on nuclear issues in South Asia, told The Times: "My guess would be that the US and UK are thinking about that now. If things go wrong, what do we do? Do we send commandoes in to get the weapons and take them out in helicopters, like the last days in Saigon? Has this even been discussed with the Pakistanis?" Perkovich added, however, that it would be extremely difficult for a complete nuclear weapon to be acquired by a non-state group: "In normal times, they keep the warheads separate from the missiles, and the fissile uranium - the core of the weapon - is not kept in the warhead, which consists of electronics and high explosives... So what we have are a range of different components, with different groups controlling them. Each part is well-guarded and they have taken great care to assess the reliability and security of the storage."

During a September 19 televised address to the nation, General Musharraf identified the stability of Pakistan's nuclear force as one of the main strategic considerations underlying his decision to support US action: "My countrymen, in such a situation a wrong decision can lead to unbearable losses. What are our critical concerns and priorities? They are four. First of all is the security of the country and the external threat. Second is our economy and its revival. Third are our strategic nuclear and missile assets and [fourth is] the Kashmir cause."

Musharraf continued by alleging that India was attempting "to enter into any alliance with the United States and get Pakistan declared a terrorist state. ... They have offered all their military facilities, all their bases and full logistic support. They want to harm our strategic assets and the Kashmir cause... I would like to tell India, 'lay off'. Pakistan's armed forces and every Pakistani citizen is ready to offer any sacrifice in order to defend Pakistan and secure its strategic assets. At this very moment our air force is at high alert. And they are ready for 'do or die'." On September 21, the Times of India quoted Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee as describing Musharraf's comments as "a serious setback to the India-Pakistan dialogue process." Vajpayee added bluntly: "How can he [Musharraf] be concerned about terrorism? He has promoted it..." However, an effort to calm relations was made by both Foreign Ministers, Jaswant Singh and Abdul Sattar, in a telephone conversation on September 22. According to Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesperson Riaz Mohammed Khan, Singh stressed "that India had no intention to add to the complexities faced by Pakistan and its people."

Note: see Documents and Sources for excerpts from a speech by US Ambassador to India Robert Blackwell commending the common elements of the nuclear policy of Washington and New Delhi.

Reports: Biden pushes end to India sanctions, Associated Press, August 27; India to allow US use of military facilities, Reuters, September 14; Excerpts of Pervez's speech, Associated Press, September 19; The nuclear threat - Pakistan could lose control of its arsenal, The Times, September 20; Musharraf sparks war of words with India on attacks, Reuters, September 20; US considers rewarding Pakistan, Associated Press, September 20; India stops talks with Pakistan, Associated Press, September 21; Waiver of Nuclear-Related Sanctions on India and Pakistan, Presidential Determination No. 2001-28, The White House, September 22; India, Pakistan soothe tensions, Reuters, September 22; Pakistan, India welcome lifting of sanctions, Reuters, September 23; Pakistan, India welcome sanction move, Associated Press, September 23; Transcript - Powell says US focusing on Usama bin Laden and al-Qaida, Washington File, September 24; US reschedules $379 mln Pakistan debt, Reuters, September 24; Nuclear experts worry about Pakistan, Associated Press, September 25.

© 2001 The Acronym Institute.