South Asia

Pakistan and the North Korea connection
By B Raman

In articles written since 1998, I have been saying, on the basis of information from reliable Pakistani sources, that North Korea's assistance to Pakistan in the development of its missile capability has been as a quid pro quo for the latter's assistance to North Korea in the development of its military nuclear capability.

After Pakistan's nuclear weapon tests at Chagai, near the Afghan border in May,1998, my Pakistani sources claimed that one of the nuclear devices tested was of North Korean origin and that North Korean nuclear scientists were present during the testing. As this information was not corroborated by independent sources, I did not disseminate it.

In an article on Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) disseminated on August 1, 2001, I reported as follows on the basis of information from the same sources: "Joint Intelligence Miscellaneous: Responsible for covert actions in other parts of the world and for the clandestine procurement of nuclear and missile technologies. Major General (retired) Sultan Habib, an operative of this division, who had distinguished himself in the clandestine procurement and theft of nuclear material while posted as the defense attache in the Pakistani embassy in Moscow from 1991 to 1993, with concurrent accreditation to the Central Asian Republics (CARs), Poland and Czechoslovakia, has recently been posted as ambassador to North Korea to oversee the clandestine nuclear and missile cooperation between North Korea and Pakistan. After completing his tenure in Moscow, he had coordinated the clandestine shipping of missiles from North Korea, the training of Pakistani experts in the missile production and testing facilities of North Korea and the training of North Korean scientists in the nuclear establishments of Pakistan through Captain (retired) Shafquat Cheema, third secretary and acting head of mission in the Pakistani embassy in North Korea from 1992 to 1996.

"Before Major General Sultan Habib's transfer to ISI headquarters from Moscow, the North Korean missile and nuclear cooperation project was handled by Major General Shujjat from the Baluch Regiment, who worked in the clandestine procurement division of the ISI for five years. On Captain Cheema's return to headquarters in 1996, the ISI discovered that in addition to acting as the liaison officer of the ISI with the nuclear and missile establishments in North Korea, he was also earning money from the Iranian and the Iraqi intelligence by helping them in their clandestine nuclear and missile technology and material procurement not only from North Korea, but also from Russia and the CARs. On coming to know of the ISI enquiry into his clandestine assistance to Iran and Iraq, he fled to Xinjiang and sought political asylum there, but the Chinese arrested him and handed him over to the ISI. What happened to him subsequently is not known. Captain Cheema initially got into the ISI and got himself posted to the Pakistani embassy in North Korea with the help of Colonel (retired) Ghulam Sarwar Cheema of the PPP (Pakistan People's Party of Benazir Bhutto)."

Subsequently, in another article titled "Pakistan and axis of evil: Ghauri Missile" disseminated on May 25, 2002, I had stated as follows, again based on information from the same sources: "The firing on May 25, 2002, of a North Korean-made Nodong (II) missile, baptized Ghauri by Pakistan in 1998 to hoodwink its own population and the international community that the missile was the result of research and development by its own scientists, should be a matter of greater concern to the Bush administration in the US and Japan than to India because it provides one more piece of evidence, if it was needed, of the nexus between Pakistan's military-intelligence establishment and the nuclear-missile establishment of North Korea, which has been placed by President Bush in what he described in his state of the union message of January, 2002, as the axis of evil.

"This nexus was first established during the second tenure of Ms Benazir Bhutto as the prime minister (1993-96) when she made a clandestine visit to Pyongyang and subsequently nursed by the Nawaz Sharif government and the Musharraf regime. Pakistan was initially paying for the missiles and spare parts partly in kind (Pakistani, US and Australian wheat to meet North Korea's acute food shortage in the 1990s) and partly through supply of nuclear technology to help North Korea in the development of its own military nuclear capability.

"During the last three or four years, Pakistani nuclear scientists and engineers have been working in North Korea, and North Korean missile experts in Pakistan. Since September, 2001, the increased and still increasing cash flow into Pakistan from the US, the European Union and Japan has enabled the military regime to pay for the North Korean missiles and related technology in hard currency.

"Since the beginning of this year, there has been a large-scale movement of military goods under military escort to Pakistan from China along the Karakoram Highway. While most of these containers were said to contain spare parts and replacements for the Chinese arms and ammunition and aircraft in Pakistan's arsenal, one should not rule out the possibility that the Chinese might have accepted the Pakistani request for the movement of the missile-related goods from North Korea by train and road across China and then along the Karakoram Highway.

"This carefully-nursed cooperation between North Korea and Pakistan could not only help North Korea to develop a nuclear capability which could pose a threat to the USA and Japan, but could also make these missiles in Pakistan a tempting target for acquisition for the dregs of the present Afghan war from the al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the Pakistani jihadi organizations, which have made Pakistan the new staging ground for their anti-US and anti-West activities.

"What Pakistan carried out on the morning of May 25, 2002, was not a test firing of a missile under development through indigenous efforts as projected by Musharraf, but the demonstration firing of a ready-to-fire missile acquired clandestinely from Bush's axis of evil. It was meant as a demonstration of Pakistan's self-proclaimed capability to the Pakistani public as well as to its armed forces in order to keep up their morale at a time when Pakistan has come under great pressure from the international community to stop using terrorism as a weapon against India.

"It was also meant to refurbish Musharraf's image in the eyes of his people at a time when his recent referendum stands discredited due to large-scale rigging, large sections of the political class have been questioning the wisdom of his continuing in power at a time of national crisis and there have been growing signs of disquiet in the military over his erratic ways of functioning and over his hugging desperately the post of the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) in the hope of thereby pre-empting any threat to him from inside the armed forces.

"He received a jolt during the recent referendum when more than 20 percent of the votes cast in the military barracks were reportedly against him, whereas only about 3 percent of the civilian votes went against him. This would show that the support for him in the military was not as overwhelming as he liked to think. His colleagues and subordinates might not express their opposition to him in public, but did not hesitate to do so when they had an opportunity of doing so anonymously during the referendum. Musharraf is hoping that his action in carrying out the missile firing would dilute, if not remove, the reservations in their minds about him and about his determination to resist outside pressure vis-a-vis India.

"While India should take note of the firing, there is no reason to be concerned. India was already aware of Musharraf's nexus with the axis of evil and of Pakistan's possession of the North Korean missiles under the camouflage of indigenous missiles, and one can be certain that this must have been factored into our thinking and planning. This was essentially an exercise of whistling in the dark by Musharraf. What is important is that India should highlight to the US, Japan and other countries the nuclear-missile nexus between Pakistan and North Korea and the threat that this could pose to them and to international peace and security."

Quoting from an article carried by the New York Times on October 18, 2002, the Hindu, the prestigious daily of Chennai, India, reported as follows on October 19, 2002: "The New York Times cites American intelligence officials as coming to the conclusion that Islamabad was a major supplier for Pyongyang's nuclear weapons' program; and that this was more of a barter deal that involved North Korea supplying Pakistan with missiles to counter the nuclear arsenal of India. What we have here is a perfect meeting of interests - the North Koreans had what the Pakistanis needed and the Pakistanis had a way for Kim Jong-il to restart a nuclear program we had stopped, the Times quotes an official familiar with intelligence matters."

The American surprise at the recent North Korean admission of its nuclear weapon program and the role of Pakistan in assisting North Korea in the implementation of this program would show, first, that the US intelligence community is not as well informed as it should be over developments in Pakistan and North Korea; and second, that even when it gets intelligence about Pakistan's actions either in assisting North Korea in developing its military nuclear capability or in assisting al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups to evade capture, the State Department and the US political leadership, for reasons not at all clear, choose to turn a blind eye to it.

As I have been reporting repeatedly, Omar Sheikh, presently under detention in connection with the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl, the US journalist, told the Karachi police during his interrogation that during one of his visits to Kandahar in Afghanistan last year he had come to know of the plans of al-Qaeda to launch the terrorist strikes of September 11 against the US and had mentioned this to Lieutenant General Ehsan ul-Haq, the present director general of the ISI, who was then Corps Commander, Peshawar. President General Pervez Musharraf and Ehsan ul-Haq are very close personal friends. It is, therefore, inconceivable that Haq would not have mentioned this to Musharraf. Why did Haq and Musharraf keep silent on the information and did not immediately warn the US about it?

Nobody in the US seems to have gone into it just as they had not gone deeper into Pakistan's nuclear assistance to North Korea. For how long is the US going to choose to close its eyes to Pakistan's perfidies and at what cost to innocent American lives and interests?

B Raman is Additional Secretary (ret), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, and presently director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai; member of the National Security Advisory Board of the Government of India. E-Mail: He was also head of the counter-terrorism division of the Research & Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency, from 1988 to August, 1994.

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Oct 22, 2002

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