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South Asia

US draws a bead on Pakistan, Saudi Arabia
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - With the United States facing the prospect of continuing difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan in the new year, there are signs that it will adopt an aggressive policy to cut all kinds of supply lines to the guerrilla movements in these countries, starting with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, and making no concessions.

Pakistan
A well-placed source in the Pakistani strategic community tells Asia Times Online that Pakistan has been given a clear message that although Islamabad has pledged its full commitment to the "war on terror", Washington is not entirely pleased with its efforts to date and still considers the country the "naughty boy" of the region and indirectly considers it a catalyst for support of anti-US forces.

The row over a possible Pakistan link to Iran's nuclear program is a case in point, in which the US has lost patience with Islamabad. The Pakistani government has confirmed that the father of its nuclear bomb program, Abd al-Qadir Khan, was being questioned in connection with "debriefings" of several scientists working at his Khan Research Laboratories. This follows a report by The New York Times that information Iran turned over to the International Atomic Energy Agency two months ago has strengthened suspicions that Pakistan sold key nuclear secrets to Iran.

"American and European investigators are interested in what they describe as Iran's purchase of nuclear centrifuge designs from Pakistan 16 years ago, largely to force the Pakistani government to face up to a pattern of clandestine sales by its nuclear engineers and to investigate much more recent transfers," including ones to North Korea in the late 1990s, The Times said.

Although Pakistan claims that some of its nuclear scientists may have been motivated by "personal ambition and greed" to share sensitive nuclear technology with Iran, and that the Pakistan government never authorized the transfer of such information, the US remains unconvinced.

Accordingly, Washington is now placing heavy pressure on Pakistan to abandon its nuclear program. Pakistan and India are believed to be ready next week to exchange lists of their nuclear installations and facilities, and members of the international nuclear club want them to create a South Asian nuclear-free zone by signing a bilateral agreement along the lines of the Treaty of Tlatelolco in which two nuclear rivals in South America - Argentine and Brazil - in the 1990s declared the region a weapons-free zone and abandoned their long-range missile programs, as well as nuclear plants.

Another bone of contention between Pakistan and the US is Pakistan's remote, mountainous and volatile tribal areas that border Afghanistan and which are acknowledged as a base for the resurgent Taliban. Pakistan has repeatedly promised to control the area, but without any significant results. Indeed, sectors within the Pakistani security apparatus are suspected of actively aiding the Taliban in maintaining their supply lines.

To deal with Pakistan, the Washington response in the first stage is to control its nuclear power, and then to create more US bases in Pakistan. This strategy would take Pakistan back to the 1960s, when Pakistan had very limited military and strategic interests in the region, and what there were, were linked to agreements with the US.

Saudi Arabia
Despite half a century of friendship, in the post-September 11 period the kingdom is now seen in Washington as a hotbed of US antagonism. As a result, the US has drawn up a strategy to combat this, with a heavy accent on education.

According to a source at the Islamic University of Medina in Saudi Arabia, under strict US State Department directives, the Saudi government prepared a new educational reform package, a copy of which was handed to Washington. It was rejected, with Saudi authorities asked to prepare another one which removes any teachings about jihad and anti-Christian and Jewish sentiment. Saudi Arabia has also been directed to stop its institutional support of various charity organizations that are suspected of channeling funds to jihad, or Islamic struggle, organizations.

On the political front, local people are to be given broader participation, while in business, strict conditions limiting foreign investment will be lifted, and foreigners will be allowed to operate in the kingdom without a local partner.

By clamping down on Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the US hopes to stem support for terrorism at its roots.

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Dec 25, 2003


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