New Documents Spotlight Reagan-era Tensions over Pakistani Nuclear Program

Findings that General Zia Had “Lied” About Pakistani Nuclear Activities Conflicted with U.S. Afghanistan Priority – Published on The National Security Archive, Electronic Briefing Book No. 377, by William Burr, April 27, 2012.

Previously General Vernon Walters Had Speculated that Zia Was “The Most Superb and Patriotic Liar I Have Ever Met” – Reagan Administration Supported Sale of F-16 with Advanced Radar Technology on Nonproliferation Grounds Despite CIA Warnings that Pakistan Would Share it with China:   

Preventing the spread of nuclear weapons has been a significant goal for U.S. presidents but there are instances when diplomatic and other interests have overridden concerns about nuclear proliferation. Israel since 1969 is one example and Pakistan during the 1980s is another.  Concerned by new intelligence about the Pakistani nuclear program, in July 1982, the Reagan administration sent former CIA deputy director General Vernon Walters to meet secretly with Pakistani dictator General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq.  U.S. intelligence had detected an upswing of clandestine Pakistani efforts to procure nuclear weapons-related technology and unwanted publicity could jeopardize U.S. government economic and military aid to Pakistan, a key partner in the secret war against Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

According to documents published today for the first time by the National Security Archive and the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project, Walters told Zia that Washington had “incontrovertible intelligence” that Pakistani representatives had “transferred designs and specifications for nuclear weapons components to purchasing agents in several countries for the purpose of having these nuclear weapons components fabricated for Pakistan.”

Confronted with the evidence, Zia acknowledged that the information “must be true,” but then denied everything, leading Walters to conclude that either Zia “did not know the facts” or was the “most superb and patriotic liar I have ever met.”   While Zia restated earlier promises not to develop a nuclear weapon and made pledges to avoid specific nuclear “firebreaks,” officials from Secretary of State George Shultz on down would conclude time and time again, that Zia was breaking his word.

In 1986, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency ACDA director Kenneth Adelman wrote in a memorandum to the White House that Zia “has lied to us again,” and warned that failure to act would lead the General to conclude that he can “lie to us with impunity.” While the Reagan administration was concerned about nuclear proliferation, it gave a greater priority to securing aid to Pakistan so it could support the Afghan anti-Soviet insurgency.  The White House and the State Department leadership hoped that building a strong bilateral relationship would dissuade Pakistan from building nuclear weapons.

Top levels of the U.S. government let relations with a friendly government supersede nonproliferation goals as long as there was no public controversy that could “embarrass” the President the documents show.  Indeed, Reagan administration officials feared that if the Pakistanis had told them the “truth” about the purpose and scope of their nuclear activities, it would have made it impossible for the administration to certify to Congress that Pakistan was not developing nuclear weapons.  On that certification rode the continued flow of aid to assist the Afghanistan resistance. For the sake of that aid, senior Reagan administration officials gave Pakistan much slack by obscuring its nuclear activities, but that they wrote about lying and “breaking … assurances” suggests that lack of trust and confidence was an important element in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, as it is today.

Among the disclosures in today’s publication: … (full text, Documents 1 – 23, NOTES 1 – 11).

LINKS:

Taylor Verdict Milestone for International Justice: Liberian Warlord Guilty of Crimes Against Humanity During Sierra Leone’s Civil War – Freedom of Information Documents Detail Human Rights Abuses in Liberia, on The National Security Archive,  Electronic Briefing Book No. 376, April 26, 2012;

ILO report: Worldwide unemployment over 200 million, on WSWS, by Patrick Martin, May 1, 2012;

France’s Independent Workers Party backs bourgeois left presidential candidate, on WSWS, by Antoine Lerougetel and Alex Lantier, May 1, 2012;

Keiser Report: Fat Cats Spy On You (E251), 25.46 min, uploaded by RussiaToday, February 18, 2012;

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