U.S., Pak. to revive talks on nuclear security?

NEW DELHI, FEB. 15. In analysing the Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf's stay in the United States, officials in the security establishment here are struck by four key aspects.

First, Pakistan and the U.S are about to revive their dialogue on ``nuclear security issues''. The assessment in Government circles here is that the discussions are likely to focus on ways to enhance the security of Pakistani nuclear weapons rather than its civilian nuclear energy programme. They, however, point out that Pakistan is unlikely to make its nuclear weapons establishment ``transparent '' to the Americans beyond a point. It will also be equally incorrect to assume that the U.S., whatever its intent, is close to exercising ``control'' over Pakistani atomic weapons.

Second, the U.S. and Pakistan have arrived at a new formulation on easing tensions in South Asia that is strikingly similar to the Indian disposition. Both the U.S. President, George Bush, and Gen. Musharraf have called for de-escalation of tension and the resumption of Pakistan-Indian dialogue to resolve ``all'' outstanding issues, ``including Kashmir''. This view is strikingly similar to the Indian advocacy for reviving a ``composite dialogue'' with Pakistan on eight issues, including Jammu and Kashmir.

Besides, the Indian side has noticed that a reference to third-party intervention in any form has been avoided.

Third, the U.S. throughout the visit has made it clear that it visualises a long-term engagement with Gen. Musharraf. Not surprisingly, laudable personal references to him, rather than Pakistan, as a country, have been conspicuous. In fact, the assessment here is that the U.S. establishment is well aware that the Pakistani establishment continues to be ridden by hardliners who are not on board Gen. Musharraf's stated reformist agenda.

There is a suspicion in the U.S. mind that the kidnapping of the American journalist, Daniel Pearl, has the involvement of ``rogue elements'' within the Pakistani intelligence. But having made an enduring commitment to Gen. Musharraf, the U.S. side, in its own interest, is now keen that he acquires greater legitimacy. That, in turn, explains exhortations from the U.S. leadership that Gen. Musharraf's rule acquires a stamp of democracy that would override the negativism attached to the military coup through which he had assumed power. Significantly, the U.S. has pledged $2 million as assistance for the October 2002 legislative elections in Pakistan.

Fourth, with energy security in mind, the U.S. would provide Pakistan a $150-million loan for oil and gas projects. Details about possible U.S.-Pakistan forays in the hydrocarbon field are still sketchy.

Sources, however, feel that it would be ``premature'' to assume that these funds will have a bearing on possible future projects of exploiting Central Asian oil and gas and transiting them through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the energy hungry markets in the South and South-East Asia.

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