KARACHI, Pakistan -- Pakistan is widely being suspected as the
culprit behind the supplier of unexploded U.S. cruise missiles to China,
as Beijing's ties with Washington marked its lowest ebb since Richard
Nixon went on his ping-pong diplomacy with the "Yellow Giant."
The cruise missiles had flown over Pakistan territories to attack the
base camp of Saudi-millionaire and main financier of Muslim militants
worldwide, Osama Bin Laden, in a place called Kandahar inside
Afghanistan. At least three unexploded missiles were recovered from
Pakistan's remote areas in the southwestern Balochistan province,
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The U.S. lobbed cruise missiles on Afghanistan and also an alleged
germ war factory in Khartoum, Sudan, on Aug. 20 from aboard aircraft
carriers stationed in the Persian Gulf. These were in response to bomb
attacks on U.S. embassies in Darressalam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya
that left at least 260 people, including 11 Americans killed, and
One of the three unexploded missiles had landed at a place not very far
from the Chagai hills, where Pakistan conducted its nuclear tests last
May in a tat-for-tat to the Indian tests that very month.
Interestingly, Chinese "technicians" had for nearly a decade been
working at the gold-cum-copper project in a neighboring district named
Saindak. Pakistan had retrieved at least two other unexploded cruise
missiles from the strategic coastal Mekran district of Balochistan.
Mekran is the backyard to the Strait of Hormuz, from where most of the
Gulf oil is shipped to the West, including United States, and Japan.
Islamabad experts also helped defuse an unspecified number of the
missiles that landed on the Afghan territories. Analysts do not rule out
the possibility that China may have helped Pakistan develop the world's
first-ever "Islamic bomb" in the guise of technicians working on the
Saindak copper-cum-gold project. What gives credence to this theory was
the fact that a Belgian offer to develop the mines at a 40 percent lower
rate was turned down by Islamabad in spite of its resource crunch in
China and Pakistan have been traditional allies since the Sino-Soviet
rift in the early '60s, when the Russians advanced their own brand of
communism under Nikita Khruschev; besides Russia, Pakistan and China
also had a common foe across their borders -- India. The
Beijing-Islamabad nexus existed even during the Cold War, when Pakistan
literally became a client state of the U.S., and a launch pad for
bleeding the Soviets.
Interestingly, China's Defense Minister General Chi Haotian visited
Pakistan on the very day -- 20 February 1999 -- when Indian Prime
Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee came on a bus trip to Pakistan. During
Chi's visit Pakistan's three army chiefs -- land, air and sea -- had the
temerity to say no to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's request
that they be present at the Wagah-Atari borders with India for the
welcoming ceremonies. Vajpayee's trip was the first-ever bus trip of the
head of government of the hostile neighbor, with whom Pakistan fought at
least three wars in the last half century.
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It now appears that the Pakistani defense establishment preferred the
banquet for Chi over paying a salute to the Indian prime minister since
the Chinese defense minister had most probably come to say thanks to
Pakistan for delivering it two of the unexploded cruise missiles.
During Chi's visit, Pakistan lavishly showered praise on the Chinese
government "for understanding of the security considerations that had
forced Pakistan to conduct the nuclear tests." Beijing, a supplier of
military hardware to Pakistan, had earlier been suspected of supplying
missile technology to Islamabad -- a charge the Chinese deny.
A number of unexploded cruise missiles had also gone into the hands
of the Taleban, with whom Islamabad enjoys considerable clout. Analysts,
however, seem sure that the "gift" to China was from those missiles that
landed on Pakistan territory. Transferring the ones that landed on
Afghanistan would have been a far more risky business. Cruise missiles
have a sophisticated guidance and control system and the U.S. spooks
were worried that the Chinese may have tried to copy these systems.
The cruise missiles stealing may become a further dampener on
President Clinton's "strategic alliance" policy vis-a-vis China. Already
there is a furor in the U.S. over CIA charges that the Chinese had
weapons establishment. In spite of the U.S. fears, China had become more
extroverted and assertive in its new foreign policy drive with a
military thrust, for more than a year now. According to one report, the
activism that China has brought to its foreign policy last year had
eclipsed anything seen since the Communists came to power in 1949.