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Don't Cut US Aid To Pakistan

CUTTING off aid to Pakistan will not make that country cease its nuclear-weapons activities. While a cutoff might make some in the United States feel good that a proliferator is being punished, it will also unravel the few remaining ties of restraint on Pakistan. The least damaging result would be loss of Pakistan's friendship and cooperation on a host of issues, including participation in Operation Desert Shield. The most severe could be the transfer of the Pakistani bomb to others, perhaps to Islamic brethren in the Mideast. The US tried a cutoff of aid twice before and failed. In 1977, Washington stopped assistance to Pakistan to show concern over the Pakistani nuclear program. Pakistan showed no remorse and continued efforts to obtain nuclear-weapons technology. The US reinstated aid in 1978, after it appeared that the supply of key foreign nuclear technology to Pakistan had stopped. Then, in 1979, after it became clear that Pakistan was dead set on obtaining nuclear weapons, the US again cut off assistance. Again Pakistan showed no inclination to trade its nuclear weapons effort for US assistance; the program continued unabated. US aid was resumed when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Both times aid resumed because the US valued and needed its relationship with Pakistan.

Pakistan will not give up its nuclear-weapons program because it views India, a country which detonated a nuclear device in 1974, as a threat.

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The arguments for an aid cutoff are bolstered by law. Unless the president can certify to Congress that Pakistan does not possess a nuclear device, a cessation of aid is mandated. The law must either be obeyed or changed. The benefit of obeying the law rather than changing it is clear: The US would demonstrate that it opposes nuclear proliferation and is not a toothless tiger. But do the dangers of cutting off aid outweigh the benefits?

If aid to Pakistan is cut off, its nuclear program will continue unabated and US friendship with Pakistan will hit the rocks.

So what? Well, the US may not be able to influence Pakistan much, but every effort should be made to keep communication channels open and the pressure on. The US should set several goals, including: keeping Pakistan from testing a nuclear device; from sharing nuclear materials or technology; and from using its nuclear capabilities to threaten or pressure others. Even though Pakistan has not tested a nuclear device, it can claim nuclear-weapons capability. It might be willing to stop there.

There are other, non-nuclear-related costs to a cutoff of aid to Pakistan. One is democracy. Pakistan is at a critical juncture: Prime Minister Bhutto has been ``constitutionally'' removed and elections are pending. A military takeover is possible. The US, by continuing dialogue with Pakistani leaders, can help the country move forward to democracy instead of backward to dictatorship. But a dialogue will be impossible if aid is cut off.

Other benefits of US friendship with Pakistan are at stake. Despite political costs at home, Pakistan agreed to send troops to join Desert Shield in Saudi Arabia.

An argument for changing the law to allow continued aid is that it is inequitably applied. What about Israel, India, and South Africa? They have matched or exceeded Pakistan's nuclear-weapons activities, without repercussions.

The US should not cut off aid to Pakistan, but it should do something. Most important, it should treat nuclear proliferation as seriously as it does arms control with the USSR. Secretary Baker should send someone to Pakistan and India who knows arms control and is familiar with problems in the region.

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Proposals from such an emissary might include: a regional no-nuclear-test agreement, a regional ban on intermediate-range ballistic missiles, an ``open skies'' bilateral agreement, and limits on conventional forces. And the Soviet Union should be involved in South Asian arms control efforts.

Rather than washing its hands of Pakistan, the US should seek ways to fix the nuclear-proliferation problem. It is time for serious arms control using the same energies and expertise the US and USSR dedicate to themselves.

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