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The Pakistan-North Korea nexus

By B Raman
April 08, 2003 19:27 IST
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The United States maintains double standards when dealing with Pakistan. Yesterday, B Raman revealed how the US imposed sanctions against North Korea for having a clandestine missile supply relationship with Pakistan. The latter was, however, not similarly penalised.

Today, B Raman explores the depth of the Pakistan-North Korea relationship.

Pakistan's arms supply relationship with North Korea dates back to 1971 when the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, then foreign minister under the late General Yahya Khan, visited Pyongyang and sought North Korean arms supplies to strengthen the Pakistani armed forces in the face of a looming war with India.

Pakistan then did not have diplomatic relations with North Korea. The visit led to the signing of an agreement on September 18, 1971, 10 weeks before the outbreak of the war with India, for the supply of North Korea-made conventional weapons to Pakistan.

Under another agreement signed the same day, the two countries agreed to set up mutual consular relations, which were upgraded to full-fledged diplomatic relations on November 9, 1972.

Under the September agreement, Pakistan received from North Korea, in return for payment in US dollars, many shipments of items such as rocket launchers, ammunition, etc. In the 1980s, Pakistan also acted as an intermediary in facilitating arms supply agreements concluded by Pyongyang with Libya and Iran. During the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, North Korea became the principal supplier of weapons to Iran, which was the target of an arms embargo imposed by the Western countries.

To escape detection by Western intelligence agencies, North Korean arms shipments meant for Iran used to be received by sea at Karachi and from there transported in Pakistani trucks to Iran across Balochistan. Amongst the supplies made by North Korea to Iran via Karachi were more than 100 Scud-B (known as the Hwasong 5 in North Korea) ballistic missiles and equipment for the assembly, maintenance and ultimate production of these missiles on Iranian territory.

In this transaction, Pakistan played a double game. On one hand, the then ruling military regime of the late Zia-ul-Haq collaborated with the US Central Intelligence Agency and Iraqi intelligence in destabilisation operations directed at the Sunni Balochis living on the Iranian side of the border. At the same time, it clandestinely allowed the transport by road of North Korean arms and ammunition meant for use by the Iranian army against the Iraqis. Pakistani army officers were also sent to Libya to help train Libyan army officers in the use and maintenance of North Korean weaponry.

During the Zia regime, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence and its North Korean counterpart collaborated closely for the clandestine acquisition of nuclear- and missile-related equipment and technology from erstwhile West Germany and other Western countries. Since North Korea did not have either a presence or funds and other capability to indulge in clandestine procurement from the West, it gave lists of its requirements to the ISI, which procured them and passed them on.

This co-operation between the two countries, the foundation for which was laid by Bhutto, was strengthened during the two tenures of Benazir Bhutto as prime minister (1988-90 and 1993-96). It was during this time that Pakistan failed in its efforts to develop indigenous missile production capability (the Hatf series) and sought Chinese and North Korean supplies of missiles as well as technology for their production in Pakistan.

In her second tenure, Benazir Bhutto visited Pyongyang during which the scope of the arms supply agreement concluded when her father was foreign minister was expanded to include co-operation in the nuclear and missile fields -- including the training of Khan Research Laboratories' scientists and engineers in North Korea, the training of North Korean scientists and engineers at the Pakistani uranium enrichment plant at Kahuta, and the supply of No-Dong missiles and related technology to Pakistan.

Earlier, during Nawaz Sharief's first tenure as prime minister (1990-93), Lieutenant General Javed Nasir, then director-general of the ISI, visited Pyongyang to sign a secret agreement with North Korea's intelligence organisation for joint production, through reverse engineering, of the US-made, shoulder-fired Stinger missiles and their batteries. Some of the missiles in the Pakistani army's stock were given to North Korean intelligence for this purpose. Iranian intelligence agreed to fund the project.

It is not known whether this project succeeded in producing an imitation of the Stingers and their batteries. The ISI was particularly interested in the batteries because it was unable to use a large number of the Stinger missiles in its stocks since the life period of the batteries supplied by the US before 1988 for use of the missiles against the Soviets in Afghanistan had expired.

Throughout the 1990s, whoever was at the helm in Islamabad, the trilateral co-operation involving Pakistan, Iran and North Korea in the development and production of the Scud-C (called Hwasong 6 in North Korea) and the No-Dong missiles continued without interruption, despite Tehran's anger against Pakistan for backing the Taliban and failing to prevent the periodic massacre of Pakistani Shias and Iranian nationals by the Sunni extremist Sipah-e-Sahaba and its militant wing, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

In 1992, when Nawaz Sharief was prime minister, a team of Pakistani scientists and engineers had visited North Korea's missile development centre, reportedly for joint examination of some technical problems encountered by the Koreans in the development of the No-Dong. The same year saw a visit by Kim Yong-nam, then North Korea's foreign minister and deputy prime minister, to Syria, Iran and Pakistan in July-August. Pakistani and Iranian scientists and engineers visited North Korea in May 1993 to witness the launching of one No-Dong and three Scud missiles (model not known).

Benazir's visit to Beijing and Pyongyang in December 1993 was followed by the visits of a number of North Korean personalities to Pakistan in 1994-95 to discuss bilateral nuclear and missile co-operation. Important amongst these were:

  • In April 1994, Pak Chung-kuk, deputy to the Supreme People's Assembly, visited Iran and Pakistan with a team of officials from the North Korean foreign ministry and the nuclear and missile establishment.
  • In September the same year, Choe Hui-chong, chairman of the State Commission of Science and Technology, visited Pakistan at the head of a team of North Korean nuclear and missile experts.
  • In November 1995, a delegation of North Korean military officers and nuclear and missile experts headed by Choe Kwang, vice-chairman of the National Defence Commission, minister of the People's Armed Forces and marshal of the Korean People's Army, visited Pakistan. The delegation met senior officials of the armed forces and visited Pakistan's nuclear and missile establishments, including KRL. The team included senior officials of the fourth machine industry bureau of the second economic committee and the Changgwang Sinyong Corporation (also known as the North Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation).

During the visit, KRL and the Changgwang Sinyong Corporation signed an agreement to supply Pakistan with No-Dong missiles as well as fuel tanks and rocket engines. The agreement also provided for stationing North Korean missile experts in KRL to train their Pakistani counterparts in the use and maintenance of the missiles supplied by North Korea and for the supply and development of mobile erector launchers for the missiles.

These visits contributed to the speeding up of Pakistan's missile programme and culminated in KRL firing the Ghauri missile on April 6, 1998. Pakistan projected Ghauri as its own, indigenously developed missile.

Despite this, the US state department imposed a two-year sanction against KRL and the Changgwang Sinyong Corporation on April 24, 1998, which expired on April 23, 2000.

KRL had earlier been the subject of similar sanctions imposed by the state department in August 1993 for its clandestine procurement of M-11 missiles from China.

The sanctions imposed on March 24, 2003, are the third against KRL. These sanctions have had no effect either on Pakistan or North Korea.

KRL and the North Korean corporation are State-owned entities, run and managed by officers of the armed forces of the two countries. Pakistan used a US-supplied aircraft from its air force for transporting the missiles. Missiles and other weapons sent by North Korea to Iran in the 1980s transited through Pakistan, escorted by Pakistani troops. Pakistan and North Korea have a joint project for reverse-engineering US-made Stingers.

North Korean scientists witnessed Pakistan's Chagai nuclear tests in May 1998. Pakistan has been helping North Korea in the development of its uranium enrichment facility. The two countries have been training each other's nuclear and missile scientists in their respective establishments. In return for North Korea's assistance, Pakistan diverted to it wheat purchased from the US and Australia, paying for the grain from its huge dollar reserves built up after 9/11, thereby enabling Pyongyang to withstand the economic boycott imposed by the West.

To hoodwink US intelligence, Pakistan transported some of the Chinese and North Korean missiles by road via the Karakoram Highway. Pakistan's diplomatic mission in Pyongyang is generally headed and staffed by serving or retired army officers, who had previously served in the ISI's clandestine nuclear and missile procurement set-up. The latest instance in this regard is Major General (retd) Fazle Ghafoor.

For the US to pretend, despite all this, that Pakistan's repeated violations of nuclear and missile-related regulations are the misdeeds of errant individual entities for which the State cannot be held responsible shows the extent to which it is prepared to close its eyes to what Pakistan has been doing.

If there is one country in the world which has been systematically violating all regulations relating to nuclear and missile proliferation and from which there is a real danger of leakage of weapons of mass destruction and related technologies to pan-Islamic terrorists, it is Pakistan.

US's double standards in this matter are evident from the alacrity and vigour with which it has acted against Iraq despite the lack of credible evidence against it and the care with which it protects the regime in Pakistan, despite all the evidence available against it.

Part I: Pakistan: America's blind spot

Image: Dominic Xavier

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