EXCLUSIVE: Zardari Govt. Turns Down Uranium Deal For Pakistan

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Ahmed Quraishi

12 May 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—After cutting down funding for Pakistan’s strategic and nuclear programs by more than a third, the government of President Asif Ali Zardari has refused to sanction the purchase of fuel for nuclear plants, turning down a rare opportunity to buy uranium from the international market.

Pakistani officials won’t confirm the report, which is being made public here for the first time. But sometime around late 2008, interlocutors from Pakistan and Kazakhstan apparently reached an agreement under which uranium-rich Kazakhstan agreed to sell nuclear fuel to Pakistan.

A government source referred to a Central Asian nation without naming it during an off-the-record conversation. She was most probably referring to Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan has the world’s largest reservoirs of uranium and will soon become its biggest producer. Pakistan is the world’s seventh declared nuclear power and has an ambitious civilian nuclear energy program meant to help fuel Pakistan’s economic growth. The country’s biggest stock exchange at Karachi has been one of the best performing markets in Asia for the most part of this decade, fetching high profit margins for Pakistani and foreign investors. Pakistan cannot continue growth without more energy.

The deal apparently preceded the agreement India signed with Kazakhstan in January 2009 in which New Delhi reportedly agreed to buy up to 2,500 tons of uranium.

The Pak-Kazakh deal was expected to move forward without problems, the only exception being the usual opposition from U.S. and Britain, and Australia.

Pakistan is not a signatory to Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty. This means that the Pak-Kazakh deal would not have violated international laws that had governed uranium transfers in the past decades. Washington had lobbied to exempt India from those restrictions despite New Delhi’s refusal to endorse NPT but refused the same for Pakistan on spurious grounds.  India is being groomed by Washington as counterweight to China and a possible supplier of cheap ground troops to stabilize the faltering American occupation of Afghanistan.

This was Pakistan’s opportunity to break this fake embargo imposed by the U.S. But President Zardari refused to authorize the release of funds for the deal citing budgetary constraints.

While the excuse seems plausible, a pattern is emerging where the Zardari government appears to have entered into a series of silent agreements with Washington regarding Pakistan’s nuclear program in exchange for financial aid.

The Pakistani English-language daily newspaper The News International broke the news that Mr. Zardari has cut 35% of the budget of the country’s classified strategic weaponization programs, while the nonclassified part has also been indirectly frozen with the blocking of 84% of its approved budget.

Freezing almost 90% of an approved budget for parts of the Pakistani nuclear and strategic industry by a Pakistani government is unprecedented and unheard of.

No government official is ready to confirm or deny the story on record.

The cuts indicate an unannounced freeze on the Pakistani nuclear program, according to a scientist quoted by the newspaper’s chief investigative reporter Ansar Abbasi.

“Senior nuclear scientists and those holding key positions in the country’s nuclear program apparatus were extremely upset with the situation and fear that the cut would badly damage the nuclear program and would tantamount to a quiet unannounced rollback,” an unnamed scientist was quoted as saying.

Reports suggest that Mr. Zardari and his aides have accepted secret conditions by Washington and the IMF in exchange for aid. The conditions apparently include freezing funding for the country’s advanced strategic programs. The government is yet to share these conditions with the federal Pakistani parliament or with the Pakistani public opinion. Washington pressed Mr. Zardari to accept IMF conditions last year. Ironically, the Pakistani embassy in Washington lobbied its own government to accept the deal and a close associate of Mr. Haqqani who runs a PR firm wrote in Pakistani newspapers lobbying on behalf of the IMF package.

There are other indications that something fishy is going on in Islamabad, where a government brought to power through an American-style regime-change is cooperating in what appears to be at least a freeze on Pakistani nuclear capabilities if not an outright rollback.

For example, while President Zardari was in the U.S. last week, U.S. officials leaked to the Boston Globe that Mr. Zardari’s aides are secretly negotiating the transfer of enriched Pakistani uranium to the U.S. for disposal. Pakistani newspaper The Nation described the leak as Nuclear Surrender in an editorial on May 7.

Last year Mr. Zardari, without consulting anyone in Pakistan, single-handedly altered Pakistan’s stated nuclear policy by saying Islamabad won’t be the first to use nuclear weapons in case of war, which effectively ends the balance of power with India, a country that invaded Pakistan without provocation during an internal Pakistani political crisis in 1971, and can repeat it.

However, Mr. Zardari’s refusal to pay for uranium from Kazakhstan could possibly prove to be a blunder that Pakistan might regret in the future.

It is a price Pakistan has to pay for accepting a U.S. puppet government under the guise of American democracy, woven together through intricate secret deals, the simplest of which is that Mr. Zardari gets back the millions of dollars in illegal wealth frozen in foreign banks in exchange for promoting the U.S. agenda in Islamabad. And he’s doing a good job at it.


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