Friday, May 30, 2008

Old Ties

It is interesting to come across in newspapers or in on-line postings the names of former high-ranking foreigners that I met when they made official visits to the Pentagon.

Mostly these are retired British officers. But one former (1988-1991) Pakistani Army Chief of Staff, General Mirza Aslam Beg, keeps popping up. Beg established a “ think tank” to keep track of and bring pressure to bear on governments in Islamabad – one suspects on civilian prime ministers only.

Within three years of his August 1991 retirement, Beg was in the headlines with former head of the Bureau of Inter-Service Intelligence, (ISI), General Asad Durrani. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif claimed in a newspaper interview that the two officers came to him in November 1990 with a scheme to sell illegal drugs and use the money to fund covert foreign operations. Both officers denied the charges, and the matter was not pursued.

If that sounds like Iran-Contra, you are in the ballpark. Remember also that in 1989, when Soviet troops left Afghanistan, the U.S. left Pakistan high and dry.

Beg’s name was also tied to the “for profit” nuclear weapons and technology ring headed by A.Q. Khan. He acknowledges that Iranian officials had asked about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program and whether they could obtain a weapon, but stated that the reply from Islamabad was no.

All this came up when a Pakistani news outlet reported that General Beg had told them that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was under detention by the Pakistan army and would leave the country shortly. Everyone denied the story, but it served as a reminder of how fragile the U.S.-Pakistan relationship really is ten years after Pakistan’s first nuclear weapons test.

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