Friday, July 1st, 2022 13:36:25

Pakistan’s Korean Link

Updated: March 23, 2015 10:20 am

North Korea, arguably the world’s most dangerous totalitarian country, has recommended a range of 28 hairstyles for its citizens, claiming that they are “the most comfortable” styles and capable of warding off the corrupting effects of capitalism, according to a report in the Times of India. Quoting a Hong Kong-based website, the paper said that North Korean women could choose from 18 feathery looks, while men must make do with only 10. And here too, there are further restrictions. Married women are instructed to keep their tresses short, while the single ladies are allowed let loose with longer and curlier locks. As regards men, the hair of the country’s young men should be less than 5 cm long and they should have a haircut once every 15 days as longer hair apparently takes away nutrition from their brains! Older men, whose brains are presumably in decline, anyway, are allowed to rock out with hair as long as 7 cm, according to the country’s new rules.

If you need a rule- book to cut your hair, one can imagine the quality of life that people in North Korea, the world’s most secluded country, have. Now under Kim Jong-un, a young and third generation dictator after his grandfather and father (the politics of dynasty is easier and entrenched deeper in autocracies and under totalitarianism), North Korea is least bothered by global norms and practices. In fact, North Korea has made a virtue out of defiance of such norms and practices, including international treaties that it has been party to. Yet to complete a year in office, Kim has fired two long-range missiles and tested a nuclear weapon, having dangerous implications for countries such as Japan, South Korea and India. Yes, North Korea’s missile and nuclear policies are ominous from India’s point of view, given their connections with Pakistan.

Details of the nuclear test that North Korea conducted last month, within days of the United Nations demanding it to resist from carrying out such tests, are still not clear. Experts are wondering whether the test used plutonium (as in previous tests), uranium, or boosted plutonium (thermonuclear). A uranium test would show that Pyongyang has achieved a second path to nuclear weapons programme, while a boosted plutonium weapon could provide significantly greater explosive yields or an expanded nuclear arsenal, since less plutonium is required per weapon. However, it may be noted that North Korea had confirmed uranium enrichment activities to an American scientist in November 2010. And here the Pakistani connection becomes too obvious.

Way back in 1999 as the Seoul Peace Prize Scholarship Fellow and Visiting Professor at Yonsei University, I had authored a book titled Nuclearisation of Divided Nations: Pakistan, India- Koreas. In this book I had highlighted how Pakistan and North Korea were helping each other—North Korea helping Pakistan in developing its missiles and in return Pakistan helping North Korea in developing its nuclear weapons. This is true even today; in fact, relations between the two countries have become much stronger. Incidentally, as I write this column (March 7), there comes the news that Ro Kyong Chol, Ambassador, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), is visiting Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry and telling its president Zafar Bakhtawari how to further strengthen economic relations between the two countries.

Be that as it may, Pakistan has been a major supplier of critical equipment for North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme. The equipment, which may include gas centrifuges used to create weapons-grade uranium, appears to have been part of a barter deal beginning in the late nineties in which North Korea supplied Pakistan with missiles it could use to counter India’s nuclear arsenal. In fact, it all began in 1971 when Pakistan requested North Korea to provide artillery, multiple rocket launchers, ammunition and a variety of spare parts. This relationship took a big turn in the eighties in the field of ballistic missile cooperation, thanks to the Iran-Iraq war. Engineers and contractors from Pakistan and North Korea worked closely in Iran on developing that country’s missiles. They got attractive monetary remuneration in return from Tehran which wanted to catch up with Baghdad in the field of missiles. Subsequently, these contacts resulted in the establishment of nuclear and ballistic missile-related cooperation between themselves, too.

North Korea’s contribution to Pakistan’s missile programme was vital because of one interesting feature of Pakistan’s armament policy. There existed an intense competition among various scientific establishments in Pakistan to outdo one another in developing, whether indigenously or by stealing components from Western countries, weapons of mass destruction (WMD). For instance, as Jane’s Intelligence Review once pointed out, there was no love lost between the two leaders of the missile programmes: Dr Samar Mubrik, head of the Pakistan’s National Development Complex (NDC) and Dr A.Q. Khan, who led Khan Research Laboratories (both of them have since retired). Dr Khan was behind the liquid-fuelled Ghauri missiles and hence had close links with North Korea. And Dr Mubrik was interested in Chinese help in improving the solid-fuelled Shaheen series of missiles. Interestingly, both Shaheen II and Ghauri II are of similar range—2,000 to 2,300 km.

Incidentally, this rivalry extended to the nuclear weapon field as well. Pakistan’s nuclear programme in initial years concentrated on attaining nuclear technology through reprocessing Plutonium 239 (as fuel). The programme was guided by the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission’s then chairman Dr Munir Ahmed Khan. But Dr A.Q. Khan, a bitterest critic of Dr Munir Ahmed, worked on the Uranium-235 route to have the bomb and achieved better success, although he never hesitated to steal the technologies from other countries in the process.

Analysts say that it was during Benazir Bhutto’s regime that Dr Khan got the best governmental support to intensify the Pakistan-North Korea links. After she became the Prime Minister for the first time in December 1988, Ms Bhutto sent top Pakistani officials to North Korea to discuss various proposals. Similarly, the birth of the Ghauri programme is believed to date to late 1993 or early 1994, following Benazir’s re-election in October 1993. In December 1993, she travelled to China and then to North Korea. She sought from Pyongyang, among other things, increased cooperation in the development of ballistic missiles, particularly a system capable of striking strategic targets within India. From this point on, the political, scientific and missile cooperation between North Korea and Pakistan really accelerated.

In November 1995, a North Korean military delegation led 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 and signed the agreement to provide Pakistan necessary components and technology towards the development of Ghauri missile (from North Korea’s Nodong and Taep’o dong programmes).

Pakistan has been paying for its missile deals with North Korea partly in cash, partly in food grains and partly in fertilisers. The North Koreans are essentially a rice-eating people, but because of acute starvation conditions, their government was prepared to accept any kind of food grains. That, since 1996, Pakistan has been giving to North Korea wheat came to light through Japanese intelligence sources. But most importantly, it has been contributing to Pyongyang’s nuclear programme became clear from the controversial death of the wife of a senior North Korean diplomat in Pakistan on June 9, 1998. The lady in question was one Kim Sa-nae. She was killed (shot at) just a week after Pakistan exploded its nuclear devices on June 9, 1998. The news was largely ignored and the police filed no reports. But, in November 1998, the British media reported, quoting anonymous Western diplomats in Islamabad, that her death was linked to the covert nuclear deals between Pakistan and North Korea.

It was said that she was killed by North Koreans working in A.Q. Khan’s “top secret” research laboratories on Pyongyang’s order. Because, she was suspected of working for Western Intelligence agencies. She was also suspected of making plans to defect. According to Jane’s Intelligence Review, the Pakistanis rejected the report as “baseless,” and the matter ended there. But the controversy again resurfaced with the Los Angeles Times having a second look at the incident in a report on August 25, 1999, and concluding that “North Korean technicians are already working in (Pakistani) laboratories.”

It is instructive to realise in this context some bitter lessons. Both North Korea and Pakistan are “natural allies.” Both happen to be essentially authoritarian states, with the military dominating their polities. Both are not reconciled to the existing states of the partitions of their mother countries. While North Korea’s official policy remains the reunification of pre-1945 Korea under the “socialist system,” (its Juche philosophy), Pakistan considers the Partition of India in 1947 incomplete without it having Kashmir. And what is most important, their negotiating styles vis-à-vis the rest of the world are identical. The strategy is to extract maximum concessions and then dishonour your international commitments. Both the countries go on proliferating weapons of mass destruction (in Pakistan’s case, also aiding and encouraging Islamic fundamentalists as terrorists) and then demand huge international assistance, monetary and otherwise, in return for restraints. In practice, however, they do not restrain themselves and further load the agenda in order to create a context for more one-sided concessions from their rivals. In other words, both Pakistan and North Korea have excelled in blackmailing the rest of the world and demanding international attention, mainly because of their possession of missile power and nuclear expertise.


By Prakash Nanda

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