Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, starting a visit to Washington that is crucial to her struggling regime, accused the U.S. government Monday of turning its back on its Cold War friends now that the threat of communism seems over.
Bhutto complained that after years of supporting American aims, her government had been subjected to tough sanctions after the U.S. government concluded that Pakistan was trying to develop nuclear weapons.
“Those who stood with the United States during its moment of maximum danger, its half-century fight to contain communism, should not be cast aside because the U.S. perceives that the danger has passed,” she said in a speech at the School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University. “The danger is not past. Threats to freedom and stability are not gone.”
Bhutto, who meets with President Clinton today at the White House, wants the United States to lift sanctions that prohibit the sale of arms to her government - or, at the very least, to return the $1.2 billion that Pakistan has paid for F-16 jet fighters and other military hardware it has not received.
The equipment was bought shortly before the U.S. embargo was imposed in October 1990. According to U.S. officials, Bhutto was warned in the spring of 1990 that if Pakistan kept developing nuclear weapons it could forfeit both its hardware and money but that her government went ahead on the assumption - which proved to be wrong - that the United States would waive the sanctions because of the two nations’ previous close relationship.
In her speech Monday, Bhutto complained that the restrictions put Pakistan at a strategic disadvantage to its traditional enemy, India, which has never purchased quantities of American arms and therefore is not subject to U.S. sanctions.
The sanctions on her country, she charged, could embolden India, which conducted a nuclear test explosion in 1974, to develop its own nuclear arsenal, in effect thwarting Washington’s objective of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.
In her Monday speech, Bhutto insisted that Pakistan’s nuclear program is a peaceful one but said that “if the existence of our technology and perceived capability has served as a deterrent to India … I certainly have no apologies to make - not in Islamabad, not in New Delhi and not in Washington.”
But U.S. officials said it is very unlikely that Bhutto will achieve her objective of getting relief from the sanctions, at least in the immediate future. She may have complicated her task by admitting last week that Pakistan is building another nuclear reactor that U.S. officials said could someday give the country access to substantial quantities of bomb-grade plutonium.