Reported by Robert M. Hathaway

Sartaj Aziz, Foreign Minister of Pakistan, vigorously defended his country's nuclear policies at a September 30 Woodrow Wilson Center Director's Forum and called on the United States to lift the sanctions imposed on Pakistan because of that country's nuclear weapons program.

Speaking before an audience of Wilson Center scholars and invited guests, Aziz reviewed the close partnership that linked Islamabad and Washington for much of the Cold War and noted that this partnership had worked for the benefit of both parties. The 1990 imposition of American sanctions because of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program placed considerable strain on these ties, which suffered further deterioration after President Clinton slapped Pakistan with additional sanctions last year following Islamabad's nuclear tests. The foreign minister voiced the hope that the bilateral relationship could move beyond the strains of the recent past and be reinvigorated as the two countries prepare to enter a new century.

Aziz spelled out in some detail his government's views on the need for a Pakistani nuclear deterrent, and labeled American sanctions unfair, discriminatory, and counterproductive. Indeed, he insisted, U.S. sanctions have eroded Pakistan's conventional military capabilities, obliging Islamabad to place even greater reliance on acquiring a nuclear capability.

The foreign minister's remarks also covered the difficult Indo-Pakistani relationship. He warned against Indian propaganda about an Islamic fundamentalist threat and argued that Pakistan has at least as good a record in respecting religious pluralism as India, where the ruling BJP party and its allies have perpetrated systematic violence and murder against Indian Muslims and other religious minorities. Turning to another controversial subject, Aziz defended the Taliban government in Afghanistan against U.S. accusations that the Taliban has sponsored terrorism, and called for the United States to engage with the Taliban and assist Afghanistan in rebuilding a country devastated by foreign invasion and vicious civil war.

Following his prepared remarks, Aziz was asked why Pakistan had failed to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by the end of September 1999, as it had earlier pledged to do. The foreign minister noted that recent developments on the subcontinent -- including the fighting in Kashmir this summer, the Indian decision to forego any action on the CTBT until after its elections this fall, and the publication a few weeks ago of a draft Indian nuclear doctrine -- had created a political atmosphere in Pakistan that precluded the government's moving forward on the CTBT at present. If the United States were to remove the coercive environment created by U.S. sanctions, he suggested, this would enable the Pakistani government to build domestic support for signing the CTBT.