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Wanted: Salesmen to peddle Pak's nuclear wares

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    Wanted: Salesmen to peddle Pak's nuclear wares

    LONDON: Having satisfied its domestic requirements, Pakistan is now ready to export sensitive nuclear material and equipment. It is thus set to join the prestigious nuclear suppliers' group - a task more challenging than detonating an atomic bomb.

    Pakistan is doing it under the full glare of publicity and has made its intention known through a full-page newspaper advertisement issued by the commerce ministry. The present military regime with its commitment to transparency does not believe in backroom deals in a dingy street of Peshawar.

    The advertisement confused US officials who told The Guardian that it appeared to undermine much of the recent progress made in talks on introducing greater controls on nuclear materials. A US State Department official told the daily: ``Up to now the Pakistanis have not supported the idea of making money out of selling this stuff. We're still trying to figure out all this new stuff means.''

    The nuclear powers concerned about proliferation could always buy up all the spare enriched uranium and plutonium and tritium and bale out Pakistan's economy and make the world a safer place. But then, in their own countries there is no guarantee that the material would not be ``diverted'' for unspecified tasks by unspecified sources.

    India could help out Pakistan in its hour of need by buying it but then these materials may not be on the Indo-Pak trade list. Of course, Pakistan is aware of the fact that enriched uranium is not cotton or groundnut and it is not organising a car boot sale. The government has formulated procedures for export licences and offers application forms costing up to 1,400 pounds. The applicants would have to declare that the proposed sale is for peaceful purposes only and that the material would not be reexported.

    For example, if someone in Afghanistan buys it, he would not be free to sell it to anyone outside the country and will have to use it within Afghanistan. The applicants would have to supply an end-user certificate and obtain a ``no-objection certificate'' from the government. Does it mean that the government itself is not the only would-be exporter and that some of these things are in private hands in Pakistan?

    There had been no reports earlier that Pakistan's nuclear programme had been privatised. Or is it that the private parties were allowed to ``import'' surplus stocks which the government no longer needs. In that case, the ``source'' of the material should be known to the government instead of the export having to reveal it.

    Pakistan can hope to have good sales because notwithstanding the decline in the nuclear power industry, there is a flourishing market for sensitive nuclear materials. It will be competing against Russia which also has many such things to spare.

    While America and other nuclear powers may not be amused, Pakistan expects them to applaud it for its new ``transparency''. Information minister Javed Jabbar told the Guardian: ``This is a fulfilment of our commitment to transparency. There is absolutely no scope left for any kind of misuse or pilferage and illegal export of any substance. We are doing this in order to be a good nuclear citizen.''