News Briefings

DoD News Briefing

Tuesday, September 28, 1999 - 2:41 p.m.
Presenter: Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA


Q: Ken, have you any firm indication of what's going on in Pakistan? And is there any concern in this building over who controls Pakistan's nuclear program and nuclear weapons at this time?

Mr. Bacon: Okay, I've obviously seen the same reports you have about what's going on in Pakistan. It's our understanding that the military has seized a number of buildings and airports. We don't know much beyond that right now. My understanding is that the military plans to address the nation sometime in the next several hours. Of course, it's -- I think Pakistan is 10 hours ahead of us, so it's a little after midnight, a little before 1:00 a.m. in Pakistan now. So I don't know exactly when this address is going to occur, or if it's going to occur. It's based on a CNN report, primarily, at this stage.

In terms of the nuclear arsenal, it's my understanding that the Pakistani Army has controlled the nuclear program and the security of the nuclear weapons as a matter of course. So I don't think that anything should change, based on the events that we see taking place in Pakistan today.

Q: Has the Defense secretary tried to get a hold of his counterpart in Pakistan? Or is there a civilian --

Mr. Bacon: He has been kept briefed regularly on the events in Pakistan. But to the best of my knowledge, he has not tried to contact anybody over there.

Q: But -- I am sorry -- just again to briefly recap. All you know about what's going on in Pakistan is what you hear and see in reports; you can't confirm that these buildings that have been taken over by --

Mr. Bacon: Well, we also have a very complete report from our embassy in Pakistan, which basically confirms what's been reported in the media. And their report doesn't differ substantially in any way from what's been reported in the press.

Q: Any signs of a mobilization on the Indian side of the border? Is there any concern or increased alert today?

Mr. Bacon: It is my understanding from my esteemed colleague Jamie Rubin at the State Department, that there has been a heightened alert by Indian forces along the border. But my only source for that is from the State Department at this stage.

Q: Ken, just a follow-up on --

Q: (Inaudible) -- how about in Pakistan?

Mr. Bacon: Sorry?

Q: Mobilizations in Pakistan?

Mr. Bacon: I am not aware that there have been -- well, I guess it depends on your view of mobilization.

The reports are that the military has seized a number of government buildings, airports, a TV station in Islamabad, and other facilities -- operating widely throughout the country. I am not aware that there has been a mobilization of reserves or others. I don't know what the military says, whether they have a total force like we do or not. But the military apparently, according to the reports we have been receiving through embassy and other sources, has been active in surrounding various government facilities throughout Pakistan.

Q: But along the border with India --

Mr. Bacon: I am not aware that -- I think most of the action has been occurring in Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, other major cities.

Q: Does this kind of instability in the government in Pakistan underscore the administration's concerns about the proliferation of nuclear weapons? Here you have a nuclear-capable state, and we are not even sure who is in charge at the moment.

Mr. Bacon: Well, I think we do have to wait and see what's happening. We don't have a clear view of what's going on in Islamabad right now.

But to answer your question directly, yes, I think it does underscore the need for treaties like the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, that would, in effect, make it more difficult for countries to develop nuclear weapons. Pakistan has, of course -- has not signed the treaty, but both India and Pakistan have indicated that they could in the future perhaps sign the treaty, and that would be good because it would make the further development of nuclear weapons more difficult if they cannot test them. It would have been better had they signed the treaty before they tested nuclear weapons, but that wasn't the case.


Q: Just to follow up, have they indicated that they would not -- they would only sign the treaty in the event that the United States ratifies it?

Mr. Bacon: Well, I think that it's widely expected that if the leading nuclear power in the world refused to ratify the treaty, that there would be little incentive for other countries to ratify the treaty.


Q: Can you characterize the state of military-to-military relations between the United States and Pakistan? And have these relationships been seriously limited by the dispute over Pakistan's nuclear program, and is that leaving you in the dark at the moment?

Mr. Bacon: Well, there are very, very limited military-to-military relationships between the U.S. and Pakistan. And there are a number of reasons for this, but the primary one is their nuclear program. In 1990, U.S. military assistance to Pakistan was cut off under the so-called Pressler amendment, which required the president to certify that Pakistan was not working to develop a nuclear device. President Bush felt that he could not certify that in 1990, and therefore invoked the Pressler amendment, and military-to-military relationships were, as I say, cut off. There were other dealings with Pakistan that continued, principally in the counternarcotics area, but of course that's not a military program.

So there really has been very, very little dealing between our military on the customary basis of the International Military Education and Training program, IMET, officer exchanges of -- sales through the Foreign Military Sales program, the provision of spare parts. Those types of standard transactions have not been occurring for about the last nine years.

Now, following the nuclear test in May of 1998, there was at one point congressional discussion about restarting the so-called IMET program on the theory that we needed to establish relationships between the U.S. and the Pakistani military in order to get to know them better and to work with them on -- establish paths for working with them on a variety of issues, such as confidence-building measures and things like that. That never took place. The IMET program was not reestablished for a series of economic and political reasons, so there has been virtually no contact on a standard basis between our militaries.

Having said that, General Zinni -- General Anthony Zinni -- who is the commander in chief of our Central Command, has been to Pakistan several times, including, I think, as recently as June or July, to discuss nuclear issues, the need to subscribe to the test ban treaty, and also to try to find ways to reduce tensions in Kashmir. As you'll recall, there were fears back in June and July that India and Pakistan might go to war over Kashmir, and this time, unlike the past times they have fought over Kashmir, they both have nuclear weapons. So there was considerable efforts made by the United States and other countries to try to tame this dispute, and I think it was successfully tamed.

Q: Have any of these high-level Pakistani military officials met in the last year or six months with top U.S. officials -- Secretary Cohen or General Shelton or --

Mr. Bacon: Well, I don't -- I can't -- I don't believe any have met with Secretary Cohen. I'll double check that. The director of intelligence in Pakistan was here several months ago. This is the person that the Prime Minister Sharif appointed, or tried to appoint as the Army chief of staff. As I understand it -- and this all happened today, and reporting, both from the embassy and from media, is very contemporaneous. But as I understand it, Prime Minister Sharif attempted to fire the Army chief of staff, whose name is Musharraf, and replace him with a General Zia, who was the director of intelligence. And it was -- according to reports that we've seen, it was this move that triggered a response by the military. General Musharaff, the army chief of staff, was out of the country at the time in Sri Lanka. He is now back in Pakistan. He returned, I think, at 7:20, 1920 local time, this evening to Pakistan from Sri Lanka.

Q: Ken?

Q: Just a follow-up. What was the -- if military to military contacts have essentially been cut off between the U.S.and Pakistan, what was the purpose of General Zia's visit to Washington? Who did he meet with, and what was his purpose?

Mr. Bacon: I don't know his itinerary, but I think it's very clear that we do have some common concerns with Pakistan. One is counternarcotics, one is the extreme -- is terrorism in Afghanistan, perhaps connected with the Taliban and other forces in Afghanistan. So there are reasons for us to have a dialogue with Pakistan. As you know, Pakistan was actually very helpful during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the late 1970s: 1979-1980. So we have had a long strategic relationship with Pakistan over the years. It has been complicated from time to time, as I said earlier, by its nuclear program, and also by the fact that Pakistan does have a history of military governments. I think that Pakistan is a little over 50 years old, and nearly half that time Pakistan has been governed by the military.

Q: Ken?

Mr. Bacon: Yes.

Q: If I could, then as best as you can tell at the moment, the military has moved on its own and is not under a civilian control and it appears, could I say it appears that a coup has taken place?

Mr. Bacon: Well, I'd be reluctant to say that a coup's taken place because I just don't think we know the details at this time. I think we're awaiting clarification, just as you are, from Pakistan. And as I said earlier, I've seen reports that the military leader, General Musharaff, the army's chief of staff, plans to make an address to the nation sometime soon. But I don't know when that is.

Q: Did the prime minister's decision to fire the army chief, was that something that came as a surprise to you, or did you know about -- know that that was coming?

Mr. Bacon: Well, that's a very hard question to answer. There have been widespread reports in the press, including last week's Economist, I believe, and including a recent edition of the Washington Post, about tensions between the prime minister and the military. There was speculation in a recent issue of the Economist that there may be a military coup. So certainly this was discussed in Pakistan. It was discussed in the Western media and, I think, discussed widely in the Pakistani media over time. So from that standpoint, it was certainly -- discussion was in the wind.

But there's a big difference between having press reports or press speculation about what may happen and it actually happening. I don't think we had any -- I know we had no premonition that it was going to happen, that something like this was going to happen, and particularly happen today. But I want to stress again that there have been widespread reports in the media about this. But that's different from knowing specifically about something about to happen.


Q: I want to change the topic a second.

Mr. Bacon: Well, let's finish on this, if there are more questions.

Q: (Off mike) -- if a military government is installed, what is your assessment on their efforts to support counterterrorism? Do you feel a military government would be supportive of that?

Mr. Bacon: Well, first, let me be very clear. The United States supports democracy in Pakistan and supports adherence to the Pakistani constitution.

Having said that, I think it's -- we don't know exactly what's happening in Pakistan today, and therefore it's a little premature to speculate on what the policies of the new government might be. I don't have any reason to believe that the military would be lax on counterterrorism.

As you know, one of the problems that has afflicted Pakistan in the last several weeks is an upsurge of sectarian violence between two factions of the overwhelmingly Muslim population, and there have been I think several dozen deaths due to fighting between Sunni and Shi'a factions.

There has been concern of terrorism. But I can't speculate on what policies a new government would --

Q: I was just wondering if you felt from General Zia's recent visit here, whether there were any hints about -- as to whether or not any elements of the military weren't willing to pursue that more vigorously?

Mr. Bacon: Not that I am aware of, but I just don't know.

More questions on this? Tony?