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May 12, 1998


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Pakistan under increasing domestic pressure to reply in kind

One day after India detonated three nuclear devices, Pakistani Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan said the Asian subcontinent has been thrust into a nuclear arms race, and indicated that Pakistan was ready to conduct a nuclear test of its own.

''We are prepared to match India, we have the capability... We in Pakistan will maintain a balance with India in all fields,'' he said in an interview. "We are in a headlong arms race on the subcontinent.''

Ayub Khan -- son of Pakistan's late dictator Ayub Khan -- said India's nuclear tests were a slap on the face of the international community.

''In fact, what the Indians have told the West and America particularly is 'to hell with all of you','' he said.

The Pakistani government is under pressure from across the political spectrum to respond in kind to India's blast.

Whether it is avowed liberals like former prime minister Benazir Bhutto or right-wing religious leaders, the consensus is the same: Pakistan should explode a nuclear device -- and soon. Bhutto suggested the test should be conducted within the month.

Upon his return to Pakistan from a summit of regional leaders in Kazakhstan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief refused to say whether Islamabad would conduct its own test.

"We are watching the situation and we will take appropriate action with regard to our security,'' he said.

Sharief accused the international community of deliberately turning a blind eye to India's nuclear aspirations while chastising Pakistan for ''uncommitted sins.''

Talking to newsmen at the Islamabad airport on his return from Almaty after attending the eco-conference, he said the Indian nuclear tests did not come as a surprise or a shock. He said, "We have been constantly cautioning the international community of such an eventuality but regrettably our warning remained unheeded."

These tests were in fact encouraged by the discriminatory attitude of the very powers which profess commitment to non-proliferation, he charged.

"Our security concerns were ignored when the international community dismissed India's proclaimed nuclear designs," he said.

Sharief said India had assured Pakistan that there would be no change in its nuclear policy. However, its true colours and sinister designs were fully exposed before the world, he charged.

Lt General Hamid Gul (retired), former head of Pakistan's secret service, called for a ''matching and powerful'' demonstration of Islamabad's nuclear capability.

By midday the Karachi stock market had plunged 42 points in trading, with investors fearing that Pakistan would conduct a retaliatory test and almost certainly be slapped with international sanctions.

''There is a widespread perception that Pakistan will go ahead and conduct a test... which could lead to a serious economic embargo against Pakistan,'' said Farhan Mahmood, a senior stock broker with UBS Global Securities Pakistan Limited in Karachi.

The stock market closed yesterday at 1514.11, but Mahmood predicted it could plummet to 1350 points over the next two weeks as jittery investors stay away from Pakistan.

A former foreign secretary in Bhutto's ousted government, Tanveer Ahmed Khan, told The News, an independent English daily newspaper, that India has left Pakistan no option but to detonate a device.

''It is quite clear that the Indians have called Pakistan's bluff and we have no way out but to carry out our own nuclear test,'' the former foreign secretary was quoted as saying.

''But as soon as we do that, we should be ready to see the United States coming down on us like a tonne of bricks,'' Khan said.

But even before the US could urge Pakistan to show restraint, political leaders were warning against bowing to US pressure.

''It is the test of the nation and of the leadership whether it gives in to US pressure,'' said Lt General Gul.

The leader of Pakistan's small but powerful right wing religious party, Jamaat-e-Islami, Ghafoor Ahmed, said, ''Indian designs in this region are not for peace, but destruction.'' He demanded the government conduct a nuclear test ''immediately.''


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