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July 21, 1998


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Pressure peaks on Pak to sign CTBT as Talbott flies in for talks

As US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott arrived in Islamabad today, pressure is building up on the Nawaz Sharief government not to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Jamaat Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed said Pakistan should not sign the CTBT unless all the five nuclear powers agree to a schedule for destroying their nuclear armaments, besides an unconditional ban on their future tests.

In a statement, he said signing of the CTBT ''under US commitment to avert the hovering default'' would amount to ''digging your grave with your own hands''.

Ahmed alleged that in order to strengthen its dominance in the region and to check rising influence of China in South-East Asia, Washington was working on a secret plan to resolve the Kashmir issue in accordance with its wishes and Indian notions.

Former caretaker foreign minister and Pak high commissioner in New Delhi, Abdul Sattar said Pakistan should use Talbott's visit to ''re-emphasise its positive position against proliferation'' but should not give the impression it is ready to go on its knees, and should "uphold its honour and identity".

Former ISI chief Lt General Hamid Gul said, "Signing of the CTBT would amount to losing a battle Pakistan has won."

According to sources, Talbott is carrying a letter from US President Bill Clinton for Sharief which enforces the non-proliferation demand by the P-5 and G-8 countries.

Talbott, who is leading a high-level delegation, during his meeting with Pak leaders is expected to reiterate Washington's call for nuclear non-proliferation, especially its demand for signing of the treaty.

According the official sources, besides other items on the agenda, US officials will urge Pakistan to sign and ratify the CTBT immediately and without conditions, refrain from deploying nuclear weapons or missile system, halt the production of fissile materials and participate constructively in negotiations towards avoiding production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Issues like export of weapons under the existing policies and bilateral dialogue with India will also come up in the high-level talks between both the countries.

Pakistan, whose fragile economy depends more heavily than India's on international loans, has suffered from economic sanctions the United States imposed on both countries after their nuclear tests.

Finance Minister Sartaj Aziz warned earlier that Pakistan may have to consider suspending repayments on its debts if the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and other world lending institutions withdraw previously promised loans.

Foreign exchange reserves have fallen to $ 600 million, nearing a record low.

The Karachi stock exchange reduced its work day to try to stem a slide in share values that has taken the stock market from 1551.91 on May 8, the last trading day before India conducted its first nuclear test, to 884.12, the closing figure yesterday.

The State Bank of Pakistan has issued dozens of conflicting directives that have frayed the nerves of already jittery investors.

Most analysts and newspaper columnists in Pakistan expect Talbott to push Pakistan to sign the CTBT and possibly to roll back its nuclear programme.

The foreign ministry said Pakistan is going to the negotiating table with an open mind, ready to consider any option, including signing the test ban treaty.

However, it also said it will not sign a treaty that would give India an advantage.

The cabinet defence committee has reiterated Pakistan's contention that India is to blame for the heightened tensions, having started the nuclear race by conducting the first test.

''Pakistan cannot ignore India's growing nuclear and conventional capabilities,'' the committee said in a statement. ''The major powers must recognise that Pakistan was obliged to restore strategic balance and peace and security in South Asia.''


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