ISLAMABAD --- Iran’s foreign minister is due to arrive in Pakistan Wednesday to discuss the conflict in Yemen, which many see as a fight for influence between regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran also has recently reached a framework nuclear agreement with six world powers. Saudi Arabia, in the past, reportedly has sought to form its own nuclear alliances to counter a perceived Iranian threat.
As Iran gets ready to possibly curb the weapons potential of its nuclear program, its regional rival Saudi Arabia watches closely. Over the years, one of the ways the Saudis tried to neutralize a potential Iranian threat was reportedly by looking toward their strategic ally Pakistan.
The South Asian country is in an unusual position.
On one hand, it has sold nuclear secrets to Iran through a network run by former chief Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan. But this was in the past, said nuclear physicist Abdul Hameed Nayyer.
“The A.Q. Khan trade link also included Iran. And Iran’s centrifuge program has benefited from Pakistani designs," said Nayyer.
On the other hand, Pakistan is said to have promised a nuclear umbrella to Iran’s rival, Saudi Arabia.
While this allegation was never proven, it may have stemmed from the history of Pakistan’s nuclear program.
“We know that Pakistan’s nuclear program was heavily subsidized by outsiders, financed by outsiders, and we know that one of the deals was actually discovered later on," said Nayyer.
That was the deal with Libya, which later abandoned its nuclear program and turned over its equipment to the United States.
“If Saudi Arabia also financed Pakistan’s nuclear program, it is possible that Saudi Arabia would also demand such a thing from Pakistan," said Nayyer.
While there is no concrete evidence of Saudi financing of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, critics point to ancillary support.
After Pakistan tested its nuclear device and was slapped with international sanctions,
Saudi Arabia provided it with oil on deferred payments for three years and later forgave some of the payments.
Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz was given a tour of Pakistani nuclear facilities in 1999, soon after Pakistan’s nuclear test. Pakistan claims he was not shown the weapons program.
Awais Laghari heads the foreign affairs committee in Pakistan’s national assembly. He said despite the excellent relationship with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan will not share its nuclear weapons or know-how.
“Pakistan can’t afford to do that. We’re not irresponsible enough to do that. Pakistan’s own nuclear program would be at stake and I’m sure no country can ever convince us of trying to put our own program at stake at all, and we don’t believe in such irresponsible actions in the future at all," said Laghari.
Nayyer hopes Laghari is right. He acknowledges that Pakistan’s nuclear support to Iran stopped after the A.Q. Khan network was discovered.
And he thinks the changed international environment may have convinced Pakistan that the cost of nuclear proliferation now is too high.