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Bush makes Pakistan 'major non-NATO ally'
Updated: 2004-06-17 08:58

US President George W. Bush rewarded Pakistan with "major non-NATO ally" status, opening the door to closer military ties with India's nuclear rival.

"I hereby designate the Islamic Republic of Pakistan as a major non-NATO ally of the United States for the purposes of the act and the Arms Export Control Act," Bush said Wednesday in a statement released by the White House.

US President George W. Bush makes remarks to military personal at MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa, Florida. Bush rewarded Pakistan with 'major non-NATO ally' status, a move that will boost security cooperation, the White House said. [AFP]
The decision, announced as the president made a rally-the-troops speech on Iraq here, means Pakistan is joining an exclusive club of countries that enjoy a privileged security relationship with the United States.

The announcement came despite US concerns about nuclear proliferation by the father of Pakistan's atomic program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, and followed a finding by the official probe into the September 11, 2001 attacks that Islamabad had helped Afghanistan's Taliban regime shelter Osama bin Laden.

The decision was also expected to awaken concerns in India, which does not enjoy the special status. Two Bush administration officials said they knew of no plans to similarly reward New Delhi.

Major non-NATO allies, including Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand, are granted significant benefits in the area of foreign aid and defense cooperation.

Major non-NATO allies are eligible for priority delivery of defense material and the purchase, for instance, of depleted uranium anti-tank rounds.

They can stockpile US military hardware, participate in defense research and development programs and benefit from a US government loan guarantee program, which backs up loans issued by private banks to finance arms exports.

However, the designation does not afford them the same mutual defense guarantees enjoyed by members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

US Secretary of State Colin Powell had announced plans to give Pakistan the special status during a March visit to Islamabad, drawing protests from India as well as Pakistan's internal Islamist opposition.

The step, an apparent reward for Pakistan's support of the global war on terrorism, came as US special forces are leading the hunt along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan for remnants of al-Qaeda -- possibly including bin Laden -- as well as the Taliban Islamist militia that sheltered him.

And it came as the commission probing the September 11 strikes faulted Pakistan as having "significantly facilitated" the al-Qaeda chief's stay in Afghanistan prior to the attacks.

The commission said Pakistan broke with the Taliban only after September 11, 2001, even though it knew the militia was hiding bin Laden, whom the US already sought for terrorist attacks on embassies in Africa.

"The Taliban's ability to provide bin Laden a haven in the face of international pressure and UN sanctions was significantly facilitated by Pakistani support," said the report.

"Pakistan benefitted from the Taliban-al-Qaeda-relationship, as bin Laden's camps trained and equipped fighters for Pakistan's ongoing struggle with India over Kashmir."

Pakistan has become a key US ally since the war on terrorism was launched in the wake of the September 11 attacks. It dropped its support for the Taliban, allowed US troops to use its air bases and intelligence for the campaign to oust the Taliban and arrested more than 500 al-Qaeda fugitives.

Islamabad was rewarded for its immediate cooperation with the lifting of US sanctions -- which dated back as far as 1990 -- on military cooperation, training and sales.

Since 2001, the US military has resumed bilateral defense talks with Pakistan, as well as some training and limited hardware sales.

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