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Staff writer

Japan should lift the economic sanctions it imposed on Pakistan following Islamabad’s first nuclear test in May 1998 if it wants the country to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Pakistani Ambassador to Japan Touqir Hussain told The Japan Times in a recent interview.

Commenting on the prospect of Pakistan signing the CTBT, a global agreement to ban nuclear tests, the ambassador reiterated that lifting sanctions should come first.

“Japan is a very important aid donor for the developing world, especially for Pakistan,” said Hussain, 57, who has held the Tokyo post for nearly 1 1/2 years.

“Japanese-Pakistani relations, however, have not been easy in the last year and a half because of our nuclear test,” he said.

In May 1998, Islamabad conducted its first nuclear test in response to India’s test some weeks earlier. Then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif argued that India’s detonation of nuclear devices had violently tilted the balance of power in South Asia.

Tokyo suspended aid to India, at $6.3 billion its fifth-largest recipient in monetary terms up to that month, except for emergency humanitarian assistance.

Japan imposed similar sanctions against Pakistan, Tokyo’s seventh-largest recipient of official developmental assistance, at $3.8 billion, in response to Islamabad’s nuclear test.

“Our nuclear program is not motivated by any desire to become a big power or any hegemonic ambition in the region,” Hussain said. “We would not have done the test if India had not forced us to.”

Hussain stressed that his efforts to explain Pakistan’s position on the nuclear test to the Japanese government are gradually gaining “understanding,” and expressed hope that the sanctions will be lifted in the near future.

Touching on the prospect of Pakistan signing the CTBT, Hussain said the pressure to sign as a result of the sanctions Japan and other aid donors imposed makes it very difficult for Pakistan to move forward, because the public will accuse the government of caving in to the pressure in return for aid.

Regarding the military coup in Pakistan last month, in which Army chief Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf declared a state of emergency, suspended the Constitution and ousted Sharif, Hussain did not specify the timing of a transition to a democratically elected government.

“The emphasis is not so much on the replacement of the government,” he said, pointing out that if Musharraf moves too quickly, the same kind of people will return to power. “We want to give the people a chance to clean up society.”

Commenting on the problem of political corruption and other social illnesses that worsened under the last three or four governments, Hussain said democracy will mean little if it fails to improve the people’s quality of life.

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