The Washington debate over whether to put new conditions on aid to Pakistan is reaching its finale, with a strong tilt toward Pakistan. The Senate this weekend approved a new six-year waiver for Pakistan of a key nuclear nonproliferation law. The waiver would allow resumption of United States military and economic aid to Pakistan, despite widespread concern in Congress that the South Asian nation is engaged in developing nuclear weapons.
The proposal, part of a catch-all appropriations bill, now goes to a Senate-House conference, where critics of Pakistan's nuclear program will try to shorten the waiver and tighten aid requirements.
However, nuclear nonproliferation specialists in Congress and elsewhere acknowledge that they have been successfully outmaneuvered in their attempts to influence Pakistan's nuclear program.
An essential factor in the Senate's decision, they say, was Afghanistan. Pakistan provides the main logistics base for the Afghan resistance and looks out for the resistance at United Nations talks on the Afghanistan problem.
The Reagan administration argued that it would be contrary to US strategic interests to harm US-Pakistan relations while the Soviets are under increasing pressure to pull out from Afghanistan.
On the nuclear-proliferation issue, Pakistani officials persuaded a number of key lawmakers that it was unfair to sanction it for preserving a nuclear option without taking into account the nuclear program of its bitter rival, India.
India, which has defeated Pakistan in three wars since 1947, exploded a nuclear device in 1974 and continues to stockpile nuclear-weapons-grade material without international assurances of peaceful use. Pakistan says it would accept international safeguards on its nuclear program if India would do so.
Neither country has signed the 1968 nuclear nonproliferation treaty or accepted international inspection of all its nuclear facilities to assure the peaceful use of materials produced.
A Senate Appropriations subcommittee embodied this logic in a proposal linking treatment of Pakistan's program to India's nuclear behavior.
The proposal would have allowed the president to exempt Pakistan from sanctions under US nonproliferation law for its unsafeguarded nuclear program if India continues to produce unsafeguarded nuclear materials usable for weapons, and vice versa.
But critics of linking India and Pakistan in US nonproliferation policy, such as Leonard Spector of the Carnegie Endowment For International Peace, say such linkage could have become a dangerous precedent legitimizing nuclear proliferation by rivals elsewhere in the world, such as by Israel and its neighbors or by China and Taiwan.
Congress has been debating for much of the year whether to impose new requirements on future aid to Pakistan, because of evidence that Pakistan continues to seek technology for nuclear weapons and may be enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels.
The final Senate compromise dropped the proposal to link Pakistan's and India's nuclear behavior. It grants Pakistan a six-year waiver of the Symington amendment, which forbids US military assistance to countries that import or export uranium-enrichment technology that is not subject to international inspections and other safeguards.
Although the Senate also created a new requirement that US military aid be severed if a country enriches uranium over 20 percent, separates plutonium, or makes U-233, the compromise allows the president, ``in the interest of national security,'' to waive that restriction. A key congressional source calls this loophole a resounding defeat for nonproliferation.
The legislative battle now turns to the House-Senate conference committee. The House spending bill includes an aid waiver only until next September and requires the president to report to Congress on Pakistan's uranium-enrichment progress, on steps being taken to punish those accused in last summer's attempt to export nuclear-weapons technology to Pakistan, and on Pakistan's efforts to prevent a repetition of such exports.