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Context of 'December 26, 1979: Memo to President Carter Gives Pakistan Green Light to Pursue Nuclear Weapons Program'

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Jimmy Carter’s pre-election autobiography.Jimmy Carter’s pre-election autobiography. [Source: Kingsway Publications]In an autobiography entitled Why Not The Best? published during his successful run for the White House, Democrat Jimmy Carter says that “the unnecessary proliferation of atomic weapons” is the greatest danger facing the world. During the presidential campaign, Carter will condemn the failure of the incumbent, Republican Gerald Ford, to denounce a recent nuclear bomb test by India, and his slow response to a deal by the French to sell Pakistan a reprocessing plant that could be used as a part of a nuclear weapons program. However, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979, the Carter administration will turn a blind eye to Pakistan’s nuclear program (see December 26, 1979). [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 62]

Entity Tags: James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr.

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

In a message to the US Congress, President Jimmy Carter again outlines his position on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons (see 1975-1976). Carter threatens to cut off US supplies of nuclear fuel and technology to countries that do not accept international safeguards on their use. However, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979, the Carter administration will turn a blind eye to Pakistan’s nuclear program (see December 26, 1979). [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 62, 239]

Entity Tags: James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr.

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

1978: CIA Begins Covert Action in Afghanistan

The CIA begins covert action against the Communist government in Afghanistan, which is closely tied to the Soviet Union. Some time this year, the CIA begins training militants in Pakistan and beaming radio propaganda into Afghanistan. By April 1979, US officials are meeting with opponents of the Afghan government to determine their needs. [Blum, 1995, pp. 344] Robert Gates, who will become CIA Director in the early 1990s, will later recall that in a meeting on March 30, 1979, Under Secretary of Defense Walter Slocumbe wonders aloud whether there is “value in keeping the Afghan insurgency going, ‘sucking the Soviets into a Vietnamese quagmire.’” [Gates, 1996, pp. 145] In March 1979, there is a major revolt in Herat province, and in June and August there are large scale army mutinies. [Cooley, 2002, pp. 5] President Carter will formally approve covert aid to opponents of the government in July (see July 3, 1979), which will result in a Russian invasion in December (see December 8, 1979).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Robert M. Gates, Walter Slocumbe

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

President Carter authorizes covert aid for opponents of the Communist government in Afghanistan. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s National Security Adviser, will state in 1998, “According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the mujaheddin began… after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan… But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.… We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.” [Le Nouvel Observateur (Paris), 1/15/1998] After Brzezinski’s confession, other US officials who denied US involvement prior to the Soviet invasion will change their story as well. For instance, Charles Cogan, who is head of the CIA covert aid program to Afghanistan at this time, will call Carter’s approval on this day a “very modest beginning to US involvement.” [Cooley, 2002, pp. 10] In fact, even this is not correct because the CIA had been aiding the rebels since at least the year before (see 1978 and 1973-1979). The Soviets invade Afghanistan by the end of 1979 (see December 8, 1979).

Entity Tags: Zbigniew Brzezinski, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., Charles Cogan

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Soviet tanks entering Afghanistan in late 1979.Soviet tanks entering Afghanistan in late 1979. [Source: Banded Artists Productions]The Soviet Union invades Afghanistan. The Russians were initially invited in by the Afghan government to deal with rising instability and army mutinies, and they start crossing the border on December 8. But on December 26, Russian troops storm the presidential palace, kill the country’s leader, Haizullah Amin, and the invitation turns into an invasion. [Blum, 1995, pp. 342] Later declassified high-level Russian documents will show that the Russian leadership believed that Amin, who took power in a violent coup from another pro-Soviet leader two months before, had secret contacts with the US embassy and was probably a US agent. Further, one document from this month claims that “the right wing Muslim opposition” has “practically established their control in many provinces… using foreign support.” [Cooley, 2002, pp. 8] It has been commonly believed that the invasion was unprovoked, but the Russians will later be proven largely correct. In a 1998 interview, Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, will reveal that earlier in the year Carter authorized the CIA to destabilize the government, provoking the Russians to invade (see July 3, 1979). [Le Nouvel Observateur (Paris), 1/1998; Mirror, 1/29/2002] Further, CIA covert action in the country actually began in 1978 (see 1978), if not earlier (see 1973-1979). The US and Saudi Arabia will give a huge amount of money (estimates range up to $40 billion total for the war) to support the mujaheddin guerrilla fighters opposing the Russians, and a decade-long war will ensue. [Nation, 2/15/1999]

Entity Tags: United States, Saudi Arabia, Haizullah Amin, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Front row: Pakistani President Muhammad Zia ul-Haq  (left) and President Carter (right). Zbigniew Brzezinski is in the center of the back row.Front row: Pakistani President Muhammad Zia ul-Haq (left) and President Carter (right). Zbigniew Brzezinski is in the center of the back row. [Source: Wally McNamee / Corbis]National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski writes a memo to President Jimmy Carter about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which has just begun (see December 8, 1979). Brzezinski focuses on fears that success in Afghanistan could give the Soviets access to the Indian Ocean, even though Afghanistan is a landlocked country. He suggests the US should continue aid to the Afghan mujaheddin, which actually began before the war and spurred the Soviets to invade (see 1978 and July 3, 1979). He says, “This means more money as well as arms shipments to the rebels and some technical advice.” He does not give any warning that such aid will strengthen Islamic fundamentalism. He also concludes, “[W]e must both reassure Pakistan and encourage it to help the rebels. This will require a review of our policy toward Pakistan, more guarantees to it, more arms aid, and alas, a decision that our security problem toward Pakistan cannot be dictated by our nonproliferation policy.” Carter apparently accepts Brzezinski’s advice. Author Joe Trento will later comment, “With that, the United States agreed to let a country admittedly in turmoil proceed to develop nuclear weapons.” [Trento, 2005, pp. 167-168] Trento and fellow author David Armstrong will add: “Once [Pakistan] became a partner in the anti-Soviet Afghan campaign and the Carter administration adopted a more lenient view of Pakistan’s nuclear activities, the [procurement] network [run by A. Q. Khan] expanded its operations dramatically. It would soon evolve into a truly global enterprise, obtaining the vast array of sophisticated equipment with which Pakistan would eventually build a bomb.” [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 99]

Entity Tags: James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., David Armstrong, Joseph Trento, Zbigniew Brzezinski

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network, War in Afghanistan

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