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Pakistani nuclear deals and international security.

ABDUL Qadeer Khan, the self-styled 'Father of the Islamic Bomb', is a metallurgist and the founder of Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme. His greater fame now rests on his having stolen the designs for uranium enrichment technology, along with a list of suppliers, from his former Dutch employer Urenco. Khan, who was involved in the proliferation of sensitive nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya, has been removed from the post of Scientific Advisor to Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali, and has been granted a pardon by the President, Pervez Musharraf, after he made a public confession on Pakistani television. Is this the means by which President Musharraf is 'coming clean', like Colonel Gaddafi in Libya?

A year ago, international monitors had unearthed the central role Pakistan played in assisting Tehran in Iran's covert uranium enrichment programme for almost two decades. Only recently, Colonel Gaddafi's son, in an interview with a British newspaper, made public Pakistan's role in Libya's clandestine pursuit of a nuclear route to developing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Strangely now, the official denial mode has been replaced by putting the blame on the individual scientists engaged in selling the WMD technology, alleging that they did it on their own for personal gain by keeping the government of Pakistan in the dark.

The Islamists in Pakistan consider Khan as a national hero and do not want any action against him. His confession is a smart deal between him and the army. Khan's confession speaks for itself. He absolves the army of any role in the proliferation, and he was pardoned by Musharraf for his misdeeds.

Lieutenant General Khalid Kidwai, who heads Pakistan's Strategic Planning and Development Cell, described Khan as the mastermind who was involved in an elaborate and wholly unauthorised smuggling network that started in 1989 and was brokered by a host of middle-men. According to Kidwai, Khan told investigators that the assistance to the three countries was not meant to make money, but was a gesture of support for other Muslim countries. Kidwai claimed that Khan had, in a twelve-page signed document, admitted that he had transferred nuclear technology to North Korea, Iran and Libya.

It is hard to believe that helping Shiite Iran was ideologically compatible with the Pakistani establishment's Sunni ideology. The reason for transferring centrifuge designs to Iran reportedly between 1987 and 1991 was probably money. The North Korean deals were downright commercial. By the late 1980s, Pakistan had a nuclear capability, but no missiles. It bought the Nodong missile from North Korea and renamed it Ghauri. The probable rationale in the Libyan case was personal corruption. Thus, these three different considerations seem to have inspired the sale of Pakistan's nuclear secrets.

Pakistan's laws on terrorism and extremist groups remain opaque. The government claims to be tackling terrorism and recent arrests seem to have provided crucial information about al-Qaeda's plans to attack four targets in the United States, and Heathrow airport in London. Yet it has taken no substantial steps towards restricting the institutionalised extremism that permeates parts of society. Indeed, many Pakistanis argue that President Musharraf is following the pattern of the country's previous military rulers in co-opting religious extremists to support his government's agenda and to neutralise his secular political opposition. Whatever measures have so far been taken against extremism have been largely cosmetic to ease international pressure.

Everyone knows that Pakistan's nuclear programme is controlled by the army. Since its inception, Pakistan's nuclear programme has been squarely under army supervision. A multi-tiered security system was headed by a lieutenant general with all nuclear installations and personnel kept under surveillance. Thus, nothing could have happened without the army's knowledge. Pakistani officials profess to be shocked to find out that Pakistani scientists have been hawking their expertise for fifteen years to a list of clients that includes Libya, Iran and North Korea.

It is difficult to believe that Khan did this without knowledge either of successive Pakistani governments, or of the military. As Pakistan was a recipient of US technology, one can only wonder how the US was unaware of what was going on. The American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported that Washington was aware that since 1997 Pakistan had been helping North Korea build the bomb by sharing sophisticated technology, warhead design information and weapons testing data.

Khan's confessions should not come as a surprise to the international community. Soon after Pakistan's military defeat by the Indian armed forces in Bangladesh's liberation war in 1971, then prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto declared that Pakistan should acquire nuclear weapons and related delivery systems to match India's military capacities.

While a number of senior Pakistani nuclear scientists opposed Bhutto's nuclear ambitions, Khan showed a willingness to do what was needed. He initiated clandestine processes of acquiring material and technology for the manufacture of nuclear weapons in Pakistan. Between 1972 and 1974, Pakistan had persuaded Libya, Saudi Arabia and Iran to fund its nuclear weapons programme. By 1977, Pakistan went into high gear to become a nuclear weapons state after having collected the basic materials necessary to produce nuclear weapons. The first Pakistani nuclear device was tested at China's testing site at Lop Nor in Sinkiang province in 1987. By 1992, Khan openly confirmed that Pakistan was a nuclear weapons-capable state.

Khan had the protection of elements of the Pakistani military, which oversees the nuclear programme. His nuclear salesmanship left a wide trail of evidence that should have prompted action long before this.

* Iran: The UN inspectors' probe into Iran's nuclear programme revealed it had received centrifuges for enriching weapons-grade uranium from the nuclear black market. Khan is suspected of having supplied these in addition to weapon-related designs. Investigators charged Khan with transferring such nuclear components between 1989 and 1991. Pakistani officials say he met Iranian scientists in Karachi and in Malaysia.

Khan's travels to Iran in the late 1980s were common knowledge. The army chief of staff at the time, Aslam Beg, openly advocated a strategic alliance with Iran against the US at the time of the Gulf War. US officials raised concerns about a nuclear deal, but were assured it was not true.

* Iraq: UN inspectors found documents in Iraqi files in the early 1990s of nuclear aid offers from Khan, supposedly turned down by Baghdad.

* North Korea: Between 1997 and 2002, Khan made 13 trips to North Korea, secretly swapping centrifuge design and components for uranium enrichment in return for many of Pyongyang's Nodong missiles, later renamed the Ghauri. Much of the cooperation began in the 1990s when Pakistan purchased ten Scuds from North Korea.

* Libya: After Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi agreed to dismantle Libya's WMD programme, the US found warhead designs and other components sold to them by Khan and his team through the grey market for $50 million. Senior Pakistani leaders now confirm that Khan transferred nuclear technology to Libya between 1991 and 1997.

Pakistan was acquiring nuclear weapons capacity not only to counter India's conventional military superiority. Bhutto had told the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) countries in Lahore in 1974 that Pakistan's bomb would be an 'Islamic bomb' and could be the foundation for Islamic countries acquiring strategic military capacity to counter other nuclear weapons powers. This was an indication that Pakistan would be willing to supply nuclear material and know-how to other Islamic countries.

The second point to note is that Pakistan's nuclear capacities were built with the support of a number of Western European countries and the US, which were signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The question arises why the US and Western powers did not monitor and counter Pakistan's nuclear weapons aspirations in the late 1970s and 1980s.

The fact of the matter is that Western powers were fully aware of Pakistan's nuclear weaponisation programme but turned a blind eye because of their desire to utilise Islamabad to resist the Soviet incursion into Afghanistan. In the eighties, Pakistan fully cooperated with the West in fighting the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. This connivance by the West continued more or less until September 11, 2001. It was only after the direct terrorist attack on the US that Pakistani nuclear weapons activities came under scrutiny and were subjected to investigation.

The US Administration appears to be concerned about the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal as well as possible leakage of sensitive nuclear know-how to the terrorist groups, which is simply reinforced in Congressman Joseph Crowley's recent warning that a threat from Islamic militants from Pakistan should not be downplayed as these terrorists might get access to that country's nuclear weapons. Lately, international pressure on Islamabad has compelled the Pakistani authorities to interrogate the nuclear scientists involved in this racket.

US President George W Bush, speaking publicly for the first time about Pakistan's nuclear black market network, has cited it as a failure of the international safeguard regime, but he avoided comment on the pardon granted by Musharraf to Khan. This operation represents a serious danger of nuclear proliferation. He said: 'The government of Pakistan is interrogating the network's members, learning critical details that will help them prevent it from ever operating again', and 'Pakistan's President has promised to share all the information he learns about the Khan network and has assured the United States that his country will never again be a source of proliferation'. He made a strong case for new international efforts to combat the spread of WMDs, saying the most dangerous threat before the world is the potential for terrorists or rogue nations to use chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons in a surprise attack. Washington has made it clear that it considers Islamabad a major nuclear proliferator. Washington also views Pakistan as one of the unstable states in the region. It recognizes that power in the wrong hands in Islamabad would constitute a serious threat to its interests. Washington fears that after Musharraf it could be the deluge in Pakistan.

The fact remains that the dangerous actions of Khan are an eye-opener for the world. The rogue nature of his actions in league with those who either ignored or supported his actions needs an inquiry. This issue affects regional security and has international implications in terms of nuclear security and safeguards. A matter of continuing concern should be as to what stage the countries to which Pakistan exported nuclear material and nuclear know-how had succeeded in the development of nuclear weapons. Failure to uproot this nuclear network poses a serious threat to the global community.

Nations have at least three motives for building nuclear weapons programmes.

* The desire to be a world power, based on the belief that a nation unable to defend itself against the full range of possible dangers cannot be a world ower. Such a nation will both acquire nuclear weapons and strive for the capability to reach any potential adversary. Anxious to preserve their special status, these states are least likely to engage in proliferation except, as in Russia, due to a collapse of discipline. They are also least vulnerable to sanctions because the other world powers value their cooperation on other subjects. India is in this category.

* States that feel threatened by neighbours with large populations or greater resources may see in nuclear weapons a means to pose unacceptable risks or to create a deterrent against threats to their survival. This is especially the case if the powerful neighbours have nuclear weapons. Such states could be kept from developing nuclear weapons only by a credible guarantee from existing nuclear powers, which is unlikely to be extended and even less likely to be believed. Pakistan is in this category.

* Nations determined to wreck the balance of power in their regions and that see in nuclear weapons a means with which to intimidate their neighbours and discourage outside intervention. North Korea and other so-called 'rogue states' are in this category.

History demonstrates that the United States has always perceived the proliferation of nuclear weapons as a danger not only to world stability but also to its own national interests. It stood to reason that if one nation possessed the means to unleash the devastation wreaked on Hiroshima, then several such nations would represent a concerted threat, particularly if those nations were not friendly to the United States.

Attempts to control the spread of nuclear weapons, however, were met with problems. While America was undoubtedly committed to the notion of non-proliferation, the extent to which it was able to practise non-proliferation was limited by the fact that non-proliferation was an issue rarely isolated from Washington's other concerns. When it came down to having to decide between preserving today or guarding tomorrow, the logical and only decision Washington could make was to preserve today. After all, if today's interests were not protected, tomorrow would have little chance of being realised. Consequently, the long-term objective of non-proliferation was often compromised in order to ensure the short-term nature of American strategic interests. The result was the emergence of a host of nations whose strategic significance was deemed important enough to warrant exemption from measures designed to prevent the attainment of nuclear weapons' capability.

The 1998 nuclear detonations by India and Pakistan underscored the fact that, by putting strategic concerns before non-proliferation objectives, the US had practised a short-term and limited policy of securing America's current interests at the cost of tomorrow's security.

Pakistan's nuclear pursuit cannot be separated from India's. Pakistan's nuclear programme has been largely reactive to India's. India too has bought, borrowed and procured by dubious means nuclear materials and technologies from sources as diverse as the UK, US, USSR/Russia, Norway, France and Canada. The source of the plutonium used in India's 1974 test was spent fuel from CIRUS, a 'research' reactor of Canadian design, to which the US donated heavy water. India reneged on its promise to use CIRUS solely for 'peaceful' purposes. To escape legal censure, it called the 1974 test a 'peaceful nuclear explosion'. This was a form of cheating too.

Then there are the states of the former Soviet Union, which have hundreds of unemployed nuclear technologists and unscrupulous businessmen willing to trade in forbidden material. Therefore, the danger of nuclear proliferation will always be there unless there is universal nuclear disarmament. Israel's nuclear capability is a known secret. Nor can an exclusive club of the US, Russia, China, France and Britain be allowed to remain nuclear powers, while others are denied the same right. There are fears in some circles in Pakistan that the powerful non-proliferation lobby in the US is not going to let Musharraf off the hook so easily. They believe the US will exploit this situation to gain joint custody and regular inspection of Pakistan's nuclear programme. The leading defence analyst, Lt General Talat Masood, does not believe the US will crack down on Musharraf but, he argues, in an interview with India Today (February 16, 2004), the real concern now is that 'the worst-case scenario will be constantly portrayed--that there is a growth of militant groups outside government control which may seize Pakistan's nuclear assets'.

It is expected that Pakistan will be under pressure to repair its reputation and will have to take some confidence-building measures relating to its nuclear setup. Pakistan would in no circumstances permit foreign inspectors to enter the country and monitor its nuclear weapons or civil nuclear facilities, General Musharraf has said. 'This is a very sensitive issue. Would any other nuclear power allow its sensitive installations to be inspected? Why should Pakistan be expected to allow anybody to inspect?', he asked.

He further said:
 Pakistan had no intention of freezing its nuclear weapons programme.
 It was self-sufficient and would not require the import of more
 material or designs from abroad. We will never stop our nuclear and
 missile programme. That is our vital national interest. It is totally
 indigenous now. Whatever had to be imported and procured has been
 obtained.


In a similar tone, the Foreign Minister, Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri, while addressing at a recent Pakistani foreign policy seminar in Islamabad, said:
 Pakistan will never compromise on its nuclear capability. It will not
 roll back or freeze its nuclear programme. The nation should rest
 assured that the nuclear capability, which enjoys national consensus,
 is in safe and professional hands.


The Khan episode has left the Pakistani nation insecure and demoralised. Its credibility has been seriously damaged in the international arena. The government has decided to pass the necessary legislation to prevent any transfer of nuclear technology. Pakistan's nuclear programme is now headed by two lieutenant generals (previously one), with all nuclear installations and personnel kept under the tightest possible surveillance. In addition, it has now renewed its energies on running down al-Qaeda. Hopefully, the non-proliferation regime will see merit in these actions.
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Author:Shuja, Sharif
Publication:Contemporary Review
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Sep 1, 2004
Words:2788
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