Pakistani Nuclear Deals and International Security

By Shuja, Sharif | Contemporary Review, September 2004 | Go to article overview

Pakistani Nuclear Deals and International Security


Shuja, Sharif, Contemporary Review


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 Strangely now, the official denial mode has been replaced by putting the blame on the individual scientists engaged in selling the WMD technology, alleging that they did it on their own for personal gain by keeping the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. …

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