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  Nuclear Black Market in Pakistan  

By: Abhijit Bagal
February 29, 2004

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Last few week`s mind-blowing revelations that appeared in various newspapers, magazines, and TV shows, about weapons of mass destruction had nothing to do with Iraq. Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, father of the Pakistani atomic bomb, was the key figure in a black-market ring that sold blueprints and parts for making nuclear weapons all over the world during the last few decades. It was an international "supermarket" in the words of Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the United Nation`s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

"Dr Khan is the tip of an iceberg" said Mohamed ElBaradei and added that Dr. Khan was helped by many people in many countries, and that Pakistan needed to answer the question about whether its government or military was involved. A spokeswoman for the United Nations (U.N.) agency, Melissa Fleming, said: "We think this is the most serious case of nuclear proliferation in recent times."

An editorial in the Washington Post started the ball rolling by declaring -- “An extraordinary series of revelations has confirmed that Pakistan has been guilty of some of the worst crimes of nuclear weapons proliferation ever committed. For some 15 years it has been supplying atomic bomb technology to rogue states and sponsors of terrorism -- and it did so even after President Bush declared that governments that conducted such transfers could be subject to preemptive attack by the United States. Under pressure from the United Nations, Pakistani officials have acknowledged that nuclear designs and materials were given to Iran, Libya and North Korea, either directly or through an underground network involving middlemen in Germany and a secret factory in Malaysia. Officials claim the traffic was conducted solely by the country`s chief weapons scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, and several associates. Hoping to avoid prosecution, Mr. Khan duly confessed on Pakistani television yesterday and absolved his government. But the scientist previously gave investigators a more plausible account: that President Pervez Musharraf and other senior military leaders approved the deals.”

At first glance it seems like the perfect face-saving solution with everybody having a warm and fuzzy feeling. As a result of his confession and the subsequent presidential pardon, Dr. Khan, 67, will not face prison, a fine, or any other punishment. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf later acknowledged that Dr. Khan had clearly benefited financially from his dealings, pocketing large sums to pay for a lavish standard of living and palatial homes. General Musharraf also said that Dr. Khan can keep the wealth that he has accumulated from his "various deals." "Let him live with his money," the Daily Times quoted General Musharraf as saying with a smile during an interaction with reporters over tea at the Army House in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Not everyone agrees -- "This is not enough -- a full investigation is required" said Farhatullah Babar, spokesman for the opposition Pakistan`s Peoples Party of exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

The dramatic confession by Dr. Khan that he was personally responsible for selling nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya, and, North Korea is unlikely to draw a line under one of the largest proliferation scandals ever. The carefully scripted television apology was the result of a deal between Dr. Khan and the army, newspapers said. "A.Q. Khan has been made a scapegoat," said Samina Ahmed, Pakistan director of the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think thank.

Pervez Hoodbhoy, professor of nuclear physics at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad, Pakistan, wrote an eye-opening article that appeared in the Washington Post. Some excerpts are provided here:

“The figure at the center of the crisis is Dr. A.Q. Khan, Pakistan`s most celebrated bomb maker and a national hero… In his heyday, Khan was accustomed to adulation and worship… With unlimited government resources at his disposal, and free of auditing restrictions, Khan, a metallurgist who is often wrongly referred to as a nuclear scientist, managed to purchase restricted items… In the process, Khan became a wealthy man… And yet it is unlikely that Khan will be convicted in a Pakistani court, because that would involve a head-on collision with the country`s religious parties and with a public that has been led to believe that Khan`s development of the bomb guaranteed Pakistan`s security… Khan widely and openly advertised his wares over the past decade. Every year -- including 2003, when the proliferation controversy was already hot -- Islamabad was festooned with colorful banners advertising international workshops on "Vibrations In Rapidly Rotating Machinery" and "Advanced Materials," sponsored by the Dr. A.Q. Khan Research Laboratories (also known as the Kahuta Laboratories), Pakistan`s key uranium enrichment facility. While individual gain may have been part of the motivation, the substantial cause lies elsewhere. From the inception of the bomb program, Pakistan`s establishment has sought to turn its nuclear ambitions and success into larger gains. For one, it wanted (and gained) the support of hundreds of millions of Muslims the world over by claiming to provide a Muslim success story. (That this involved replicating a 60-year-old technology for mass destruction is a sad commentary on the state of the Muslim world.) For another, it enabled Pakistan to enjoy considerable financial and political benefits from oil-rich Arab countries. Among others, Libya reportedly bankrolled Pakistan and may even have supplied raw uranium. After Pakistan`s nuclear tests six years ago, the Saudi government gave an unannounced gift of $4 billion worth of oil spread over five years to tide Pakistan over during its difficulties caused by international sanctions.”

"For more than two years the Bush administration has embraced Mr. Musharraf as a strategic ally and overlooked his suppression of Pakistani democracy and his coddling of Islamic extremists. The administration must confront the reality that Pakistan`s military and leadership has done more to threaten U.S. and global security with weapons of mass destruction than either al Qaeda or Saddam Hussein; Were Pakistan not a professed ally of the United States, its behavior would meet the criteria for preemptive military intervention outlined in Mr. Bush`s national security strategy,” the Washington Post emphasized in their editorial. The Washington Post further argued that Pakistan should be subject to strict international inspections to ensure it never again proliferates. "Further promises of good behaviour from an unreliable general" are not enough, it said.

The suggestion was angrily rebuffed by General Musharraf at a news conference when he said no documents would ever be handed over to the IAEA, and no independent investigation or U.N. inspections allowed. In a 90-minute news conference at the army headquarters, President Musharraf said Pakistan would not hand over all documents from its investigation to international nuclear inspectors. He said it would not order an independent investigation into the Pakistani Army`s role in the proliferation, calling the idea "rubbish." And he said he would never allow United Nations supervision of Pakistan`s nuclear weapons. "Negative to all three," General Musharraf said, raising his voice. "It is an independent nation. Nobody comes inside and checks our things. We check them ourselves." General Musharraf clearly played to his domestic audience during the news conference, which was later broadcast on national television. He spoke in Urdu, Pakistan`s primary language, and wore his commando uniform. When he addresses a Western audience, he wears a business suit and speaks in English. Several newspapers responded to President Musharraf’s outburst by stating that “Such belligerence could be expected from a military ruler.”

U.S. officials told the New York Times that nuclear aid continued to flow to North Korea until 2002 and to Libya until last year, three or four years into General Musharraf’s rule. The United States is working with Pakistan to protect its nuclear technology from falling into the hands of extremists, a senior U.S. official said. "We have had discussions with Pakistan on the need for Pakistan to safeguard its technology and its nuclear material. We are confident they are taking the necessary steps," the official told Reuters. He commented after NBC Television`s "Nightly News" program by Tom Brokaw reported that since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, American nuclear experts grouped as the "U.S. Liaison Committee" have spent millions of dollars to safeguard more than 40 weapons in Pakistan`s nuclear arsenal. "Meeting every two months, they are helping Pakistan develop state of the art security, including secret authorization codes for the arsenal," the network reported. Tom Brokaw, reporting live from Pakistan, commented that a person in Pakistan caught for the possession of marijuana would probably face stricter punishment compared to what Dr. Khan has faced. Tom Brokaw also showed footage from a few Islamic Madrasas (Religious schools) in Pakistan, where thousands of young students, isolated and insulated from the outside world, memorize religious verses nearly all day long. They are not taught any other subjects.

The Washington Post called Dr. Khan “the worst criminal in the history of nuclear weapons proliferation” in a second lead editorial after the first hard-hitting one and commented that it was not surprised by President Musharraf`s attempt to "whitewash his country`s marketing of nuclear weapons technology to rogue dictatorships and sponsors of terrorism." The Washington Post also said that: “The general and his government have been lying for years about the illegal traffic.”

In its editorial, the Christian Science Monitor (CSM), came out with a piece that derisively referred to Dr. Khan as the "Pardoned Proliferator." It further went on to say that the selling of nuclear-weapons technology on the black market should be a crime against humanity, adding, "but not in Pakistan, where first it can get you rich and then, after you`re caught by foreigners, a slap on the wrist and a presidential pardon."

"Pakistani nuclear scientists and their military friends have endangered the security of this country far more than any rogue enemy out there. Aside from handing the keys to atomic bomb-making to countries such as North Korea and Libya, they may have provided the instruments of nuclear terror to al-Qaida itself," Danial Sneider, the foreign affairs columnist for San Jose `Mercury News` said.

Two Pakistani generals -- former army chief General Aslam Beg, and former head of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, General Hamid Gul, are close to Dr. Khan and are believed to have been aware of his self-appointed mission to proliferate nuclear weapons knowledge. General Hamid Gul once said he looked forward to the day when a truly Islamic state could be established -- a new caliphate comprised of a nuclear arsenal and the oil resources of Iran and the Gulf after the demise of the Saudi royal family. General Hamid Gul, in a recent interview published on Rediff.com dated February 13th, 2004; told Contributing Editor Sheela Bhatt that the only reason Pakistan does not dismember India is because "we never wanted to create problems with our Muslim population in India." The startling interview also quoted General Hamid Gul as saying “I am an Islamist. Islam is the final destiny of mankind.” Commenting on the Kashmir issue, General Hamid Gul told Sheela Bhatt that: “India will give its land when it will be divided into many pieces… If India does not give us our land we will go to war and divide India.”

In an unrelated event, Jerry Seper of The Washington Times wrote an article dated February 10th , 2004, that makes very serious allegations against Pakistan: “Islamic radicals are being trained at terrorist camps in Pakistan and Kashmir as part of a conspiracy to send hundreds of operatives to "sleeper cells" in the United States, according to U.S. and foreign officials. The intelligence and law-enforcement officials say dozens of Islamic extremists have already been routed through Europe to Muslim communities in the United States, based on secret intelligence data and information from terrorists and others detained by U.S. authorities. A high-ranking foreign intelligence chief told The Washington Times in an interview last week that this clandestine but aggressive network of training camps "represents a serious threat to the United States, one that cannot be ignored." The official said as many as 400 terrorists have been and are being trained at camps in Pakistan and Kashmir. U.S. intelligence officials said the camps, located in the remote regions of western Pakistan and in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, are financed in part by various terrorist networks, including al Qaeda, and by sources in Saudi Arabia. Pakistani Ambassador Ashraf Jehangir Qazi denied in an interview that terrorist camps are operating in his country, including the remote regions of western Pakistan or in Kashmir.”

With a $3 billion U.S. aid package contingent on Pakistan being declared a non-proliferator, President George W. Bush is already facing his own pressures to take a tougher line. The India Caucus has urged the Bush Administration to insist on Pakistan signing the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and dismantling its nuclear arsenal. "President Musharraf must now acquiesce to signing the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, and the White House must insist on this," U.S. Congressman Joseph Crowley, Co-Chairman of the India Caucus, said. "The signing of the treaty would mean the dismantling of Pakistan`s nuclear weapons arsenal and allowing international oversight of Pakistan`s government-run Khan Laboratories, the center of the Pakistani proliferation network," Crowley said.

Saddam Hussein is in jail. But Abdul Qadeer Khan -- on orders, or from greed, or because he wanted more Muslim nations to have nukes, and was willing to spread the bomb -- is free. Others will try to imitate his efforts. "Khan`s blueprints and designs exist on CD-ROMs, and they are out there," says proliferation expert Michael Krepon, adding "We need to come down like a ton of bricks on protecting fissile materiel."

Some European countries are of the opinion that Pakistan`s position with regard to its nuclear capability must be discussed at length at the U.N. Security Council. These European members of the IAEA apex board wanted to raise in the Security Council what they described as the core question: "Whether a country incapable of guarding nuclear secrets can be trusted with nuclear weapons." Several European diplomats have been asking whether Pakistan could be trusted with nuclear weapons. The E.U. countries also intend to raise the issue at the forthcoming meeting of the IAEA board of governors in Vienna on March 8th, 2004.

Newsweek, a leading American magazine, said in an article titled ‘Black Market Nukes,’ that Pakistan, whose disgraced scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan operated a global nuclear-weapons "black market" that extended from Switzerland to Japan and Dubai, is probably the world`s most dangerous breeding ground for both weapons of mass destruction and terror. One senior U.S. official told Newsweek that Khan`s role in destabilizing the 21st century will "loom up there" with Hitler`s and Stalin`s impact in the 20th. In over 30 years, Khan put together what Mohammed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, called “a veritable Wal-mart” for nuclear-weapons buyers, Newsweek said. Noting that most of Khan’s network of key operatives will likely escape punishment, the report, quoting officials, said the network passed on equipment and know-how to Iran and Libya, and made offers to Iraq and most recently to Syria.

In the past, several U.S. and India based progressive and liberal individuals and organizations associated with South Asia (with the aim of achieving a peaceful, prosperous, hate-free, demilitarized and nuclear-free South Asia) have organized protest-demonstrations, launched petitions, and have urged the U.S. government to conduct Congressional hearings and to impose sanctions against India to ensure that the diversity and plurality of South Asia is maintained and that the rights of all minorities are respected and protected; regardless of religious, ethnic, sexual or other differences. Two recent examples of these campaigns include the rightful criticism of the religious riots that occurred in Gujrat, India, and the petition against the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF). A professor from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) testified before the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on the Gujarat riots, with the sole purpose of having sanctions declared on India. Some other organizations openly courted and canvassed (and still do) U.S. Congressmen and Congressional staffers on "Hindu fanaticism" requesting them to impose economic sanctions against India. Over 300 South Asia Faculty and South Asian Studies Scholars signed a faculty petition to corporations asking them to end their matching funds to IDRF claiming that IDRF was funding hateful activities in India.

Arindam Banerji, in an article published at the Indian Media Information Center, titled, ‘Why has it become so cool to Hate India?’ highlighted the biased political agenda behind these campaigns by stating: “Mind you -- I`m happy to join their protests in front of the Indian embassy, if they spend an equal amount of time, protesting the killing of twice as many Indians (as killed in Gujarat) every year by Islamic terrorists. Or, will they please tell their U.S. legislators, that India actually has minorities, but minorities have for the most part vanished in the rest of South Asia.” Mr. Banerji also raised questions about the validity and effectiveness of economic sanctions by asking: “…how does it make sense to help other countries declare sanctions on India? Who does it hurt most?” Did the abovementioned individuals and organizations take these factors and questions into consideration while demanding sanctions or while signing the petitions?

In light of the unfolding of the “One-stop Nuclear Wal-mart” and related events in Pakistan, how will the South Asia-related, progressive and liberal individuals, faculty, and organizations respond? Will they urge the U.S. Congressmen and the government to start an inquiry and stop the $3 billion economic aid to Pakistan and impose further economic sanctions on Pakistan; or will they argue against imposing economic sanctions on Pakistan, claiming that it will damage their economy further? What about the 300 plus professors who had earlier signed the petition to stop funding the IDRF -- will these faculty members sign a petition demanding that the Pakistani government allow the IAEA and other international agencies to examine, monitor, and dismantle the nuclear apparatus in Pakistan; or will the professors wash their hands off this matter by claiming that it is a political issue and is purely Pakistan’s internal matter? Will they analyze the ramifications of the nuclear proliferation by Pakistan, its link to terrorists, how it undermines stability in South Asia, and how such proliferation could have happened, and, be prevented in the future? Lastly, will anyone pay attention and act upon Pervez Hoodbhoy’s warning, citing the development of the Islamic Bomb as a symbol of Muslim Success, which he denounces as: “That this involved replicating a 60-year-old technology for mass destruction is a sad commentary on the state of the Muslim world?”

Abhijit Bagal

Abhijit Bagal lives in New York State and works as an independent software consultant.

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