April 10th 2004

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Economic underclass behind marriage and fertility decline

EDITORIAL: Uncommunicative patients - a call on our compassion

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Latham Iraq gaffe signals the honeymoon is over

STRAWS IN THE WIND: The next Four Corners? / Granada

SOCIETY: Who benefits from drugs?

AGRICULTURE: Farmers rallying to fight for industries

ECONOMY: Australia's foreign debt set to grow

The Passion (letter)

Sugar prices (letter)

Tobacco and pharmaceuticals (letter)

Ageing population (letter)

ETHICS: The ethical responsibility of a Christian politician

ECONOMY: US-Australia Free trade agreement and the national interest

TAIWAN ELECTION: Saved by commonsense

PAKISTAN: Inside Pakistan's nuclear weapons program

HONG KONG: Poll battle looms over democratic reforms

BOOKS: Benign or Imperial? Reflections on American Hegemony, by Owen Harries

FILM REVIEW: The Last Samurai

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Inside Pakistan's nuclear weapons program

by Sharif Shuja

News Weekly, April 10, 2004
Abdul Qadeer Khan, the self-styled "Father of the Islamic Bomb", is a metallurgist whose claim to fame as the founder of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program 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 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 program 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Strangely now, the official denial mode has been replaced by putting the blame on the individual scientists engaged in selling the WMD technology, alleging that they did it on their own for personal gain by keeping the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 a national hero and do not want any action taken 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.

Pakistan's laws on terrorism and extremist groups remain opaque. While the Government claims to be tackling terrorism, it has taken no substantial steps towards restricting the 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 program is controlled by the army, and nothing could have happened without its knowledge.

Pakistani officials profess to be shocked to find out that Pakistani scientists have been hawking their expertise for 15 years to a list of clients that includes Libya, Iran and North Korea.

It is difficult to believe that Khan did this without the 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.

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 program. By 1977, Pakistan went into high gear to become a nuclear weapon state after having collected the basic materials necessary to produce nuclear weapons.

The first Pakistani nuclear device was detonated 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 program. His nuclear salesmanship left a wide trail of evidence that should have prompted action long before this.

  • Iran: Khan's travels to Iran in the late 1980s were known. 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: From the early 1990s, Khan began frequent travels to North Korea, which provided ballistic missiles capable of hitting India.

Pakistan was acquiring a 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 70s and 80s.

Washington's view

The fact of the matter is that Western powers were fully aware of Pakistan's nuclear weaponisation program but turned a blind eye because of their desire to utilise Islamabad to resist the Soviet incursion into Afghanistan. In the 1980s, 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 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 on 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.

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 WMD, 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. It also views Pakistan as one of the unstable states in the region and recognises 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.

The road ahead

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.

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.

This brings us to the question of nuclear non-proliferation.

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 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 danger of nuclear proliferation will always be there unless there is universal nuclear disarmament. Israel's nuclear capability is an open 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.

Meanwhile, two things can be done in relation to Pakistan's nuclear program.

Firstly, public awareness will have to be created in Pakistan about the futility of having nuclear weapons, in view of the nation's poverty and fragile economy.

Secondly, the West must force Pakistan to roll back its nuclear and missile weapons programs before the rogue elements in the army succeed in passing on the devices to jehadi elements.

Sharif Shuja

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