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Pakistan's Nuclear Inquiry Is A Sham

By Brahma Chellaney

International Herald Tribune
11 February, 2004

Having invaded Iraq to eliminate weapons of mass destruction that were not there, the Bush administration is now pursuing an opposite and risky approach toward Pakistan: allowing that hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism to escape international censure despite its admitted sale of nuclear-weapons technology to three so-called rogue states.

Another justification proffered by the Bush team for the occupation of Iraq - the presence of terrorists with links with Al Qaeda - has been true about Pakistan. Yet Pakistan is a close ally in President George W. Bush's war on terror while continuing to harbor Al Qaeda and Taliban members and other transnational terrorists, some of them still enjoying its official patronage.

The U.S. double standards on display are one reason why nonproliferation and counterterrorism remain serious international challenges, with critics branding them as tools to promote American strategic interests.

By objective criteria, Pakistan long represented a far more compelling threat to international security than Iraq on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction - a fact borne out by its more recent admission of leaks of nuclear-weapons technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea. The Pakistani nuclear aid to Libya flowed as late as last autumn.

Yet Washington continues to mollycoddle the military regime in Islamabad and has backed the sham Pakistani inquiry that pinned all the blame for the illicit nuclear transfers on individual scientists, particularly one man - Abdul Qadeer Khan. Through the charade of making the putative father of the Pakistani nuclear program admit complete responsibility for the nuclear leaks and then granting him a full pardon, Pakistan's dictator, Pervez Musharraf, has shielded his military and its powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency.

It is well documented how the military helped build Pakistan's nuclear program with materials and equipment illegally procured from overseas through intermediaries in Dubai and front companies set up in Europe by the ISI agency. What could not be procured from the West was imported covertly from China, which also supplied the design of the first Pakistani bomb. With the ISI as the spearhead of operations and the German-trained Khan as the brain, the military ran the world's most successful nuclear-smuggling ring. That success bred proliferation after 1989 in the reverse direction - out of Pakistan.

Now, like mafia dons questioning their underlings for carrying out their orders, official investigators have sought to cloak the military's involvement and direction by putting the entire blame on some scientists for getting lured by the big money from proliferation.

Musharraf has once again demonstrated how he thrives in adversity. He has cut a deal that seeks to please all - the United States, which got the inquiry it wanted and the promise that there would be no further nuclear leaks; Khan, the national hero who keeps his cache of illicit money after the pardon; and the military and the ISI, which continue to rule the roost. All this has been achieved without Pakistan's facing any international penalty or scrutiny, or even agreeing to turn over documents from its inquiry to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Since seizing power in a 1999 coup, Musharraf has ably exploited international concerns about the situation in Pakistan to strengthen his hold on power, pushing through a sham referendum in 2002 on his self-proclaimed presidency and reaching a pact with Islamist political groups to legitimize his continuance in office until 2007.

Over the past five decades, a succession of Pakistani military rulers - all of whom came to power by ousting democratically elected governments - have made themselves useful to the United States. And, repeatedly, administrations in Washington, Democratic and Republican, have helped perpetuate military rule in Pakistan, seeing it as the best bet to take that troubled nation forward. But the result has been only to make Pakistan a bigger problem for the world.

The Pakistani military has long-standing links with terrorism and nuclear proliferation. In fact, the radicalization of the Pakistani society began under the Islamization campaign of the previous military ruler, Mohammed Zia ul-Haq.

Nothing could be more dangerous than the mix of Islamic terrorism and nuclear weapons that now exists in Pakistan. Physical protection of nuclear assets can be ensured only when the government is in complete control. But when a dictatorship claims nuclear peddling occurred without its knowledge, the dangers of leakage and seizure of nuclear assets by Islamist elements become starkly real.

While the White House has again praised Musharraf, the risks of continued leakage cannot be contained without uncovering and disconnecting the various links in the elaborate Pakistani nuclear-supply chain. An inquiry that hushes up the role of key players can hardly be the answer to those risks.

The writer is a strategic studies professor at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi.



Copyright © 2004 the International Herald Tribune