Help to Iran, Libya Hikes Nuke Peril
that Pakistan's scientists may have helped Iran's and Libya's secret
nuclear programs raise worrisome questions about nuclear danger
in South Asia, which has been described as the world's most dangerous
also call for major policy changes and new arrangements for export
controls on nuclear materials, and more generally, to prevent nuclear
revelations were made when Iran shared sensitive information about
its uranium enrichment program with the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA), a U.N. organization, two months ago.
disclosures came when Libya held clandestine talks with U.S. and
British officials just before declaring on Dec. 19 that it would
abandon the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs.
government of Pakistan has not fully denied reports that some of
its scientists tried to sell nuclear secrets to Iran, but it has
acknowledged the interrogation -- "debriefing" - of some
scientists named in stories appearing in Pakistani and Western papers
is a significant departure from Pakistan's past assertion that its
record on nuclear nonproliferation is unblemished and "impeccable."
year, perfectly credible charges were leveled about Pakistan's assistance
to North Korea's nuclear program. Pyongyang itself affirmed its
existence and boasted of its success.
Islamabad denied there had been a deal involving a tradeoff between
North Korea's missiles and Pakistan nuclear enrichment technology.
It stated that its missiles are entirely indigenous, but independent
experts have long been convinced that Pakistan's Ghauri missile
is a version of North Korea's Nodong.
was confirmed in 2002 by South Korean intelligence, and by US spy
satellites that recorded a Pakistani cargo plane loading missile
parts in North Korea.
the center of the North Korea-Pakistan transactions is the father
of the Pakistani Bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan, who heads Khan Research
Laboratories (KRL). Khan made a number of visits to Pyongyang during
the mid- to late 1990s, when Pakistan faced US sanctions and was
keen to acquire missiles to match India's capability.
at center stage today are Khan and other KRL personnel and Khan's
close aides, Mohammed Farooq, Yasin Chohan and Sayeed Ahmad. US
and European officials recently questioned Khan and reportedly uncovered
strong evidence linking KRL with Iran's purchase of nuclear centrifuge
designs from Pakistan 16 years ago.
can produce highly enriched uranium, only 10 to 20 kilograms of
which are needed to make a Hiroshima-type bomb.
Iranian centrifuge design bears a strong Pakistani impress. The
New York Times, quoting a senior European diplomat with access
to detailed intelligence, says that the Libyan program too had "certain
common elements" with the pattern of technology leaks from
Pakistan to Iran.
with this evidence, the Pakistani government itself began interrogating
KRL directors Farooq and Chohan some five weeks ago.
it denies reports that "unspecified restrictions" have
been imposed on Khan or that he has been interrogated. He "is
too eminent a scientist to undergo a normal debriefing session,"
says Pakistan foreign office spokesman Masood Khan. However, a Pakistan
paper reports that Khan was also questioned.
official Pakistani line on the issue of clandestine nuclear deals
is a compromise between pressure exerted by the United States, and
the compulsions of maintaining that Pakistan's sovereignty is not
compromised by Western agencies' interrogation of the KRL scientists.
has been some ultra-nationalist comment against this interrogation.
Khan is something of a national hero, if not a demigod, who has
brought "honor" and pride to Pakistan. That makes it hard
for Islamabad to disown him openly.
Gen. Pervez Musharraf forced Khan to resign three years ago under
US pressure, but publicly praised him for having "toiled and
sweated, day and night, against all odds and obstacles to
create, literally out of nothing the pride of Pakistan's
is thus caught between a rock and a hard place. It is trying to
make a distinction between the official nuclear weapons programs
and "certain individual scientists" of its nuclear establishment,
"who may have breached the strict export control procedures
by making unauthorized and irresponsible contacts with foreign nationals."
the moment, Washington has chosen to play along with Islamabad.
It has said that is satisfied with Pakistan's denials that it gave
any nuclear secrets away despite the new disclosures. The
pretense is that all such clandestine transactions took place in
the past, before Musharraf came to power in 1999.
repeats the line that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell took
in October 2002, after he addressed the issue of North Korea-Pakistan
deals with Musharraf. Powell had refused last year to get drawn
into questions about Pakistan's past transactions, emphasizing that
it is a valuable ally against terrorism.
the US role vis-à-vis Pakistan stands redefined by the new
disclosures and is threefold.
Washington is the gendarme of South Asia, which demands and appropriates
the right to detain and question other states' nationals.
the US government acknowledges Pakistan's crucial position as Afghanistan's
next-door neighbor and its past links with the Taliban. These give
it a special place in the US "war against terror."
the US government has a global nonproliferation agenda and
Pakistan's clandestine transactions with North Korea, Iran and Libya
are incompatible with it. Condoning these will draw hostile criticism
from India, with which too Washington wants to build closer relations.
is not easy to reconcile all the three roles.
the recent revelations, Washington cannot possibly maintain the
pretense that Pakistan's shady nuclear commerce belongs to the past.
will try to engage Pakistan in serious talks about restricting its
nuclear and missile scientists and engineers' movements, accept
tight controls on exports of nuclear technologies and components,
and make its nuclear facilities safe and pilfer-proof.
in negotiating this, the US government will face a credibility problem
because it steadfastly refuses to give up its own nuclear weapons
and set an example.
coercive or heavy-handed action by it is likely to further fuel
national-chauvinist and Islamist, anti-U.S. sentiments, and thus
strengthen the resolve of those who would like Pakistan and other
Islamic states to acquire their own weapons of mass destruction.
larger question is how to make weapons of mass destruction unattractive
and irrelevant to the security of all nations. The time has come
for the United States to answer this, rather than continue with
pretenses and contradictions.
Inter Press Service
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Redwood City, CA 94063
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