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Rogue states deserve sanctions

It will certainly go down as one of the most consummate political charades in recent history, and if it were not so dangerous, it would be farcical: within weeks of the cover being blown off Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation activities in Libya (following similar disclosures, first with regard to North Korea, and then Iran), an ‘investigation’ was launched and completed; the ‘sole culprit’, A.Q. Khan, the ‘father’ of Pakistan’s ‘Islamic bomb’, was identified, detained and ‘interrogated’; he then appeared on national Television, abjectly pleading with a ‘stern’ Musharraf, after which he made a televised ‘confession’ of his wrongdoing, taking the full blame and implicitly exonerating his military masters; with fitting humility, he also ‘apologised to the nation’; it would obviously be churlish, under the circumstances, not to let ‘bygones be bygones’, and worse than churlish to insist that investigations expose all the other culprits in the proliferation conspiracy – including (heaven forbid!) the country’s present dictator; the Cabinet, consequently, recommends full clemency for the ‘national hero’; and Musharraf, naturally bound by the collective will of the Cabinet, seals the amnesty. So, we are to believe, the entire criminal chapter of over a decade and a half of what CIA director George Tenet euphemistically describes as ‘nuclear profiteering’ by Pakistan, is closed.

All this is also immediately and unhesitatingly endorsed by the US Administration, which reiterates its faith in President Musharraf’s ‘stewardship’ of his country.

On the sidelines of the grand sweep of this drama, A.Q. Khan had implicated Pervez Musharraf and three of his predecessor army chiefs – Jehangir Karamat, Abdul Waheed Kakkar and Mirza Aslam Beg – in the country’s nuclear transgressions, and is also believed to have taken out an ‘insurance policy’ for himself by way of ‘proof’ that he sent out of the country with his daughter, to be released to the world in case a prosecution was launched against him.

In the meanwhile, Musharraf declares that his country "will never roll back its nuclear assets", nor would he accept any "independent investigation" by international agencies. He announces the test firing of the 1,240 kilometre-range Shaheen II missile ‘within a month’ to reiterate the country’s commitment to its strategic nuclear missile programme, and simultaneously warns the national media against ‘further speculation’ on the military’s role in peddling nuclear secrets, as such ‘speculation’ would be against the ‘national interest.’

An ‘anti-national’ Press is not alone in its dissent from the orchestrated spectacle.. In Vienna, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the U.N. nuclear agency, warned that Khan's activities were "the tip of an iceberg" in the international nuclear black market. Former US Chief Weapons Inspector, David Kay also declared, "I can think of no one who deserves less to be pardoned."

It is useful to note here that Musharraf’s strategy of response to the continuous succession of exposures on nuclear proliferation is identical to the strategy adopted with regard to Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism. First, complete denial; when this becomes unsustainable, denial of state sponsorship or involvement, and transfer of responsibility to non-state actors and institutions, or ‘renegades’, with token ‘action’ against some of these; eventually, where even this becomes unsustainable, some visible action in which some of these actors are ‘sacrificed’ to salvage his regime, with promises to the international community that past activities would be ‘permanently wound down’.

If, within this context, Khan must be ‘sacrificed’ to maintain a minimally credible pretence that the Pakistani state and Army were not directly ‘involved’ in nuclear proliferation, so be it. In a few months, he will be restored to his ‘normal’ life, as happened earlier with the two Pakistani nuclear scientists (Sultan Bashir-ud-Din Mahmood and Chaudhri Abdul Majeed of the Ummah Tameer-e-Nau) who were in contact with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, and were believed to have been trying to help him develop a ‘dirty bomb’.

This strategy has generally been referred to as maintaining ‘minimal credible deniability’ while engaging in a multiplicity of illegal and perilous international adventures. Crucially, there are two sides to the ‘credible deniability’ coin: the pretence by Pakistan that it is innocent; and the acceptance of this pretence by the ‘international community’ (especially America) despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Generally, America and the West have ignored evidence of Pakistani involvement in terrorism and proliferation, either because their interests have not been threatened, or have sometimes been served, by such activities; or, especially in the post-9/11 period, because they feel that Pakistan’s and Musharraf’s ‘stability’ would be threatened by any sudden or harsh sanctions, and this is considered tactically unacceptable in the present context.

The fact is, Pakistan’s role in nuclear proliferation (as in its sponsorship of terrorism) has been an ‘open secret’ for a long time. Since the late 1980s, Pakistan has been ‘marketing’ nuclear technologies with little effort at secrecy – at one point through advertisements published in national newspapers, as well as through printed brochures that were widely circulated among potential clients by the Kahuta Research Laboratories headed by Khan, and a copy of which was recently published by The New York Times. It is also well known that Pakistan had developed and projected its nuclear programme as an ‘Islamic bomb’ and had received enormous financial support from a number of Islamic countries, including Iraq, Libya and Saudi Arabia, on an implicit quid pro quo agreement that would have involved sharing of technologies with the ‘Islamic world’. Pakistan’s missiles-for-nuclear-technology deal with North Korea is also well known, and these transfers had been documented by intelligence agencies years before 9/11. Indeed, there is not a single security commentator who would not be aware that virtually every single missile ‘developed’ by Pakistan was, in fact, nothing more than a reassembled version of a North Korean ‘knock down kit’. At least some of these various proliferation activities have demonstrably taken place under the Musharraf regime. To pretend or believe that any or all of this could be done without explicit state and military sanction is the most arrant nonsense. Yet, all this was deliberately ignored by America and by the West.

This naturally forces the disturbing questions: has America, or have American agencies, in fact, been complicit in at least some of these proliferation activities? And have successive US Administrations deliberately misled the American people? While the immediate and malevolent shadow of Pakistan’s activities has fallen within the region, particularly on Afghanistan and India, it is the inescapable truth that the ‘nuclear dagger’ is aimed irrevocably at the heart of the world’s ‘sole superpower’, and the leakage of these technologies to rogue states and terrorist non-state actors across the world constitutes the gravest threat to the US. Peripheral players as well as recipients of the proliferating technologies have been targeted with the full force of punitive American and international sanctions, yet the primary proliferator and central protagonist in the sponsorship of international Islamist terrorism escapes unscathed, again and again, irrespective of the enormity of its transgressions. Every US Administration in the recent past has downplayed Pakistan’s role in international terrorism and nuclear proliferation, and the present Administration is no exception.

From the very moment of its creation, Pakistan has been little more than an organized criminal enterprise masquerading as a nation-state. For years now, I have been arguing that Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities will have to be shut down. Countries that cannot control their nuclear establishment and prevent illegal transfers of technology cannot escape the ambit of international controls. Countries that actively promote such illegal proliferation must draw upon themselves the harshest of international sanctions and inspection regimes. To fail in this course is to ignore the grave danger that such rogue states constitute, not only to peace, but to human survival itself.

(Published in The Pioneer, February 7, 2004)





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