In an interview given to a national daily, Pakistan’s ‘father of the bomb’ Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan has opened another debate about who was responsible for nuclear proliferation in Pakistan, which resulted in spreading the bomb technology to North Korea, Iran and Libya through him. He said it was then-prime minister Benazir Bhutto who “had asked for the transfer of nuclear technology to the two countries that she had named”. If he has tried to prove that he did nothing on his own but followed orders, he contradicts himself when he says that he did not obey the next elected leader, prime minister Nawaz Sharif, and forced his hand by threatening to go to the media: “Nawaz Sharif tried to convince me to win international sympathy by staying silent in response to the Indian nuclear tests”.
Dr Khan has earlier tried to prove through the publication of a North Korean letter that the Pakistan Army was backing him when he transferred crucial technology to the pariah state to enable its final nuclearisation. It is also a matter of record that the army turned against prime minister Benazir Bhutto when it suspected her of agreeing to ‘cap’ the nuclear programme of Pakistan. It appears that both the elected leaders he worked under sought to find a less dangerous course with Pakistan’s nuclear programme.
Dr Khan had a good word to say for ex-army chief Aslam Beg, who survived the Bahawalpur crash: “When the aircraft of General Ziaul Haq had met an accident, the chief of the army at the time decided to hold elections in the country without delay of even a moment”. The fact is that proliferation was begun by Dr Khan, much before General Zia died, and there is evidence that he and Aslam Beg passed on nuclear secrets to Iran without telling General Zia who wanted no part of the developing Iran-Arab conflict and especially no Arab-angry reaction by helping to nuclearise Iran. Nawaz Sharif felt that Beg was conducting his separate nuclear diplomacy with Iran and went on record about it after being deposed.
In 1980, General Zia was under pressure to come to the help of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), created in reaction to the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Whether or not he secretly promised ‘military teeth’ to the GCC may never be known, but he was conscious of the fact that he had to handle Iran carefully. He had committed the folly of imposing zakat on the Shia of Pakistan the same year under advice from Saudi Arabia.
A dossier released by London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in 2007, as a ‘chronology of Dr AQ Khan’s proliferation’ indicates that he had visited Iran’s reactor at Bushehr in 1986. Iran approached Dr Khan’s ‘network’ to close a three million dollar deal for centrifuge technology. The IISS dossier, distinguishes between ‘Pakistan government’ (meaning General Zia) and ‘Khan network’ (excluding General Zia). Iran, later, disclosed the details of the despatch of centrifuges to Iran, by Dr Khan, to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). According to IAEA, he made the sale to Iran of all the required elements in 1987, in Dubai.
Dr Khan now wants to somehow validate what he did by taking on board the elected leaders of Pakistan, but the fact is that he kept quiet when they were deposed from power one after the other, basking in the privileges the army had allowed him. He knew that ‘India policy’ and ‘nuclear policy’ were not in the hands of the politicians in Pakistan and he spared no thought to the ethical and moral dimensions of what he was doing. There was a steady growth industry of self-advertisement by journalists patronised by him and an understandably grateful nation wanted him to become president of Pakistan after the ouster of Ghulam Ishaq Khan.
However, Dr Khan is wise in welcoming the thaw in Indo-Pak relations. He knows that nuclearising Pakistan was of no use after General (retd) Pervez Musharraf committed the folly of launching the Kargil Operation in 1999. He also must know that the bomb he made is of no use in the face of al Qaeda terrorism. In fact, the bomb is a grave risk to the world as Pakistan’s internal order breaks down under this new challenge.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 18th, 2012.