If there was a method to this madness it was not clear. The Bush administration opted not to attend the hearings on the A.Q. Khan network conducted by the US Congressional Sub Committee on Terrorism and Nuclear Non-Proliferation. The committee met on May 25 and pointedly challenged Islamabad’s May 2 announcement that "the A.Q. Khan case was closed." The four-member panel was chaired by Congressman Edward Royce of California and basically painted Pakistan as the most dangerous country when it comes to proliferation activities. The experts on the panel included David Albright of the Institute of Science and International Security, Leonard Weiss, an independent consultant and Andrew Koch and former Washington correspondent of the Jane’s Defense weekly.
Throughout the hour-long hearings, the experts presented numerous reasons why the A.Q. Khan investigation could not be closed. They argued that prosecutions were essential to ensure that this case served as a deterrence; that the US and IAEA must demand direct access to A.Q. Khan because Pakistani officials are not trustworthy; A.Q. Khan will be a key source of information on how far Iran has progressed in its nuclear program and Washington must access that information directly from Khan.
Other issues raised included the need for Washington to get information on the extent to which some Arab countries including Syria and Egypt have moved along on their nuclear programs. Information on such matters can only be accessed through meeting A.Q. Khan, they argued. In fact implicating the government of Pakistan in sharing nuclear technology with other Muslim states, the committee chairman claimed that Gen. Zia ul-Haq had spoke about sharing nuclear technology with the entire Muslim world.
The overall thrust at the hearings was that the real responsibility for the A.Q. Khan network lies with the government of Pakistan including Gen. Musharraf and no step has been taken by the Bush administration to gauge the Pakistan government’s involvement. The infamous pamphlet that offered nuclear technology for sale was produced as evidence of Pakistan’s intentions to freely export nuclear technology. Another theme that repeatedly came up was that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are not in secure hands and that the Bush administration needs to address this serious and potentially dangerous situation.
The timing of the hearing coincided with the debate on Indo-US nuclear deal and more importantly with the sale of F-16s to Pakistan. In fact issues related to the two were raised by the panel members and the witnesses as well. It was argued that because of Pakistan’s track record on proliferation, Pakistan should not have access to nuclear technology. On the F-16s the charge sheet against Pakistan was three-fold: First, Pakistan allowed the Chinese to study the F-16 technology. Secondly, Pakistan made the F-16s nuclear weapon deliverable and thirdly, Pakistan needed resources to rehabilitate its citizens hit by the earthquake.
One accusation repeatedly made was that the government punished no one for the A Q. Khan network and that while A.Q. Khan was kept in his multimillion dollar villa no one else was prosecuted.
The Bush administration was blamed for not pressurizing Islamabad sufficiently to provide direct access to A.Q. Khan. Instead, the members and the experts argued that Pakistan has been rewarded with a multi-billion dollar aid package. The experts also insisted that the "Pakistani network" was still in operation. Pakistan continued to smuggle in nuclear technology and equipment needed for its own nuclear program. Some of them argued that the government of Pakistan had left the export dimension of the network intact.
The committee members and the experts managed a complete walkover as their positions went uncontested. The nonproliferation experts and the committee members were clear that Pakistan was an errant and unpunished member of the international community. Pakistan, according to them, remains a risky nuclear power. Worse still, its nuclear weapons are vulnerable to theft by terrorist groups. An election can put a "religious extremist" party in power who will then have unfettered control over nuclear weapons.
Many of these allegations were incorrect and others dated. That the A.Q. Khan blunder was one of the worst in Pakistan’s history and that the state has to take responsibility is true. But Pakistan’s engagement with the Bush administration and the IAEA in the A.Q. Khan investigations is known to the Bush administration. In fact most of the steps have been taken in partnership with the US administration. Why then would the US administration opt to give a walkover to those wanting to paint Pakistan as the most irresponsible nuclear state?
Pakistan should seek an answer to this question. Islamabad should also hold its friends in Washington accountable for their actions.