Nuclear Fallout

Pakistan has had a bad week, one can only hope that the “damage control” being attempted by the Government will be successful. It was a mortifying sight to see Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan (AQK), father of Pakistan’s nuclear program, requesting for clemency in a vintage 1960s-style Soviet-type confession. AQK confirmed that he was involved in “unauthorized” nuclear proliferation, that he had not only passed out nuclear secrets but also supplied critical equipment in the manufacture of nuclear weapons to Iran, Libya and North Korea. For those of us who have always taken him to be a national hero, his statement that whatever he did was in “good faith” was a non-starter, at best a fig leaf of a cover-up that will not satisfy the hounds of various ilk that are baying at Pakistan’s door.

A man with a super-ego, AQK occupied dominant stage within the country, he had many pursuits other than nuclear energy, being afflicted with the recurring diseases rampant among our ruling elite, a constant need for media exposure and a penchant to acquire vast amount of real estate. Obviously there was talk, this was muted given the super-hero status of the man we revered for giving us an effective “alternate solution” to shore up our conventional defence deterrent. A nuclear device is a nuclear device but is of no consequence without a delivery system. We do not have to make any apologies for the underworld apparatus AQK set up, it gave us invaluable military goodies that were denied to us by sanction or otherwise, more importantly a potential missile capability, no better demonstration of this combined non-conventional deterrent than during the military stand-off with India during the better part of 2002. Our dilemma was how to give the world its pound of flesh while cutting our hero down to size for this damaging compromise of our national security? Whatever the future may hold for AQK and his fellow nuclear proliferators, the man had a major role in preserving the sovereign integrity of Pakistan. AQK’s achievements were a prime consideration in treating him with kidgloves in giving him a pardon.

Governments cannot have relationships with the underworld without paying a steep price. When the US used the mafia during the Sicilian (and later the Italian) campaign during World War 2, it had to give out pardons to many ruthless mafia “dons”, among them “Lucky” Luciano. This was a US Presidential discretion because of utmost national security considerations in the waging of war. One of the major known Pakistani smugglers of the 60s and 70s became a major society figure (and a successful corporate entity) for his role in helping the clandestine operations to acquire nuclear equipment. There is invariably compounded risk in consummating a relationship taking place over an extended period of time with the underworld, those in contact start to acquire the attributes and tastes of those they come into contact with. Given the absolute authority AQK wielded for a program critical to Pakistan, the “no questions asked” mode made the “untouchable” status a double-edged weapon, the consequences of which Pakistan will certainly reap and which has become something of a bad precedent. The gray area was how these nuclear scientists could get away with it under the noses of our intelligence agencies. The blind eye of an official sanction made for a ready opportunity for exploitation for personal gain. Our intelligence apparatus became bloated during the 80s Afghan war, the sheer volume of logistics giving an opportunity for proliferation of rampant corruption through the broad spectrum of the system. Leaving aside the private sales of military goodies, what about the CIA cash that was meant to be doled out for the Afghan “Mujhahideen”? How much was skimmed off into private accounts? In a society that worships money but turns a blind eye to how it was made, accountability is not only extremely selective but very discriminating. Therefore if someone skimmed off CIA funds during the Afghan war or ISI funds meant for clandestine operations, he (his family and sons) now retain a privileged place as part and parcel of the ruling elite.

Mohammad El Baradei the head of the IAEA, spoke in Davos about a nuclear “Wal-Mart” in the underworld, AQK being only the tip of the nuclear iceberg. After all our hero was not the only one peddling his wares. Pakistan’s credibility can be somewhat restored by having AQK outline the whole structure he dealt with in this “export-oriented” nuclear racket, how he will do this while protecting our “import” conduit is a mind-boggling Catch-22! The surfacing of names of various middlemen from other countries could also help deflect international cynosure presently firmly focused on Pakistan out of motivated interest of hiding their own weaknesses in the system. Information given by us may help other governments to uncover some of their security deficiencies. The government already has done detailed interrogation of the nuclear scientists and their immediate security and administrative staff. While one cannot condone what AQK and his scientist colleagues have done for personal benefit, their punishment can be “plea-bargained”, at the very least including confiscation of all assets obtained illegally. The fact that they had developed the nuclear potential for Pakistan makes a case for mitigating their punishment. In contrast the administrative and security staff must face double jeopardy, their job was not only to protect the scientists but also Pakistan’s nuclear assets and secrets, their personal greed in allowing “exports” far transcended their services for which they drew salaries. A detailed multi-faceted enquiry must purge the establishment of those who have obtained personal benefit from the “nuclear exports” by helping directly and indirectly in this illegal activity, whether the person is from the government or from the private sector.

The chain of security command must also be cleared of wrongdoing, i.e. if anyone was involved in “authorizing” these shipments and whether such individuals were in on the “gravy train”. There should be no sacred cows whether in the military executive or in our intelligence agencies, ignoring corruption because of national security considerations will create a bad precedent. “Authorising” nuclear exports may be an exercise in bad judgment but because Pakistan has long been accused of nuclear proliferation for the last two decades, nobody can claim ignorance. The personal profit made ignored the deadly fallout on the nation. Not least important are the private bankers who opened (and managed) the accounts for illegal money, whether in Pakistan or abroad. The private businessmen who took part in the transaction knew the consequences of seeking profit incentive. Unless all those in the supply chain are taken to task we are no better than old South/Latin American “banana republics” of yesteryear. The media was paid to build up a favourable image of AQK, why not list the names of those in the fourth estate paid to embellish his reputation? In the final analysis a deliberate campaign was launched to mislead the public and evoke emotions in the streets, almost successfully inciting a political crisis that was headed off by the President, something from which we have not yet fully extricated ourselves. “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”, these media persons have to be exposed to the public so that their grandiose plans of “strategic defiance” are shown to be smoke meant to camouflage their own misdemeanours.

To stop further damage to national security, there must be a swift closure by decisive punitive action against those found culpable on this grave national security issue. Presently the situation is fluid, a cover-up will open a Pandora’s Box for an inimical western media waiting to exploit our weaknesses. While understanding the concern for national security, no individual is more important than the State and the State is presently under open-ended threat. Only by making the guilty accountable will we restore credibility among the comity of nations.