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Pakistan's Nuclear Metastasis: How Widespread is the Cancer?

The time has come to find out how much damage Pakistan's nuclear program has done--and how many rogue countries are closing in on the bomb.

11:00 PM, Jan 7, 2004 • By MANSOOR IJAZ
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INDIA'S PRIME MINISTER, Atal Behari Vajpayee, met Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, in Islamabad on Monday on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit. The two erstwhile enemies shook hands and then agreed to hold formal talks starting next month. The bilateral effort will be aimed at finally settling a dispute that has long ranked as one of the world's most dangerous nuclear flashpoints--Kashmir.

But the much-anticipated meeting took place at an awkward moment for Pakistan, one that could define its future as a nation in moral, diplomatic, and economic terms more starkly than any other issue. The conduct of the Pakistani state, ruled for over half its existence by military governments, is under a microscope as nuclear watchdogs try to unravel the extent of damage done by Pakistani nuclear scientists assisting rogue regimes from Tripoli to Tehran to Pyongyang in building sophisticated uranium enrichment facilities.

Questions raised by Pakistan's nuclear conduct relegate the future of Kashmir to the sidelines. The burning question is whether Pakistan has morphed into a rogue nuclear state, or is the unwitting victim of a handful of deranged army generals, intelligence officers, and mad nuclear scientists run amok.

RECENT REVELATIONS about the extent to which Islamabad proliferated its nuclear technology during the past two decades paint a deeply troubling picture of not just what was happening without detection of international nuclear monitors, but what may still be going on--and what must now be stopped if the civilized world is to prevent tyrannical regimes from developing the capacity to build and deliver nuclear weapons into the hands of terrorists.

The Bush and Blair successes in coercing Libya and Iran, and perhaps soon North Korea, into nuclear compliance may signal near-term progress in counter-proliferation efforts. But these victories have come at the price of negligently looking the other way while Islamabad continued an aggressive program to spread its nuclear expertise to Muslim countries.

With Pakistan's nuclear genie out of the bottle, Bush administration officials need to focus on getting Musharraf to quickly identify the extent of the metastasis, to fully disclose it, and to prosecute those officials involved no matter who they are or how high they are in the system. Musharraf must then agree to put verifiable measures in place to insure there is no possibility Pakistani nuclear technology will show up next in Jakarta, Riyadh, Cairo, or Beirut.

Chronicling the Evidence

The evidence of Pakistan's complicity in spreading its nuclear know-how is increasingly undeniable. Saif al-Islam Ghaddafi, son of Libyan strongman Muammar Ghaddafi, almost gleefully admitted to London's Sunday Times this weekend that Tripoli had paid $40 million (western intelligence believes the number could be as high as $100 million) to middlemen for a "full bomb dossier" from Pakistan detailing how to build an atomic weapon. Libya's candor comes as part of its deal with the United States and Britain to abandon its quest for nuclear weapons in return for readmission to the community of nations, and western promises to help rebuild its decrepit oil industry. Intercepting a German-registered ship in October with thousands of parts for uranium centrifuges also helped bring the Libyan leader to his senses about his ongoing nuclear cooperation with Pakistan.

To add to Islamabad's woes, the New York Times this Sunday posted on its website a sales brochure for nuclear components available to qualified buyers from Pakistan's top-secret A.Q. Khan Research Laboratories (named for the so-called father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program). The technologies offered were critical for building high quality uranium enrichment facilities, and the glossy brochure presented Pakistan's best nuclear wares with Madison Avenue pizzazz.

The same lab stands accused of providing gas centrifuges to Iranian scientists through a vast network of secret procurement channels, largely run through the Middle East port of Dubai. Those centrifuges, when tested by International Atomic Energy Agency scientists visiting Iran's key nuclear installations last summer, were found to have traces of bomb-grade enriched uranium identical to that known to have originated from Pakistani centrifuges. The findings made it all but impossible for the parts to have come from anywhere else.

Unfortunately, the plethora of revelations about Pakistan's activities is only the tip of the iceberg of a decade-long clandestine effort by unregulated elements within the country's nuclear, intelligence and military establishments to sell the "Islamic bomb" to other Muslim nations. At the heart of the effort was a dangerously motivated clique of former Pakistani intelligence chiefs, corrupt politicians, and Islamized Pakistani scientists, including Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, who believed it was their moral duty to offer weapons of mass destruction to embattled Muslim states in the global Ummah (community of Islamic nations).

Their activities, in various stages of planning and implementation since the late 1980s, reached a zenith in the months leading up to the September 11 attacks. Key military and intelligence officials in Islamabad, later fired or laterally moved to less sensitive posts by Musharraf at Washington's urging, had come to the conclusion that the West, led by the United States, was hell-bent on the economic destruction of Pakistan for its robust nuclear weapons program, lack of democracy, military support for militants in Kashmir, and supply lines to the extremist Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

These ambitious Islamists (wrongly) perceived that spreading Pakistan's nuclear wealth throughout the Ummah would secure both its economic future and place in history as the hub of the Muslim world's intellectual and scientific power. Their vision had multiple dimensions, including the sharing of knowledge, materials, and technologies to build ultra-sophisticated research facilities in other countries, and that is precisely what they repeatedly and aggressively did for over 15 years.

Spreading the Cancer to other Muslim Countries

The evidence is now compelling that they succeeded in Iran and North Korea, and were far enough along in Libya to show their fingerprints. But where else was Pakistan's nuclear brain trust plying its trade and for what purpose?

Nuclear cooperation with Iran was initially intended during the Cold War to provide strategic depth in military planning against arch-nemesis and former Soviet ally, India (now a key ally of both Iran and Afghanistan). But the strategy evolved early on into a derivative assistance plan that would enable Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas based in Lebanon to eventually obtain tactical nuclear weapons from Tehran--weapons that could be deployed in the Bekaa Valley once Iran's nuclear fuel cycles had been established. Israel's reaction time to launch strikes or counterstrikes would drop to zero.

Pakistan would maintain plausible deniability of any involvement in Middle East affairs (no one would believe Shia Iran was depending on Sunni Pakistan for nuclear assistance), but its proxy play to clandestinely help equalize the playing field with nuclear Israel would give it deep respect, and lots of free oil, from the Arab world.

Saudi Arabia toyed with the idea of obtaining Pakistani nuclear weapons as well. But Islamabad's intelligence mavens vetoed the effort because of the heavy American military presence at that time, fearing their larger designs to spread Pakistani expertise and technology might get exposed. The alternative put up for consideration was building a secret facility in one of the sheikdoms bordering Saudi Arabia--as long as the money, or enough free oil, was there for Pakistan's benefit, and the sheikdom agreed to provide regional cover in the event of any Israeli, or even Iranian, malfeasance.

To this day, the March 1999 visit by Saudi Arabia's Defense Minister, Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, to Pakistan's nuclear facilities at Kahuta remains unexplained. It is the only non-Pakistani entry ever allowed inside the top-secret installation. Similarly unexplained are the "retirement" activities of Dr. A. Q. Khan, now living in Dubai where the Iranian and Libyan technology transfers allegedly changed hands. He's ostensibly building schools for disaffected Muslim youth there, but one wonders what else is being built underneath those desert sands. The magnitude of Khan's hypocrisy in using the Muslim world's forlorn as props to camouflage his unholy war to spread nuclear weapons into the hands of the very regimes that suppressed their people into oblivion is incomprehensible.

Even Malaysia's Mahathir Mohamed was considered a hero of sorts in extremist Pakistani circles, having built a modern society with a vibrant open-market economy while never compromising the Islam phobias (anti-Semitism, etc.) that made him anathema to Western leaders in his waning years. It appears Mahathir never accepted the open invitation to join the Muslim nuclear club, but Malaysia played the game at the fringes. Components of Libya's nascent uranium enrichment facilities, for example, were manufactured in Malaysia as recently as 2001.

Leading the Drive for Transparency in Pakistan's Nuclear Affairs

What to do? Simply interrogating a handful of senior nuclear scientists resident at Kahuta Labs cannot stop the quest by ungovernable elements in Pakistan's military-intelligence establishment from spreading the country's nuclear know-how. Even questioning Dr. A. Q. Khan himself, as Musharraf recently allowed under intense international pressure, will not be enough. Disinformation that insured the success of Khan's clandestine effort to build Pakistan's bomb, after all, was the hallmark of his entire tenure as Islamabad's nuclear chief.

Nor will it be sufficient that another Muslim country "outs" Pakistan's nuclear complicity when faced with irrefutable evidence, as Iran and Libya have apparently done. Waiting for admissions of guilt in matters of nuclear commerce after the fact is a dangerous policy for preventing proliferation in unstable, autocratic regimes that dominate the Muslim world's political landscape.

The conscientious objectors in Pakistan's scientific, military, and intelligence establishments have a moral responsibility to come clean about what has been done, wittingly or not, to assist other nations in developing to whatever extent they could meaningful nuclear weapons research programs. Sooner or later, the evidence will emerge. But the world cannot wait until that evidence is a rogue state's North Korean-made missile armed with a Chinese-made nuclear device assembled in Islamabad's nuclear labs whose fuel came from gas centrifuges sold by Pakistan's rogue Islamists.

Musharraf has to publicly and verifiably put an end to the speculation that Pakistan's nuclear assets are for sale to nations rich enough to buy from or barter with his scientists. This means, among other things, taking steps to offer more transparency in independently monitoring Pakistan's nuclear sites, and keeping track of the movements of Pakistan's scientists in ways that neither humiliate the country nor compromise its sovereignty.

As a first step, President George W. Bush needs to ascertain that Musharraf had no knowledge of the transactions in question. Bush White House officials have indicated that at least in the Libyan case, where the transfers of technology took place largely after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Musharraf appears to have had no knowledge of the transfers. If he genuinely did not, President Bush needs to help distance the Pakistani president in the minds of the American public from the crazies who want to destroy Pakistan by sharing its nuclear secrets with rogue states.

By building such a political argument at home, Bush can take important legislative steps that will free up technology to assist Musharraf in holding his scientists and military-intelligence complex accountable for future actions. The previous U.S. policy of economic and military sanctions is outdated and irrelevant in the context of Pakistan's cooperation on post 9/11 terrorism issues.

Since 1990, U.S. sanctions have blocked technologies from being sent to Pakistan that could improve nuclear security there. These sanctions, along with U.S. export license controls and, where needed, global non-proliferation regime compliance rules, should be waived to insure Islamabad gets the needed technology to protect its nuclear labs, weapons and materials from unauthorized use.

Pakistan: Model Nuclear Citizen or Loose Atomic Cannon?

There is another reason for pursuing this course. Having come dangerously close to falling under the U.S. definition of a "rogue" state, Pakistan could now become a beacon for how to responsibly deal with rogue elements inside the state without compromising its sovereignty or dealing a blow to an important cornerstone of the national psyche. Other states (Georgia, for example) with nuclear weapons programs that may also be in the market for selling their secrets might take notice and change course.

To emphasize U.S. concerns, the president (and Congress) should condition all U.S. aid to Pakistan on Islamabad's acceptance of nuclear safekeeping vaults, sensors, alarms, closed-circuit cameras, and other technologies that give Musharraf and his like-minded aides the ability to internally monitor and track Pakistan's nuclear technologies. Simply excusing leakage as the work of "greedy" individuals with their own agendas, as Pakistan's foreign ministry spokesman did when the Iranian revelations were made, is neither believable nor an acceptable risk to the safety and security of civilized nations.

Furthermore, a new formula for giving U.S. aid should be devised that is inversely proportional to Pakistan's spending on military and nuclear budgets. The less Islamabad spends of its national wealth on building nuclear bombs that protect no one, the more America should spend on helping Pakistan build schools and hospitals that educate and protect the masses.

Pakistan has the right to maintain its nuclear arsenal for deterrence against regional threats, and perhaps as importantly, for its national dignity. It does not have the right, whether sanctioned officially or not, to assist in the creation of nuclear monsters that seek Armageddon itself. Nor does it have the right to misappropriate American taxpayer dollars in support of actions by the very elements that seek our death and destruction on their misguided path to eternity.

Mansoor Ijaz, a New York financier and chairman of Crescent Investment Management, jointly authored the blueprint for the cease-fire of hostilities between Muslim militants and Indian security forces in Kashmir in July 2000. He also negotiated Sudan's offer of counter-terrorism assistance on al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden to the Clinton administration in 1996 and 1997. His personal views, expressed here, are based on firsthand accounts from meetings, private discussions and correspondences with Pakistani nuclear scientists as well as senior military and intelligence officials over the past decade. His father, Dr. Mujaddid Ijaz (deceased), a nuclear physicist who retired Professor Emeritus at Virginia Tech, brought over 100 students from Pakistan and other parts of the Muslim world to the United States during his 26 year tenure for training and degree programs at U.S. colleges and universities. Some of those students now run sensitive parts of Pakistan's top-secret nuclear facilities.