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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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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