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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.