Pakistan's Nuclear Program and Proliferation Record: Some New Wild Theories...
How the West summoned up a nuclear nightmare in Pakistan
Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark reveal how misguided deals with Pakistan have created a terrifying threat of nuclear terrorism
From The Sunday Times, September 2, 2007
Extracted from Deception: Pakistan, the United States and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons, to be published by Atlantic Books on September 13 at £25.
General Pervez Musharraf was surprised. Visiting New York for a session of the UN, the last thing the Pakistani president expected was to be confronted with evidence of his country’s secret sales of nuclear bomb technology and equipment to members of the “axis of evil”.
Yet here on the polished wooden table of Musharraf’s hotel suite, George Tenet, director of the CIA, was laying out a sheaf of incriminating evidence.
There were intricate drawings of Pakistan’s P-1 uranium-enrich-ing centrifuge, with part numbers, dates and signatures. And there were details of the activities of Abdul Qadeer “A Q” Khan, the so-called Father of the Pakistani Bomb: his travels around the world, bank statements, even paperwork showing what his organisation had offered for sale and to which countries.
A senior Musharraf aide described it disingenuously as “the most embarrassing moment in the president’s life” – not because of the evidence but because he had felt Pakistan was on a long leash as it was integral to the Americans’ war on terror.
It was only three months since President George W Bush had cancelled a $1 billion debt and instigated a new $3 billion military and economic assistance package for Pakistan.
“Now the leash was being wound in, but Musharraf got over his surprise. He moved on and thought, so be it. He was a survivor. Pakistan was a survivor. We would adapt to a new reality,” a source said.
But he was not going to confess all: “Musharraf would play dumb until he ascertained what the US knew and whom we could blame.”
The general feigned ignorance. But everyone in the room during this “confrontation” four years ago knew that they were involved in a charade.
American officials knew that Musharraf had known about the nuclear trade all along. And Washington had itself not only turned a blind eye to Pakistan’s nuclear bomb project for decades but had covered it up for imperative geopolitical reasons, even when Islamabad began trading its secret technology.
By 2003 there was mounting evidence – still kept from Capitol Hill and the UK parliament – that Pakistan’s clients now encompassed North Korea, Iran and Libya and probably other countries and individuals too.
Britain had privately been pressing America to tell Musharraf it had to stop. In October 2003 MI6 uncovered Pakistani nuclear material on a boat heading for Libya. But the consensus in Washington was that saving Pakistan’s vulnerable (and valuable) president mattered more than prosecuting the guilty.
A senior British Foreign Office source explained: “He would come up with his own framework for survival and we would help him get through it, as long as the dirty deals were wound up. It was a compromise struck in the world of realpolitik.”
The details were agreed between Musharraf and Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state, at a meeting in Islamabad. A drama was conceived that drew from Musharraf a promise to shut down Pakistan’s nuclear black market in return for winning continued US support for his unelected regime.
It was agreed that A Q Khan and his aides would be arrested and blamed for “privately” engaging in proliferation. The country’s military elite – who had sponsored Khan’s work and encouraged sales of technology to reduce their reliance on American aid – were left in the clear.
Khan was made to admit his “unauthorised activities” on television. Bush subscribed to the deceit, announcing: “Khan has confessed his crimes and his top associates are out of business . . . President Musharraf has promised to share all the information he learns about the Khan network, and has assured us that his country will never again be a source of proliferation.”
The truth was that Musharraf had been reducing Khan’s role in the nuclear enterprise and had pushed him into official retirement. The nuclear programme and trading were – and are – completely under the military government’s control. And proliferation did not stop.
Four years on, Khan is still under house arrest, and Musharraf is still in power. In a further exercise in “realpolitik”, another political deal is being stitched together to keep him in the presidency as America’s best hope of maintaining stability in this geopolitically vital but desperately unstable country.
Musharraf’s term of office comes to an end in November. Under the constitution he cannot win another term if he remains chief of army staff. Urged on by Washington, he has been discussing a power-sharing agreement with Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister.
He intends, however, to keep hold of foreign affairs, the armed forces, internal and external security portfolios, the nuclear deterrent and the WMD (weapons of mass destruction) programme, according to Pakistani sources.
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