Games generals play: Understanding Nuclear Proliferation!

Games generals play
By Aqil Shah, Dawn, July 12, 2008

NUCLEAR proliferation is not child’s play. Nuclear weapons are not toys. But our generals have behaved like little children and treated nuclear proliferation as a game.

When the heat was on, they simply denied involvement, blamed it on Dr A.Q. Khan and locked him up. Chapter closed. Wishful thinking. Skeletons can be shoved into a cupboard but they can pop back out any time. So they have. After four years in virtual captivity, Dr Khan has come out guns blazing. He has made bombastic statements targeting Pervez Musharraf against whom he understandably harbours a grudge. In the most outrageous claim, Musharraf is accused of plotting with the United States to break up Pakistan by 2015. In a first, though, Dr Khan has settled scores with his tormentors in khaki by directly implicating the army in nuclear proliferation.

In the summer of 2000, he claims, the army under Gen Pervez Musharraf supervised a shipment to Pyongyang of second-hand P1 centrifuge machines used in uranium enrichment. In his own words, “no flight, no equipment could go outside without … clearance from the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Strategic Plans Division (SPD) and they used to be at the airport, not me.” Dr Khan claims he visited North Korea twice, once in 1994 and again in 1999. The main aim of the first trip was to procure Nodong ballistic missiles, subsequently renamed Ghauri. His mission on the second trip was to purchase shoulder-fired SA15 missiles during the Kargil war.

The veracity of Dr Khan’s statement can only be proved through a neutral inquiry. It is no state secret that Dr Khan’s spectacular rise and fall from grace was orchestrated by the military establishment. The man who stole nuclear blueprints for his country was turned into a cult figure above reproach. Eulogies were written, awards were conferred on him. When the crunch came, however, he was discarded by the military in a flash. Of course, A.Q. Khan is no angel. He is believed to have run Kahuta Research Laboratories with more than justified autonomy. But it is a fact that the country’s nuclear programme depends on a clandestine network of suppliers. The good doctor obviously bought nuclear materials for the state and probably sold some along the way. But it would be stretching credulity to breaking point if we believe that he acted as a rogue scientist out to make a killing under the nose of the military.

Dr Khan has since tried to absolve himself by claiming he was coerced into a confession and promised “full freedom” in return for admitting his guilt publicly. Obviously, he did not have the mettle or the clear conscience to stand up to the army at the time. But since the generals apparently failed to live up to their side of the agreement by denying him his freedom for more than four long years, he sees no reason to stick to his.

Not surprising then that the military came back swinging at Dr Khan for slinging mud at the army. The SPD chief Khalid Kidwai delivered a Bond-esque version of the proliferation story exclusively to a group of “patriotic journalists” summoned to the division’s headquarters. According to him, the military reportedly got wind of Dr Khan’s suspicious activities somewhere in the year 2000. It was then that the ISI raided Chaklala airport to stop a suspected shipment of centrifuges. But the consignment never arrived at the airport as Dr Khan’s men were tipped off in advance. The centrifuges were eventually recovered from inside an “air-conditioning factory”.

The retired general claims that when Dr Khan was confronted with evidence of his culpability, he eventually broke down and begged for a pardon. In other words, Dr Khan made a voluntary confession to avoid prosecution. Musharraf then granted him a pardon. Under its terms, Dr Khan was basically expected to remain hush. The pardon was reportedly subject to review if the government were to find evidence of his involvement in other nuclear proliferation activities.

Kidwai tried to bolster the credence of all his claims by assuring reporters that the government was in possession of irrefutable evidence implicating Dr Khan in the proliferation of nuclear materials. Kidwai added he was willing to share this proof “in camera” with neutral persons, or present it in court if need be. Claiming that proliferation was a closed case, Kidwai cited as evidence the determination made by the United States in North Korea and the IAEA in Iran that proliferation in each case was an individual act. The implication is that if only Dr Khan had had kept his big mouth shut, everything would have been alright. If only things were that simple.

Of course, A.Q. Khan’s incriminating statements will reinforce the widespread perception of Pakistan as a fragile state fraught with the threat of loose nukes falling into terrorist hands. When the architect of the country’s atomic bomb hurls grave accusations of nuclear wrongdoing at its military and vice versa in the full glare of the global media, we have a grave situation on our hands that must be resolved once and for all. We must face the issue head-on by holding the guilty accountable rather than burying our head in the sand and wishing it will all go away. The elected government must take charge and constitute a bipartisan commission of inquiry to investigate the matter. The army has every reason to cooperate with such an inquiry since it claims to have solid evidence that it was not involved in proliferation as an institution.

Ultimately, nuclear command and control must be taken out of the military’s hands if Pakistan is to assure the international community that its nuclear weapons are not up for grabs. The entire world seems to have figured out that weapons of mass destruction are too dangerous and important to be left to the generals. What are we waiting for?

The writer, a PhD candidate in political science at Columbia University, is conducting his doctoral research in


Anonymous said…
Give nuclear cammand to Zardari Sharif to to sold to the highest bidder to accumulate wealth in Persian Gulf Dubai and UK.
The credit of decades of the miseries and humiliations goes to our Great Civilian leader like Zulfiqar Bhutto, Sharif Brothers, Benazir Bhutto, Zardari and Shaukat aka Shortcut Aziz to name a few.
I just wonder Aqeel Shah belongs to the 10 Pakistani richest families who are looting the meager fortunes of 100 million Pakistanis in the name of democracy or just anoter idealistic moron.
saad said…
On AQ Khan and his politics:\07\06\story_6-7-2008_pg3_4

On the command of nuclear assets:\04\27\story_27-4-2008_pg3_4
Anonymous said…
INSIGHT: AQ is playing politics —Ejaz Haider

What Dr Khan is doing is a well thought-out strategy to besmear the army through Mr Musharraf, now the favourite whipping boy of Pakistanis of all hues and colour

Dr AQ Khan’s Friday interview first to Associated Press and then to two TV channels highlights an unfortunate aspect of Pakistani politics: he wants to hit back at General (retd) Pervez Musharraf and, in doing so, is prepared to even compromise Pakistan’s national security. Consider.

To AP he reportedly said that “North Korea received centrifuges from Pakistan in a 2000 shipment supervised by the army during the rule of President Pervez Musharraf”. “It was a North Korean plane, and the army had complete knowledge about it and the equipment,” Khan said. “It must have gone with his (Musharraf’s) consent.”

Later, talking to two TV channels, Dr Khan said the US news agency had twisted his statement.

“I never said or implied that the army supervised any shipment to North Korea,” Khan said, adding that it was Musharraf who mentioned the incident in his book, “In the Line of Fire”. According to Dr Khan, if the shipment was made as Musharraf says, then how could an army chief be unaware of the transfer?

There are two things here. One, why did Dr Khan choose to ignore the period of his activities pre-this incident in 2000 when Pakistan had set up a National Command Authority with SPD (Strategic Plans Division) as its secretariat?

Two, why has he chosen to distort the version given by Mr Musharraf in his book since he told the channels that he never said the army had supervised the shipment and that it was Mr Musharraf who actually talked about such a shipment?

Let’s take the second first.

Dr Khan finds mention in Mr Musharraf’s book on pages 177, 284-94 and 332. The known details of Dr Khan’s activities are given from page 284 through 294. Mr Musharraf writes that immediately after becoming the army chief, “One of my earliest recommendations to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was to bring our strategic organisations and nuclear development under custodial controls”.

This was followed by a “presentation at the GHQ, and I even submitted a written plan calling for a National Command Authority...”. Mr Sharif apparently did not show much interest in the idea of harmonising and coordinating the working of several scientific organisations and establishing a decision chain for the functioning of strategic forces.

However, Pakistan did informally put in place a system in early 1999 though the formal setting came in February 2000, three years before India actually put in place its Nuclear Command Authority.

It is at this point, after an elaborate system was put in place, that, according to Mr Musharraf, “we...began to get some more information, though sketchy, about AQ’s hidden activities over the preceding months and years”.

The incident Dr Khan has hinted at comes in the last paragraph on page 287 and goes on to page 288.

“We were once informed that a chartered aircraft going to North Korea for conventional missiles were also going to carry some ‘irregular’ cargo on his behalf. The source could not tell us exactly what the cargo was, but we were suspicious. We organised a discreet raid and searched the aircraft before its departure but unfortunately found nothing. Later, we were told that AQ’s people had been tipped off and the suspected cargo had not been loaded”.

It should be clear from Mr Musharraf’s account that nothing was found from the aircraft; two, security was tipped off about ‘irregular cargo’ within a shipment of conventional missiles. So, Dr Khan’s statement that Mr Musharraf has already mentioned the incident is a distortion of this version.

Interestingly, Dr Khan has made no mention of the other incident about the plane that was supposed to originate from a third country to Islamabad and make two stopovers in Iran. The plane ultimately never came to Pakistan because Mr Musharraf claims that as army chief he refused to allow the stopovers in Iran.

What is most amusing is that Dr Khan, in trying to distort the issue with reference to Mr Musharraf’s book, ended up confessing on a programme on Dawn News that old P1 centrifuges were being shipped to North Korea from the laboratory of which he was in charge and that he knew about it. To the question whether he (Dr Khan) knew about such shipments, he said yes!

In a recent television programme, former DG ISI Hameed Gul also claimed that he had noticed suspicious activities in the AQ Khan set-up during his time at the agency.

It is also interesting that he has denied the contents of the AP story and gone on to say that since the army was supervising these shipments and since Mr Musharraf was the army chief, “it must have gone with his (Musharraf’s) consent”.

Is Dr Khan now prepared to make conjectures on such a sensitive issue to strike back at Mr Musharraf?

Dr Khan was running Kahuta for many years; he gave Pakistan the centrifuge technology. Unlike the Israeli programme which was run by the trio of Prime Minister Ben Gurion, Shimon Peres, and Ernst Bergman (Bergman was later removed from his post), Dr Khan was all three rolled into one. Much before Mr Musharraf came on the scene, Dr Khan sat Zeus-like over Pakistan’s nuclear programme.

His wealth was known but the sources have only recently come to be known — he could not have gotten all his properties and other assets on a government salary, however high.

Talking to TV channels, Dr Khan made a Freudian slip. He said that he was unwell, had been confined and that the government had reneged on its deal with him. “My wife is a foreigner; she said to me that I have to do something about it. I cannot be treated like this [listing a number of physical ailments].”

It should be clear that Dr Khan, with an eye on the political scene, has decided to pull Mr Musharraf in and present him as a partner-in-crime. In doing that, he also has to necessarily drag in the army. Some right-of-centre commentators have already let slip in the fact that back channel negotiations are going on and that this issue should be handled with care. That only means that what Dr Khan is doing is a well thought-out strategy to besmear the army through Mr Musharraf, now the favourite whipping boy of Pakistanis of all hues and colour.

Add to that the fact that Dr Khan knows the sensitivity of the issue and also knows that by doing what he has set out to do, he will raise his bargaining position with all concerned. He wants to get off the hook by upping the ante on the issue.

The loser in all this will be the country.

Ejaz Haider is Consulting Editor of The Friday Times and Op-Ed Editor of Daily Times. He can be reached at
Anonymous said…
VIEW: Uninformed Vs Uniformed — Moeed Yusuf

Let’s debate civil-military relations but let us not mix up categories and bring a lack of knowledge to bear on sensitive issues

An article in Dawn by Cyril Almeida (“Retaking Bomb Project A/B”; April 23, 2008) criticises the management of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme and argues that the military has never allowed civilians to take charge.

Not a novel argument, it normally comes from those who do not know much about the configuration of strategic forces and rely on sound-bites from popular commentaries. Let’s establish some parameters.

In the realm of decision-making in terms of any likely dangers involved in allowing the military to presumably play a bigger role, it is a misconception to necessarily consider the military as more trigger-happy than the civilians. The question of civilian control therefore belongs more in the domain of civil-military relations than the control and possible deployment and employment of strategic forces.

Two factors should be clear: one, physical possession of nuclear weapons — when they are fully deployed, which is not the case with Pakistan — is always with the military. Possession thus must not be conflated with the decision to employ the forces; two, merely having a military in control of the nuclear programme — I go strictly by Almeida’s argument and its implication — is by no means synonymous with being an irresponsible nuclear state.

There are only two parallel arguments regarding nuclear-weapons control: individualistic and institutional. The former, the “mad man theory”, worries about the prospect of a belligerent ruler authorising a nuclear strike. This argument abstracts from the civil-military debate completely, focusing instead on a “mad” versus “sensible” ruler. The individual could be anyone, a civilian or a soldier.

The second is organisational — i.e., militaries’ parochial interests make them more likely than civilians to cause a nuclear disaster. The jury is still out on this. There is considerable empirical evidence to support that militaries are by no means more belligerent or susceptible to using nuclear weapons.

The aim is not to undermine the organisational perspective; nor that militaries can or do control nuclear weapons better than civilians. I am simply suggesting that the civil-military dichotomy is meaningless when discussing nuclear weapons — both are or can be equally good or bad.

The other misconception is that in Pakistan’s case the deployment and employment of strategic forces is decided by the army chief and civilian leadership is outside the decision-making process. This view eschews the elaborate command and control system put in place by Pakistan three years before India did (in fact, India has set up its own C&C system along Pakistan’s lines).

Indeed, if anything, militaries do not like nuclear weapons because they change the nature of warfare, making it redundant in most cases.

This implies that there is hardly any expertise in nuclear weapons issues outside the small cohort that deals with strategic forces. Even an army chief’s knowledge of nuclear weapons technology, tactics, use, and safety and security protocols is unlikely to be more than that of a casual student of military affairs.

What does this say about crisis behaviour? Simple. There will be no army chief or a small group of corps commanders sitting in a room deciding when and how to launch a strike. The top brass will have to call upon those with nuclear expertise, including civilians, to get input on arsenal safety, use, handling, preparations, destruction, repercussions, etc. The scientists will have to be part of the discussion. It will be input from the experts that will force the issue, not the other way round as is common in most other military decisions.

How is the situation different in India where civilian control prevails? In a recent book on Indo-Pak crisis, PR Chari, Parvaiz Cheema, and Stephen Cohen have this to say about Indian nuclear decision making:

“Nuclear decision making in India has been centralised in the Prime Minister’s Office and a very small circle of officials...This...process precludes wider consultation on nuclear weapon-related decisions...” (Four Crisis and a Peace Process: American Engagement in South Asia).

In a crisis then, the PMO will have to do exactly what Pakistan would be doing on its side. And since we have already dismissed any correlation between a “sensible” military leader and an irrational decision, even if an army leader were in power, the danger would arguably be the same for both parties.

One could apply this model to virtually any nuclear state to realise that none of the nuclear powers have broad discussions over nuclear issues during crises.

Let me at this point comment on Almeida’s key argument that the military does not provide prime ministers information on the nuclear programme.

Talking of the briefing Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani recently received from the SPD, he states: “...years from now a retired or sidelined Gillani may reveal to journalists that the presentation given to him was no different to the one they received”. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the case.

But here’s the question: what information is it that the PM requires (I am talking only from the point of view of danger induced by such military behaviour). Pakistan’s C&C structure is already out there for anyone including scholars to study. Other than that, leaving aside the political debate and point-scoring, the operational matters are discussed within the broad organisational structure on need-to-know basis for all concerned at various levels. But for the sake of argument, even if we presume that the SPD informed the PM of every single missile and warhead site and launch plans, this would still not impact danger emanating from the weapons at all.

By the same token, let us presume that the Pakistani PM and his cabinet are in total control of pressing the button and have full operational information. Would that help? Who would they rely on to make the decision? It will be the very people the army brass would bring to the table were the army in charge.

In essence, the situation in the ‘war room’ would be exactly the same. And this protocol would presumably be followed by virtually every nuclear state.

Finally, there is a need to underscore that operational aspects of nuclear weapons posturing ought not to be conflated with the civil-military debate. Pressures on C&C during crises or otherwise are completely independent of who controls “the button”. Every nuclear power in the world faces the “never-always dilemma” whereby dispersing its nuclear arsenal during crises makes it more difficult for the weapons to be taken out by the adversary and thus induces stability; at the same time, however, it reduces central control over the weapon systems and increases the chances of a field military commander making an unauthorised or inadvertent move.

Again, this is what any country, irrespective of its civil-military balance, has to deal with. The US is just as susceptible as Pakistan or India.

Finally, let’s debate civil-military relations but let us not mix up categories and bring a lack of knowledge to bear on sensitive issues. The real issue at hand is who controls the nuclear “button”; this is a political, not operational question in Pakistan.

The writer is a research fellow at the Strategic and Economic Policy Research (Pvt Ltd.) in Islamabad and a regular contributor to The Friday Times. He has written extensively on nuclear issues
Anonymous said…

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