February issue 2004

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 20 years ago

If Dr Qadeer Khan’s admission of guilt on national television — and Musharraf’s subsequent pardon — were intended to firmly secure the lid on the nuclear proliferation scandal, the strategy had exactly the opposite effect. It opened a Pandora’s box of questions.

Was the confession extracted out of Dr Qadeer by force or had a deal been worked out between Pakistan’s nuclear “hero” and the generals, with the assistance of a Chaudhary and a legal eagle? If no deal existed, why was Dr Qadeer let off the hook so easily — was it because he had threatened to squeal on the ‘other players’ in the game? Rumour has it that one of Qadeer’s daughters has sneaked out a tape-recorded statement by her father, in which he implicates some top military guns.

Another critical question that is being raised is, how could the two army chiefs of the time have failed to detect the pilferage of such sensitive material, when they were supposedly running a tight ship — so tight that even two elected civilian prime ministers were not allowed into Kahuta, and a French diplomat who wandered into the area, was soundly thrashed. Also, where were the supremely efficient intelligence sleuths — how could nuclear components (it was not just centrifuge drawings alone as General Musharraf glibly said) be smuggled out of Kahuta under their watchful gaze? Moreover, if Dr Khan was, indeed, the sole recipient of all the financial largesse of the nuclear underworld, why didn’t the government investigate stories of his hi-fi lifestyle — palatial houses, vintage cars, hotels abroad and offshore accounts — that had been appearing in the press from time to time.

There are too many loose ends in the official story which Pakistan’s fourth estate is trying to piece together, and they cannot be faulted for doing their job and accused of compromising national interests. Had those, who were assigned the task of guarding Pakistan’s nuclear assets done their job, Pakistan might have been spared this humiliation and trauma.

The country faces difficult days ahead.There is a genuine fear that we might be ordered to roll back our nuclear programme, and open up our nuclear facilities for inspection by IAEA inspectors. There also lurks the danger that our nuclear facilities might be targeted by a country like Israel that feels threatened by the possibility of the ‘Islamic bomb’ falling into the hands of their Arab “enemies.”

Official quarters also hint at the possibility of military and economic sanctions being imposed on Pakistan, and of the three-billion-dollar US aid package to Pakistan being withheld or subjected to stringent conditionalities, in the event that more evidence implicating Pakistan in the nuclear proliferation blackmarket is unearthed. According to the IAEA Chief, Mr El Baradei, what has been found is just “the tip of the iceberg.”

There are concerns in certain quarters that Pakistan may even be declared a rogue state. For the moment, we might be spared that ultimate humiliation, given our strategic importance in the post-September 11 scenario. Bush and Colin Powell are choosing their words carefully, but once the Osama obsession is over, we may have to run for cover.

General Musharraf has always maintained that our nuclear assets are in safe hands. Following the IAEA revelations, the international community is not likely to take the General’s assurances at face-value. We will be expected to do a lot more to establish our credentials as a responsible nuclear state and stop flaunting our nuclear capability at various forums.

Having said that, one must also point out that while the IAEA has presented Pakistan with “incontrovertible” evidence against Pakistani scientists, it has yet to release the names of those European countries and firms who form part of the nuclear proliferation blackmarket and underworld, making the investigations appear pointedly one-sided. Fairness demands that those European countries and individuals involved in nuclear proliferation are also taken to task.

A ‘Christian’ bomb is no less devastating than an ‘Islamic’ bomb. Or is it?

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.