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The A.Q. Khan letter – some unanswered questions

September 21, 2009

The rather detailed article by Simon Henderson in the Times, London about the proliferation by Pakistan scientist A.Q. Khan has seen an up roar here in India. The media here in India  has reacted to the story as if their stand has been vindicated. In this article Simon Henderson talks about his relations with A.Q. Khan and how he received a letter that Khan had written in 2003 to his wife, a copy of which was forwarded to him. The letter reached Mr. Henderson only in 2007. Where was Henderson’s copy of the letter all this while? And why has the journalist decided to go public only now at the fag-end of September, 2009? Why did not Mr. Henderson divulge the contents of the letter when he first received it?

It appears from the letter that Dr. Khan was in some kind of distress when he wrote this letter to his Dutch wife Henny. The man has received the highest civilian honor, Nishan-i-Imtiaz twice and Hilal-i-Imtiaz once. It is also clear that the man is privy to a lot of secret information. Would the Pakistan establishment take the chance of annoying such a man? The western agencies have requested more than once to be allowed to interrogate Dr. Khan but they have always been stonewalled by the Pakistan establishment. Let me also clarify that the man has cult following in Pakistan and it would be dangerous for the establishment to threaten such a man in any way. The quote of the Chinese counterpart Li Chew that they will genuflect till they get the bomb and once they have it they will kick you (something to that effect) looks farfetched. It is true that Khan was under house arrest but that was under the pressure from the west. The Pakistani courts cleared the man and set him free to go where he wanted and do whatever he thought fit. In the eyes of Pakistanis he is a hero.

Before I go further let us understand that Abdul Quadeer Khan is not a nuclear scientist. He does not know anything about fission and has rudimentary knowledge about the production of a nuclear bomb. The man is a metallurgist by training. Metallurgy is useful in building any nuclear plant but the fission is the critical part of the whole process of the manufacture and detonation of a nuclear device. Khan can therefore at best be called a peddler of blueprints of nuclear plants and nuclear bomb making technology.

The other thing that we need to understand is that while China has been propping up Pakistan over the decades, the west cannot wash its hands off the whole situation. A.Q. Khan was caught in Netherlands with some sensitive documents by the police there some years ago. The man has been instrumental in getting the technology but it would be impossible for a man of such modest means to be able to gather the knowhow and to build a laboratory of his own in Kahuta near Islamabad. The fact is that the west turned a blind eye to the goings on in Pakistan and helped them with their nuclear program. The Chinese, of course have been helping Pakistan all along. The Henderson article for the first time gives exact figures of the amount of uranium and other material that the Chinese gave Pakistan to be able to build a nuclear weapon of their own. But this proliferation is not of recent vintage. The murky dealings have been going on for decades and prior to the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, Pakistan was being encouraged covertly by western countries to go nuclear. The Chinese too helped them. Post fall of the Soviet Union, while the west has been reticent to help Pakistan, the Chinese have come forward in a big way. But the Pakistan nuclear program is not sourced only from China, this should be clear.

There is this other basic question that begs to be answered – do we understand that what Mr. Henderson knew is a ‘revelation’ to the world? Is this journalist more resourceful than all the secret services like the CIA, the SVR, FSB (Russian), the MI5 and MI6, Mossad, RAW and others? Who are we fooling?  The world knows about Pakistan nuclear program not only in Kahuta but also in Chasma, Karachi and Khusab. The world also knows where they are sourcing these technologies from. It is also clear that Pakistan’s own nuclear technology knowhow is very limited. Their nuclear program is based on the largess from various foreign sources, most notably China. India is now saying that we shall bring these ‘revelations’ to the notice of the IAEA. This is laughable. If at all any such steps were to be taken, the Indian state has the resources to gather information enough to nail the Pakistan lie. The fact is that this not so clandestine nuclear program is being run with the blessings of the western powers and China. What is intriguing is the fact that the west is also prodding on Pakistan to continue with its nuclear program. China’s game plan is understandable, but for the west to encourage Pakistan to continue with nuclear weapons program belies logic. It could be that the west started it all but after the fall of the Soviet Union is now finding it difficult put the genie back into the bottle. Even this assumption is a huge concession to the west.

It is also clear that Iran and North Korea have been actively engaged not only in nuclear program but also in the development of missiles, or the launch vehicle, so to say. Most of Pakistan missiles are either of Chinese or of North Korean origin. The Iranian missiles are also from the same stable. It could be that the Chinese and the North Koreans have sold these missiles to both Pakistan and Iran. It could also be that Pakistan and A.Q. Khan were the via media for Tehran to lay their hands on these force multipliers. Be as it may, this has led to a strategic imbalance in the Middle East. The situation becomes even more dangerous when the regime in Tehran vows to ‘wipe Israel off the map of the world ’ and questions the veracity of the holocaust. There is also the fact that the cooperation between Pyongyang and Beijing is very close. One can even suggest that they are but one country and Beijing uses Pyongyang to do what they do not want to be seen doing; Which means that Beijing should be monitored closely for reasons of proliferation to make the world a safer place. It may be added here that were the Pakistani and Iranian nuclear sites dismantled or destroyed, there is no way they can rebuild them on their own. Their technology is borrowed and little of what we see on the ground is indigenous. The same goes for their missile capability.

Lastly, whatever A.Q, Khan has done, he could not have done without the direct encouragement from the Pakistan establishment. He does mention BB (Benazir Bhutto) in his dealings with the North Koreans. It may also be understood that A.Q. Khan does not seem to be the kind of man who would sell nuclear secrets for money. If at all the lunatic elements in the jihandi outfits that abound in Pakistan and Afghanistan manage to lay their hands on a nuclear device it will be because of complicity of Islamabad. It must be understood that Islamabad looks at these jihadi groups as ‘strategic assets’ and it is not impossible for them to decide to give one of them a crude nuclear device to hit India or any other country. Not after 9/11 or the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

If one looks at the whole thing from the Pakistani point of view then Khan’s contribution (or whatever it is – peddling of technology) has resulted in Pakistan becoming a nuclear weapons state. I know there are other nuclear scientists in Pakistan but without the initiative shown by A.Q. Khan this may not have been possible.  In that purely from a Pakistani viewpoint one can understand the sentiments in Pakistan when an average Pakistani lionizes A.Q. Khan. One cannot but shudder as to what cost the world might have to pay were one of the jihadi outfits manage to lay their hands on even a crude nuclear device. It would be good for the world if the Pakistan nuclear program is rolled back and Pakistan nuclear sites put under strict IAEA safeguards. That could also mean an end to any such program envisaged by Tehran. At the end of the day, the world will be a much safer place.

Update 22.09.2009: Washington, Sep.22 (ANI): ‘The United States has approved 2.376 billion dollars as aid for Pakistan. The US government has also tabled an aid bill of 2.282 billion dollars in the Congress for Pakistan for the financial year 2009-10. The bill placed in the American Congress includes both military and humanitarian assistance, The News reports. It is worth mentioning here that the US has pledged 1.5 billion dollars of annual assistance to Pakistan for five years through the Kerry-Lugar bill.’

Would the US give such monies from its taxpayers kitty were Pakistan not a nuclear weapon state? The Af-Pak is a ruse to placate an errant nation. If it were not the Af-Pak policy it would be something else. The army top brass are the fat cats who end up cornering the aid in one form or the other. Each Pakistani army officer is worth millions of dollars and they are a law unto themselves. The Pakistan army has been reduced to a mercenary outfit which openly flirts with the ultra orthodox Islamic (jihadist) elements without a shade of apology or remorse. Hafiz Saeed was seen enjoying Ramzan feast with the army top brass of the 10 corps. Americans and the world are inviting another 26/11. They should blame no one but themselves if another such attack takes place.

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