The great deception

A.Q. Khan’s release asks tough questions about 25 years of American policy-making

Written by K. Subrahmanyam | Published: February 12, 2009 12:59:16 am

The Pakistani media alleges that the release of Dr A.Q. Khan from his house arrest is meant to comply with a widely popular demand and also to demonstrate to the Pakistani public that the Zardari government is not subservient to the US. It has also highlighted that,of the two popular demands — release of Khan from house arrest and restoration of former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry to office — the Zardari government found it more expedient to comply with the first one.

There is also speculation that this was timed to coincide with the visit of Richard Holbrooke,special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan. It could signify the likely Pakistani resistance to American demands to intensify its military operations against the militants,or the present defiance may be used to cover up Pakistani compliance with US demands. It is not quite clear how Pakistan proposes to use this act of defiance to its advantage in the days to come. There is no doubt,however, that this release of Khan after a secret agreement with the government is a carefully planned step in Pakistan’s strategy.

First,it is meant as a rebuff to the US,especially to the Bush administration,which swallowed General Musharraf’s story that Khan was solely responsible for Pakistani proliferation and the successive governments and army chiefs of Pakistan had nothing to do with that activity. With the high court publicly declaring that the case of proliferation against Khan had not been substantiated and by allowing him,a pardoned self-confessed proliferator,to conclude a secret agreement with the government,the present Pakistani administration has deliberately absolved Khan of the charges leveled against him by the Musharraf regime and has also called into question the entire version put out by the Pakistani government in 2004. By getting a judicial verdict that the charges against Khan are not substantiated,the Zardari administration has exposed the gullibility of President Bush,the rest of the US administration and various prestigious think-tanks. It is also a timely reminder to India and the rest of the international community of the kind of games Pakistan can play on the 26/11 terrorist dossier.

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi says Khan is history. What he does not tell the world is: if the present verdict is to be ,accepted that the case of proliferation against Khan has not been substantiated,how exactly did the illegal proliferation networks operate? Qureshi does not challenge the fact of their operation. Who in Pakistan authorised it? If the present administration of Pakistan repudiates the Musharraf version in regard to proliferation then what kind of credibility can the rest of the world place in its assurances? The very same General Khalid Kidwai who was reported to have obtained the confession from Khan is still heads the Nuclear Command Authority. How do the Americans profess to accept his assurances on nuclear safety even as the confession he obtained from Khan is called unsusbstantiated?

President Obama’s hero,Abraham Lincoln,said that some people might be deceived for all time,all people could deceived for some time,but you can’t fool all the people all the time. US permissiveness towards Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal today should reflect that. Pakistan were able to take the past US establishments for a ride mainly because successive administrations shielded Pakistani nuclear proliferation efforts from their own people.

For example,the former Dutch prime minister,Ruud Lubbers,disclosed in radio and TV interviews in August 2005 that Khan was twice detained by the Dutch authorities on charges of nuclear espionage but was allowed to go free upon CIA intervention. And Zbigniew Brzezinski says now that,by July 1979,when President Carter signed the directive for US-Pakistani joint covert operations in Afghanistan against the Parcham-Khalq regime before the Soviet intervention in that country,the US was prepared to pay the price of being permissive of Pakistani proliferation. This understanding was confirmed when a Pakistani delegation under Agha Shahi met the US secretary of state,Alexander Haig,in 1982. The Pressler amendment was sponsored by the Reagan administration to forestall the proposed Glenn-Cranston legislation capping Pakistani uranium enrichment. Through the Pressler amendment Pakistan was enabled to move up to nuclear explosive capability,short of crossing it.

When Pakistan actually assembled the bomb in 1987 a CIA operative,Richard Barlow,brought it out. Instead of being appreciated he was punished. The the Bush Sr. administration shielded the nuclear test conducted on May 26,1990 for Pakistan by China on its test site and obfuscated the development by sending the Robert Gates mission to defuse nonexistent Indo-Pak nuclear tension. (This is disclosed in a recent book,“Nuclear Express”,by Thomas Reed and Danny Stillman.) The Clinton administration maintained for six years that they were unable to make a finding on the Chinese supply of nuclear-capable missiles to Pakistan even after the Pakistanis admitted the receipt of the missiles. The US white-washed Chinese proliferation to Pakistan through supply of 5000 ring-magnets for their centrifuges,accepting the totally implausible story that the supplies were made without the knowledge of Chinese central authorities.

Therefore President Bush’s acceptance of Khan being a lone operator followed 25 years of US permissiveness about proliferation.

However this time Pakistanis,for reasons we are unable to guess as of now,appear to have decided to subject the US to ridicule and openly defy them. How will this administration manage to reassure America and the world when the the US establishment bought the story of Khan being a lone rogue proliferator and now the world is being told that is totally unsubstantiated? There is widespread agreement among American analysts that,if at all a weapon of mass destruction were to be used against the US,it would originate from Pakistan. If Khan is not the lone proliferator then it would mean proliferation has wide and high-level support in the Pakistani establishment. In such circumstances even if the network has been dismantled,why can it not be revived? It will be useful to discuss these issues with Holbrooke as

part of the regional approach. As Lincoln said,all Americans can no longer be deceived for all time.

The writer is a senior defence analyst express@expressindia.com

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