Monday, Dec 05, 2022

Botched calculations

Could the US have used A.Q. Khan and Pakistan to deliver centrifuge technology to China?

I read the recently declassified account of former US Ambassador Robert F. Goheen’s interview with Morarji Desai on June 7,1979,as a person then involved with the Indian side of decision-making (‘US ’79 memo: Let’s sell Pakistan F-16s and prevent n-proliferation,’ IE,December 24). I wonder whether this was an input sought by the US national security establishment before the issue of the infamous national security presidential directive of July 3,1979,authorising joint US-Pakistan operations in Afghanistan,which,in due course, triggered the Soviet intervention in December 1979. In retrospect,it would appear that the presidential directive instigated by national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski led to the biggest-ever setback to American national security. First,it led to the rise of jihadism,as a result of the combined strategy adopted by the CIA,Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. This has recently been admitted by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It also resulted in the proliferation of nuclear weapons to Pakistan,which enabled Islamabad to develop the nuclear deterrent derivative of terrorism as an instrument of state policy,to be used not only against India but the US as well. The link between the CIA and Dr A.Q. Khan,even before he arrived with all his purloined documentation in Pakistan,has been exposed by the disclosures of Ruud Lubbers,the former Dutch prime minister. The fact is that in spite of his known record,not only was he allowed to move freely between China,Pakistan and Europe,but he was also rescued for the second time from Dutch authorities in 1986 by CIA intervention. That would indicate that the CIA had an interest in Khan throughout the period. The issue that has not so far been explored by American as well as Indian scholars of proliferation was,firstly,the connection between the CIA and Khan and,secondly,the US interest in permitting nuclear proliferation to Pakistan. Brzezinski has since come out with the disclosures that permissiveness of nuclear proliferation was the price to be paid to obtain Pakistani support for the anti-Soviet campaign. In 1982,in discussions between Alexander Haig,the US secretary of state,and the Pakistani team led by Agha Shahi and General K. M. Arif (referred to in General Arif’s book,Serving with Zia),Haig agreed that the Pakistani nuclear programme would not come in the way of US-Pakistan collaboration. The extensive proliferation activity by China to Pakistan during this period has been disclosed in Khan’s letters to his wife,when he feared that he was going to be proceeded against,copies of which have been made available by the correspondent Simon Henderson. Most of the information on Khan being set up with a Manhattan Project-type exclusive military programme under an engineering general,and data on the imports,were all available even in India at that time. The Indian Joint Intelligence Committee chaired by me concluded in January 1979 that Pakistan was on its way to the acquisition of nuclear weapons. The intelligence-gathering effort at that time was ably headed by K. Santhanam as deputy director of R&AW. The JIC’s report was considered by the cabinet committee on political affairs in March 1979. During the course of the discussion,I was told by the then cabinet secretary,Nirmal Mukarji,that while Morarji Desai and Atal Bihari Vajpayee were against any immediate action,the other three cabinet members — H.M. Patel,Jagjivan Ram,and Charan Singh — were clearly in favour of initiating appropriate action. On the basis of the information given to me,I wrote out a manuscript minute,in my capacity as additional secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat,that appropriate directions were issued to the chairman. Morarji Desai approved this minute and the cabinet secretary asked me to deliver it in person to Homi Sethna in Bombay,which I did. The meeting itself was attended by the five ministers,the cabinet secretary,the secretary to the prime minister,V. Shankar,and Sethna. All the other secretaries were kept out of the meeting. Therefore,there are unlikely to be any records on those events in the Cabinet Secretariat. Reflecting over those developments in hindsight,and with the wisdom and information of the last 30 years,I am left with a number of very puzzling questions on US policy and conduct. The enormous amount of material available on Chinese proliferation help to Pakistan has been referred to in the Santhanam’s deposition to the Kargil Review Committee. We have so far been speculating on Chinese proliferation to Pakistan. If we take into account the Cold War situation then,and the policies pursued by people like Carter and Reagan,it is today a legitimate issue to investigate whether A.Q. Khan and Pakistan were used by the US as a conduit to deliver centrifuge technology to China. Centrifuge technology was developed by Gernot Zippe,a German prisoner of war in Russian hands,in the 1950s. After his release,it was developed by the Germans and transmitted to Almelo where Khan was employed. Were the Americans interested in improvising and increasing the efficiency of the Chinese nuclear weapons programme as one of the countervailing elements in their Cold War against the Soviet Union? Just as they used Catholicism in Eastern Europe,Islam in Brzezinski’s “Arc of Crisis”,and the Star Wars programme to increase the burden on the Soviet Union,were they also trying to strengthen the Chinese nuclear programme vis-à-vis the Soviet Union by using Khan and Pakistan as conduits? It is to be recalled that there was–– major debate in the US establishment at that stage. Already by 1977,views emerged in sections of the CIA that the Soviet economy was declining and the Soviet Union was heading for a crisis. At that time,the deputy director of the CIA in charge of the Soviet Union was Robert Gates. This view was challenged by hardliners — including Brzezinski — who then set up a “Team B” which included people like Paul Wolfowitz,who came to a different conclusion: that the Soviet Union did constitute a very serious and major threat. The US has committed strategic blunders like mistaking Vietnamese nationalism as an extension of Chinese communism,not understanding the risks in the use of jihadism,and being permissive of Pakistani proliferation. Could there have been yet another major US blunder in trying to convey centrifuge technology to China using Pakistan and Khan? The US may have calculated that Pakistan and Khan would be under their effective control,just like these other previous miscalculations. This is an issue that needs to be pursued.

The writer is a senior defence analyst

First published on: 25-12-2010 at 02:30:15 am
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