A plethora of newspaper stories and editorials and a number of books have been continuously bombarding us with the story and pet theory that Dr. A. Q. Khan, the father of Pakistani nuclear bomb had single handedly organized smuggling of nuclear weapons technology and equipment to Libya, North Korea and Iran etc. It is interesting because the same newspapers and other media (national and international), during last three decades, printed hundreds of news stories on Pakistan’s clandestine nuclear technology import as well as its public stance of helping Islamic countries to do so. It is perplexing that large sections of the media are forgetting their own stories and analysis made during last three decades. And, most of them seem to be quite reluctant to point fingers towards or at least conjecturing the possibility of involvement of Pakistani authorities as well as roles played by different agencies of other nations in this dangerous operation.
It is quite amusing that when most of the Pakistanis believe that Dr. A. Q. Khan is not the real culprit and almost surely acted at the behest of Pakistani state, it is much of the Indian media, which are blindly projecting and regularly propagating the incredible story as final truth.
On the other hand, it seems that Dr. Khan and his government have similar understanding about the reality behind the scene, and consequently, taking mutually acceptable actions to find solutions that satisfactorily address each other’s interests. Otherwise, how one can explain major concessions extracted by Dr. Khan from his state including favourable wording of the confession, living in his luxurious home, permission to meet his friends, relatives and doctors and, of course, now release from his illegal residential confinement.
Indeed, if we merely study already published materials in public domain, do a cursory analysis of the facts and its geopolitical background and then try to put those pieces together properly, a more plausible scenario would emerge. Such exercise would almost certainly point towards the direct involvement of Pakistani state machinery and indirect association of agencies connected to other states as well, if not the government itself. Naturally, the cover-up extends far beyond the border of Pakistan.
The entire operation was brazen and would have exposed dangerous double dealings of so called responsible states – big and small. As a result it needed equally brazen cover up operation. First blame an individual for the nuclear smuggling, precluding any state actors in Pakistan or elsewhere. Isolate him so that he can not be accessed or other independent international enforcement agencies like IAEA. Then destroy evidence of involvement Pakistan and other governments. Example - the case of officially pardon to Tinner brothers in Switzerland, closing their case of nuclear equipment export to North Korea and elsewhere and destroying all evidence incriminating to the interest of involved nations. (In May 2008, President of Switzerland himself informed this event to his parliament and The New York Times reported that it was done under pressure from the CIA to Swiss Justice Minister). Finally, launch a massive disinformation campaign worldwide around the Dr. A Q Khan story, for diverting attention from the actual players in this intriguing drama.
But we can come nearer to the truth by applying deductive logic to some well known fact and draw a more plausible inference from the findings. Some of these relevant facts are-
- Pakistan itself announced development of an Islamic Bomb and their intention of helping radical Islamic nations in development of the bomb.
- While there was a hue and cry on Dr. Khan’s purported stealing of Uranium enrichment technology from Holland, subsequent follow up showed that it was actually a clandestine operation by Pakistan, with full knowledge of the CIA. Moreover, mode of clandestine transport of large quantities centrifuge without alerting intelligence agencies was also never explained.
- Even USA and other western nations have in the past accused Pakistan of smuggling nuclear technology to other countries, which proves that it was aware of the development.
- Dr. Khan’s activity was in CIA’s scanner from in Early 70s. Then in mid 80s, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, America was very much working hand in glove with Pakistani military and ISI. It would be very naïve to believe that it was not keeping close watch on Pakistan’s nuclear activity.
- The CIA publicly admitted that despite being told about “Khan’s action” decided to just watch him for “pressing strategic concerns”.
- With top notch military and intelligence expertise, it was absolutely impossible to be involved in such large scale activities like using chartered planes to take related heavy equipment and systems to other countries without being tracked.
- That the cover-up actions actually began after IAEA (which only has the mandate to officially investigate and give a binding verdict),was planning its UN sponsored investigation in earnest. That was the time to close down the mission, preempting any other agency to trail the event or further investigate.
- The language of Dr. Khan’s so called confession itself is ambiguous. And, in May 30, 2008, he publicly denied his involvement with the spread of nuclear arms. He said that the Pakistan government and Mussaraf forced him to be a “scapegoat” for the national interest.
- The glaring fact that actually Dr Khan was neither charged nor served any detention notice. It was just pretence. He was just confined inside his well guarded residence not as a punishment but to prevent his access by any independent investigative agencies. And, now he is freed with the condition that he would not speak about the case or anyone’s involvement to anyone. Thereby precluding any further unraveling of truth.
- If Dr. Khan has really committed that crime, both Western countries and Pakistan are supposed to give proof or at least broad outline of what has really happened. Nobody cared to give any such details.
- Careful observation would show that similar pattern of cover up have been used in both phases (development and export) of the Pakistani nuclear weapon initiatives. Only the players changed – for example in the development phase in late 70s phase it was Holland (and Japan) and in the proliferation phase it was Switzerland where the private companies manufactured and transferred nuclear equipment and all such protagonists were let off the hook in similar way after destroying all evidences.
- Both in Pakistan and other involved countries, there is an effort to trump up the case Dr. Khan (while carefully not demanding punishment for him) and a concerted initiative suppress facts and destroy documents about the whole incident.
- There is also a great eagerness to close the matter by Pakistani authorities (“So called Dr. A.Q.Khan issue is now closed” declared Pakistani foreign minister, after Dr. Khan’s release) thereby disabling IAEA’s efforts to unearth the truth behind this murky affair.
It is no secret that Pakistan has developed its nuclear bomb following its stated official policy and not clandestinely. Frankly, no country can be expected to develop atomic weapons with full public knowledge. But, in the past certain facts leaked out from behind the curtain of secrecy to public knowledge through authoritative reports. Some of these are - China had helped it with the bomb design and initial testing; Japan and a few European countries like Holland and Switzerland were either aware or indirectly involved in related activities in their own soil and the USA indirectly at least facilitated Pakistani development, by turning a blind eye towards it.
In exporting nuclear weapons technology, Pakistan’s main aims were to project itself as helpful power house among Islamic countries and at the same time support its indigenous nuclear and missile ambition with money earned in export. Later on Pakistan had to add North Korea in its client list for two reasons – to repay obligation of getting missile technology from it and probably under some pressure from China, which is a big brother for both the countries.
The American strategy probably was to go along with the operation, with an intention to subvert and thwart nuclear weapon development initiative of its current foes like Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria and North Korea. Probably, for tactical reason, Pakistan also joined in that effort, and started double dealing against its own clients.
The so called targeted clients, however, took different diverse paths. Iraq and Syria abandoned its nuclear plan at the initial planning stage itself. Iran decided to avoid the trap and went on developing its independent dual use technology. North Korea, being a rather tough closed country, advanced with its nuclear programme and was in a position to negotiate hard with the USA. Libya, which had the biggest ambition and least technical capabilities, went on to build its facility with tampered and faulty equipment and technology received from this ring and expectedly failed in its nuclear weapons programme. At the end, it had no way but to cooperate and rollback its programme under supervision of IAEA.
After accomplishment of the objective of the mission and with the changed geopolitical situation, it was time to close the operation and cover the trail to get the real players off the hook. The action had to be hastened as IAEA and other neutral intelligence agencies were about to start their own investigation. But, such investigation would have compromised the identity of state players in Pakistan, USA, Switzerland and China, among others, which was to be particularly embarrassing for many countries after the Iraq WMD fiasco.
Pakistan was at the receiving end and, at that stage, facing the possibility of getting tagged as a nuclear smuggling rogue state. So, it worked out a deal which involved exonerating its state in nuclear matter and at the same time assuring its full cooperation in fighting some elements of Taliban and Al Qaeda inside and across Pakistani border.
So, here was the solution. Let us project that Dr. A Q Khan and some of his associates were actually the culprits, not the state of Pakistan. But how can it be done convincingly? Well, coerce him to give false confession in the national interest. Let us save Pakistan first! And, so the involved actors suddenly launched a sustained drama highlighting Dr. Khan to divert the international attention. Naturally it was an understanding between allies to close the operation and cover up the matter.
But, Dr. Khan is not just anybody and also had a few cards up his sleeves, which had the potency to hurt the interest of Pakistan and its alleys. So, unless a solution acceptable both to him and Pakistani state was available, the whole corpse could not be buried for good. So, the next step was to free Dr. Khan in return of his pledge of not suing anyone or pursuing his version of the case. So, now there is no threat from Dr. Khan himself.
USA duly rumbled about possible danger from Dr. Khan being free. However, it has neither asked for any specific action against him nor bothered to give any ultimatum. Europe, China and India have generally maintained guarded silence on the issue.
As such there is indeed a case to strongly doubt that the concerted efforts to propagate the fairy tale story of Dr. Khan’s misdemeanor were actually to hide and deny the involvement of any state sponsored agencies in this dangerous affair. Ironically, to the discerning, this brazen cover up operation, destruction of event, withdrawal of cases against accused in Holland and Switzerland have only brought in to the open the role of official agencies in Pakistan and beyond.
It is doubtful whether history’s worst nuclear scandal can really be buried for long. Probably many nations decided to keep their silence and not to raise it now for strategic and tactical reason. It is quite likely that IAEA, which is usually at loggerhead with the USA, will not officially close the case so easily. It is also possible that in future some enterprising national and international researchers will take up more fact finding and analysis work to unearth further factual details on the affair. Hopefully, truth will come out, sooner or later. A truth which is likely to be quite different from what we now tend to believe so naively.
Meanwhile, let us reserve our final judgment on this globally significant case.
------------------------------------ By U. KECI