U.S. and the Pakistani Nuclear Ring: The One-Eyed Cop


The One-Eyed Cop

How dubious US decisions made Pakistan a nuclear rogue and a tangled web of combustible forces

Brahma Chellaney on Deception: Pakistan, The United States And The Global Nuclear Weapons Conspiracy by Adrian Levy & Catherine Scott-Clark (Penguin, 2007)

Outlook, November 19, 2007

The worst proliferation scandal in world history, involving the sale of nuclear secrets across frontiers, was in Pakistan —today the main sanctuary of transnational terrorists. This well-researched book is not so much about that nuclear-smuggling ring as about the scandal behind that scandal: “How 30 years of parochial and sometimes criminal policy of the US enabled Pakistan to betray the West, build a vast nuclear arsenal with US aid, and sell the technology to countries hostile to the West, while giving shelter to the resurgent Taliban and Al Qaeda”.

But what is left unsaid is that the brunt of politically expedient US policies toward Pakistan has been borne not by the West but by India, a major victim of terrorism which now finds itself on the frontline of nuclear dangers. As the book concludes, the US has yet to learn from its past mistakes. With Pakistan sinking rapidly, the US today is courting India as a potential ally. But it continues to sell India-directed weapons to Pakistan, making that state the world’s largest arms importer. Much of the nearly $11 billion in US aid to Pakistan since 2001 has been in military hardware and cash support for that country’s operating budget.

Levy and Scott-Clark shatter the 21st-century fable of an A.Q. Khan-run nuclear supermarket busted by US intelligence. The main actors in that ring were Pakistani military and intelligence, with Washington in the know. To shield the principal players, the entire blame was pinned, as part of a US deal with Gen Pervez Musharraf, on a group of "greedy" scientists led by Khan, and then these very men have been kept away from international investigators.

Long before Khan turned from a national icon to a national scapegoat, he had been protected by the Central Intelligence Agency. Washington turned a blind eye to the covert Pakistani bomb programme since the 1970s for the same reason that China aided Islamabad’s nuclear and missile ambitions — as a counterweight to India. The authors show how the CIA shielded Khan from arrest and prosecution in Europe in 1975 and 1986. The Dutch government did not take Khan into custody at the request of the CIA. “The U.S. was not interested in successful prosecutions that highlighted Pakistan’s duplicity”, they claim.

In more recent years, the US has helped whitewash Islamabad’s official complicity in the sale of nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea. In fact, the Pakistan military — which has always controlled the nuclear programme — claimed that it wasn’t aware of nuclear secrets being sold until Libya and Iran began spilling the beans. The main reason why Washington joined hands with Islamabad in that charade is because it still sees the Pakistan military as a key instrument to advance its regional interests. Just as it helped keep the jihad-spewing General Zia ul-Haq in power to take on Soviet forces in Afghanistan, it needs a pliant ruler in Islamabad today because it employs Pakistan as a gateway to military operations in Afghanistan, a base for clandestine missions into Iran and a vehicle for other geopolitical objectives.

After the Pakistani illicit supply network was uncovered, the UN Security Council passed a US-inspired resolution with no reference to Pakistan or even to the ring, but instead urged the world to share the responsibility. Resolution 1540 obligated all states to legislate and implement tight domestic controls on materials related to weapons of mass destruction so as to ensure that non-state actors do not get hold of them. In contrast, the US has taken such a tough line against neighbouring Iran that it got the Security Council to issue an excessively harsh diktat to Tehran to cease doing what the latter insists is its lawful right — pursue low-grade uranium enrichment under international inspection.

While the U.S. is pushing for tougher UN sanctions against Iran even though the International Atomic Energy Agency has yet to find evidence of a covert weapons programme there, it has gone to great lengths to ensure Pakistan is not penalized for its admitted nuclear transfers to Tehran and others. The exporting state has been allowed to escape international scrutiny and censure so that, as the authors point out, the importing state could paradoxically be put in the doghouse as part of a US policy to target Iran. The book warns that the various links in the elaborate Pakistani nuclear-supply chain have still not been unplugged, even as terror-exporting Pakistan has emerged “at the epicentre of world destabilization”.

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