What about those “30 proliferating companies in Europe”?

Not to beat a dead horse, but I think this [Pakistan] Daily Times editorial nicely encapsulates the furore over Ms Bhutto’s remarks about Dr Khan:

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader, Ms Benazir Bhutto, has made a statement in Washington which constitutes a break from the national consensus over Dr AQ Khan. She said on Tuesday that if voted into power a PPP government would give the Vienna-based UN nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to Dr Khan who is currently under house arrest in Islamabad. She however made a distinction: the IAEA has the right to question Dr Khan in Pakistan, but not the US or any other country, in or out of Pakistan. In fairness to her, she said that she would do this in order to defuse suspicions in the West about Dr Khan’s culpability in any AQ Khan network of proliferators. Will this sell in Pakistan?

In the current anti-military mood in the country, it will only sell by recasting the debate as an anti-military argument, indirectly exposing the GHQ to accountability through a UN institution. But the obstacle in such a recasting would be the generalised charisma of Dr Khan included in the pantheon of Pakistani nationalism. President General Pervez Musharraf wants to join this national consensus when he dubs Dr AQ Khan as a national hero, but the fact is that the current intense romance of the opposition with Dr Khan stems from the politicisation of the maltreatment of the Father of the Pakistani Bomb at the hands of Musharraf on orders from the United States. Therefore Ms Bhutto’s exclusion of the US from the list of those who would be allowed by her government to question Dr Khan will not prevent yet another negative fallout from her stance – adopted in her revised autobiography – on the question of Pakistan’s role in nuclear proliferation.

Ms Bhutto says Dr Khan has confessed to violating the law which prevented him from sharing Pakistan’s nuclear secrets with anyone. And now comes the crunch sentence: A future PPP government would also hold parliamentary hearings to determine if Dr Khan alone was responsible for selling Pakistan’s nuclear secrets to other states or other elements were also involved. Clearly, she wants to ride the crest of the popular campaign against military dominance in Pakistan led by the legal profession and the opposition parties challenging President Musharraf’s re-election next month. Soon enough, however, the opposition parties will be under pressure to signal where they don’t agree with her statement.

It is the exposure to the IAEA that may be questioned. Mohamed El Baradei, the Director-General of the IAEA, is on record as telling a journalist: I have a nightmare that the spread of enriched uranium and nuclear material could result in the operation of a small enrichment facility in a place like northern Afghanistan. Who knows? It’s not hard for a non-state (actor) to hide, especially if there is a state in collusion with it. Some of these non-state groups are very sophisticated. The reference could be to some other bearded Pakistani nuclear scientists too suspected of having offered a dirty bomb to Osama bin Laden through their charity centres in Afghanistan during the Taliban government.

Some facts about what Dr Khan did are well known and have dominated the anti-proliferation debate after Dr Khan’s confession that he had actually operated an international network of smuggling that provided help’ to North Korea, Iran and Libya. Opinion in Washington is that more specific information could be revealed if Dr Khan was exposed to direct Western interrogation. The Pakistani Foreign Office said earlier this week that the focus of investigation should be on the 30 proliferating companies in Europe and not on Pakistan. Yesterday it refuted Ms Bhutto’s statement saying that it is not the policy of the government of Pakistan to allow the IAEA or anyone else to talk to Dr AQ Khan. What is feared from an outing of Dr Khan is not so much that he would reveal his global network, but that he might name names from the Pakistan army. The Washington press, opposed to the Bush Administration’s policy of letting Pakistan keep Dr Khan under wraps, has already stated that Dr Khan had named two army chiefs as abettors in his illegal enterprise in his confession.

Ms Bhutto should not have made this statement. Most Pakistanis will think she has crossed the red line in bending before the West.


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