Pakistan: The handy Afghan bête noire?

The portents are that the United States has once again found a convenient scapegoat to blame for the Afghan debacle. Wow, the US generals have vowed. “We need to fully examine the role of Pakistan sanctuary.” They emphasised “the need to probe how the Taliban withstood US military pressure for 20 years”. Claiming that the Taliban was and remains a terrorist organisation, the top US general Milley said: “It remains to be seen whether or not the Taliban can consolidate power or if the country will further fracture into civil war.”

Chairman of the Joint Chief General Mark Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committeealso claimed, “We estimated an accelerated withdrawal would increase risks of regional instability, the security of Pakistan and its nuclear arsenals”. Both generals, however, declined to discuss more on their concerns about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and the potential that they could fall into the hands of terrorists.

They acknowledged, “We need to fully examine the role of Pakistan sanctuary,” The general emphasised the need to probe how the Taliban withstood US military pressure for 20 years. They implied that it was Pakistan’s legerdemain that helped taliban carry the day. They said they would discuss this and other sensitive issues in a closed session with the senators.

Purpose of Pakistan bashing

The Pakistan bashing is an outcome of India’s pressure who wants quid pro quo for participation in the QUAD.  The US wants to return to the good old days when Pakistan provided vital air corridors to bomb Afghanistan.

Familiar pattern

The Pakistan bashing has a familiar pattern.  After a lull, they take out the old skeleton of nuclear proliferation and whip it into the international media. India is always in the forefront of this orchestrated campaign.

For instance, Press Trust of India dated January 10, 2006 reported “Pakistan continues to be the hub of nuclear black-market involved in trading surplus goods to other countries despite the uncovering of the proliferation network of disgraced former top scientist A Q Khan two years ago, a report said today citing European intelligence sources. The Khan network may not have been completely put out of action, an unnamed administration official has been quoted as saying by the ‘Washington Times.’9 not Washington Post). …”Khan has been pushed aside, but other, younger people have taken over,” David Albright, a nuclear analyst tracking the A Q Khan network at the Institute of Science and International Security told the daily. European intelligence agencies have come to the conclusion that Pakistan continues to procure – including from Europe- far beyond its needs”. It is believed that there are as many as 20 Pakistani government offices, laboratories, companies and trading organisations that are actively involved in the procurement effort with the end users being front companies of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission or the trading firms that are active on behalf of Islamabad. “In developing its nuclear installations, Pakistan depended on deliveries of equipment from abroad, particularly from Europe,” according to an intelligence assessment of July 2005, which noted that there have been attempts since 2004 at procurement with the range of materials bought going “clearly beyond” Pakistani requirement for spare parts.”

Unfortunate bias

It is unfortunate that Pakistan is unduly chastised in media. All countries procure dual-use equipment through secret means. India for instance,Sidney Emery Jr, chief executive of the US company, MTS Systems Corp, confirmed that his  company, along with five other companies,  was investigated by US government agencies for possible violation of federal export laws.  The charge against the MTS Corporation and five other companies was that they illegally sold high-tech material-testing equipment to Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research.  The equipment, employing hydraulic pressure, was designed for nuclear weapons research. In several other cases Indians have been arrested and punished in the USA for attempting to procure dual-use equipment for export to India.

A dossier on nuclear proliferation by Pakistan only

International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) published a ‘research’ dossier titled ‘Nuclear Black Markets: Pakistan, A. Q. Khan and the Rise of Proliferation Networks‘. The information in the dossier is largely re-churned old wine in new bottle. Still, there are  silver linings in the dossier.

The title of the dossier suggests that it is exclusively focused on Dr Qadeer. However, it throws light on bomb espionage activities of several other countries, including India. The dossier is accompanied with a prefatory statement by Dr Johan Chipman, Director General of the IISS. This statement gives a fair opinion of Pakistan’s motivation to go nuclear.

Dr Chipman points out, ‘Pakistan’s motivation to acquire nuclear weapons was sparked in large part by competition with India. .. the major boost [to Pakistan’s weapons programme] came in December 1971 after Pakistan’s traumatic defeat by India. Embitterment over the loss of East Pakistan also provided a psychological motivation to Dr A.Q. Khan offers his services to his home country by stealing enrichment technology from his workplace in the Netherlands. With that boost, it took Pakistan only ten years to reach the point where it could produce a nuclear weapon, despite the withdrawal of nuclear assistance from Western countries’.

Despite its pro-India bias, the dossier admits ‘Khan may have acted largely on his own volition, for his own profit’ (page 2). ‘Khan’s nuclear activities were largely unsupervised by Pakistani governmental authorities and his orders of many more components, than Pakistan’s own enrichment programme required, apparently went undetected’ (p. 66). ‘Most of Khan’s dealings were carried on his own initiative’ (DG, IISS, press statement dated may 2, 2007).

The dossier reflects well on Pakistan’s efforts to tighten its nuclear security and safety controls _ The dossier mentions ‘Many of Pakistan’s internal reforms since 2001, and then following Khan’s confession and confinement to house arrest in 2004, have been transparent and appear to have worked well. A robust command-and-control system is now in place to protect Pakistan’s nuclear assets from diversion, theft and accidental misuse. A.Q. Khan and his known cohorts are out of business’.

The dossier also notes that ‘A new defence policy was adopted in March 2004. This policy reportedly intended to “further strengthen institutionalization of control of strategic assets”, and “turn all policies and decisions from an invisible secrecy into solid documentary form following the recent proliferation scandal” (p. 36).

The dossier realises dangerous implications of the 123 agreement (revised version on anvil) for Pakistan. Extract: ‘Fears that the India-US nuclear cooperation agreement will free up Indian domestic uranium for additional weapons purposes gives Pakistan an additional motivation to continue to produce weapons-grade fissile material of its own. Pakistan has resisted any nonproliferation regimes that it believes would give a ‘perpetual edge’ to India. This is one reason Pakistan has been the country most resistant to negotiating a fissile material cut-off treaty’.

Aside from its Pakistan-bashing title, the dossier observes ‘Pakistan was not the only country to evade nuclear export controls to further a covert nuclear weapons programme (page 7). ‘Almost all of the countries that have pursued nuclear weapons programmes obtained at least some of the necessary technologies, tools and materials from suppliers in other countries. Even the United States (which detonated the first nuclear weapon in 1945) utilised refugees and other European scientists for the Manhattan Project and the subsequent development of its nascent nuclear arsenal. The Soviet Union (which first tested an atomic bomb in 1949) acquired its technological foundations through espionage. The United Kingdom (1952) received a technological boost through its involvement in the Manhattan Project. France (1960) discovered the secret solvent for plutonium reprocessing by combing through open-source US literature. China (1964) received extensive technical assistance from the USSR’.

From the dossier, one gets to know that Asher Karni, an Israeli businessman, and Alfred Hempel, an ex Nazi who died in 1989, are co-fathers of India’s ‘indigenous’ bombs. Hempel, a German nuclear entrepreneur, helped India overcome difficulties of heavy-water shortage by organising illicit delivery of a consignment of over 250 tonnes of heavy water to India’s Madras-I reactor, via China, Norway and the USSR. The duo also arranged transfer to India of sensitive nuclear components.

Concluding remarks

One unmistakable conclusion from the dossier is that Pakistan’s motivation to go nuclear was well founded. In view of restrictions on nuclear exports, Pakistan did what other countries did to make its bomb.

Yet, Pakistan should prepare for a long period of nuclear bashing. 

Amjed Jaaved
Amjed Jaaved
Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus (ISBN: 9781301505944). He holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law.