Pakistan Caps Proliferation Crisis

It is time to be relieved. Over the non-proliferation issue the worst is hopefully behind us. After President Pervez Musharraf’s meeting with Dr. Qadeer Khan, guns on the home front will be ‘silenced’. Abroad, too, the credibility of Pakistan’s national inquiry to investigate IAEA assertions regarding Pakistani scientists will be enhanced. Simultaneously, Pakistan’s credentials as a responsible nuclear state will get strengthened. Significantly, within hours of each, a senior Chinese spokesman from Beijing and US Assistant Secretary of State, Richard Armitage from Tokyo praised Pakistan’s commitment to non-proliferation. At home, too, following the Musharraf-Qadeer meeting, during which a mutually acceptable agreement on dealing with Qadeer Khan and the proliferation issue has been arrived at, the political parties should now stop attacking the government on its handling of the proliferation question.  

In the last one hundred hours, accusations and counter accusations involving Pakistan’s present and former military and civilian rulers, Pakistan’s accomplished scientists, important national institutions, and above all, the backbone of its security – the nuclear program, were all being flogged in the global media. Becoming a flogging horse in the international arena is nightmarish for any nation. Especially for Pakistan, who is anyway flogged both for the blunders it commits and for the abiding prejudice of the global media.  

This undesirability holds notwithstanding, of course the fact that at home we need to put in better civilian-led democratic and effective systems of checks and balances, and institutionalized decision-making in place.  

At the onset of this proliferation crisis, which began August 2003 onwards, following IAEA’s inspection of Iranian nuclear facilities, the Musharraf government was clear that it would conduct the inquiry keeping three objectives in mind; credibility of Pakistan as a state; the protection and safeguarding of Pakistan’s nuclear assets and the need to balance Dr. Qadeer Khan’s status of a national hero with the requirements of a fair inquiry. Nevertheless, the situation spun out of control following the February 1 assertion by the government that Qadeer Khan had submitted a signed confessional statement. Indirect counter claims by Qadeer Khan and his friends refuted the government claim. A show down, involving sections of the state and society over Qadeer Khan’s fate, appeared inevitable.  

Fortunately, over the Eid break this show down was averted. The media, a vocal public opinion, ‘insiders’ communicating with the nuclear icon and with President Musharraf began advocating that a show down, that would prove divisive and damaging for the people and the country, must be averted. After meetings between Dr. Qadeer Khan and General Kidwai and Chaudary Shujaat, A Q Khan sought a meeting with President Musharraf. An over 90-minute detailed and important meeting between Qadeer Khan and the President on February 4 is indicative of an arrangement on how to deal with the Qadeer question. The President, himself, was always clear that a national hero, if involved in proliferation matters would have to be dealt with wisely.  

Evidently a bilateral, President-Qadeer Khan meeting, was a wiser route than the parliamentary route for defusing the crisis. The matter, which involves sensitive security matters, had become a political issue, especially after the general impression that Qadeer Khan was being made a scapegoat. The civilian-military divide, too, had begun playing up. In defense of Qadeer Khan, former ministers and army chiefs were publicly revealing details of confidential meetings. Inside the parliament, accusations and counter accusations would have freely flown across political divides serving no national cause.  

Interestingly through this crisis there are certain noteworthy positives that flow from the government’s handling of the issue. One, Pakistan’s approach to dealing with the problem has contrasted with the Libyan and the Iranian approach. Libyan’s, under pressure, opted to essentially wrap up their nuclear program. Last week a US air force plane carried 55 tons of paper and equipment related to Libya’s nuclear program to the US. Iran, meanwhile, under pressure gave ‘South Asian’ names to the IAEA inspectors divulging the source of their technology. Pakistan has resisted pressure to rollback its nuclear program, while choosing to take steps to enhance Pakistan’s credentials as a responsible nuclear state.  

Two, in a high-pressure, near-hostile international environment tempted to label it the rogue state or even worse declare its demise, through the proliferation crisis, Pakistan has taken steps to demonstrate that it is indeed transitioning from being a weak and haphazard effectively established state, that as a state it is transitioning from a chaotic and adhoc one, to a systematically functioning state. Especially, in matters of national security. It has a National Command Authority, with civil and military representatives in place. Now it is working to set up a National Security Council, too.  

Finally, in a season of confession and correction, Pakistan has come out at the top. Ironically as the controversy around the ‘underworld’ of proliferation erupted, the US President and the British Prime Minister too, conceding to domestic and international pressure have set up Committees to look into the veracity of the intelligence reports dealing with Iraq’s WMD. The deliberately doctored reports led to the US-UK waging a major illegal war of aggression against Iraq. This is the immorality of the State. By contrast, Pakistan did not violate any international law and did not wreak havoc on another society while wilfully undermining international law and international will as reflected in the UNSC decision to not support the Iraq war.  

The question that nags many Pakistanis is whether such an inquiry will lead to the US and the international community ‘playing it straight’ with Pakistan. Will they accept Pakistan’s nuclear program now? Unlikely! It would be a fundamental error for Pakistan to assume that the US will come to terms with Pakistan’s nuclear program. This is evidence to the contrary. After ensuring conclusive rollback by Iran and Libya, US may seek rollback by Pakistan. Maybe not in the short run. Now it’s a conditional and context bound acceptance. Pakistan’s role in counter-terrorism makes it an important ally at this juncture. Hence, pressure maybe off for now. But that is Washington’s policy. Pakistan’s is to resist Washington’s counter-proliferation pressures. Nuclear assets are at the heart of Pakistan’s defense. No government will ever give it up. Only we will have to continue to operate as a responsible nuclear state and making its own systems foolproof to prevent any proliferation in future.