The Nuclear Connection: Credible Inquiry Yes, Scape-Goats No

Why must the government respond chaotically not coherently, feebly not credibly, when confronted with a challenging situation. Its current response to the IAEA reports, based on IAEA inspection of Iranian nuclear facilities, regarding transfer of nuclear technology, is a case in point. After the finalization of the IAEA report in which Pakistan’s support for the Iranian nuclear program was documented there was no doubt that Pakistan and Iran would have to ‘come clean’ on the matter. Hence the earlier categorical rejection of Pakistan- Iranian nuclear cooperation taken jointly by the foreign ministers of Iran and Pakistan at the August 29 Islamabad press conference had become irrelevant.

Following the IAEA reports leading US papers have published details on the suspected nature of cooperation. Infact the Iranians too, under intense IAEA pressure have reportedly conceded the Pakistan connection. The plausibility of the Pakistani connection cannot be rejected outright since the designs of the Iranian centrifuges studied by IAEA indicate that a modified version of the Urenco centrifuge machines that Pakistan had used in the past were being used by Iran.

According to the Washington Post article of December 21 ” China and Russia also made significant contributions to the Iranian program in the past, IAEA documents show.” Russian, Chinese and German support too.

Given these November developments Pakistan’s own October statement seemed incorrect. On October 31st the foreign office spokesman had said “Pakistan rejects reports on the ongoing probe by IAEA about potential nuclear links between Iran and Pakistan” proved incorrect.”

Subsequently IAEA reports compelled Pakistan to cooperate with IAEA and the Bush administration. A probe, reportedly involving the IAEA, US and Pakistani officials, is currently underway. Pakistani scientists are being interrogated. Significantly given IAEA, the EU and the US conclusions on Pakistan’s support in the past to the Iranian nuclear program , General Parvez Musharraf himself assured the Bush administration on two scores. One that nuclear export controls will be further tightened and two Pakistan will cooperate with IAEA in their Iran-related inquiries. Last year when the Pakistan-North Korean connectionwas being publicized the US Secretary of State had said the Bush administration was satisfied with assurances given by Musharraf.

All these are widely published facts. Since the post-Iraq period the question of WMDs and of nuclear proliferation especially where Muslim nations are concerned, is a central security issue among western countries. Pakistan was to inevitably face a media trial on its alleged or real involvement in the Iranian program. It is for this development that the Pakistan government did not prepare. Instead, like the western media sections of the Pakistani media too have been apparently used by sections of the government to carry out a clumsy and unwarranted media trial of some key scientists.

The unwarranted trial is apparently against “top scientists” according to unnamed sources. They include ostensibly Abdul Qadeer Khan , for whose crucial contribution in the development of our own nuclear the Pakistani nation must always remain grateful, is the prime target of an unbecoming media trial. ” As if “one top source” has only now discovered the ostentatious life styles of civilian scientists that he has lamented “that we are more than convinced that these individual top scientists involved in Pakistan’s nuclear related entities have done all this proliferation and stolen national secrets in their lust for money and artificially glorified life.”

Such an explanation unfortunately is more of a self-indictment. After all during the military rule of General Zia ul Haq and even subsequently , Pakistan’s nuclear program and those who work for it have been always closely monitored by various intelligence agencies. Men like Dr. Qadeer Khan and of his ilk were barely able to move around without the necessary monitoring. While hopefully a credible inquiry will identify those responsible for transferring nuclear technology to Iran, it seems unlikely that it would be done by individuals under constant surveillance. After all how bogus can the survelliance be ?

Beyond what IAEA and the US may require it is in Pakistan’s own interest to thoroughly investigate the matter. However making individual scapegoats is no credible way forward. It will deflect from who the real culprits of pursuing a ‘solo flight’ on the nuclear question ie if one actually did exists.

There was from the late eighties onwards a clear consensus among all national security-related institutions that proliferating nuclear technology is not in Pakistan’s security interests and neither as members of the international community. Pakistan-Iran relations had also vastly deteriorated and any cooperation in the nuclear field would have been completely ruled out.

The crime of transferring nuclear technology is a serious one hence no one must be spared. However leaving the public, press and politicians out of this equation is a costly mistake. People deserve to be told about the problem confronting the government. They should have been told about the IAEA, should have been assured that a proper inquiry will be held and needed action will be taken against those who commit crimes that can indeed undermine our own national security.

Proper communication with the people is required over an issue which is a very emotive one. After all the government first tutored the public in the centrality of the nuclear question and its linkage with our very survival. Men who made the bomb were tipped as national heroes. Now they see them as being turned into scape goats. This amy not be the truth and they may not be saints. The only way to put matters in perspective is to keep the communication going with people. Do not ignore their curiosity. Government do that at their own peril. Ignoring official level communication makes the government vulnerable to endless criticism by the people, press and politicians. Propaganda is no substitute for solid and credible communication.