Friday, February 06, 2004

Stating the Obvious

Does Pervez Musharraf really expect anyone to believe that Abdul Qadeer Khan was a rogue proliferator operating without the knowledge and approval of his superiors? It's a transparent lie, and the IAEA isn't buying it.

A Pakistani scientist who has admitted to being at the centre of a network selling nuclear technology to other countries was yesterday called "the tip of an iceberg" by the head of the United Nations' atomic agency.

On Tuesday Abdul Qadeer Khan, so-called father of Pakistan's bomb, made a televised admission of his role in leaking nuclear technology to other countries. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's military ruler, said yesterday he would pardon Mr Khan.

But Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said: "Dr Khan was not working alone," adding that there was a lot more work to do in unraveling the network.

The network's shape has become clearer this week. The Scomi Group, a company controlled by the son of Abdullah Badawi, Malaysia's prime minister, has admitted supplying components usable in uranium enrichment centrifuges to Gulf Technical Industries, a Dubai-based trading company.

Components from Scomi were seized in October aboard a German ship bound for Libya. The Dubai company specialises in trading of special and carbon steels, and is controlled by BSA Tahir, a Sri Lankan businessman who is in Malaysia.

It was described by a Vienna-based diplomat yesterday as an essential "gateway" between suppliers and buyers, although the manufacturers may not have known who the end-users were. Mr Khan has admitted a role in supplying technology to North Korea, Libya and Iran. The IAEA believes his black-market network involves companies or individuals in at least five countries.

The Pakistani authorities have denied that its military and intelligence officials have played a role in the network.

The true state of affairs, as far as I can make out, is that the Pakistani government is scared of incurring Washington's wrath, and has essentially asked Khan to fall on his sword like a modern day Varus. That is the only plausible explanation for the rapidity with which he has been granted a pardon by his government, barely a day after his confession on television.

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan, Feb. 5 — Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, granted a full pardon on Thursday to Abdul Qadeer Khan, the founder of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, a day after Dr. Khan appeared on television and confessed to sharing nuclear technology with Iran, North Korea and Libya.

As a result, Dr. Khan, 67, will not face prison, a fine or any other punishment.

In a 90-minute news conference at army headquarters here, General Musharraf said Pakistan would not hand over all documents from its investigation to international nuclear inspectors. He said it would not order an independent investigation into the Pakistani Army's role in the proliferation, calling the idea "rubbish." And he said he would never allow United Nations supervision of Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

"Negative to all three," General Musharraf said, raising his voice. "It is an independent nation. Nobody comes inside and checks our things. We check them ourselves."

The White House praised General Musharraf for breaking up the network linked to Dr. Khan, which appears to have been one of the largest ever discovered, but made little mention of the pardon and declined to say whether it would insist that Pakistan sign the nuclear nonproliferation treaty.

Pakistan presents a real test to the Bush administration; should America keep dealing on friendly terms with a country that is a confirmed nuclear proliferator, run by a military dictator? I've pointed out before the perverse incentive Pakistan's reckless dealings present to its commitment to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban, but it bears repeating once more: nothing would suit Musharraf's government more than that the hunt for Bin Laden should continue indefinitely, for the day that Al Qaeda's operations in that part of the world are shut down will be the day when Pakistan's sole source of leverage in the White House will be lost. It is useless to expect any substantive results from a "realpolitik" alliance with such a dubious regime.