Lid off

A carefully created veneer of rogue behaviour on the actions of Pakistani nuclear scientist A Q Khan has been blown off with his revelation that his proliferation activities were not guided by personal motives but were actually blessed by the Pakistani establishment — the government, the military and the intelligence machinery. It has long been suspected that Pakistan was officially involved in his actions but that he was made the fall guy to save the establishment from blame. In a letter purportedly written to his wife in 2003 but made public now, the disgraced scientist has confirmed these suspicions and detailed his actions, and more importantly, the Pakistan government’s role in them. He gave drawings of nuclear weapons to Iran and North Korea and helped Libya with that country’s then active nuclear programme, on directions from people in power. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s name was also mentioned in this connection. Khan also revealed that Pakistan had set up a centrifuge plant in China in return for weapons drawings and uranium.

Khan’s revelations are bound to be denied but they would carry the probability of truth more than the denials. They are an indictment of Pakistan and also show China, which claims to be a responsible nuclear power, in a poor light. It is difficult to believe that a nuclear scientist would be able to so freely pass on knowhow and materials to others without official sanction. Khan himself had in fact hinted in the past that he was made a scapegoat in national interest. Pakistan’s possible official involvement has disturbing implications. It raises questions about the safety of the country’ nuclear weapons too. The double talk of the Pakistan on nuclear proliferation is in line with its dubious claims on other issues also, like terrorist activities in the country and the diversion of US aid for anti-India activities.

It is improbable that the US administration was unaware of the involvement of Islamabad in Khan’s dealings. It was when the Bush administration provided proof of Khan’s activities that the Musharraf government went through the motions of taking action against him. Even a fortnight ago the US described him as a ‘proliferation risk.’ The last few days also saw him being freed and put under house arrest again. The sudden surge of news and actions involving Khan is intriguing. The reasons could be anybody’s guess but the bottom line is that he did not act alone.

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