A Q Khan's antics

Between the lines


Zulfikar Ali Bhutto meant every syllable when he responded to India’s 1974 nuclear test saying, “we will eat grass but produce the bomb.” He was the one who picked up the then unknown Dr A Q Khan who, at that time, had been rejected by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies as an insignificant scientist.

For Khan to now bite the hand that gave him all the money and facilities to produce the bomb, propelling him on to the centre stage of the scientific world, is the height of ingratitude. True, he did an outstanding job in producing the deterrent for which he earned his laurels from Pakistan and, if my information is right, tens of millions of dollars.

But Khan should not forget that he was a part of the process and an employee of the Pakistan government. One may disagree with Islamabad’s strategy to dispatch him with his plans and materials relating to the bomb to each of Libya, North Korea, Iran and China, but it is hardly Khan’s business to denounce his mentors after the assignments.

Ego problem

It is apparent that Pakistan did all this to boost its standing in the Islamic world and also convey to the West that it needs to be counted among the important countries. India has every right to accuse Islamabad of proliferating nuclear know-how to all and sundry, something that Pakistan has all along denied in the strongest terms.

Probably, it’s time that the world should take notice of Pakistan’s efforts to attract attention and avoid being sidelined. This will mean that instead of treating it as a pariah, Islamabad should be associated with the efforts that the world powers, including India, are making to reduce the dangers of nuclear war. The fact that Pakistan is a nuclear power cannot and should not be denied. In that respect, it belongs to a very exclusive international club and should be given its due accordingly.

If this line is pursued, it may deter Pakistan from engaging in further proliferation. The greatest danger is that nuclear know-how may reach the hands of Islamic radicals who dictate the agenda of such feared groups as the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
The publication of Khan’s letter to his wife, confirming his role in exporting bomb technology, is not Islamabad’s doing. This leak is despite the best efforts of Pakistan’s intelligence experts to prevent any embarrassment to the rulers of Pakistan. Khan’s problem is his supercharged ego. He craves attention and recognition again and again for his exploits.

By feeding his ego, I was able to make him admit that Pakistan has the bomb. When I told him way back in 1987 that Pakistan had neither the men nor the material to make the bomb, I hurt his sense of self-importance, provoking him to hit the roof and respond: “We have it, we have it.”

The interview which yielded the confirmation about Pakistan’s nuclear achievement was carried out in the presence of Mushahid Hussain, the then editor of ‘The Muslim’, who had facilitated the meeting over a cup of tea and a slice of cake prepared by Khan’s South African-Dutch wife Henny.

Khan could have avoided all the song and drama of denying the interview and then complaining to the British Press Council, if he had simply kept his ego in check. When I told him that he was the only scientist in the subcontinent who had a PhD both in metallurgy and physics, he nodded and smiled before commenting, “You know this is all my doing without any foreign assistance.”

What Khan is doing now goes against the grain of the newly-elected democratic government which is trying to distance itself from the inglorious past of military adventurism. The Asif Zardari government wants to convey the image of being a responsible and stable country that can be relied upon to participate fully in the international system.

No alternative

No doubt, there are still many elements which encourage obscurantism, including an anti-India bias. New Delhi should understand this and give space to the new government. The 26/11 tragedy and the slow response in pursuing the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks continue to nourish doubts in the minds of Indians. The reality is that there is no alternative.

Holding a dialogue or talking to Pakistan does not mean that New Delhi is compromising on the basics. But it does strengthen the elected government in Islamabad to make a bolder departure from the past.

Bhopal-born Khan’s antics should not come in the way of rapprochement between the two countries. President Zardari has said that Pakistan will never allow its soil to be used against India. New Delhi should put more reliance on his words.

That the disclosure of Khan has divulged deep connections between Pakistan and China is disconcerting because it confirms that Beijing’s policy is to dominate South Asia. The way out is to wean away Pakistan from China or, at least, make Islamabad realise that its partnership in South Asia is more valuable than China’s ambitions. Persons like Khan only spoil things and too much importance should not be attached to them.

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