|US not finished with Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - The United States is exerting
maximum pressure on Pakistan to provide a detailed
and "authentic" list of all of its nuclear
cooperation with Iran over the years.
Contacts in the highest echelon of
Pakistan's strategic quarters tell Asia Times
Online that during her visit to Islamabad on
Wednesday, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
appraised Pakistan of the latest - and strong - US
Many in the Bush administration
believe that Iran's nuclear energy program is a
smokescreen for developing nuclear weapons. Tehran
has agreed with the European Union and the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it
will temporarily suspend its uranium enrichment
Last week, Pakistan publicly
admitted that Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, the mastermind
of the country's nuclear program, had given
centrifuges - rather than just blueprints - to
Iran as part of a package of materials that could
be used to make a nuclear bomb, but only in "his
personal capacity". Centrifuges are used to enrich
Now the US wants hard evidence of
this and all of Pakistan's other dealings so that
it can build its case against Iran. This will
include full scrutiny of Pakistan's nuclear
program, especially from the late 1980s until the
early 1990s, when Pakistan developed the nuclear
device, which it eventually tested in 1998.
Importantly, and to the consternation of
Pakistan, the US demand includes direct access and
interrogation of Pakistan's former chief of army
staff, General Aslam Beg, who has on many
occasions openly endorsed nuclear cooperation with
Iran, former president Ghulam Ishaq Khan (August
17, 1988 until July 18, 1993) and Dr Khan.
The exhaustive US demand has sent shock
waves through General Headquarters Rawalpindi. To
date, the belief had been that Pakistan's
cooperation has been sufficient to avoid people
like Dr Khan from being handed over.
contacts tell ATol that the initial reaction in
Rawalpindi is that the requested people will not
be placed in the hands of US interrogators. It is
not known what "inducements" Washington is
offering Islamabad for its cooperation, or,
conversely, what stick it is waving for not
cooperating. Pakistan has for a long time wanted
F-16 fighters from the US, especially since India
is reported to also be in the market, and already
receives financial and other US military aid for
collaborating in the "war on terror".
[Pakistan proliferation] issue is of such critical
importance that as soon as it broke out [last
year], the Pakistani leadership decided at once
what to do. They placed Dr Khan under house arrest
so that nobody could meet him. After completely
isolating Dr Khan, Pakistan extended all
cooperation to the US, which was of value to the
US and to its satisfaction," a top strategic
"But US interrogation
of personalities like Ghulam Ishaq Khan, A Q Khan
and General Beg will mean a complete exhibition
and access to all strategic secrets and would be
tantamount to compromising Pakistan's integrity,"
the expert said.
"Now, though, the US
means business and it is collecting evidence
[against Iran] which Pakistan is meant to provide.
But the US has been asked to submit its queries
concerning proliferation, and they will get a
reply through Pakistani channels. Inquiries are
continuing by Pakistani officials with all
concerned officials, including General Beg, and
their answers are being submitted to the US. It
will continue in the future as well.
can match the situation with the South Waziristan
operation. At the start, the US was convinced
through its intelligence that all high-value
targets [such as Osama bin Laden] were holed up in
South Waziristan [tribal region]. Washington urged
Pakistan to allow US troops to operate in the
terrain to win the 'war on terror' once and for
all. However, from the beginning Pakistan drew a
line on its cooperation under which it fully
cooperated in the hunt for militants and in
defeating pro-Taliban and al-Qaeda elements, but
it refused to allow US troops to operate in
Pakistani territory, though on occasions Pakistan
turned a blind eye on US advancement in its
territory," he added.
obviously extremely sensitive about the
proliferation and black market side of its nuclear
program - which it still insists was carried by
individual elements without the knowledge of the
The public saga of
Pakistan's nuclear program began some years ago at
the wedding ceremony of then editor of the Muslim,
Islamabad, Mushahid Hussain, a
journalist-turned-politician and now general
secretary of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League.
He introduced Dr Khan to a senior Indian
journalist, Kuldeep Nayyer. Thinking that he was
speaking off the record, Dr Khan briefed Kuldeep,
only to his horror - and to that of the
establishment - to then read a full article on
Pakistan's nuclear program.
As a result,
Dr Khan was given the same security and protocol
as the president of Pakistan.
Pakistan acquired nuclear capability, Dr Khan's
security situation became lax and and he was
allowed to move around and make statements in
public, and even travel outside the country.
"It was a fact that he was elevated as a
celebrity in the country, and even for generals he
was the heroic figure who equipped them with
deterrence against Indian military might," one
strategic expert told ATol.
hero-worship backfired. A classified interrogation
report of Khan Research Laboratories' (KRL)
security chief, Brigadier Tajwar, accepted that he
knew about the movement of centrifuges outside
KRL, but he dare not stop Dr Khan and ask about
the purpose of the transportation. Pakistan's
nuclear program was mostly developed at KRL.
Although Dr Khan has been individually
blamed - and publicly accepted responsibility for
- Pakistan's proliferation, Iran handed over a
list of about two dozen Pakistani scientists to
the IAEA for alleged involvement in Iran's
"US pressure came very late.
Before Pakistan even knew of Dr Khan's involvement
in proliferation and despite intense public
reaction, Dr Khan was removed as head of KRL and
banned to enter its labs. Only for the sake of
face-saving in public he was appointed as an
advisor to the president," said the expert.
The fate of Dr Khan remains unclear. He is
under virtual house arrest under heavy security in
his residence near Islamabad, and he can be
expected to live like that until his end, when he
will take all his secrets with him.
"Unfortunately, this is the most likely
scenario. The US pressure is maximum, there is no
doubt. That Pakistan will stand firm there is no
doubt either. The situation will not change, even
in the next two years. However, the ultimate
reaction of a world superpower is only determined
by its geostrategic requirements, not by any fixed
ideas or rules," the strategic expert commented.
Syed Saleem Shahzad, Bureau
Chief, Pakistan, Asia Times Online. He can be
reached at [email protected]
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