Looking the Other Way
“The greatest threat before humanity today is the possibility of secret and sudden attack with chemical or biological or radiological or nuclear weapons. … We’re determined to confront those threats at the source. We will stop these weapons from being acquired or built. We’ll block them from being transferred. We’ll prevent them from ever being used.” Strong statements. Those were the words of the United States president in an address at the National Defense University in Washington on February 11 this year.
But even as these intentions are declared, do the actions—or rather, the inaction—of the U.S. tell a different story?
It was in February that Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the “father” of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, made public his involvement in selling nuclear weapons hardware and technology to—in addition to other countries—at least two of the nations President Bush labeled part of an “axis of evil.” The response of the Pakistani leadership to this declaration may have been predictable. But what was revealing was the U.S. response.
For some time, among certain circles, there has been dismay at America’s
seeming nonchalance toward Iran’s nuclear weapons program, especially when compared to the vigor with which weapons of mass destruction have been pursued by the U.S. in Iraq. It now appears that America’s attitude toward Pakistan—exposed as a supplier of nuclear hardware and technology to rogue and terrorist-sponsoring nations—is strikingly similar to that shown toward Iran: an attitude of looking the other way.
The Nuclear Web Revealed
Late last year, evidence came to light that Pakistan had supplied both Iran and Libya with nuclear weapons hardware and technology. The resulting pressure put on Pakistan led to Khan’s “confession.” On February 4, Dr. Khan appeared on a state-run television network to claim sole responsibility for operating an international black market in nuclear material. He claimed he acted by himself, with no authorization from Pakistan’s Gen. Pervez Musharraf or military involvement.
There is little dispute among nuclear experts and intelligence sources that Khan could not have conducted his trade in this nuclear technology without government and military involvement. Husain Haqqani, a special assistant to three prime ministers before Musharraf came to power, told the New Yorker, “This is not a few scientists pocketing money and getting rich. It’s a state policy” (March 8).
General Musharraf, obviously complicit, not only accepted the confession but pardoned Khan, who is a national hero for developing the nation’s nuclear program. In doing so, a trial was averted—a trial that could have led to “embarrassing revelations about top government and military officials” (Associated Press, February 4).
Seymour M. Hersh, an influential political commentator and investigative reporter, asserted that this was a “make-believe performance.” He claimed that in interviews in Islamabad, “politicians, diplomats and nuclear experts dismissed the Khan confession and the Musharraf pardon with expressions of scorn and disbelief” (New Yorker, op. cit.). “It is state propaganda,” said Samina Ahmed, the director of the Islamabad office of the International Crisis Group, a nongovernmental organization that studies conflict resolution. “The deal is that Khan doesn’t tell what he knows” (ibid.).
The U.S. government, however, at least in public, not only accepted Musharraf’s pardon no questions asked, but actually praised him for it. “We value the commitments Mr. Musharraf has made to prevent the expertise in Pakistan from reaching other places,” said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher the following day (Washington Post, February 6). Further, the U.S. made no protest when Musharraf followed up with a refusal to let foreign inspectors access Pakistan’s nuclear sites, a refusal to release any relevant documentation and a refusal to let foreign intelligence services question Dr. Khan. Musharraf gave assurances that the matter would be investigated internally.
And the Pakistani government has nothing to hide?
Why did the U.S. turn a blind eye, accepting the pretense that blame for the whole smuggling network rested on the shoulders of one man? Why allow—without protest—the very government and military that watched over the whole operation to investigate it?
As both symbolic and real evidence of progress in the war on terror, the U.S. has been involved for some months in efforts to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda operatives hiding in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. In this effort, the U.S. has heavily relied upon Pakistan’s cooperation. Though considered an important “ally” by the Bush administration, Musharraf has dragged his feet in fear of the Islamic element within his own country. The U.S. has wanted Musharraf to be a little more helpful.
According to U.S. administration sources, “Washington and Islamabad have cut a deal under which the United States will be permitted to send thousands of troops into Pakistan and will be provided with Pakistani intelligence assistance as to the location of bin Laden. In exchange, the United States will not make an issue of the pardon given Pakistan’s chief nuclear scientist …” (Stratfor, March 1).
Though the planned U.S. “spring offensive” did not proceed (no doubt due to the increase in difficulties in Iraq over the past couple months), Stratfor reports that the U.S. intends to pursue this campaign further next year. In the meantime, the U.S. needs to keep Pakistan on side.
Whatever the exact nature of the deal (which is denied by Pakistan), the fact remains that the U.S. needs Pakistan’s—Musharraf’s—cooperation. This explains the U.S. silence on the pardon of Khan—why the U.S. is taking Musharraf’s statements at face value.
The U.S. is not insisting on independent investigation of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons activities. The U.S. knows that any investigation will reveal the true extent of the Musharraf government’s involvement in the clandestine nuclear dealings. Does the U.S. fear that it will lose an ally in Musharraf if the truth comes to light? After all, how could America be an ally of the nuclear supplier to the “axis of evil”?
But the U.S. did not simply refrain from taking action against Pakistan.
Rather than imposing sanctions or some other penalty on a nation for its flagrant disregard of nuclear proliferation within its borders, the U.S. in fact removed the current sanctions! Sanctions in place since Musharraf seized power in 1999 were waived by the U.S. in March, leaving the way open for “millions of dollars of indirect U.S. economic aid” (ibid., March 25). In fact, the Washington Post reports that President Bush has requested Congress grant Pakistan a five-year, $3 billion assistance package (May 5).
Not only that, in the days that followed the Khan “confession,” the Bush administration made the highly symbolic gesture of rewarding Pakistan with Major Non-nato Ally status—shared by only 12 other nations—which will open the way for increased Pakistani military acquisitions from the U.S.
Is that really a reward for assistance Pakistan has already given in the war on terrorism, or an incentive to coax Pakistan to more fully cooperate?
Just how much does America need Pakistan’s cooperation? To what extent is the U.S. prepared to go—what will it overlook—to maintain that cooperation?
The facts are out: Pakistan has not only sold nuclear resources to rogue and terrorist-sponsoring nations, but has developed an underground network that is yet to be fully discovered. But the nation that promises to confront and stop nuclear proliferation appears to be rewarding Pakistan rather than taking punitive action.
Just as the U.S. has softened its stance on Iran (see “Conquest Through Sabotage” in last month’s issue), so it has compromised in its response to Pakistan’s role in nuclear proliferation to aid in its hunt for bin Laden.
The fact that Washington must take the “friends” and “allies” it can—even if they contravene the very principles the U.S. is fighting for—demonstrates the compromised nature of America’s power on the world scene.
We can see that, despite perhaps the best of intentions, once again America is putting at risk its long-term security for the sake of temporary alliances.