By Ahmed Quraishi
The CIA has been playing Pakistan like a football since 2004. It has turned Pakistan’s nuclear programme into a Mexican soap, planting stories in episodes meant to embarrass Pakistan and undermine its global nuclear standing.
While covert CIA operators allowed into the country by Zardari government take positions in houses around the residence of Dr. Khan, American journalists in the Pakistani capital have clear orders to keep an eye on the Pakistani scientist. The latest example of this is the New York Times story of July 7 on a North Korean document allegedly procured from Dr. Khan.
Whatever the CIA and its mainly American media conduits frequently circulate about Pakistan’s nuclear programme and Dr. Khan, the mess is a direct result of Pakistani mishandling of the matter.
Despite having built world-class military and nuclear establishments, our infighting and internal squabbles provide foreigners openings for meddling and blackmail.
In 2004, the CIA laid its hand on some information about limited Pakistani cooperation with North Korea, thanks in part to information shared by the Libyans and Iranians.
Armed with this, CIA tried to blackmail Pakistan and demand access to Dr. Khan. As a result, then political government and military both acted apologetically, accepting CIA charges at face value and asking Dr. Khan to take the blame for cooperation with North Korea.
Dr. Khan apparently agreed, but he says subsequent mistreatment at the hands of the government and character-assassination in the media poisoned his own mind and made him vengeful.
He was pushed so much against the wall that, at some point, he apparently shared documents containing sensitive national security secrets with his daughter. He did this because he suspected he would be eliminated or more likely as an act of vengeance against a government and military that has abandoned him.
To be fair to Dr. Khan, he continues to be a staunch defender of Pakistan’s status as a nuclear-armed nation. As recently as June 28, 2011, he defended Pakistan’s right to nuclear technology and weapons better than our government. In an email interview with the German Der Spiegel magazine, he rebuked American reports questioning Pakistani nuclear security by saying, “There never was, there is not and there never will be any threat to our nuclear assets.”
He also offered excellent information on international players involved in nuclear proliferation and how there is no such thing as ‘Khan Network’ or a Pakistani proliferation ring as alleged by US government and CIA:
“International suppliers were willing to sell to anyone able to pay and they didn’t need me for that. The suppliers to Libya and Iran were the same as the ones Khan Research Laboratories used. We had a contract with North Korea for the production of missiles. They already had their own plutonium production program and they used plutonium in their test procedures.”
The cardinal mistake of Pakistan’s decision makers is unnecessary weakness and appeasement.
Pakistan entered into very limited cooperation with North Korea sometime in the 1990s. It exchanged limited nuclear knowhow for North Korean missile technology. The cooperation did not violate any international agreements. Pakistan is not a signatory to NPT. Also, Pakistan was the target of unfair American practices aimed at obstructing Pakistan’s legitimate nuclear energy and weaponisation programs and had to scour the international market for options like everyone else.
Contacts with North Korea violated no international law. They upset the United States though, but Pakistan’s bilateral relationships are not any third country’s business.
More importantly, there was nothing to be apologetic about maintaining limited contacts with North Koreans. China is a responsible international player and often mediates between North Korea and the United States.
Leadership weakness and US aid are the only possible reasons why Pakistan’s political, military and nuclear establishments were overly upset after CIA accusations in 2004.
Instead of forcing Dr. Khan to become a victim, Islamabad could have asked the United States to back off and stop blackmailing Pakistan over limited ties that occurred in the 1990s and were largely necessitated by hostile American energy and nuclear policies.
The act of scapegoating Dr. Khan was mean to say the least when he has been a target of American and British demonisation for decades. Even the hint of a link between this Am-Brit hot pursuit and Dr. Khan’s humiliation is unacceptable. The fact that we helped his detractors partially get at him is something that does not sit well with most Pakistanis, who not only continue to see Dr. Khan as a hero but his statements on the security of Pakistani nuclear weapons carry more weight in public eyes than official statements.
Government protection measures on Dr. Khan’s movements are inevitable. But the country’s nuclear and military establishments should and must move forward in a tangible way to remove Dr. Khan’s personal feelings of betrayal and abandonment. No one who has so loyally served Pakistan should be abandoned like this. Unfortunately, our civilian and military bureaucracies are bad in the art of retaining our best and brightest in the best of times. There are no programmes to instill and maintain a sense of connection and pride in retired government officials to prevent them from switching loyalties for money or other reasons. And then there is the official Pakistani crass way of treating our own people to please foreigners.
Despite any personal failings, Dr. Khan is a proud Pakistani who would never abandon his nation. His personal grievances need to be removed to stop an old, angry, and a very knowledgeable man from becoming a plaything for our enemies.