—   The sharp point of dissent   —

Section: Media Monitor
28 August 2005

A.Q. Khan's nuclear bazaar

Kudos to Time magazine for their "exclusive" cover story on Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan's nuclear bazaar, which has accomplished the dual feat of bringing the story to public attention exactly one year late, and completely avoiding the central unanswered question of this issue. (Time, 14 February 2005)

There is virtual unanimity among intelligence experts (and not a few journalists) that it would have been impossible for Khan to have operated a nuclear-know-how network so widespread and for so long without the Pakistani government knowing about it or being involved in it. Tariq Ali (whose uncle was a former defense minister in Pakistan) has stated flatly that the operation was a quid-pro-quo with regimes (such as North Korea) that were able to supply Islamabad with weapons technology, and that it is logistically impossible for one man to helm a network that size without a government to facilitate him. Or as Seymour Hersh put it concerning Khan's televised confession:
It was a make-believe performance in a make-believe capital. In interviews soon after in Islamabad, a planned city built four decades ago, politicians, diplomats and nuclear experts dismissed the Khan confession and the Musharaff pardon with expressions of scorn and disbelief. For two decades, journalists and American and European intelligence agencies had linked Khan and the I.S.I., the Pakistani intelligence service, to nuclear-technology transfers, and it was hard to credit the idea that the government Khan served had been oblivious.
(Hersh, Chain of Command, p. 312)
The closest Time came to brushing against this elephant in the room was the following passage:
Knowledgeable sources tell TIME that at a meeting at the White House in December, Bush told Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf that he believed Khan had not fessed up to all his nefarious transactions. Musharraf agreed but refused to allow non-Pakistanis to quiz Khan.
The next sentence obligingly changes the subject. No impolite questions come to mind in the face of the fact that Musharraf plainly has a great deal to hide. Since making his televised confession, Khan has been sequestered away in his home in Islamabad, and Musharraf has indeed repeatedly refused to allow US intelligence to interview him, stating that all questions must be presented in writing to the Pakistani government.

Compare and contrast for a moment. Having come down on the Iraqi Ba'ath regime like a ton of bricks for WMDs that weren't there and 'links to Al Qaeda' which didn't exist, it seems remarkable that the Bush administration is being so indulgent towards a dictator like Musharraf who genuinely is nuclear-armed, and whose intelligence service (the ISI) is staffed with operatives well known to have had sympathetic leanings towards the Al Qaeda ideologues just over the border.

Just this week, Musharraf admitted that Khan had supplied centrifuges and their designs to North Korea. However, he "can't remember" the exact number. Oh, and the Pakistani government had no knowledge of this at the time.

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