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Pakistan In Turmoil Over Disclosure Of Nuke Deals With Iran

by M B Naqvi

on Iran's Nuclear Reactor
(IPS) KARACHI -- Pakistan finds itself in a serious crisis after Iran's disclosure to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that its military-oriented nuclear program has been actively helped by Pakistani scientists' advice and middlemen who helped it acquire key technology parts.

Pakistan has reacted to Iran's disclosure -- made two months ago but reported in the media this week -- by arresting three top nuclear scientists after investigations by the FBI. An outcry erupted over the arrests and the FBI role.

Until this week, these scientists were considered as heroes by the Pakistani government and right-wing parties for giving the country its nuclear deterrent. Now, they are being interrogated like criminals.

The shock of these arrests has been intense and has been called a betrayal. The right-wing parties have been raising hell for the government of Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who on Thursday escaped a second assassination attempt in two weeks.

The leadership of a former ruling party, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), has accused Musharraf of using these scientists as scapegoats -- after all, they say, there was no way they could have helped Iran without his approval because they are tightly protected and kept under constant surveillance.

PPP's charge is that Musharraf violated the doctrine of not transferring nuclear technology and that the transfer to Iran means that the much-boasted Command and Control System has collapsed. Even the ruling Muslim League (QA) party's Sen. Mushahid Hussain has said the scientists are being used as a scapegoat.

In short, the Musharraf government is very much on the defensive.

What has hurt pro-bomb lobbies in Pakistan is the government's admission that these scientists may have sold some nuclear secrets and or technology for personal profit.

The Iranians' disclosure could only have shattered Musharraf's credibility as the ruler of a nuclear power who frequently claimed that Pakistan's Command and Control System is fool-proof and that its nuclear assets can never fall into undesirable hands.

From a Western angle, Iranians are undesirable hands. For the IAEA and the U.S., an ostensible case of proliferation by Pakistan can be made.

The Central Intelligence Agency, a source of news stories about Pakistan's nuclear capability, had earlier inspired many articles that purported to show nuclear-technology-for-missile-technology dealings by this country.

Two respected Pakistani nuclear scientists were detained and interrogated by the FBI over a year ago for their activities in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime. They were suspected of helping Taliban and perhaps al-Qaeda militants acquire non-conventional capabilities.

Thus far, what the Bush administration thinks of the matter is shown by its apparently nonchalant declaration -- obviously a pro forma one -- that it does not doubt Musharraf's sincerity in the cause of fighting terrorism.

Pakistan's footprints have been found on many a prohibited territory. Still, most Musharraf supporters think that thanks to Pakistan's strategic location, the United States has no option but to keep it on its side and extract as much cooperation as needed.

At the same time, they say, the U.S. government has no option but to support the Musharraf regime, tolerate Pakistan's nuclear program for the time being and keep its economy in reasonable shape, if it is serious about its goals in Asia.

But for the longer term, most Pakistanis expect the U.S. government to distance itself before too long. They realize that the presence of so many 'madrasah' producing a hundred thousand mullahs every year and the massive support for Taliban and al-Qaeda that exists in the country can only lead to a parting of ways.

In truth, the intricate interplay of liberal opinion with national interests and geostrategic ambitions prevents any U.S. administration from consistently sustaining a morally tenable position.

This is why the U.S. government constantly proclaims its love for freedom and democracy but has long supported all manner of dictators, most of them blood-stained.

In Pakistan, military dictators have run a one-man show for half the country's life and military chiefs have manipulated nominal democracies in the other half, except for just a few initial years.

Yet the U.S. government stoutly continues to support them. This is one reason that few people around the world take the U.S. rhetoric about freedom and democracy seriously.

However, a new climate of expectation has been created around the globe by Iran's signature on the additional protocol on nuclear inspections with the IAEA and Libya's surprise renunciation of its nuclear program on Dec. 19.

A momentum of sorts has been set up on the nuclear non-proliferation issue.

Questions arise: Would the U.S. government now take non-proliferation and democracy more seriously? The other question is: Who comes next? The logical expectation would be Israel, Pakistan and India in the first round, and China, France, Britain and Russia in the next, to be followed by the United States itself.

Logic may so demand, but politics, internal and external, would prevent the U.S. from leaning on both Israel and India. Would that mean that Washington would then lean on Pakistan?

It is highly unlikely that the United States would do so and not give the same advice to India. One way or another, Pakistan's turn is sure to come when international pressure becomes intolerable.

Most Pakistanis think the U.S. government is unlikely to press for denuclearisation of Pakistan because it will be averse to pushing its ally, Israel, into the non-proliferation regime. Almost the same can be said about India. That would leave the U.S. government with little moral right to ask China, Russia and the others to disarm.

In that may lie a longer lifespan for Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

To expect angelic behaviour from the United States is not quite fair. It has come to believe that it has duties to preserve the status quo, which translates into geostrategic objectives and the determination to repeat fond sentiments about liberty and democracy.

All this is also why the U.S. government is forced to set up dictatorships of unelected individuals like Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. Tomorrow it may set up another 'democratic' leader in Iraq, similarly unelected.

Dictators being so eager to obey the United States, why would Washington rock the boat in Pakistan when it is already running its foreign relations in accordance with the U.S. wishes?

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Albion Monitor December 28, 2003 (

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