Posts Tagged ‘Nuclear’

He Said What?!

I love you Makranis! Yes I do!

"I love you Makranis! Yes I do!"

If you haven’t had a chance to read Dr. AQ Khan‘s “Random Thoughts” column in The News today, you are missing out. In the piece, entitled, “Pleasant Memories,” the father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb unveils his “special interest” in the Makrani people, an ethnic group of African descent [also known as the Sheedis] who live in Baluchistan and Sindh. He wrote,

They were an extremely jolly people, with shiny eyes and smiling faces. Most of the men worked at Keamari port, as guards at cinema houses or plied donkey carts for the transportation of goods. Those of us who have seen their donkeys have not failed to notice how healthy these are and how well they are treated. There seems to be an understanding between owner and donkey and this is apparent in every behavior. I noticed at the time that they would stop work punctually at 4 p.m., return home to rest for a short while and then take their donkeys to a place near our building and let them roll in the sand. After this they would brush them down, often hugging and kissing them in the process. Never once did I see a Makrani mistreating his donkey…

AQ Khan proceeds to discuss the Makrani and their donkeys for, oh, another five sentences – the Makrani donkey cart races, how they got the donkeys to speed up, the list goes on. He then goes on to describe the Makrani children. This is the line that got me, “Makrani children are extremely cute…They looked very much like African pikaninis with dark curly hair and shiny eyes.” [Pikanini or pickininy refers to an old derogatory term used by the plantation owners in the south of the United States to describe slave children.] Dear God.

It could very well be that AQ Khan, from the confines of his home, is launching a PR campaign to keep his status as “Pakistan’s hero,” alive [his personal website could be exhibit A]. However, this column is yet another failed attempt to re-brand himself as someone other than the man accused of selling nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. Instead of humanizing himself in this piece, he comes across as clueless and ignorant, reminiscent of a batty distant relative you pray won’t make politically incorrect remarks at dinner. And this wasn’t his first faux pas. On August 19, AQ Khan’s column topic, “Science of Computers: part 1” was reportedly plagiarized from the University of Sussex, Imperial College London, and Cambridge University, [revealed in this letter to the editor, and covered in Ahsan’s post at Five Rupees].

These columns form the backdrop of AQ Khan’s back-and-forth “he’s been released – no just kidding” narrative in the news media.  News of a smuggled letter written to his wife Henny in 2003, unveiling Pakistan’s nuclear cooperation with China, Iran, Libya and North  Korea and how Khan would be the fall guy, has added yet another dimension to the saga. The story, revealed by Simon Henderson in the Sunday Times, was so riddled with intrigue that it could spark a book deal and a movie spin-off.

In his recent Dawn column, Cyril Almeida wrote, “…there is another reason to worry if Khan remains in the media limelight: we will be unable to focus properly on present-day issues regarding nuclear doctrine, command and control systems and safety and security.” He added, “Perhaps what is needed to bury the issue …is for a concerted, public campaign to put Khan’s role in the nuclear program in the correct perspective. Unmask the ‘father of the bomb’ and diminish, accurately, his role and he may choose to stay quiet himself.” Given that the U.S. Kerry-Lugar Bill passed Wednesday, and such aid is partly contingent on Pakistan’s cooperation “to dismantle nuclear supplier networks,” this issue will likely crop up again.

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Image Credit: NY Times

Image Credit: NY Times

In the United States, talk of the rise of militancy in Pakistan has become synonymous with fears that the country’s nuclear arsenal will fall into the wrong hands. Recent articles and books, particularly from the NY Times, have further probed this topic, leading many to question just how much control Pakistan has over its nuclear weapons. Heather Williams, based in Washington, D.C., seeks to address these questions, and dispel many notions associated with the issue:

A May 4 New York Times article by David E. Sanger, “Strife in Pakistan Raises U.S. Doubts Over Nuclear Arms” sounded the alarm on the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal just prior to President Zardari’s visit to Washington. By contrast, U.S. officials continue to express confidence in Pakistan’s leadership, and President Zardari said in a recent interview with Wolf Blitzer that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal was “definitely safe.” So where is the NY Times getting this story from? What is the status of Pakistan’s nuclear facilities? The facts about Pakistan’s security structure reveal the threat is overblown and there is no red button on Zardari’s desk waiting to be pressed by some sneaky scientist or tribal leader in the event he reaches Islamabad.

According to Sanger, the Obama administration is “increasingly concerned about new vulnerabilities to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.” Unidentified administration officials complain the U.S. wants information on three areas of concern:

  1. Location of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons
  2. Physical security of nuclear facilities
  3. Implementation of US assistance

It is difficult to navigate some of the assertions in the Times article, along with similar pieces from the Miami Herald and Fox News that jumped on the Pakistan bashing bandwagon. But despite complaints about a lack of transparency, the U.S. actually knows a great deal about Pakistan’s nuclear security. Pakistan has between 60 and 100 nuclear weapons. Immediately following the September 11th attacks, President Musharraf moved the nuclear weapons to six new underground locations. Most of these are south of Islamabad in Punjab province.

The assumption that the U.S. would know the exact location of Pakistan’s nuclear facilities is incongruous, since states are not compelled to share such sensitive information. In response to a question from David Gregory on Meet the Press on this topic, President Zardari retorted, “Why don’t you do the same with other countries yourself?… We have a right to our own sovereignty.”

Pakistan must play a balancing act of relying on U.S. assistance while maintaining its inherent distrust of U.S. intentions, particularly on nuclear issues. For example, the U.S. offered to help Pakistan develop a unique dual-key system for its launch codes, however Pakistan rebuffed the offer out of the fear the U.S. would sabotage its weapons in the process. Current fears run in a similar vein. Islamabad is reluctant to tell the U.S. the location of its nuclear weapons for fear the U.S. or India will strike those locations to eliminate Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent capabilities. The U.S. does know the nuclear weapons are in secure facilities nowhere near the areas of fighting in FATA and NWFP.

Concerns about physical and personnel security are also exaggerated. In a 2008 BBC interview, Brigadier Shaukat Qadir, a Pakistani nuclear expert, said “Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are only as much at risk as those of the U.S. or India.” Pakistan’s weapons are disassembled (the weapon itself is separate from the detonators which are all separate from delivery systems such as missiles) and cannot be used by anyone other than the Pakistani government because of command and control security measures.

Sanger suggests that rogue scientists will supply militants with nuclear materials. This is highly unlikely. Also, the militants have different objectives than terrorist groups and are not as interested in acquiring a nuclear weapon. In breaking up the A.Q. Khan network, the U.S. and Pakistan jointly identified and removed questionable scientists and implemented a strict screening process. Security personnel are trained in the U.S. Also, the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] Illicit Trafficking Database has never reported a security incident in Pakistan.

Through various forms of assistance, the U.S. has helped Pakistan secure its nuclear facilities, including a $100 million program launched under President Bush. In 2000, President Clinton created a joint U.S.-Pakistan commission to develop Pakistan’s command and control system. In the process, the U.S. had insights into Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure. Along with financial assistance, the U.S. also made secret agreements to station U.S. personnel in Pakistan solely to guarantee the safety of the nuclear weapons.

Yet Pakistan’s security and future remain questionable to many Americans. The Obama administration must play a delicate balance in expressing concern for the security situation while not subsequently questioning the Zardari government’s sovereignty or ability to lead. The administration has been consistent in its message: general concern about Pakistan, but confidence in the security of its nuclear arsenal. According to National Security Advisor James Jones, Pakistan’s efforts to secure its nuclear weapons “are moving in a more positive direction,” but if the situation quickly disintegrates “obviously the nuclear question comes into view.”

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Pakistan Releases AQ Khan

Media outlets are reporting that Abdul Qadeer (AQ) Khan, the father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb, was freed from five years of house arrest by a court and immediately declared that he can now “lead a normal life.” According to the Guardian, “In an interview with the Guardian after this morning’s court ruling, the metallurgist said he had no plans to travel abroad or engage in domestic politics. Looking relaxed and well, the 72-year-old strolled in the front garden of his plush villa in Islamabad, playing with a pet dog and receiving well-wishers.” He later told the news agency, “It’s a nice feeling, the worry is gone. I can lead a normal life now, as a normal citizen. It’s a fine feeling.” Khan was placed under house arrest by former President Musharraf after confessing to passing nuclear secrets and materials to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. However, after last year’s parliamentary elections, which effectively ended the Musharraf era, Khan began speaking to the media by phone, saying he had been made a scapegoat for others involved in the scheme to sell Pakistan’s nuclear technology, [see CHUP’s coverage of his interview with The Nation last April]. [Left image from Reuters]

The NY Times commented on the decision to release AQ Khan in its coverage, reporting, “The court that lifted the travel restrictions on Dr. Khan…is a new court of limited legal jurisdiction established under the former president, Pervez Musharraf, and it appeared that the move Friday was as much a political decision by the civilian government as a legal one.” The Times cited Talat Masood, a retired Army general, who asserted the move served to pacify “the powerful conservative lobby in Pakistan,” [since AQ Khan is still widely regarded as a national hero] adding, “This has taken away pressure on the government…It has brought good will on the government because of his [Khan’s] popularity.” The Daily Times’ Rafia Zakaria told the Times, “A.Q. Khan’s release is a good symbolic move that is likely to restore faith in the civilian government’s bid to sustain its sovereignty…Something which is essential if Pakistanis are to believe that the war on terror is not just being fought at America’s behest and is something in their own interest.”

How has the international community reacted to today’s development? The BBC’s Barbara Plett in Islamabad stated that despite Friday’s ruling, Dr Khan’s proliferation activities still arouse international concern, although Pakistan regards the case as closed. And, according to The Nation, France has voiced their “unease” with the court’s decision. Foreign ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier noted, “We know what role Mr Khan and his network played in the spread worldwide of nuclear technology for military use. We hope that this release will not lead to the pursuit of these activities which are illegal, dangerous and very worrying for international security.” However, when news agencies asked Dr. Khan to comment on the international reaction to his release, he exclaimed, “Are they happy with our God? Are they happy with our prophet? Are they happy with our leader? Never…I don’t care about rest of the world. I care about my country. [President Barack] Obama cares about America, not about Pakistan or India or Afghanistan.”

AQ Khan will still have to give 48 hours notice if he wants to leave Islamabad, but indicated today that he has no intention of traveling abroad. According to the Guardian, “He said he might travel to Karachi, where his siblings live, or to visit friends in Lahore, but he had no wish to go abroad, except for a pilgrimage to Mecca. American and UN weapons experts have repeatedly said they want to question him about his alleged proliferation activities and he would risk arrest if he went overseas,” [see related post on sanctions placed on Khan’s alleged proliferation network].

Despite these international concerns, it appears that today will be AQ Khan’s day in the sun, as supporters thronged his residence to congratulate him on his release. Khan waved to cameras, and asserted to reporters, “There are no winners, no losers. I think it has been a good judgment at least I have got some [of] my freedom.”

**Interesting note: Check out AQ Khan’s official website, which I believe was recently launched, [someone correct me if I’m wrong]. Clever timing.

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Last Wednesday, an interview with Pakistan’s infamous nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan (more widely known as AQ Khan), was released by The Nation, [see “AQ Khan, “the Father of the Atomic Bomb” wants Freedom”]. In the news piece, which gained some traction among Western media outlets last week, Khan asserted his desire to be freed from house arrest because of his “deteriorating health.” In 2004, the nuclear scientist, interchangeably known as the “father” of Pakistan’s atomic bomb, confessed on television to “running a proliferation network” and passing nuclear secrets on to Iran, North Korea, and Libya. Although he was pardoned by President Pervez Musharraf, he has been under house arrest since the widely publicized confession.

The rare interview was further bolstered, when, in a phone conversation with the AFP on Sunday, AQ Khan said “he took the blame” for passing nuclear secrets four years ago in order “to save his country.” He told the news agency, “I saved the country for the first time when I made Pakistan a nuclear nation and saved it again when I confessed and took the whole blame on myself…Even Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Mushahid Hussain said I saved Pakistan by accepting the whole blame myself.” Although Khan stated he had had no contact with the new government, The News cited a “report,” which said the government has decided to ease the restrictions placed on the nuclear scientist. According to the news agency, Khan would be allowed to meet his friends and close relatives at least twice a month, and have meals with them. He would be able to meet at least six close friends and relatives as nominated by him. On Monday, newly appointed foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said in an interview with local television, “Yes, I don’t want to see his movement restricted…He is a Pakistani, a respected Pakistani, I think that he should be allowed to see his friends and I think that he should be allowed to go for a drive…I think he should be allowed to go and have a meal at a restaurant, I see no reason why he should be deprived of that, on the other hand we also have to be concerned about his security and health.”

The funny thing is, AQ Khan is not just any Pakistani. He is a nuclear scientist, the man responsible for making Pakistan a “nuclear nation.” He is both a hero and a villain to Pakistanis. And he is also the man allegedly responsible for selling secrets to “contentious” states. To treat him like a regular Pakistani citizen demeans the very premise of why he was put under house arrest in the first place. [The above image was the cover of TIME magazine in February 2005, the title reads: The Merchant of Menace, Exclusive: How AQ Khan Became the World’s Most Dangerous Nuclear Trafficker].

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On Wednesday, a very interesting interview in Pakistan’s The Nation garnered the attention of several Western media outlets. In the interview, published today by The Nation’s Urdu language newspaper, Nawa-i-Waqt, Pakistan’s infamous nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, (widely known as AQ Khan) said he hoped to be freed by the new Pakistani government and called his detention “illegal.” The Nation quoted him stating, “My health is deteriorating and the claims of the government about my physical well-being do not carry weight.” According to Khan, the major cause of his poor health has been his solitary confinement. Khan, “hailed as a hero by many Pakistanis for transforming the country into the Islamic world’s first nuclear power,” was placed under house arrest by President Pervez Musharraf after he confessed on television in early 2004 to passing nuclear secrets and materials to Iran, Libya, and North Korea, (he was later pardoned by Musharraf). According to the AFP, “He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2006 and was hospitalized last month with complications.”
In his first “face-to-face” interview in four years, AQ Khan told Nawa-i-Waqt, “The real hooliganism is that I have been confined, and it is the cause of all my ills.” Khan also rejected the government’s assertions that he was kept under house arrest “for his own safety,” adding, “It is nothing but a lame excuse…It is simply irrational. I was roaming around the world freely at times when in 1979 numerous fake cases had been registered against me in Holland and I faced no security threat.” In the interview, Khan did not address his public confession made in 2004.
India and Pakistan both conducted nuclear tests in 1998, therefore garnering the title of “nuclear states.” According to sources, Pakistan is the first Islamic country known to have built an atomic bomb. Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister at the time, gained prestige from the nuclear tests. While campaigning for the February elections, the former PM indicated that AQ Khan should be freed from house arrest. However, a source close to the government told Reuters, “that he doubted Khan would be released any time soon, and the matter hadn’t been seriously raised during policy discussions.” The interview and potential responses are significant, regardless of whether you perceive AQ Khan in a positive or negative light. While the nuclear scientist garnered prestige following the 1998 nuclear tests, he was largely disgraced following his 2004 confession. Do you villify AQ Khan for turning Pakistan into a nuclear state, or do you glorify his achievements? Moreover, should AQ Khan be blamed for a government policy that allowed Pakistan to go nuclear in the first place? [Image courtesy of Reuters]

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