Pakistan’s nuclear bomb and proliferation

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By Jatin Desai

Nuclear bomb is a sensitive thing. Nuclear bombs are the weapons of mass destruction. The US used nuclear bombs first and last time by targeting Japan’s Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. The world was shocked. Japan and its friends surrendered. The world has moved ahead since 1945. On the one hand we are witnessing proliferation of nuclear bombs and on the other seeing activist, leaders opposing nuclear bombs. As of today, there are a couple of thousand nuclear bombs which can destroy world hundreds of time.

Both India and Pakistan have more than 100 nuclear bombs. Again, the tense relations between two countries are always a matter of concern for not only the people of both these countries but also for the international community. Much is already written about Pakistan’s Abdul Qadeer Khan’s clandestine global proliferation network. He was also called ‘father of the Pakistani bomb’. More biographies of A Q Khan are written in Pakistan than any other political leaders with the exception of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. It indicates his ‘popularity’. In this background recent book Pakistan’s Nuclear Bomb: A Story of Defiance, Deterrence and Deviance by Hassan Abbas is significant. The author is a Pakistani and the book primarily grew out of his PhD work at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.

The author says Ayub Khan was against nuclear bomb and once he blasted ZA Bhutto on the issue. Ayub was a military dictator and second President of Pakistan. The author writes, “Ayub’s departure signified the end of the anti-bomb lobby. The new ruler, General Yahya Khan, was too busy overseeing the dismemberment of Pakistan to think about anything else. The time was ripe for the rise of Bhutto power. He won the 1970 national election by a good majority in what remained of Pakistan, and in 1971 Yahya Khan resigned, turning the government over to him.” In his election campaign and anti-Ayub Khan rallies, Bhutto made the case for a nuclear bomb. Pakistan had lost half of its territory. East Pakistan became Bangladesh. Bhutto reoriented Pakistan’s nuclear policy and created a new Ministry of Science, Technology and Production to expedite scientific development in the country.

Khan network’s nuclear proliferation activities ran for around 15 years. According to author, “There were three critical periods when important nuclear proliferation decisions were taken – 1987-89 (Iran), 1993-95 (North Korea and Iran, and 1997-9 (North Korea and Libya).” The Khan network benefitted of the political crisis and instability.

The AQ Khan network was finally exposed in late 2003 when Pervez Musharraf was ruling Pakistan. The fact is Musharraf did not take any action against Khan even though as per his own admission in his memoirs – In the line of fire –he had first observed ‘signs of some suspicious activities by A Q’ as early as in 1999. Musharraf in his memoir further said that in the year 2000 it was becoming clearer that Khan was not ‘part of the problem’, but ‘the problem’ itself, and that’s why he decided to retire him in March 2001.

Khan has not been prosecuted. He was kept under house arrest and restrictions were imposed on him in 2004. Restrictions on him were relaxed following court order in February 2009. Subsequently, he launched a political party in 2012 – Tehrik-i-Tahaffuz Pakistan (Movement for the security of Pakistan). The party put up candidates in 2013 elections but did not win a single seat.

The issue is whether Khan had support from the establishment? According to ‘rogue factor’ theory, ‘Khan was largely a rogue actor outside of a state oversight’.  Supporters of this theory contended that there is a scant evidence to support the allegation of state authorization of Khan’s dealings.

The author quotes well-known journalist Seymour Hersh and a leading Pakistani peace activist, physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy who differs with ‘rogue theory’. Hersh in his article quotes a senior intelligence official: One thing we do know is that this was not a rogue operation. How do you get missiles from North Korea to Pakistan? Do you think AQ shipped all the centrifuges by Federal Express? The military has to be involved, at high levels.

Hoodbhoy argues similarly: These centrifuges weighed something like half a ton each. You can’t put them in your coat pocket and walk away with them…If there were aircraft of the Pakistan Air Force that flew these centrifuges out-well, obviously there had to be somebody at the top who was also involved. The book is a necessary read to all those who want to understand Pakistan’s search for nuclear bomb.

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