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Globe Scan
by Chanakya Sen

Timbuktu Hotels and 
Global Headaches 

A series of startling revelations in the last few months have pinpointed Pakistan as the source for the nuclear programmes of North Korea, Iran and Libya. There is also intense speculation about Saudi Arabia using Pakistani know-how and hardware to go nuclear in its turf war against Iran as the dominant Muslim power of the Middle East. It is a well-documented fact that Saudis are behind the financing of Pakistan's nuclear ambitions and this latest expose can be viewed as a quid pro quo between two longstanding allies and jihad bedfellows. North Korea too aided Pakistan's Ghauri/Hatf missile development in return for centrifuges. Pakistan is also much quoted as the supplier of Weapons of Mass Destruction to terrorist non-state actors such as Al Qaeda.

Since the days of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan's foreign policy has been torn between an India-centric (read Kashmir) and an Islam-centric (read Middle East) direction. This identity-based rift in orientation is somewhat comparable to Australia's dilemma of remaining in the Anglo-Saxon cultural enclave or engaging with Asia as the needs of geography and economy demand. Pakistan's de facto acquisition of the nuclear bomb around 1990 was welcomed in most Muslim states as the arrival of the 'Islamic bomb' and a vindication of the fundamentalist belief that the real superpower on the globe is Islam, not America.

Pakistan has tried nuclear blackmail to force its will upon India in the 1999 Kargil conflict, but it is equally interesting how its Islam-centric credentials were leveraged through nuclear commerce. Managing to supply both Saudi Arabia and Iran, who compete for the title of Middle Eastern Superpower, is a feat that only Pakistan's military-intelligence complex could have achieved. Commercialisation of armaments and sensitive technology sales was mastered by the ISI during the 1980s jihad in Afghanistan. It is no coincidence that Dr.Abdul Qadeer Khan and Co. sold nuke secrets to Libya, Iran and North Korea between 1986 and 1993, a period when the ISI perfected its techniques of arms smuggling and money laundering. Everyone realises that this is the tip of the iceberg. The Saudi nuclear connection has yet to be admitted.

While the routine response of the Pakistan government to these nexuses being splashed on front pages of world newspapers is to allege an 'Indian hand', the weight of evidence produced recently is so overwhelming that Islamabad has been forced to accept that "individual scientists" may have been involved in proliferating nuclear technology. What is ironic is that simultaneously, Pakistan remonstrates that its nukes are under tight government control and that no rogue element or individual can compromise the safety of Pakistan's unconventional weapons arsenal. It must be understood that the level of technology transfer we are learning about could not have been achieved without complicity of the highest echelons of Pakistan's military and civilian regimes.

Yet, it is worth pondering how Abdul Qadeer Khan and his fellow scientists could fecklessly proliferate WMD, being fully aware of its deadly consequences. Albert Einstein was a remarkable scientist and a great human being because he foresaw the destructive potential of some scientific leads. If scientists are brought up in a milieu where the political and military outcomes of their inventions and discoveries are none of their concern, the world can be sure of approaching Armageddon. Conscience and science must go hand in hand to prevent the destruction of humankind. Pakistan's nuclear scientists seem to have imbibed no values except fanaticism and jihad mentality. Knowledge in the hands of Islamist bigots protected by government blessings can be a very very dangerous cocktail.

On scientific ethics, it is worth recalling that Indian nuclear expert Raja Ramanna visited Baghdad in 1978 and was personally offered leadership of Iraq's fledgling WMD programme by Saddam Hussein. "I will pay you whatever you want", was the magnanimous offer. It is takes traits of personal integrity and character for such a carte blanche to be refused. Ramanna refused and departed, richer in dignity but not in monetary worth. Abdul Qadeer Khan, on the other hand, accumulated and amassed a fortune by hawking ultra-sensitive knowledge on the 'user-pay' principle in the global marketplace. Demand-Supply economics has found a new icon in Pakistan's nuclear mafia.

Qadeer Khan happens to be a national icon in Pakistan, a father figure who had everything a scientist could have dreamt of. Yet, greed goaded him for more. He built a "fabulous hotel" in the tourist paradise of Timbuktu, Mali, and transported furniture to it by Pakistan air force planes via Libya. Colonel Qaddafi, another pretender to the crown of Arab superpower status, has allowed his son Saif-al-Islam to openly announce that Pakistan was paid enormous sums of money for Libya's (now-grounded) nuclear project. Qadeer Khan also owns half a dozen houses in posh London real estate. Callous lust for pelf, not to mention Islamist bigotry, drove a brilliant mind to trade the most destructive designs humankind has known. The same wealth-hungry Qadeer Khan is on record saying, "All western countries are enemies of Islam."

A global proliferation regime beyond sane proportions has begun and Pakistan sits on the throne of this shady network. Identifying the hub and promptly de-nuclearising Pakistan are essential for world security. George W Bush's repeated attempts to give clearance chits that Pakistan's nukes are "secure" and linking it to India's nuclear safety are making matters worse for the global nonproliferation regime. In international relations theory, Stephen Krasner's classical definition of a 'regime' requires a set of implicit or explicit principles, rules and decision-making procedures overseen by a hegemon with policing powers. Though the IAEA is on paper the multilateral forum concerned with non-proliferation, it is the United States that created the non-proliferation regime to serve its interests of regulating strategic rivalry with the USSR. It is the United States' power to deter and warn as an ombudsman that has, to an extent, kept the nuclear lid from breaking free in an indiscriminate manner. However, US inability to rein in Pakistan's proliferation is tilting the already bent non-proliferation regime into toxic spill over. 

It appears that the Cold War American quest for 'balance of power' in South Asia is ever important today. An interesting new development is Washington's stonewalling India's request for the ARROW ballistic missile interceptor on grounds that it would alter the "balance of power with neighbouring Pakistan." In lieu of ARROW, India is being shanghaied into accepting the inferior PAC-3 system, which does not boast of defensive capabilities against nuclear attacks from medium-range missiles. General Musharraf's repeated threats that Pakistan will not hesitate to use the ultimate deterrent make this a highly relevant strategic loss for India.

Amidst the congratulatory ambience of broadening India-US strategic ties, such appalling departures from the norm cannot simply be ignored as exceptions. Nor can Qadeer Khan's avaricious deals be sidestepped as aberrations or non-state actor misdeeds. Timbuktu luxury hotels built by Pakistani scientists happen to be global headaches.


*Also read this month's Editorial:
Indo-Pak statement  - flexibility at last

 

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