Sunday, December 30, 2007

Pakistan's Unfortunate Elephant in the Room (re-post)

FROM 2005
On December 2nd, 2004, a high level United Nations panel issued a warning of diminishing international barriers to the acquisition of nuclear weapons. The 16 member panel that included former United States security advisor Brent Scowcroft, had been commissioned by UN Secretary Kofi Anan.

Titled “High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change”, the report warns that the world is “approaching a point at which the erosion of the non-proliferation regime could become irreversible resulting in a cascade of nuclear weapon proliferation.” The report points out barrier breakdowns that increase the likelihood of terrorists obtaining nuclear weapons.

The UN report confirmed that the list of nuclear-armed nations was growing. It also become clear that one of America’s allies in the war on terror, Pakistan, had been the main supplier of these products of mass destruction, which in the end, created a complicated, tense yet apparently necessary relationship between the two nations.

In the course of just a few years, as the United States responded to the events of 9/11, the world had become a much more lethal place.
. “The nuclear barriers may not be crumbling, but there are certainly worrisome cracks” said Mellissa Flemming, spokesperson at the International Atomic Energy Association in Vienna.

Flemming said that when the IAEA discovered “a sophisticated black market in nuclear technology, we realized that nuclear technology was basically up for grabs.”

Less than one year earlier, Pakistani Scientist and metallurgical engineer, Dr. A.Q. Khan had been identified as a major player in the international nuclear black market. In February 2004, Khan admitted, and then IAEA officials confirmed, that over the course of a few years, Khan had sold technology and equipment to officials in at least five countries, including Iran. Khan, known as the “father” of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, confessed his actions but was then almost immediately pardoned by President Pervaz Musharaf.

Pakistani officials placed Khan, seen by many Pakistanis as heroic for equalizing the nuclear playing field with India, under house arrest. Pakistani officials have not granted any foreign interrogators access to Khan. “Khan’s black market nuclear bazaar exposed what many say was a leaky export control system over Pakistan's nuclear arsenal that was demonstrated by the behind the scenes dealings with customers like Libya and Iran who were willing to pay millions of dollars for sensitive centrifuge parts and technological know how,” according to IAEA’s Mellisa Flemming.

The UN report apparently confirms fears expressed by a number of nuclear proliferation experts around the world. According to one of those experts in the United States, this could eventually lead to a very troubling outcome that includes increasing threats of nuclear terrorism.

“It is inevitable that we will see a terrorist with nuclear capability within the next decade” said Joseph Cirincione, Director of the Non Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

Cirincione is concerned that the UN report’s confirms that security barrier breakdowns like the now exposed clandestine Khan network, increase the likelihood of a terrorist organization obtaining nuclear capabilities.

“There are groups out there intent on mass destruction” warned Cirincione of terrorist groups who seek nuclear weaponry.

Despite the dire tone of some observers, Mellisa Flemming at the IAEA, cautions against jumping to such frightening conclusions. She says the technology involved in making a nuclear weapon may be beyond the capabilities of a terrorist network.

“Whether terrorists, without the backing of a country, could make use of the goods on offer is questionable” said Flemming.

She notes that the centrifuge parts and designs of the kind that Khan was selling, require a tremendous amount of money and expertise to master. Further, there is the question of the nuclear material itself.

“Nuclear material is the required ingredient, and it does leave trails” insisting “there is no evidence of non-state actors who were customers” said Flemming.

But, that doesn’t dispel concerns expressed by some US political leaders, including a New York congresswoman who points out a number of potential avenues that nuclear technology or weapons could take and arrive in troubling situations.

“It would be na├»ve and dangerous to assume that terrorists are incapable of acquiring nuclear materials or weapons, whether from a rouge nation, or on the black market, or by theft” said New York Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez.

She believes that U.S. officials should be in direct contact with Pakistani scientists, especially those associated with Khan, so that his complete trail of proliferation is uncovered.

“The more we know about this black market network, the more likely we are to prevent nuclear material from falling into the wrong hands” said Congresswoman Velazquez.

Pakistani officials stress that the Khan nuclear network has been completely destroyed and that the government has been offering full details of the exposed trail of proliferation.

“The government of Pakistan has completely broken the ring of A.Q. Khan’s networkand Pakistan has provided all details to the IAEA” according to Haroon Shaukat, Consul General of the Pakistani Embassy in New York.

The IAEA said Pakistan has been cooperating and providing valuable information regarding the apparently extensive Khan Black market network.

“We are presently working out modalities with them to get more information” said Flemming. But, when considering whether or not the United States' allied relationship with Pakistan placed Washington in a position to exert greater pressure on the Pakistani government regarding direct access to Khan and his associates, Flemming was somewhat ambivalent.

“We are not in a position to judge US policy on this issue.”

Perhaps one of the more puzzling events in the Khan tale was the scientist's rapid pardon by President Pervaz Musharaf. Since the network's exposure and disruption, Khan has been under house arrest, and not available for any sort of questioning from officials outside of Pakistan.

Pakistani government reaction to the exposure of the Khan network concerns proliferation experts who suspect Pakistani government or military complicity in the distribution network.

“The confession and quick pardon of Khan was staged” said Joe Cirincione at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Cirincione says US officials have not been able to question Khan directly because of the instable nature of internal politics in Pakistan.

He goes on to say that the “staged confession” and the house arrest is part of a greater cover-up meant to protect higher up military officials.

“It is inconceivable that this was a private citizen affair” and that the nuclear proliferation conducted by Khan “could not have been done without the knowledge of military and political officials” said Cirincione. “There was a deal for Khan to take the blame in public, and that’s why we saw the fastest pardon since Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon.”

Khan’s network of proliferation was vast. It involved the shipping of materials through a large distribution network that reached far beyond clandestine labs. In spite of those concerns, the State Department, at least publicly, has not aggressively pursued any investigation of offical Pakistan’s alleged complicity.

Further, Cirincione’s sees US Government reaction to the Khan network as evidence that nuclear proliferation is a short sighted, and a secondary concern of the State Department in the greater war on terror.

Still, the State Department implies that much is being done behind the scenes to obtain more vital information about the nuts and bolts of the network.

“It is more fruitful for the United States to work through diplomatic channels with Pakistani officials in the matter of the Khan black market network” according to Sara Styker, Asia Expert at the State Department.

According to the State Department’s Stryker, “the cooperation US officials have received from Pakistani officials has helped us in eliciting vital information” and that “we are now focused on results”. Stryker points to success in Libya, as evidence that the information provided by Pakistan has been helpful in disarming dangerous nations and stopping nuclear proliferation. She says she understands concerns like those expressed by Cirincione, but notes that Khan is under house arrest, and out of the proliferation business.

Further,there are concerns about potential Pakistani public reaction to what might be seen as American intervention. As President Musharaf told the Washington Post, allowing outsiders access to Dr. Khan would ignite anger among Pakistanis who regard Khan as a sort of folk hero- for equalizing Pakistan's nuclear capabilities with Inida.

Joe Cirincione still raises troubling concerns.

“The Bush administration apparently believes the Pakistanis have done all they can do” and “I take that as a very troubling sign that we are not doing all that we should be doing.”

Cirincione says that “while the Bush administration was focused on the Axis of Evil, we should have been paying attention to our ally, Pakistan.”

“If it was not for Pakistan, Iran would not have nuclear technology now, the same holds true for Lybia, maybe others,” said Cirincione. He argues that the US placed other security issues, including President Musharaf’s stability, above our own real security issues. “We’ve placed nuclear proliferation second” and “that has come back to haunt us in the past, and I think it will again this time”.

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