Father of Pakistan�s Green Atomic bomb and his military aid in political hot water

By A.H. Jaffor Ullah


The architect of Pakistan�s Islamic Atom bomb, Dr. Abdul Qader Khan, and one of his top aids, General Mirza Aslam Beg, are now in proverbial political hot water. Contrast this news with that of the architect of India�s Saffron Atom bomb, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, who is in limelight being selected in July 2002 by BJP as the president of the Republic of India. Both of them gave leadership to their respective nation�s nuclear bomb-making effort in the 1980s and 1990s, which had culminated in successful testing of the nukes in May and June of 1998. Both of these highly accomplished men were born in 1930s in India, Kalam in Rameshwaram, Tamil Nadu and Khan in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, but their career path took a sharp turn. While Dr. Kalam became the ceremonial president of India, his counterpart in Pakistan, Dr. Qadeer Khan did not fare that well. Mr. Khan and his military aid, Gen. M. Aslam Beg are about to be prosecuted under Pakistan�s �Official Secrets Act� when that nation�s investigators unearthed some very damaging evidences that point out the duo�s involvement in selling nuclear secrets to Iran during 1980s. The Wall Street Journal on January 26, 2004 published an article on Dr. Khan and Gen. Beg�s complicity to sell Pakistan�s one of the top secrets to a neighboring Islamic nation. A senior Pakistani official was quoted by the journal to be the source of this revelation.

The authorities in Pakistan who are investigating the alleged wrongdoings of Dr. A. Qader Khan now say that they have traced quite a few bank accounts in foreign countries that were used by the Pakistani nuclear scientists Dr. Qader Khan and a fellow scientist, Mohammed Farooq, the WSJ article writes. The authorities in Pakistan believe that the scientists had received payments after passing highly secret documents relating to nuclear technology to Iran and other nations. Under this backdrop, it remains to be seen whether Pakistani President, General Pervez Musharraf, would give the green light to formally charge the scientists by the end of January 2004. The political nature of the case would make the Pakistani President shy away from giving his approval to sue the nation�s top nuclear scientist. Besides, Dr. Qader Khan has strong ties to Islamists in Pakistan many of who dislike General Musharraf for supporting the Bush Administration in rounding up al-Qaeda jihadists allover Pakistan. Is it possible for the Musharraf Administration to issue an arrest warrant for Dr. Qader Khan, Mr. M. Farooq, and General Aslam Beg because they had broken country�s �Official Secret Act�? We have to wait and see. General Musharraf may not take a risk lest his move may alienate a large section of Pakistanis comprising of clergies, jihadists, and patriots who abhor India for myriad reasons. Dr. Qader Khan is considered a hero and he plays a role model in Pakistan. Therefore, it could be a risky venture to arrest and humiliate him.

General Pervez Musharraf has acted to "rein in Islamist extremists,� as pointed out in the WSJ article in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in America. The Islamists may label the arrests of Dr. Khan and his associates as betrayal by the Pakistani president. Because of a large number of Pakistanis who ardently support Dr. Qader Khan, hundreds of Muslim hardliners had gathered in the capital city of Islamabad denouncing the government�s move to question the nuclear scientist and his aides. The WSJ article wrote, "The prosecution of such prominent figures may prove embarrassing to the military, long Pakistan�s most powerful institution and one that brought Gen. Musharraf to power. The army has overseen Pakistan�s nuclear program for decades."

It is true that Pakistani government had expressed in the 1970s to undertake a mission to make nuclear bombs. The late Pakistani President Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto had once proclaimed that Pakistan ought to make nuclear bomb even if it means eating grass. This famous utterance by Bhutto came in the wake of India�s experimental detonation of atomic device in May 1974 in Pokhran, Rajasthan, during Mrs. Indira Gandhi�s time. Pakistani military always wished to have their Islamic nuclear bomb in their possession. It became a prestige issue. Dr. Qader Khan � the Dr. Strangelove of Pakistan � was recruited to complete the job who knew how to enrich uranium by centrifugation. He learnt this job while he was in Germany in the 1960s. Because of his pivotal role in making Pakistan a member of the nuclear club, Mr. Qader Khan has received many accolades and encomium from his countrymen. He held the position of Pakistan�s main nuclear facility for 26 years. In 2002, he was appointed an adviser to the government of General Musharraf. Because of his stature, the authorities did not detain him. However, he was asked not to leave the capital.

The investigation of Dr. Qader Khan and his associates is not a homebrewed exercise. In November 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) made the accusation that Pakistani scientists in the 1980s had helped Iran develop centrifuges to enrich the purity of uranium without which one cannot make any nuclear bomb. Dr. Qader Khan has expertise in this crucial area of nuclear bomb making. In the past the IAEA also have accused Pakistan of providing such crucial information to other rogue nations such as North Korea and Libya.

According to the WSJ article the Bush Administration has been urging General Musharraf for the last two years to investigate how Pakistani nuclear scientists passed top-secret nuclear information to other nations. However, because of the urgency to apprehend al-Qaeda soldiers in Pakistan the Bush Administration did not press hard this issue to Gen. Musharraf�s regime. However, because of the events of last two months in which two assassination attempts have been made against Musharraf�s life, the General has finally changed his policy. He is now determined more than ever to go after the Islamists in Pakistan. His administration also wanted to know if there are any connections between the Pakistani nuclear scientists and the government of Iran and Libya. Whatever General Musharraf does with Dr. Qader Khan and his aid vis-�-vis selling of nuclear secrets to rogue nations, he does not like to come out as a stooge of Mr. Bush. An investigation to look into the matter of selling Pakistan�s nuclear secrets by Dr. Khan may be interpreted by his countrymen as a mini war against corruption by the government officials. In that way, the reputation of Dr. Khan will be tarnished. The corruption charge levied against Dr. Khan and his two associates if found to be valid, will confer General Musharraf the title of a warrior against rampant state-level corruption. This image may play out very well in Pakistan and strengthen Musharraf�s foothold into Pakistani politics.

In his defense, General Musharraf said on January 23, 2004, that his administration is not acting at the behest of the U.S. or any other nation. He played the "patriotism" card rather well when he mentioned that he vowed to prosecute anyone found guilty of selling state�s secret. According to the WSJ article, Musharraf said in Davos, Switzerland, "We will sort out everyone who is involved. [Our nuclear assets] are in extremely safe hands. We have ensured rings of security measures around that, especially since I took over in 1999."

What will happen to the retired Army General Aslam Beg, who was one of the associates of Dr. Khan, is an open question. For one thing, Gen. Beg is quite well known for his anti-American rhetoric. He served as Pakistan�s army chief from 1988 through 1991. The transaction of nuclear secrets and money transfer took place at the time. It was reported earlier that the army chief came to meet the Mr. Nawaz Sharif, who General Musharraf deposed in October 1999 coup, in January 1991 when Sharif was the PM for the first time to discuss a proposal to sell nuclear technology to Iran for billions of dollars. General Aslam Beg then proposed that the money received from Iran could underwrite Pakistan�s defense-budget for the next 10 years. The General now says that he did not do anything wrong.

The Pakistani ex-nuclear chief, Dr. Qader Khan, now told the investigators that he cooperated with Iran on nuclear technologies that were authorized by Pakistan�s top military commander. Dr. Qader Khan is known for his polemics. He is a staunch nationalist and holds strong views against West vis-�-vis theirs anti-Islamic views. The wild card in this game is Pakistan�s tens and thousands of Madrassah graduates and clerics. Will they rally for Dr. Qader Khan in the event he is arrested, put in a trial, and found guilty? Stay tuned for the next episode of this exciting development in Islamabad. You never can tell what is in store for General Pervez Musharraf. In the meantime Dr. Abdul Kalam, the President of India who was Dr. Khan�s counterpart in India must be watching all these new developments with an eager eye. By the stroke of a luck while he became the ceremonial President of India, his counterpart in Pakistan fell from grace by becoming an anti-West critic and staunch Islamist with his strident remarks. At this juncture, Dr. Qader Khan fits the following description, which was composed by Lord Byron: "He stood a stranger in this breathing world, an erring spirit from another hurled; a thing of dark imaginings."


A. H. Jaffor Ullah, a columnist and researcher, writes from New Orleans, USA


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