Monday, March 06, 2006

Containing Pakistani Proliferation

In my last post here I stated that that the Pakistanis would ask for a clean slate with regards to proliferation matters and that the Americans would ask for credible assurances with regards to proliferation in return.

In his summary of the discussions between Bush and Musharraf on nuclear matters, B. Raman writes,

It is learnt that when Musharraf urged Mr. Bush to agree to civilian nuclear energy co-operation with Pakistan, Mr. Bush told him that so long as the entire truth regarding the role of A. Q. Khan and his associates in nuclear weapon proliferation and their suspected contacts with Iraq and Al Qaeda was not established to the satisfaction of the American public and the international community, the question of any US-Pakistan co-operation in the field of civilian nuclear energy just did not arise.


He reportedly said that while the IAEA had considerable information on A. Q. Khan's role with regard to Libya and Iran, the picture is incomplete with regard to North Korea, his contacts with the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq and with Al Qaeda. In this connection, he also referred to the recent warning of bin Laden about another terrorist strike in the US homeland being planned by Al Qaeda.

The summary then goes on to discuss how the US and Pakistan are working out ways to ensure that A Q Khan is adequately interrogated to US satisfaction without appearing to make the Pakistanis lose face.

There is also considerable discussion in the lay press about high-technology defence deals and sales to Pakistan.

The process alluded to in my earlier post - of meeting Pakistani needs has begun. Desensitization of the A Q Khan issue is a logical first step in that regard. However I do feel there is need for a cautionary note: excessive movement on the A Q Khan front will only invite instability in Pakistani and American ties and incentivize unpredictable behavior among Pakistanis.

A relatively simple scenario which could cause instability would one in which A Q Khan suddenly disappears. The Pakistanis would stand accused by the Americans of having reduced America's chances of interrogating him and Islamist groups would suggest that Gen. Musharraf had handed over A Q Khan to the Americans. The enraged Islamist groups could seize this as a signal to oust President Musharraf and civil unrest would push Pakistan very close to tipping point. Irrespective of whether the Islamists succeed - the pain to Pakistan from such unrest would be tremendous.

It is perhaps in Pakistan's best interests to ensure that A Q Khan remains in plain sight.


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