AQ is playing politics —Ejaz Haider

What Dr Khan is doing is a well thought-out strategy to besmear the army through Mr Musharraf, now the favourite whipping boy of Pakistanis of all hues and colour

Dr AQ Khan’s Friday interview first to Associated Press and then to two TV channels highlights an unfortunate aspect of Pakistani politics: he wants to hit back at General (retd) Pervez Musharraf and, in doing so, is prepared to even compromise Pakistan’s national security. Consider.

To AP he reportedly said that “North Korea received centrifuges from Pakistan in a 2000 shipment supervised by the army during the rule of President Pervez Musharraf”. “It was a North Korean plane, and the army had complete knowledge about it and the equipment,” Khan said. “It must have gone with his (Musharraf’s) consent.”

Later, talking to two TV channels, Dr Khan said the US news agency had twisted his statement.

“I never said or implied that the army supervised any shipment to North Korea,” Khan said, adding that it was Musharraf who mentioned the incident in his book, “In the Line of Fire”. According to Dr Khan, if the shipment was made as Musharraf says, then how could an army chief be unaware of the transfer?

There are two things here. One, why did Dr Khan choose to ignore the period of his activities pre-this incident in 2000 when Pakistan had set up a National Command Authority with SPD (Strategic Plans Division) as its secretariat?

Two, why has he chosen to distort the version given by Mr Musharraf in his book since he told the channels that he never said the army had supervised the shipment and that it was Mr Musharraf who actually talked about such a shipment?

Let’s take the second first.

Dr Khan finds mention in Mr Musharraf’s book on pages 177, 284-94 and 332. The known details of Dr Khan’s activities are given from page 284 through 294. Mr Musharraf writes that immediately after becoming the army chief, “One of my earliest recommendations to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was to bring our strategic organisations and nuclear development under custodial controls”.

This was followed by a “presentation at the GHQ, and I even submitted a written plan calling for a National Command Authority…”. Mr Sharif apparently did not show much interest in the idea of harmonising and coordinating the working of several scientific organisations and establishing a decision chain for the functioning of strategic forces.

However, Pakistan did informally put in place a system in early 1999 though the formal setting came in February 2000, three years before India actually put in place its Nuclear Command Authority.

It is at this point, after an elaborate system was put in place, that, according to Mr Musharraf, “we…began to get some more information, though sketchy, about AQ’s hidden activities over the preceding months and years”.

The incident Dr Khan has hinted at comes in the last paragraph on page 287 and goes on to page 288.

“We were once informed that a chartered aircraft going to North Korea for conventional missiles were also going to carry some ‘irregular’ cargo on his behalf. The source could not tell us exactly what the cargo was, but we were suspicious. We organised a discreet raid and searched the aircraft before its departure but unfortunately found nothing. Later, we were told that AQ’s people had been tipped off and the suspected cargo had not been loaded”.

It should be clear from Mr Musharraf’s account that nothing was found from the aircraft; two, security was tipped off about ‘irregular cargo’ within a shipment of conventional missiles. So, Dr Khan’s statement that Mr Musharraf has already mentioned the incident is a distortion of this version.

Interestingly, Dr Khan has made no mention of the other incident about the plane that was supposed to originate from a third country to Islamabad and make two stopovers in Iran. The plane ultimately never came to Pakistan because Mr Musharraf claims that as army chief he refused to allow the stopovers in Iran.

What is most amusing is that Dr Khan, in trying to distort the issue with reference to Mr Musharraf’s book, ended up confessing on a programme on Dawn News that old P1 centrifuges were being shipped to North Korea from the laboratory of which he was in charge and that he knew about it. To the question whether he (Dr Khan) knew about such shipments, he said yes!

In a recent television programme, former DG ISI Hameed Gul also claimed that he had noticed suspicious activities in the AQ Khan set-up during his time at the agency.

It is also interesting that he has denied the contents of the AP story and gone on to say that since the army was supervising these shipments and since Mr Musharraf was the army chief, “it must have gone with his (Musharraf’s) consent”.

Is Dr Khan now prepared to make conjectures on such a sensitive issue to strike back at Mr Musharraf?

Dr Khan was running Kahuta for many years; he gave Pakistan the centrifuge technology. Unlike the Israeli programme which was run by the trio of Prime Minister Ben Gurion, Shimon Peres, and Ernst Bergman (Bergman was later removed from his post), Dr Khan was all three rolled into one. Much before Mr Musharraf came on the scene, Dr Khan sat Zeus-like over Pakistan’s nuclear programme.

His wealth was known but the sources have only recently come to be known — he could not have gotten all his properties and other assets on a government salary, however high.

Talking to TV channels, Dr Khan made a Freudian slip. He said that he was unwell, had been confined and that the government had reneged on its deal with him. “My wife is a foreigner; she said to me that I have to do something about it. I cannot be treated like this [listing a number of physical ailments].”

It should be clear that Dr Khan, with an eye on the political scene, has decided to pull Mr Musharraf in and present him as a partner-in-crime. In doing that, he also has to necessarily drag in the army. Some right-of-centre commentators have already let slip in the fact that back channel negotiations are going on and that this issue should be handled with care. That only means that what Dr Khan is doing is a well thought-out strategy to besmear the army through Mr Musharraf, now the favourite whipping boy of Pakistanis of all hues and colour.

Add to that the fact that Dr Khan knows the sensitivity of the issue and also knows that by doing what he has set out to do, he will raise his bargaining position with all concerned. He wants to get off the hook by upping the ante on the issue.

The loser in all this will be the country.

Ejaz Haider is Consulting Editor of The Friday Times and Op-Ed Editor of Daily Times. He can be reached at sapper@dailytimes.com.pk

Source: Daily Times, 6/7/2008

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