Questions that must not be ignored-Shireen M Mazari

When those who are meant to protect the ordinary citizen cannot protect themselves, the country has indeed plummeted into a dark abyss. The poor police who died at the hands of a suicide bomber will not be remembered beyond the useless homilies of the morally bankrupt ruling elite of this country. Why are all our ruling elites destined to mess up? One cannot forget the bungled-up Lal Masjid operation last year when the state first allowed the issue to fester and its writ to be openly challenged as fortifications and fighters assembled inside the area and took the law into their own hands. Then as the government prepared for action, it clumsily shifted the context of the problem by referring to it as a hostage crisis just before it used massive force to end it all. Of course, the excessive force that was finally used only created more issues and myths and Lal Masjid became a rallying cry for all those opposed to the Musharraf government – from the liberals like Aitzaz Ahsan to the extreme right religious forces and all groupings in-between.

But the blunder is not unique to the Musharraf regime. A new government is in place, with a godfather who exercises total power with no accountability or responsibility and the blunders continue – more so as the drift in state affairs becomes more palpable and the enemies strike where they can. For how long will the present holders of power continue to shift all blame on their predecessors?

Coming back to the Lal Masjid issue, as the interior boss Rehman Malik continues to claim that there was no security lapse on July 6, the major question that arises is why the conference was allowed to be held in the centre of one of the most populous areas of the capital? Surely a token group could have come to the site to pay their respects to the dead, while the conference could have been held in an isolated part of the capital or on its fringes. Why jeopardise the lives of so many simply to appease a few?

Who took the decision to allow this conference to be held in the heart of the capital? In any civilised state and society, responsibility should have been accepted at the top with the interior advisor offering his resignation in view of his failure to protect the lives not only of ordinary citizens but also the security personnel, and especially with the Karachi blasts following a day later. That would have been the honourable thing to do but that really begs another question about our ruling elites!

As for the Karachi blasts, clearly they were intended to terrorise the population and cause panic and confusion. Is it a mere coincidence that these blasts came in the immediate wake of the terrorist attack outside the Indian embassy in Kabul? Should our security personnel not have been more aware and prepared for such a contingency? Or has our cooperation with the US on intelligence reduced our human intelligence abilities to their abysmal levels?

Is it a mere coincidence that both at the centre and in Sindh, government and power are now separate with the latter being exercised outside of the former? That there is a drift cannot be denied and Pakistan’s enemies are capitalising on it, led by US organisations and the media. Stratfor released a report on July 7 declaring that the situation was spinning out of control in Pakistan – clearly encouraging external intervention by the US into Pakistan.

The report comes at a time when the country was reeling from the damaging Dr A Q Khan versus the establishment controversies. So much deliberate misinformation has been spread on the whole Dr Khan issue that some facts need to be restated.

First, Dr Khan revealed no nuclear secrets of Pakistan since our programme itself was acquired clandestinely and uranium enrichment technology was not our secret! So it serves no purpose to equate him with Israel’s Vanunu who was opposed to Israel’s nuclear programme and sought to inform the world about this programme and how it was developed and what was its present status. Dr Khan’s contribution to the nuclear programme was crucial in terms of bringing in uranium enrichment technology and his position is more akin to American nuclear scientist Oppenheimer who was stripped of his security clearance in 1953 by the US AEC on charges of being a communist and giving information to the Soviet Union. In 1963 an effort was made to reinstate him but by then the persecution had taken a toll on his health.

So the question is, did any Pakistani reveal the country’s nuclear secrets to external actors? The nearest one gets to point a finger here is at the state itself which voluntarily sent its old centrifuges to the IAEA. As stated in my column on the issue at that time, this effectively meant that our weapon design could be ascertained.

An even more crucial question that remains at the heart of the whole Dr Khan issue is why is he being penalised? What exactly was his crime? Proliferation? India proliferated to Iraq and Iran when it signed nuclear cooperation agreements with them in 1974 and 1975 respectively. In fact, there is a whole record of India’s proliferation record that no one wants to take up or talk about including, mysteriously, our Foreign Ministry? Ironically, while our establishment is busy fighting Dr Khan, India is all set to get country specific concessions from the IAEA and the NSG courtesy the US and our state’s ineptitude.

Of course, the US, UK and France have all been proliferating to Israel with impunity – and the US continues to do so even today – and all these states are parties to the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and members of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG). Pakistan, on the other hand, is neither a member of the NPT nor of the NSG, so which law did Dr Khan break? Now that our Export Control Laws and NCA Ordinance are in place, the scenario has altered but legally what is Dr Khan being punished for? For making money by selling scientific information? If that be the case then if the NRO can dry clean all our corrupt politicians, why should a national hero – and he truly is – be punished for his human weaknesses?

If the SPD feels Dr Khan’s utterances have damaged the country, why did it keep quiet when some of its own personnel on retirement immediately proceeded to the US and made some highly damaging remarks relating to our nuclear programme? And have revelations made in books by serving leaders been any less damaging? And what about the bizarre revelations by an Indian journalist in his book regarding the late Mohtarma Benazir’s visit to North Korea? Why is the state not pursuing legal action on that count, if as the PPP has claimed, these revelations are false? The big question is whether anyone in power in Pakistan has ever kept their silence in the larger interest of the country, even when they are not being pushed against a wall and abused as Dr Khan has been? The Official Secrets Act is a joke here as far as the ruling elite is concerned.

Finally, questions that continue to haunt in the North Korean context. Why would this country want centrifuges when it adopted the plutonium route for its nuclear weapons programme? Surely it would have been more interested in money for some military hardware?

Now our government is thinking of making public some information regarding the “Khan proliferation network”. This would be a most stupid and suicidal move – as inane as our earlier self-confessions – as it would harm Pakistan further, aid our detractors, while not undermining the majority of Pakistanis’ belief in Dr Khan as a hero. But then so far the state has never shown much wisdom in terms of safeguarding its national interests. Nothing has changed in that direction to date.

The writer is a defence analyst. Email: callstr@hotmail.com
The News, 9/7/2008

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