As the first contingent of U.N. weapons inspectors arrived in Iraq last November, U.S. government sources leaked a disturbing story about one of our key “allies” in the War on Terror. Pakistan apparently has been helping North Korea with her nuclear-weapons program for years, in return for missile technology that would strengthen her own hand against India. According to the New York Times, the illicit relationship “now appears much deeper and more dangerous than the United States and its Asian allies first suspected.” Kim Jong Il’s regime provided its partners in Islamabad with the missile parts they need to build a nuclear arsenal capable of reaching every strategic site in India, while, in return, Pakistan provided Pyongyang with the designs for gas centrifuges and much of the machinery it needs to make enriched uranium for its nuclear-weapons project, which would threaten South Korea, Japan, and 100,000 American troops in the region.
The disclosure about Islamabad’s nuclear ties to Pyongyang came in the wake of an unclassified CIA analysis stating that North Korea could now build several plutonium bombs and add one every year until about 2005. By the middle of the decade, she could produce enough plutonium to make up to 50 bombs per year. This estimate does not include additional bombs that could be made under Pyongyang’s covert uranium-enrichment program, which could begin producing fuel enough for up to two uranium bombs per year by 2005. This capacity is the direct result of Pakistan providing North Korea with key designs. The CIA report also disclosed that, last July, U.S. intelligence detected a Pakistani aircraft taking on a secret cargo of ballistic-missile parts at a North Korean airfield. The shipment was brazen, in full view of American spy satellites, but the mode of transport added insult to injury: The Pakistani plane was an American-built C-130; it belonged to the same U.S.-supplied military machine that General Musharraf had pledged a year ago to use against Al Qaeda.
A week later, it was disclosed that the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program offered Iraq help in building an atomic bomb on the eve of the Gulf War. In a letter seized by the United Nations in 1995 and dated October 6, 1990—but leaked to the AP only last December—Saddam’s secret service wrote to Iraq’s nuclear-weapons department: “We’ve enclosed for you the following proposal from Pakistani scientist, Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, regarding the possibility of helping Iraq establish a project to enrich uranium and manufacture nuclear weapons.” According to the letter, the Iraqis were told by a middleman that Khan was “prepared to give us project designs for nuclear bombs.” The middleman would “ensure any requirements of materials from Western European companies, via a company he owns in Dubai” (in the United Arab Emirates). In a report to the Security Council on February 9, 1999, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iraq had received an offer “to provide, for financial reward, assistance and information on nuclear weapons design, weapons-usable nuclear material production and the procurement of critical components and materials.”
The disclosure that Pakistan may have offered to make Saddam’s and North Korea’s nuclear dreams come true even after siding with the United States against the Taliban is not surprising; her nuclear mischief has been known for decades. Still, it is remarkable that, while the Bush administration was ready to go to war with Iraq because of her alleged “weapons of mass destruction” and has put pressure on Kim Jong Il’s regime to abandon its nuclear project, Washington has so far refrained from public discussion of the role of Pakistan in making North Korea’s nuclear program possible.
The reason for such restraint is usually assumed to be the administration’s view that Pakistan is a key player in the War on Terror, but things have simply gone too far. Even before these disclosures, it had become evident that Musharraf would not reverse Pakistan’s adoption of militant Islamic ideology. He has not made peace with India, and he is unwilling to break with the tradition of his predecessors, most notably Gen. Zia-ul-Haq.
In light of the North Korean connection, the Bush administration should keep any future political and economic rewards to Musharraf clearly conditional on his behavior. Pakistan is not a reliable ally of the United States. On the other hand, in at least one respect, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea are natural allies: Both detest the West more than they distrust each other. Their cooperation is possible because both Islam and communism are quasi-religious totalitarian ideologies, just as Islam and Nazism were natural and active allies for a decade before 1945.
This reality is blurred by the fact that, in the aftermath of September 11, General Musharraf allowed the United States to use Pakistani air bases. He garnered praise from President Bush and improved U.S.-Pakistani relations, which had deteriorated since the end of the Cold War. His stage-managed “referendum,” which provided him with a veneer of legality, was quietly overlooked. The United States dropped its economic sanctions (imposed because of Pakistan’s nuclear program), committed up to $600 million in credits and aid, and encouraged the IMF to give Pakistan a substantial loan. The subsequent abduction and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl only temporarily upset General Musharraf’s efforts to portray his country as not beholden to Islamic extremism.
General Musharraf’s army is command-ed by officers whose loyalties are divided at best. They have allowed countless Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters to slip across the border from Afghanistan into Pakistan and to stay out of the U.S. military’s reach. Osama bin Laden himself may be hiding inside Pakistan and enjoying the protection of sympathetic officers. While General Musharraf’s cooperation was helpful to the military campaign in Afghanistan, the Pakistani military was loath to risk firefights with their erstwhile Taliban clients and allies. Musharraf’s government has ordered the release of many Islamic militants detained after September 11, and it has backtracked on its promise to control the Islamic schools that are breeding new terrorists.
General Musharraf fits in with the political tradition of Pakistan since her earliest days. She was the first modern state to be established on openly Islamic principles: Even her name, “Land of the Pure,” implies that only Muslims are true citizens. Always on the verge of bankruptcy, she has, for most of her 55 years of existence, been under military dictatorships. None of her leaders has ever left power voluntarily. Some were executed on trumped-up charges, notably Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. His executioner, Muslim Gen. Zia-ul-Haq, the military dictator of Pakistan for 11 years until 1988, introduced sharia after a bogus referendum. After Zia was killed in a plane crash, Ali Bhutto’s daughter Benazir promised a new dawn for Pakistan; it now appears, however, that she—not one of her military predecessors or successors—initiated the contacts with North Korea that produced the current swap of nuclear technology for missiles.
The Taliban and other Islamic terrorist movements were born of ideas conceived on the battlefields of Afghanistan and spread by Pakistan’s political, military, and religious establishment. These movements enjoyed the support of the Pakistani military-intelligence structures, especially its 40,000-strong Inter-Service Intelligence Agency (ISI). During the 2001 U.S. war in Afghanistan, U.S. intelligence admitted to having no idea “which side of the street they’re playing on,” an opinion echoed by former ISI chief Hamid Gula vociferous defender of the Taliban—who freely admits that “it is unnatural to expect the ISI to act against what it knows are Pakistan’s best interests”—i.e., helping its Islamic brethren. Pakistan has, for decades, supported terrorism through its Kashmiri surrogates controlled by the ISI. Bombings at the Srinagar legislature and the Delhi parliament, which killed dozens of people and brought two countries to the brink of war last year, were committed by Muslim terrorist groups with Pakistani connections.
The facts surrounding Pakistan’s nuclear program have long been clouded by the denial and the feigned optimism that have characterized Washington’s relations with the Muslim world for decades. A rare exception occurred on June 1, 2001, when Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage expressed concern that the Pakistani nuclear labs—the Khan Research Laboratory and the Pakistan Atomic Energy Agency—might be spreading nuclear technology to North Korea. Pakistani officials denied the charges, and September 11 promptly shifted the scales in their favor. By November 2001, when he came to Islamabad, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld even declared that the Bush administration was not concerned about the potential for misuse of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.
Rumsfeld’s soothing words reflected either political expediency or wishful thinking: He knows that Pakistan tried to evade American scrutiny of her nuclear program for decades—a program that dates back to 1972, following her third war with India. The program was ostensibly peaceful (that is how they all start), with Canada supplying a reactor, heavy water, and a production facility. In 1974, however, Western suppliers embargoed nuclear exports to Pakistan, suspecting her true agenda, and, in 1976, Canada stopped supplying nuclear fuel. The following year, the United States halted economic and military aid over what was by then a full-fledged nuclear-weapons program. In 1979, the United States imposed economic sanctions when Pakistan was caught importing equipment for its uranium-enrichment plant at Kahuta. Arab states, however, came to the rescue. Libya provided funds and access to clandestinely obtained Western European technologies, while Saudi Arabia gave Pakistan money and access to U.S.-made supercomputers.
Long before President Bush’s appeasement in the wake of September 11, the Reagan administration, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, turned a blind eye to Pakistan’s transgressions, lifted sanctions, and gave her a lot of money. By 1983, the CIA suspected that China had supplied Pakistan with a bomb design. Pakistan subsequently made cores for several nuclear weapons and completed a 40-megawatt heavy-water reactor that provided a source of plutonium-bearing spent fuel that was not subjected to international inspections. On May 28, 1998, Pakistan detonated a string of nuclear devices and became the first Islamic country to join the nuclear club. The jubilant masses poured into the streets of Pakistan to cheer the news, shouting “Allahu Akbar!” and carrying models of Pakistan’s nuclear missile labeled “Islamic bomb.” At Friday prayers, the mullahs applauded the tests as a “triumph for Islam.”
The question that has vexed the U.S. intelligence community ever since is not whether there will be a nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India, but what will happen if some of Pakistan’s assets—two-dozen warheads, not counting fissionable material—fall into the wrong hands. They could be stolen by officers or renegade scientists sympathetic to the extremists and used as crude terror devices. In 2001, U.S. intelligence officers were alarmed by the disclosure that two retired Pakistani nuclear scientists had connections to the Taliban. Both men, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudry Abdul Majid, spent their careers at the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, working on weapons-related projects. Designing a simple device is not difficult for such experts if the fuel is at hand. Even a crude “suitcase” weapon could kill thousands of people and render a large city uninhabitable for years.
As an avowedly Muslim state, Pakistan suffers from the many defects inherent in her origins, including underdevelopment, illiteracy, oppression, and poverty. As long as the country’s Islamic character is explicitly upheld, Pakistan cannot develop an efficient economy or build a civilized polity. As long as she is officially designated an “Islamic Republic,” she will remain a country in which girls as young as five are auctioned off to the highest bidder. As Pakistani journalist Najum Mushtaq points out, “In official as well as public parlance, [the] ideology of Pakistan and Islamic ideology are interchangeable phrases.”
The U.S. policy of undue reliance on General Musharraf—who is guilty of seeking and spreading real weapons of mass destruction and is evidently lukewarm about clamping down on Islamic extremism—should be reassessed. It may be necessary for the United States to deal with him for now, lest someone even less palatable take his place, but he must, at least, be read the riot act and kept on a very short leash. He will obey, as he has nowhere else to go, because his Libyan and Saudi bankrollers are rightly squeamish about illicit deals in these turbulent times. It would be folly, however, to pretend that he is—or can ever be—America’s reliable and trusted ally.