Khan: it’s about Iran
by Sandhya Jain on 13 Oct 2009 2 Comments

Shyam Bhatia’s memorable ‘Goodbye Shehzadi,’ after former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in December 2007, revealed her confiding in 2003 that she personally delivered designs for making a nuclear bomb to North Korea in 1993, in exchange for missile technology. Her livid political heirs harangued both author and publisher; Simon Henderson’s revelations in Sunday Times (20 September 2009) give Bhatia the last laugh.

Henderson had AQ Khan’s 10 December 2003 ‘insurance’ letter since 2007, so the story is in the timing of his exposure. Pakistan’s nuclear journey has been carefully monitored, perhaps mentored, by America from its inception, and used to Washington’s advantage. A former Dutch prime minister alleged that the CIA had intervened to prevent action against Pakistani master proliferator AQ Khan.

Remember the Pressler Amendment of 1984? It linked continued US aid and military sales to Pakistan to Presidential certification that Islamabad does not possess a nuclear explosive device, and that new aid ‘will reduce significantly the risk’ of its possessing one. Successive American Presidents routinely gave this certificate to Congress, though aware of Islamabad’s activities.

In the early 1980’s, reports surfaced of Pakistan obtaining a pre-tested atomic bomb design and bomb-grade enriched uranium from China. It imported components of inverters used in gas centrifuge enrichment activities, via Canada; and zirconium for nuclear fuel cladding. By 1983, America was aware of the Kahuta enriched uranium facility.

Pakistan’s nuclear prowess grew in concert with media leaks about its ability to acquire components and test specific stages of the nuclear cycle. In 1986, when US intelligence claimed Pakistan had weapons-grade material, Gen. Zia affirmed that when Pakistan acquired the technology, “the Islamic world will possess it with us.” Violations of US Nuclear Export Control grew according to Islamabad’s needs; West Germany and Switzerland seized nuclear equipment and uranium enrichment blueprints en route to Pakistan in 1987; by 1989 America knew Islamabad was modifying F-16 aircraft for nuclear delivery purposes.

In 1990, first reports came of Islamabad’s nuclear cooperation with Iran. In 1991, Pakistan bought nuclear-capable M-11 missiles from China. Every nuclear-relevant acquisition was monitored till Pakistan’s official explosions of 1998 made the programme public. Turkey’s role in helping Pakistan throughout was ignored. The Reagan and Bush administrations willfully violated the Pressler Amendment and US nuclear non-proliferation laws. Pakistani scientists were regularly invited to ‘Detonation symposiums’ hosted by American nuclear weapon laboratories!

Throughout, American intelligence made claims about Iraq’s nuclear programme, as false as the WMDs used as the horrendous invasion of that country. North Korea is not yet on Washington’s actionable radar; Libya has already prostrated before America. Interestingly, US intelligence nowhere brings on record the Saudi role in bankrolling Pakistan’s nuclear programme, conceived as an ‘Islamic Bomb’ by its initiator, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. We are also clueless if Pakistan has shared nuclear devices with its chief patron.

That leaves Iran – a country the White House is determined to chastise, partly to compensate certain defeat in Afghanistan and Pakistan; partly to avenge the ouster of Shah Reza Pehlavi and nationalisation of the oil industry; and certainly to avert the proposed transition of the oil trade to the Euro. The Henderson letter says AQ Khan gave Iran the suppliers list. It is a small detail that all nuclear suppliers are Western (Germany, Turkey, United Kingdom, Switzerland, The Netherlands), who know why their products are being purchased.

Is Iran guilty of illicit activity? Russia, which is building a civilian nuclear power plant near Bushehr, maintains there is no evidence of Tehran violating the NPT regime. IAEA felt the same. More pertinently, contrary to President Obama’s claim on Sept. 25 that Iran has a “secret nuclear facility” which can produce a bomb; Iran had informed IAEA on Sept. 21 that a new nuclear facility was under construction at Qom.

Iran thus fulfilled its obligations under the safeguards agreement; IAEA is due to inspect the facility on Oct. 25, and will thereafter monitor the nuclear material produced therein to ensure it is not diverted to a weapons programme. All this makes Mr. Obama’s false alarm look like a replay of the discredited Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction.”

In sharp contrast to his intolerance of the Iranian nuclear programme – alleged by some to have active Russian complicity – President Obama has reputedly reaffirmed the 1969 secret understanding which allows Israel to keep a nuclear arsenal. The secret accord, sealed when he hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House earlier in May, pledges not to pressurise Israel to disclose its nuclear weapons or sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, under which Tel Aviv would have to surrender an estimated several hundred nuclear bombs. Obama critics argue this could hamper US efforts to bring the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty into force.

A major cause of American anger is Teheran’s determination to control Shia-majority Iraq. Iran has always been a regional power; historically the Sassanians controlled Mesopotamia and fought the Romans and Byzantines. Later, the Sunni Ottoman Turks were checkmated by the Persian Shia Safavids.

Iran is well placed to confront Western hegemony if supported by Russia, China and India. Currently India is unwilling to face Washington; it voted against Iran in the IAEA to facilitate the undesirable civilian nuclear deal. But with America trying to exert new pressures to operationalise the deal, New Delhi should stand by Iran. While India has legitimate security concerns over the stalled Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline which Washington wants scrapped, the inclusion of China could make it worthwhile.

Observers feel an American-approved Israeli strike on Iran seems imminent in coming months. This will drag America into the war in order to keep the Strait of Hormuz open for free flow of oil (about 40 percent of all seaborne traded oil, headed for the US, Western Europe, Asia and Japan), and protect America from the charge of having initiated yet another costly, and most probably futile, war.

Israel has urged America to hasten delivery of the 15-ton super bunker-buster bomb (GBU-57A/B) Massive Ordinance Penetrator which can reach a depth of 60.09 meters underground before exploding. Top defense agencies are racing to adapt the bay of a B2a Stealth bomber to carry and deliver the bomb, and make all available by end December or January 2010.

The author is Editor

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