Pakistan and the nuclear bomb
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Before 9/11, U.S. opposition to the Pakistani nuclear bomb included sanctions and public declarations. Why has the U.S. accepted the Pakistani bomb now? According to our guest, the Bush administration has divided the world between countries that are with us, and thus allowed nuclear weapons, and countries who are against us and are not allowed to even enrich uranium for power, and certainly not for weapons. International law doesn’t seem to count much. We are joined by Pulitzer prize-nominated author and journalist Jonathan Schell in New York. Jonathan, on television recently we’ve seen a lot of talk about the Pakistani bomb, and is it secure, is it not secure. But there’s very little discussion about how Pakistan got the bomb and why America seems to be accepting the fact that it has one now. What do you make of all this?
JONATHAN SCHELL, AUTHOR, ‘THE 7TH DECADE: THE NEW SHAPE OF NUCLEAR DANGER’: Well, Pakistan got the bomb through the agency of one A. Q. Khan, famous for his proliferation activities. What happened was that he was a metallurgist working in Holland at a European facility for creating enriched uranium. He stole the secrets from that facility—it’s called URENCO—brought them to Pakistan, and was put in charge of the program there for enriching uranium. And that’s the story of how Pakistan got the bomb. But A. Q. Khan didn’t stop with just giving it to Pakistan. He took those same facilities that he developed and contacts internationally that he was using for parts and materials and so forth, and went into business sort of for himself to found what was a kind of a clandestine international corporation of selling nuclear weapon materials for profit.
JAY: There is information that has been revealed through various investigative journalists that both the Reagan administration and more recently the Bush administration, perhaps to some extent Clinton, certainly knew about a lot of his activities and then kind of turned a blind eye.
SCHELL: Well, that’s absolutely true, and this is a fact of history that’s been recorded by some of the people in the CIA who were seeking to call a halt to the A. Q. Khan operations. But the fact was that it was the policy of the United States in that period to befriend and be helpful to Pakistan, which at the time was assisting U.S. efforts to fund the Mujahideen in Afghanistan in the period of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
JAY: So this idea that if you’re with us, you can have a bomb goes back even into Reagan. But during the time of the Bush administration, when Bush came into office there were in fact sanctions in place against Pakistan, and certainly the public posturing was against the Pakistani bomb. We haven’t heard much of that since 9/11.
SCHELL: Well, the key event there was of course 9/11. And at that time it happened that the head of the Pakistani intelligence, one Mahmoud Ahmad, was in Washington. He was promptly summoned over to the State Department, where Richard Armitage read him the riot act and told him that he had to be either 100% with us or 100% against us.
JAY: Musharraf writes in his memoirs, I think the threat was, if you’re against us we’ll bomb you into the Stone Age.
SCHELL: Well, it’s very interesting, because just recently there’s been an op-ed in The New York Times by Frederick Kagan and Michael O. Hanlon, two hawkish gentlemen, who are suggesting that in the current situation of the breakdown of the Pakistani state that the United States might have to intervene militarily again in order to get control of Pakistan’s nuclear facilities.
JAY: There’s quite a powerful reaction to that from the Pakistani military, who I think said, we have the potential of retaliating. It was virtually a shot across the bow of the U.S. for even speaking that way.
SCHELL: Yes. And I think it shows, really, the sort of desperate straits that the Bush policy that was born on September 11 has arrived at. You know, really what happened back at 9/11 was that Bush muscled Pakistan into lining up with the U.S. in the so-called war on terror, both in Afghanistan and in its own northern territories. Well, this proved over the years to be a very unpopular policy with the Pakistani public. And so, gradually, sort of a wedge was driven between him and his own public, which has resulted in the coup that we see now that he has launched in his own country to keep himself in power.
JAY: The recent discussion in the media about the threat of the Pakistani bomb gives this whole issue of Pakistan more weight, I guess, to American public opinion. But the Pakistani military itself seems quite in control of the bomb. In fact, the Pakistani military seems quite in control of most things in Pakistan. How real is this threat of an out-of-control Pakistani bomb?
SCHELL: I think that the threat is not exactly that some terrorists will come with wire cutters and break into a facility, although those things conceivably could happen—it’s hard to say. But the danger that is rather more real is that the Pakistani state will sort of disintegrate. It’s very much of a balkanized state already. If you think of the A. Q. Khan operation, he after all was able, with a certain degree of independence—it’s hard to tell how great it was—to peddle the key secrets of the Pakistani state all over the world, to Libya, Iran, North Korea, Iraq, to go into business for himself, establishing really what was kind of like a little nuclear city-state within Pakistan. And then, if you recall the activities of the ISI [Pakistan’s Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence] in supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan before 9/11, you can see that there are several powers that act with quite a bit of independence within that state. And so there’s a distinct danger that if central control is lost, that people that don’t have a very friendly attitude towards the United States will get in control of those weapons. It’s a possible thing.
JAY: Well, the logic clearly in the American administration—and I’d say in Congress too, ’cause you don’t hear any opposition or questions raised about the Pakistani bomb even in a Democrat-controlled Congress—the assumption seems to be, what choice is there? You know, we need Pakistan to fight the extremists. How can you make an issue out of the bomb?
SCHELL: Well, this is precisely the policy that’s hit the rocks, because we need Pakistan so that Pakistan will stay in control of its own bomb. But if the Pakistan we have chosen, that is, the Pakistan of Musharraf, whom Bush has recently complimented, said he didn’t cross the line in any of his activities of cracking down, if that Pakistan breaks up in our hands, then we’re left in the situation that we’re in right now. So it really marks the failure of the policy that was born on September 11.