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Pakistan’s Khan Job

John Tarleton Feb 17, 2004

An impoverished third world nation rife with Islamic extremists spends decades trying to procure nuclear weapons. At one point its military dictator vows that its people “will eat grass” if that’s what it takes to get the Bomb. More recently, this nation has been placed at the center of a vast illicit operation that put nuclear weapons technology in the hands of Iran, North Korea and Libya. Sound like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq? Wrong. The culprit is longtime U.S. ally Pakistan.

Pakistan’s military has exclusive control over its nuclear program – to the point of barring civilian officials, even prime ministers, from visiting some facilities. Under its watch, whole centrifuges were exported to North Korea while C-130 aircraft were reportedly used to bring back advanced missile components. The Asia Times calls the smuggling ring, which spanned 15 nations on three continents, “the most complex, elaborate and successful operation to transfer nuclear weapons technology undertaken anywhere since the Manhattan Project.”

Faced with growing international scrutiny, Pakistani strongman Gen. Pervez Musharraf gratefully accepted a Feb. 5 confession from the father of the Pakistani nuclear program, Abdul Qaheer Khan, that he alone was responsible for organizing Pakistan’s trade in nuclear weapons components.

“There was never ever any kind of authorization for these activities by the government. I take full responsibility for my actions,” Khan said in a nationally televised address. He was promptly pardoned by Musharraf.

While David Albright, president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, called Khan’s mea culpa “a charade,” the Bush administration (which needs Musharraf in the election-year hunt for Osama bin Laden) applauded the “investigation.”

Said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, “It marks the sign of how seriously the [Pakistani] government takes the commitments that President Musharraf has made to make sure that his nation is not a source of prohibited technologies for other countries. We welcome President Musharraf’s actions, as do other members of the international community.”