PARIS–We observed the Abdul Qadeer Khan affair, the incredible story of this Pakistani nuclear scientist who delivered over 15 years–freely and with impunity–his most sensitive secrets to Libya, Iran and North Korea. Then we learned that President Musharraf in person, after an interview from which little or nothing has been divulged, ended up granting Khan his “pardon.” Case closed? End of story? That’s what the American administration, falling oddly in step with the official Pakistani doctrine, would have us believe. But knowing something of the case–and being the first French observer, to my knowledge, to have tried to alert public opinion to the extreme gravity of the situation–I believe that we are only at the very beginning this story.
Far from ending on Sept. 11, 2001–the day, we are told, on which “the world changed”–this terrifying nuclear traffic continued until well after: A last trip to Pyongyang, his thirteenth, was made in June 2002 by the good doctor Khan; not to mention the ship inspected last August in the Mediterranean, transporting elements of a future nuclear plant to Libya. The eyes of the world, emulating the eyes of America, were fixed on Baghdad, while the tentacles of nuclear proliferation were being extended from Karachi.
We will soon learn that far from being the overexcited, but in the end isolated, “Dr. Strangelove” that most of the press has described, Khan was at the center of an immense network, an incredibly dense web. There were Dubai front companies, meetings in Casablanca and Istanbul with Iranian colleagues, complicities in Germany and Holland, Malaysian and Philippine agents, and detours through Sri Lanka, with Chinese and London connections–a world of crime and dirty war that the West, mired in a big game that is beginning to get ahead of it, has so blithely allowed to develop.
We will find that, since Pakistan is steered by the iron hand of its secret service and its army, it is inconceivable that Khan operated alone without orders or cover. We will understand more precisely that we cannot repeat without contradiction that, on the one hand, the Pakistani nuclear arsenal is under control, and that not a warhead can budge without the authorities’ knowledge, and, on the other, that Khan was acting alone, working on his own account, with no official connivance. To put it simply and disconcertingly: Pakistan’s nuclear weapons need to be secured. They cannot–will not–be secured by Pakistan alone.
We will come back to Gen. Musharraf–and Pakistan being what it is, we will come back also to other generals and ex-generals, such as Mirza Aslam Beg and Jehangir Karamat, both former army chiefs of staff. But we must not shift our gaze from the president himself, whose knowledge of Khan’s dark machinations no one in Islamabad doubts, and who, at the very moment of his confounding, celebrated Khan once more as a “hero.” What does Khan know of what Gen. Musharraf knows? And what does Khan’s daughter, Dina, who announced in London that she has suitcases of compromising files, know?
And at last, sooner or later, we will come to the real secret: that of al Qaeda; and of Khan’s links to Lashkar-e-Toiba, the fundamentalist terrorist group at the heart of al Qaeda; and the fact that this “mad scientist” is first of all mad about God, a fanatical Islamist who in his heart and soul believes that the bomb of which he is the father should belong, if not to the Umma itself, at least to its avant-garde, as incarnated by al Qaeda. So let us not shrink from measuring the probability of a nightmare scenario: to wit, a Pakistani state which–in the shelter of its alliance with an America that is decidedly not counting inconsistencies–could furnish al Qaeda with the means to take the ultimate step of its jihad.
How much time will it take for all this to be said? How much longer will Islamabad’s masquerade endure? Next month the American Congress will vote on the question of three billion dollars in aid to Pakistan: Will this aspect of things be taken into account? Will demands be made, at last, in exchange for this aid, for inspections of Pakistani sites, as well as the installation of a double-key system–a system that some of us here in Europe have been calling for?
These are just a few elements I offer–as part of a debate that has scarcely begun.