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Pardon in Pakistan

February 5, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, made the announcement today. He has pardoned the father of his country’s nuclear program, Abdul Qadeer Khan. Khan was accused and reportedly admitted sending nuclear and missile technology to Libya, Iran and North Korea.

Widely revered in Pakistan as a national hero, Khan confessed to the leaks on television yesterday, and later asked in writing for a pardon from President Musharraf. Musharraf has long maintained that his country, which developed a nuclear program in the 1970s, had no role in nuclear proliferation. Now Musharraf is falling back on defending the army. The president said Khan transferred nuclear secrets on his own, without help from the army. The International Atomic Energy Agency has called these revelations the tip of the iceberg and wants to know more. After vowing not to aid in an international investigation, the Pakistani government said later today it would cooperate with an IAEA probe, but not one into Pakistan’s own nuclear program.

RAY SUAREZ: Joining me now are the Pakistani ambassador to the United States, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, and Michael Krepon, a former Carter administration arms control official and founding president of the Henry L. Stimson Center, a nonprofit organization focusing on arms control and security issues.

Mr. Ambassador, does your government view what Abdul Qadeer Khan did as a serious crime?

ASHRAF JEHANGIR QAZI: Oh, yes it most certainly was very illegal and it came as a huge shock and disappointment to the people of Pakistan and government of Pakistan.

And his confession on TV was shocking to everyone who listened to it, because he confessed to a whole lot of illegal activities and he apologized. However, he is seen as a man who contributed hugely to Pakistan’s ability to counter India’s nuclear weapons program and for that he is held in huge esteem. And, so the shock has been even greater. However, the fact is that neither the government for the military nor any civilian arm of the government was involved in any of his proliferation activists. When the IAEA chief says that this was the tip of the iceberg, he’s referring to the international network of, you know, black marketeers and others involved in this kind of thing in which unfortunately it appears that Dr. A.Q. Khan himself was involved.

RAY SUAREZ: If your president views this as a serious crime and the country is in shock why was he pardoned?

ASHRAF JEHANGIR QAZI: He was pardoned in view of his services to the nation and his status and the fact that he confessed to his misdoings and of course he’s been dismissed and removed from all responsibility and an FIR, that’s a First Information Report or a charge sheet was formulated against him, but in view of the public opinion and in view of the recommendation of the cabinet, the president took that into account. And keeping the big picture in mind and, as I said, the state of political opinion with respect to this person was no less than an icon so it’s come as a deep shock, but under the circumstances this was the best possible outcome of this particular episode.

RAY SUAREZ: Michael Krepon, why do you think Pervez Musharraf pardoned A.Q. Khan?

MICHAEL KREPON: Well, I think a public trial or detention behind bars would have been a very traumatic thing for Pakistan. Other names would have been put into the public record as having been involved in these transactions: Army chiefs, prime ministers, presidents. I think it’s in the interest of the government of Pakistan as the government of Pakistan sees it to turn the page and try and move on to the next subject.

RAY SUAREZ: When you say other names would have been introduced, are you saying that you’re not convinced by Pervez Musharraf’s statement today that the army was in no way involved with these technology transfers?

MICHAEL KREPON: Ray, I think real quickly there are about four motives behind these transactions. One is venality. One is Islamic solidarity turning Pakistan’s bond into an Islamic bond. I think both of these contributed to A.Q. Khan’s falling and he may well have done some of these things or many transactions behind the backs of his superiors.

There are two other motivators. One is repaying foreign financing for help with the bomb program. There are credible reports that other governments had been helpful to Pakistan.

This program started in the ’70s after Pakistan lost a devastating war and was really hurting and would welcome outside assistance. The fourth driver, the fourth motivator, is when there is a problem with the production line and Pakistan needs help to get what it believes to be an essential item to deter India. The last two drivers involve senior officials in the government where higher authorization must have been given.

ASHRAF JEHANGIR QAZI: I would sort of respectfully differ with Michael on that and I think much of what you say is speculative. We’ve made it absolutely clear no one would be exempt by virtue of what his background was. And, in fact, two former army chiefs have been questioned by the investigation team and nothing has come up.

As far as venality is concerned certainly and fortunately that appears to have been one of the motives and there might have been other motivations but there is absolutely no basis to sort of implicate the government and indeed the statements of the U.S. administration itself support that thesis. You have had Deputy Secretary of State Armitage talk about that very, that the aggressiveness and the sincerity with which the investigations have been carried out are praiseworthy. You had the assistant secretary for public affairs, the spokesman of the State Department say the same.

You’ve had President Bush on Jan. 1 say that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are safe and secure and he indeed recommended that India follow some of the steps Pakistan had followed in order to ensure the safety of its own.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, let me jump in there. With that insistence that it’s safe and secure, I was at a briefing for reporters by President Musharraf several days ago, and he was adamant that there had been no Pakistani role in other nations getting nuclear technology and adamant that the nation’s nuclear arsenal was absolutely secure. Can the United States with these latest revelations about Dr. Khan’s activities be sure that the nuclear arsenal is secure?

ASHRAF JEHANGIR QAZI: As far as the safety of our nuclear assets are concerned there is no question about that, no reason to sort of have any second thoughts with respect to that. As far as the proliferation aspect is concerned, indeed this is a shock to us and indeed to President Musharraf himself. But the fact is that as soon as the evidence emerged the president lost no time in taking action. We sent investigation teams to Iran and to Libya as soon as we had received information from the IAEA. And then we’ve had investigations with a whole number of scientists and other people over the past two months.

And once the evidence emerged we confronted Dr. A.Q. himself and he was left with no choice but to make his confession and he was dismissed. So I don’t think there is any reason to have any doubts with respect to A, the security of our nuclear assets and, B, our commitment to a nonproliferation responsibilities.

RAY SUAREZ: Michael Krepon, though the countries they’re talking about these weapons technologies going to include North Korea and Iran, two-thirds of the axis of evil, the Bush administration has been very staunch today in its defense of Pakistan. What’s going on there?

MICHAEL KREPON: Well, I think the United States government should ask General Musharraf to do some very, very hard things but we shouldn’t ask him to do things that are impossible. And I think a full inquiry — a public accounting of all of these transactions is probably asking too much.

And it isn’t necessary in my view as long as steps are taken internally to provide real oversight to put a halt to all of these transactions, to clean out some institutions that need cleaning out. Pakistan has a big burden. It has to prove to itself and to the United States and the international community that it is a responsible country; that it takes its nuclear holdings responsibly.

It has to do several things in my view that are doable. It has to share with us and others information that will allow us to roll up this nether-world of nuclear commerce that it’s been engaged in. That’s number one. Pakistan has not negotiated and implemented nuclear risk reduction measures with India. It has held these measures hostage to Kashmir in a satisfactory outcome there. That’s not being responsible about your nuclear holdings. So that’s something Pakistan can do when talks resume. And third, Pakistan has to close up all of these transactions. There is a pattern where promises are made and then there is some backsliding. He can’t have that.

RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Ambassador, Mr. Krepon, thank you both.