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PAKISTAN - On A Razor's Edge, March 2004

Related Features THE STORY
Synopsis of "On a Razor's Edge"

Assessing Musharraf's Predicament

The Brink of Peace

Reporting on the Nuclear Scandal

Background, Government, Issues

India/Pakistan Relations, Islamic Fundamentalism, Media Resources




VOICES FROM THE WHIRLWIND: Assessing Musharraf's Predicament

General Mirza Aslam Beg: Former Army Foe of Musharraf

General Mirza Aslam Beg General Mirza Aslam Beg, former chief of staff of the Pakistani army, discusses Pakistan's growing nuclear scandal and his own alleged involvement. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Do you think the United States has designs on [Pakistan's] nuclear capabilities?

... [T]hey've had designs on our program since 1974, [when] India exploded the device and then Pakistani prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto declared ... [that] Pakistan would build that capability to correct the imbalance -- and that's what he did. And since then, Pakistan [has] been working to acquire nuclear capability, and this was an open secret. ... The program that we started in 1976 achieved its purpose in about 12 years' time. ... The American and [British] agency had been working on Pakistan's nuclear program and probably picked up some evidence of some scientist trying to sell nuclear secrets to other countries. But they never informed Pakistan.

I mean if they were monitoring our program for the last 15 years, they should have told us 10 years or 12 years back so we could have checked these wrong practices much earlier than doing it now. What I am trying to say is that they are parties to the crime.

It's been said that you were aware of the nuclear proliferation. How do you comment on that?

If my government wasn't aware, how was I aware? I was army chief from 1988 to 1991. If we were never told what was happening beneath the surface when the Americans knew, when the British agencies knew, when they have claimed they have penetrated the entire system including Pakistan -- so are they not guilty?

A number of reports are putting you against Musharraf and [make] it seem you are in opposition to him. Why do you think it might be the case?

I am sorry -- I have not been arrested; I have not been put behind bars ... . [Those reports are the work of] the American lobby within the country and outside ... .

You've been quoted as saying that there were newspaper advertisements in the Pakistani newspapers in 2000 that elicited bids for enriched uranium.

It's not a secret. It was a full one-page ad given by the government of Pakistan. And there is nothing wrong with it -- because what they wanted to sell has been authorized by the international community and by the international atomic agency. Pakistan had all those items, which were offered for sale, which are not banned. And all the requirements were met for any one who wanted to see. So what was wrong with it?

Members of the Pakistani army have been arrested regarding the nuclear proliferation as well -- so would it be safe to say that the Pakistani army knew about the nuclear proliferation?

[The] Pakistan army, if they deputized a person to be responsible at the site about the security of the project or the program, they were made responsible to the boss, that is [Dr. Abdul Qadeer] Khan [the head of Pakistan's nuclear research program]. They were not responsible to the army chief -- not before, not after me, or to another army chief. They reported directly to the KRL [Khan Research Laboratory, Pakistan's nuclear research laboratory] and its director, Khan. And it has come out they were getting paid by him. So [the] army as such was involved in decision-making policy -- but not directly responsible for all that was happening within the Kahuta lab [the site of Pakistan's KRL].

Do you believe that Dr. Qadeer Khan is responsible for nuclear proliferation or that he's been made a scapegoat?

[A] scapegoat on the basis of all that's been said by the government. Perhaps he was involved. But including myself -- I am also being blamed -- I have also claimed that unless there is an open judicial inquiry, unless all those who are blamed are given a chance to clear their reputation, the real facts will not come out. And people will have a degree of doubt and a credibility gap will be there.

Do you think Dr. Qadeer Khan's confession has humiliated the country?

Of course. Yes, it has humiliated the country. It has humiliated every Pakistani, and we are feeling so sorry and sad about it.

What kind of repercussion will this kind of revelation have on Pakistan and the Pakistani army in the future?

Well, the Pakistani nation, the Pakistani army, [is] really sad to see what [has happened] to Dr. Khan, who is held in such high esteem by everybody. It will have an impact. And I think that is a major crisis that President Musharraf and the government is facing. But the problem, I think, that Pakistan is facing is the nuclear program itself. ... There are actually pressures building up to have Pakistan sign the NPT treaty [an international treaty established by the United Nations in 1970 to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons]. But once we sign that without India also signing, the pressure to open up our facilities for inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency -- that is the kind of pressure we are facing.

President Musharraf recently said there were certain generals who were making comments that they are trying to get into the media. Do you think he was talking about you at all?

Perhaps my name is also included. I have been talking. I have been making statements and writing about the policy of nuclear program and nuclear propriety. I have my papers written some eight years back, nine years back. And I gave a paper at a conference in Lahore just last year. So ... what I say now I have been saying for many years based on my assessment and studies with other scholars. Anything people think is new is not. I have been talking about it for a long time.

Why haven't you been arrested?

Just to disappoint you and many. My American friends and their stooges here in Pakistan want to see me behind bars for sins which I have not committed. And I am very confident that nobody can harm me because I have committed no crime.

If you speak about President Musharraf -- what kind of pressures do you think he is under now?

I have listened to his speech to the assembly ... after this Qadeer Khan episode and all that. He is under tremendous pressure. And one more pressure is physical pressure, the attempt on his life. I think it is part of a plan to extract maximum concessions from him on issues which they want to be settled on their terms. The Kashmiri issue on Indian terms; the nuclear issue on American terms, I think; and the Pakistan government's full support to the United States fighting against the terrorists on the so-called India-Pakistan border.

Do you think that once President Musharraf has served the role he is supposed to, that he will be disposed of?

Who will dispose him?

Perhaps the West, after he's serving their interests now?

Why should they dispose him now? He's accepted by elected parliament; he has been voted as the president by the parliament. But god forbid the attempts on his life -- who is behind it, it is very difficult to say. It is part of the aura of conspiracy put upon him to extract concessions ... .

Who is behind this conspiracy?

Your guess is as good as mine. ...

Ahmed Rashid: Critical Journalist
Jugnu Mohsin: Newspaper Editor
"Shahzad": An Underground Militant
Lieutenant General Hamid Gul: Defender of Islam
• General Mirza Aslam Beg: Former Army Foe of Musharraf
Sherry Rehman: Opposition Parliamentarian
Sami ul-Haq: Powerful Religious Leader

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