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DAWN - Opinion; October 1, 2007

October 01, 2007


The real security threat

By Aqil Shah

FORMER Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s recent statement that she will allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to question Dr A.Q. Khan has created a ruckus. Right-wing analysts are pouring scorn on her for re-opening a supposedly closed chapter.

The government and the opposition parties are castigating her for undermining the security of Pakistan’s nuclear programme to appease the Americans for petty political ends. Ms Bhutto’s possible political motivations aside, her argument stands on its own merit.

Let’s first get the facts straight. On Sept 25, Ms Bhutto was asked at the Middle East Institute in Washington D.C. if she would ‘permit A.Q. Khan to be interviewed by the West’. Her response: ‘We don’t agree that western governments should have access to A.Q. Khan at this stage but we do believe that the IAEA would have the right to put questions to A.Q. Khan that would satisfy them and would give the world community greater confidence that the illegal structure has been broken and that no further dangerous repercussions for the world community would come about.’

What is all the fuss about? Why is Ms Bhutto being berated for agreeing to allow the UN nuclear watchdog official access to A.Q. Khan when the military under Musharraf has already reportedly allowed the US government covert access to interrogate him?In the New Yorker of April 17, 2006, the veteran investigative reporter Seymour Hersh quoted a Pentagon official as saying, ‘The Pakistani government has given the US new access to A.Q. Khan’, who had been ‘singing like a canary,’ providing information on Iran’s ‘weapons design and its time-line for building a bomb’.

A.Q. Khan did not confess to his role in nuclear proliferation on national television at the insistence of Ms Bhutto. And as she pointed out, and most Pakistanis know, he was not solely responsible for trafficking nuclear materials to Iran, North Korea and Libya since the country’s nuclear programme is under the ‘command and control’ of the army.

Passing the buck to civilians for its colossal policy errors is a tried and tested tactic used by the Pakistan military, and its civilian apologists, to discredit popular leaders. This is not only bad politics, it is bad history.

Credible historical accounts place major culpability in virtually all of the major strategic disasters in our history on the military: the failed guerilla incursion into Indian-held Kashmir and the subsequent 1965 war, the 1971 war and secession of East Pakistan, and more recently, the Kargil war.

Nuclear proliferation is just another symptom of the dangers posed by the lack of democratic-civilian control of national security. For years, the military dominated government of Pakistan denied charges of nuclear proliferation by western intelligence agencies.

It was only after the Bush administration confronted Musharraf with concrete evidence in October 2003 that he reluctantly initiated investigations against A.Q. Khan. As a result of the make-believe official inquiry, Musharraf acknowledged that A.Q. Khan was involved in an international nuclear smuggling racket.

But Pakistan was reportedly given a pass on the proliferation front in return for its cooperation in the war on terror, especially military operations in Fata. While the issue was swept under the carpet for political expediency, it is far from buried. It continues to resurface in the international news media, non-governmental policy reports and even congressional hearings.

On June 27 Congressman Gary Ackerman (D-NY), while presiding over a joint hearing of the Sub-Committee of the Middle East and South Asia and the Sub-Committee on Terrorism, Non Proliferation and Trade of the Foreign Relations Committee on ‘A.Q. Khan’s Nuclear Wal-Mart,’ noted: ‘One year ago we didn’t know whether Dr Khan or any of his associates had transferred any nuclear equipment or technology to Al Qaeda. One year ago we didn’t know the extent of the involvement of figures who may still be in the Pakistani government and military. A year later we still don’t know…all the incentives and missing safeguards that led the government of Pakistan to encourage A.Q. Khan in the first place still exist. Pakistan still has a nuclear programme that operates largely without either international scrutiny or voluntary transparency… the Khan network is more likely to be under new management rather than truly out of business’.

The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) — a high-powered group co-chaired by Ted Turner and Former US Senator Sam Nun with members from countries including Russia, Japan, India, Pakistan, China, Jordan, Sweden, France and the UK — has cast serious doubts on the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal in its latest commissioned study, ‘Securing the Bomb 2007’.

The report identifies two main threats: ‘armed jihadi groups’ and ‘nuclear insiders with a demonstrated willingness to sell sensitive nuclear technology’.

In sum, international concerns about proliferation from Pakistan do not stem from this or that statement. Instead, they arise because Pakistan is a weak state under unstable military rule with nuclear weapons and a proven track record of proliferation.The government can cry itself hoarse all it wants about the unfairness of the US-India nuclear deal, but it should not forget that India is the world’s largest democracy where nuclear weapons technology is under civilian control.

The generals can bend over backwards to convince the Americans of the supposedly fail-safe nuclear regulatory regime they have instituted to prevent nuclear leakage. But the more the generals claim that they are in control, the more unconvincing they sound. After all, the largest nuclear proliferation racket in history operated with impunity for over a decade under their watch.

Who is the security threat? It is an unaccountable military that leads us from one strategic blunder to another with serious consequences for national and international security.

Parliament must hold hearings into the nuclear proliferation scandal, as already demanded by the PPP. The options are clear. We can either face the music or bury our heads in the sand . The ‘bomb’, which was supposed to be a ‘shield’ against India, is becoming a noose around the neck which the international community can squeeze at will.

Hence, misdirected anger over the possible questioning of our disgraced ‘national’ hero by international inspectors is not going to lead us anywhere. Pakistan cannot avoid the push and pull of the international state system.

It is not Iran, so there is no oil to independently sustain the economy. And even Iran’s economic conditions are deteriorating in good measure because of UN sanctions triggered by its refusal to stop uranium enrichment. Ms Bhutto’s calculated posture on the A.Q. Khan issue offers to lift the cloud of secrecy and suspicion around the ‘bomb’ that puts Pakistan in the category of a nuclear rogue state.

The writer is a PhD candidate in political science at Columbia University, USA.

Mired in a vortex of terror & drugs

By S. Mudassir Ali Shah

HOWEVER phrased, President Hamid Karzai’s tenure has been a disquieting litany of half-truths, plain untruths, failures, missed opportunities and dithering on hot-button issues such as the Taliban-led insurgency, unprecedented poppy cultivation and record opium production by Afghanistan this year.

Totally shorn of that common touch needed by a dynamic leader, the ethnic Pashtun from Kandahar has been unable to translate his promises into action — particularly with regard to preventing civilian deaths in imprecise Nato and coalition bombings and ill-planned military operations that have triggered a wave of concern among the war-weary Afghans.

Largely because of his persistently dismal track record, an increasingly cynical world is growing impatient with the Afghan leader.

A clear manifestation of this disenchantment came during the president’s meetings at the UN headquarters in New York with several world leaders, who did not mince their words in seeking a marked improvement in the security situation, a serious crackdown on endemic corruption and speeding up a snail-paced reconstruction campaign, which many believe is a charade.

During a meeting on the periphery of the UN General Assembly, an outspoken Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told Karzai his country would not send more troops to Afghanistan, which stays mired in a vortex of complicated problems like insecurity and bad governance. Zapatero was briefing the president on his government’s decision hours after the death of two Spanish soldiers with Nato in a roadside explosion in the western Farah province.

At a separate meeting that lasted about an hour, President Bush gave his ally full marks for bringing stability to Afghanistan. In the same breath, however, he emphasised: ‘I expect progress...’ Both eschewed referring to the blooming drug trade in Afghanistan, the futile hunt for the world’s most wanted man — Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden — and the resurgence of the Taliban despite the presence of a large number of foreign soldiers in the Central Asian country.

Although foreign ministers from more than 18 countries renewed their pledges of continued assistance to Afghanistan at a high-level meeting called by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, they made clear the world is no longer willing to write blank cheques of blood and treasure to a government that has been dragging its feet on much-needed administrative reform and the provision of elemental social services.

Much to Karzai’s embarrassment, the participants expressed grave concern at the expansion of poppy cultivation as well as opium and heroin production over the past year, underlining the link between the production and trafficking of illegal drugs and the financing of terrorist activities.

Underlining the elimination of the linkage as central to the creation of a stable and democratic Afghanistan, the participants leaned on Karzai to do more for promoting inclusive political dialogue for national reconciliation.

Apparently under pressure, the president responded that his government was working ‘very hard on peace talks with the Taliban’ to draw the insurgents back to the fold.

An independent reconciliation commission, headed by Sibghatullah Mujaddedi, is trying to make the Taliban ready to renounce violence.

It goes without saying the twin perils of poppies and militancy are the bane of an impoverished nation — so heavily reliant on the opium economy but having fewer alternative income sources. Afghanistan’s massive reliance on opium production — three billion dollars’ annual trade accounting for more than 90 per cent of the world’s illegal output, can be gauged from the record levels witnessed this year. Going by UN statistics, the rise in poppy cultivation is mainly concentrated in the embattled south, where Taliban are profiting from an illicit crop they banned during their regime.

In 2007, the area under poppy cultivation in Afghanistan rose to 193,000 hectares from 165,000 a year earlier while the total opium harvest is projected to soar by more than a third to 8,200 tonnes from 6,100 tonnes in 2006. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC), the number of poppy-free provinces in the centre and north of the country more than doubled from six to 13 compared to 2006.

A fleeting look at the overall trends reveals poppy growing is closely linked to insecurity and inversely related to the degree of government control. As the Taliban reversed their seven-year-old edict outlawing poppy cultivation, the illegal crop has seen a sharp rise in insurgency-torn provinces.

A package of inducements for non-opium farmers is one way of demonstrating there are viable alternatives to illicit crops. The abundant international assistance usually takes an inordinately long time reaching growers — thanks to the entrenched culture of sleaze.

Despite UN calls for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) to more actively support counter-narcotics operations, the alliance has no plan to spray poppies. US Permanent Representative to Nato Victoria Nuland says they can help Afghan security forces involved in destroying poppies with logistical support.

With main policy instruments — eradication of poppy fields and implementing alternative livelihoods projects — missing their targets, aerial spraying will have disastrous social and security implications. Since eradication has been a myth at best, poor farmers, sharecroppers and rural wage labourers will immensely suffer due to spraying — a proposition vehemently opposed by the Afghan government.

Unable to deal with the challenge posed by the drugs commerce, Karzai recently blamed the record increase in poppy cultivation on a lack of coordination in international efforts. He chided the global fraternity for refusing to heed his government’s advice and failing to exhibit the kind of coordination needed for combating the scourge.

At a counter-narcotics conference in Kabul, he made Britain — leading the campaign against drugs in southern Afghanistan — a whipping boy for the record area brought under poppy cultivation in Helmand. Also in attendance was a British diplomat, who felt outraged at the ruthless broadside the president fired at his country.

The envoy, when invited to address the gathering, tore his speech to shreds to vent anger at Karzai’s putdowns that he found impossible to stomach.

As for dialogue with the Taliban, there is a groundswell of support from Afghan political parties, the intelligentsia and the world at a large for any move towards a political solution to the uprising. Backing the peace talks, the UN has already expressed its willingness to mediate between the government and the guerillas.

Undoubtedly, the parleys will not produce a quick result, but they are important in that military means alone cannot end the insurgency.

Admittedly, the climate for talks is more favourable than ever before, but how best the Afghan government seizes the opportunity remains to be seen. For sure, it is not time for one-upmanship; what is needed is the spirit of quid pro quo. The process of negotiations may be difficult and tenuous, but where there is a will, there is a way.

The writer is a journalist based in Kabul

The great leveller

By Hajrah Mumtaz

A CERTAIN gentleman in Karachi dwelled often and bitterly on the abysmal state of Pakistan’s civic infrastructure. He noticed that wherever improvement was required, it was not the government but increasingly, the private sector that stepped in. In far too many cases, the state was farming out duties that were its own responsibility.

Issues of healthcare and education, where the country’s track record is breathtakingly abysmal, were being addressed by NGOs. Given the government’s inability to provide potable water, mineral water companies waxed fat on the largesse of the rich.

Since the state had for many years proved unable to provide safety to its citizens, private security firms were willing, able and armed to protect the privileged few.

This gentleman was particularly irked by the privatisation of utility companies. And further, that the privatised, now more expensive power utility still proved unable to improve services.

An unannounced power breakdown interrupted his broodings. For the fourth time that night, his area was plunged into darkness. He called to the security guard to turn on the generator but 10 minutes later, was informed by a sheepish driver that the generator’s diesel supply had not been replenished because of a recent petrol dealers’ strike to protest the government’s policies.

Meanwhile, asked the driver, could he have cash to pay the electricity bill? Riffling through his wallet by the light of the kitchen stove, our hero lost his temper.

Later, as he lay thinking deep, dark thoughts, the scene replayed itself in his mind. He realised that gas was about the only thing the state could be relied upon to provide. And he smiled into the gloom because now, he was armed with information that would finally allow him to beat the system.

The next morning, with a spring in his step and a song on his lips, he bought an industrial-scale gas generator to which he hooked up his house’s electrical needs. After that he went to the power utility office, cancelled his connection, jumped on their bill with hobnailed boots and scattered its pieces to the four winds.

That night, in the pitch darkness of his neighbourhood, from his home alone shone rays of hope and ingenuity.

The next day, it rained. His locality flooded. Other people’s power supply failed. His home was a lighthouse in the seas of sewage.

The day after that, the water entered the gas pipelines. For the next week, he sat glumly at his window as the power utility repaired cable faults. He waited for the waters to recede so that the gas supply — and his home’s power — could be reinstated.

Moral of the story: Karachi is the great leveller. It’s the only city where you can’t buy total freedom from niggling infrastructural headaches. You can buy a generator, a water connection, a security guard, what have you … but you still haven’t bought immunity from falling into the incomplete storm-water drain.

There’s a slum in Islamabad’s F-7 but they built a wall around it and you no longer have to look at it. Lahore has its share of broken roads but no pot-holes mar the upmarket main roads. In Karachi, however, it’s the posh Defence Society that was flooded when it rained.

This is egalitarianism of the highest order. Television footage of goldfish swimming cheerfully through an inundated but gracefully decorated living room was, after all, captured in the DHA.

Even the controllers of the city’s infrastructures are not exempt from infrastructural disasters, judging by the fact that the nazim’s office was inundated during the monsoon floods.

Karachi will always find some way of hammering reality into the privileged.

Defiant but conciliatory

Tanvir Ahmad Khan

IRAN’S complex constitution obliges the president of the republic to defer to the greater authority of the supreme leader and the Assembly of Experts. Thus Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Rafsanjani have a role that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cannot ignore.

This inbuilt constraint has, however, not prevented the president from being the best known Iranian leader abroad. A case in point is the spotlight on his just concluded visit to the United Nations and to the Columbia University.

The Columbia University event was surrounded by hysteria amongst those who believe that he denies the Holocaust and stands for the obliteration of Israel. That he has always denounced the Zionist regime and not Israel has been obfuscated by the power of contemporary media.

Similarly, his argument that the Holocaust too needs more scholarly research and that in any case the Palestinians should not have paid a price for it has also become rather academic and there are few takers in the West.

The Iranian leadership would not be disappointed with Ahmadinejad’s performance. He showed an uncanny ability to withstand insults and make his points. The president of the Columbia University, Lee Bollinger, discarded the time-honoured ritual of introducing a guest speaker at least politely and heaped invective on him calling him a petty and cruel dictator either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated. Ahmadinejad commented that the 7,000-year old civilisation he came from treated guests differently.

This theme has now been picked up by the chancellors of six Iranian universities who in a letter to Lee Bollinger have posed 10 questions. The questions range from the CIA plot to overthrow Mossadegh to American support for Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran and now for the Iraq-based Mujahideen-i-Khalq, categorised by Washington itself as a terrorist outfit. Inevitably Palestine and the invasion of Iraq figure prominently in the letter.

Ahmadinejad’s own repertoire includes answering a question with a counter-question. He used this technique to keep the focus on Israel. An Israeli commentator has now said that if he managed to persuade even 50 members of his audience, it would make Israel the loser. On the nuclear question his counter-question went as follows: “If you have created the fifth generation of atomic bombs and are testing them already, who are you to question other people who just want nuclear power?”

On the nuclear issue, Ahmadinejad appreciated that ‘the IAEA has recently tried to regain its legal role as supporters of the rights of its people while supervising nuclear activities’. Previously, he observed, there was illegal insistence on ‘politicising the Iranian nation’s case’. On its part, Iran was prepared to have constructive talks with all the parties but it considered the nuclear issue of Iran as closed; it had ‘turned into an ordinary Agency (IAEA) matter’.

Iran cannot be understood any more in terms of a millenarian revolution anxious to preserve itself, like the French revolution, by exporting its creed. Iran defeated Saddam Hussein’s invasion at great cost and learnt enough lessons to revive a grasp of power politics rooted in its 2,500-year long imperial history.

The neoconservatives driving President Bush’s Middle East policy declared a regime change in Tehran to be their prime objective. A perpetual state of siege made Iran explore more traditional ways of ensuring its security.

President Khatami sought it in diplomacy that would establish mutually reassuring ties with the Arab states of the Gulf, Pakistan, Syria and Turkey. Opinions differ on the degree of success particularly with the Arab neighbours alarmed by the Iranian nuclear programme. Iran, however, reached out to Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas to re-arrange the strategic map. It also intensified the uranium enrichment programme.

The real opportunity for Iran to build an effective shield against external aggression came with the American invasion of Iraq. In the first flush of victory, the occupation authorities displayed a staggering ignorance of regional realities. Iraq was ravaged in the name of creating a democratic majoritarian rule.

At the same time, the Washington ideologues talked of serial invasions to wipe out the ‘axis of evil’. Iran had traditionally given refuge to Iraqis fleeing Saddam Hussein’s terror. They were assisted to organise themselves politically under the rubric of the Supreme Council for an Islamic revolution in Iraq and militarily as the formidable Badr militia.

As the Americans intensified their de-Baathification programme, the Supreme Council and the Badr militia went back to fill the vacuum. Scholars have since gathered much evidence of the trained cadres of the Supreme Council and the Badr fighters appropriating important places in the new Iraqi system. The introduction of the sectarian element encouraged another rival force, the Shiite Mahdi militia.

Iran under a western attack can now count on effective counter-moves. The recent claim made by Iran’s General Rahim Yahya Safavi that Iran has mapped out targets for retaliation is not empty rhetoric. The battle-hardened Shiite militias will operate over a large area with active assistance from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards to ease the pressure on Iran and help it to retaliate if attacked from the air and the sea.

Some western analysts who emphasise the sectarian fault-line in the region estimate that two-third of the energy resources in it now depend on Iranian goodwill. On Sept 26, the chief of staff of the Iranian army, Major General Hassan Firuzabadi, said that ‘weapons with a range of 2,000 kilometres’ will deter military aggression against his country. Iran believes that the strategic landscape of the region has changed in its favour.

Iran is still under relentless pressure. In a widely disseminated speech made on Aug 28, President Bush raised the spectre of a growing Iranian threat to regional and global peace. His leading diplomats including Condoleezza Rice have continued to work for harsher sanctions against Iran.

Reflecting a basic shift in their policy, the president and the foreign minister of France have sounded even more uncompromising insofar as the Iranian nuclear programme is concerned though other continental European states have not followed this lead.Notwithstanding Dick Cheney’s view that Bush should redeem his presidency by destroying nuclear and other strategic sites in Iran and the pressure of the powerful Israel lobby, the United States has to ponder deeply on the consequences of military action which would have no international support. What is already happening in Washington is the sharpening of the internal debate about the pros and cons of using force.

Iran knows that the region cannot afford yet another war and should be expected to do everything possible to prevent it. It is looking beyond the Shiite militias and hopes to establish a historic entente with a future government in Baghdad. As in 2003, it is seeking a new framework of relations that restores its due place of honour in the mainstream of international politics and economy.

In return, it will probably be willing to address regional apprehensions about its putative hegemonic ambitions. Perhaps the time has come for the West to let the drumbeat of war fade away and permit a comprehensive dialogue that leads to a new regional order and a mutually beneficial relationship between Iran and the West.

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007