HAVING PREVIOUSLY arrested Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan –
Pakistan’s "father of the Islamic bomb" – for selling nuclear secrets abroad,
president Pervez Musharraf has now pardoned him.
Khan’s televised apology, which distances the president and the military
rulers from involvement, smacks of a cover up. KEVIN SIMPSON reports from
Lahore, Pakistan, on the developing scandal.
PAKISTAN’S NEWSPAPERS are filled with a raging debate
concerning the admission by government scientist Dr AQ Khan that he transferred
nuclear secrets to Libya, North Korea and Iran. This follows a series of
"debriefings" by the country’s security services under the direction of
Musharraf’s military regime.
Dr Khan was long regarded as a hero figure by the Pakistani
elite and particularly the military. Khan is also seen as a heroic figure by
Islamic fundamentalist groups who refer to his role in making the first
"Islamic nuclear bomb". He is also a prominent proponent of reactionary
right-wing Islamic ideas.
The new claims that Khan gave secrets to other states,
however, is a major source of embarrassment for the Pakistan military and
particularly that faction that supports Musharraf. Once Iran revealed to the
International Atomic Energy Agency that Pakistan had provided it with nuclear
technology in the 1980s and 1990s, the Tehran regime had to explain how this
happened. It is clear that Musharraf decided to sacrifice some of Pakistan’s
top nuclear scientists in order to avoid sanctions being reapplied to Pakistan
by US imperialism and by European states.
However, the contradictory explanations given by the
Pakistan press and government on how this happened, brings wry smiles to most
Pakistanis. Some newspapers claim that Khan has secret foreign bank accounts
with millions of dollars, made up of payments from countries who bought these
secrets. However, other commentators claim that Khan gave the secrets away "to
make other Islamic countries nuclear powers, as well, so that intense Western
pressure on Pakistan’s nuclear power could be eased".
Government spokesmen claim that Khan had complete autonomy
in running the country’s nuclear weapons industry. They say – without blinking
– that no-one in previous civilian governments or the military had any idea
about Khan’s role in selling or giving these secrets away. Government officials
claim he did it in secret for his own benefit. This is laughable. No-one
believes that the military, who regard nuclear capability as primary in their
arsenal of weapons, could possibly have been in the dark concerning this
Khan, it is claimed, sold nuclear technology "in the
knowledge of the bosses" and that two former military chiefs – General Mirza
Aslam Beg and General Jehangir Karamat – and General Musharraf were "aware of
everything" he was doing.
Musharraf strikes at Islamic forces
MUSHARRAF HAS used this issue to strike a blow at the
Islamic fundamentalist groups, both inside and outside the army, who are
closely associated with Khan. In recent months there were two assassination
attempts on his life. Musharraf claimed in an interview given to CNN at the
Davos World Economic Forum conference, two weeks ago, these were the work of
Most Pakistanis regard the action taken against Khan as a
hypocritical bid by the military, which wants to continue ingratiating itself
to US imperialism (which is hated throughout the country).
The alliance of Islamic fundamentalist groups in the
Pakistan parliament, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), called a strike on 5-6
February to protest against the treatment of Khan, which received a mixed
response from workers and shopkeepers.
However, there is no great love for the MMA in society. In
the provinces, where the MMA form regional governments, economic conditions
have worsened and corruption is endemic. At a national level, Musharraf did a
deal with the MMA, which involved him receiving a vote of confidence in the
Parliament as president in return for agreeing to resign in 2007. So the
position of the MMA is viewed as hypocritical.
Meanwhile, Musharraf continues to take security measures to
stop further assassination attempts on him. The entire headquarters of the
military command is being moved from Rawalpindi to nearby Islamabad, which is
regarded as being safer for the President. These are not the actions of a
leader who is confident of remaining in power.
As the Khan episode shows, the working class and poor of
Pakistan can have no faith in any section of the ruling elite. Neither can the
Islamic groups show a way out. Working people need their own political voice –
a socialist party that challenges corruption, poverty and capitalism.