ABC News obtained a telephone interview with Pakistan’s Dr. A.Q. Khan. For American viewers, the big news is that Dr. Khan retracted his televised “confession” that his proliferation of nuclear technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea had been a rogue operation:
As to his widely publicized confession, Khan said he was told by Musharraf that it would get the United States "off our backs" and that he was promised he would be quickly pardoned. "Those people who were supposed to know knew it," Khan said about his activities.
In another telephone interview with the Pakistan media outlet Dawn, Dr. Khan was more explicit:
When asked if he had been involved in leaking nuclear secrets to any other country, Dr Khan said he was not a part of any illegal or unauthorised deal in any way.“This one sentence covers the whole thing,” he asserted.
Khan tossed a few more anvils Musharraf’s way, offering the observation that Pakistan’s economy had “gone to the dogs” under Musharraf and indicating political support to the civilian government and, implicitly, Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N over Asif Zardari’s PPP.
In the context of Pakistani politics, the A.Q. Khan interviews are big news.
Khan has been under detention—essentially house arrest--with virtually no access to the domestic or international media for four and one-half years.
The fact that he was allowed to emerge and make the explosive allegations that Musharraf had persuaded Khan—a national hero—to take the fall for the nuclear export program and the government reneged on promises to allow him to move around Pakistan freely after his confession is a strong indication that the anti-Musharraf forces are coalescing, impeachment is a real possibility, and the military powers that be inside Pakistan have decided it’s time for Mush to go.
As A.Q. Khan himself stated in yet another interview with The News:
I am not in the custody of the civilian government, and I am in the custody of the Army.
The A.Q. Khan interviews may very well serve as part of an campaign to remove one of Musharraf's key political props--U.S. support--out from under him in order to effectuate a political transition.
After all, the United States is now being forced to decide if it wants to continue to support a president who is not only extremely unpopular, but has also been publicly and convincingly accused of being a nuclear proliferator.
For the time being, it looks like the US government is doing the best it can to stand by Musharraf.
ABC obtained something that looks like a non-denial denial from the United States concerning A.Q. Khan’s story:
A U.S. official said American investigators were also unconvinced of Khan's latest claims. "We have not changed our assessment that A.Q. Khan was a very major and dangerous proliferator. He sold sensitive nuclear equipment and know-how to some genuinely bad actors," the official said.
Turning a blind eye toward apparent Pakistan government involvement in A.Q. Khan’s network has involved some heroic contortions by the United States over the years—including the need to disregard the fact that North Korea paid for its nuclear goodies not with cash in A.Q. Khan’s pocket but No Dong missiles in Pakistan’s military arsenal.
I blogged that story in 2007:
For the Bush administration, executive orders appear to be the preferred
method for making lemonade from the cornucopia of foreign policy lemons it has
on its hands.
Consider this application of executive order power in a nuclear
imbroglio involving North Korea in 2003, as demonstrated by this press release from the State Department (released on April Fools’ Day! somebody at State’s got a
sense of humor):
North Korea-Pakistan: Missile-Related Sanctions and Executive Order
There has been some confusion regarding the penalties
that were imposed March 24 on the Pakistani entity Khan Research Laboratories
(KRL) under Executive Order 12938, as amended, and the penalties that were
imposed March 24 on the North Korean entity, Changgwang Sinyong Corporation
under the missile sanctions law. These sanctions were for a specific
missile-related transfer. Changgwang Sinyong Corporation is a North Korean
missile marketing entity and has been sanctioned repeatedly in the past for its
missile-related exporting behavior. Changgwang Sinyong Corporation transferred
missile-related technology to KRL. The United States made a determination to
impose penalties on both Changgwang Sinyong Corporation and KRL as a result of
this specific missile-related transfer. These sanctions do not pertain
to any other activity, including nuclear-related ones. We informed the
Congress on March 12 that the Administration had carefully reviewed the facts
relating to the possible transfer of nuclear technology from Pakistan to North
Korea, and decided that the facts do not warrant the imposition of sanctions
under applicable U.S. laws.
Released on April 1, 2003
Mmmm...the sweet smell of ”confusion”.That’s bloody chum to a contrarian
blogger like myself.
Allow me to explain:
The most egregious nuclear proliferator on the face of this planet is
Pakistan, in the person of A.Q. Khan.
Khan’s network provided nuclear technology to Libya, Iran, and North
Much as President Musharraf would like to claim that Mr. Khan’s efforts
were after hours and on his own dime, the North Korean transaction involved
not the payment of cash to Mr. Khan’s private bank account but the delivery of
North Korean No Dong missiles and technology to the Pakistan government.
Makes it look like the Pakistan government was proliferating nuclear
weapons technology—the type of activity that, if Kim Jung Il’s experience was
any guide, would provoke the formation of a worldwide alliance to destabilize
and if possibly destroy the culprit’s regime, at the very least cut off its
supply of cash and cognac, etc. etc. etc.
But since Pakistan is our ally in the war on terror, the nature of the
transaction—and the character of the crime—were neatly reversed.
As the Bush administration saw it, the offense was North Korea’s supply of
the missiles to Pakistan...and the fact that they got paid for them with nuclear
weapons equipment and technology was of secondary importance.
Actually, it was no laughing matter.
The State Department had to step up and pre-emptively define the
transaction as a missile purchase and sanction Khan’s laboratories itself.
Otherwise, Pakistan would have been vulnerable to much more serious, legislative
sanction—a total cutoff of aid under the Solarz Amendment--as a
So the State Department made a valiant if “confusing” effort to present the
sanctions against Khan’s laboratory as an ad hoc punishment for the Pakistani
government’s buying the missiles—because “the end-user of the missile purchase
cannot be sanctioned under the Arms Export Controls Act” (according to Nicholas
Kralev’s report, Pakistan purchases N. Korean missiles, in the March
31, 2003 Washington Times)...and we’ve got to sanction somebody, after
So let’s just sanction this Pakistani nuclear lab over here.
There, that’s all better.