THE SPINE SEPTEMBER 28, 2010
It is not I who designated Pakistan’s nuclear bomb “the Islamic bomb” but Time. So it is more than 30 years since Pakistan actually launched its rogue atomic weapon and an aggressive program to enhance its capacity and sweep. The research actually began perhaps five years earlier, financed by Col. Qaddafi, another atomic aspirant, and devolved piece-meal in North Korea and Iran. The pioneer was Abdul Qadeer Khan, a sleazy but charming physicist who understood secret scientific papers he was asked to translate while working in the Netherlands which had a research program of its own. He aspired to raise Pakistan’s military stature and to distribute the power of the nuke to the Muslim world, especially because the intelligence agencies told him that India already had its atoms neatly arranged for battle.
Who knows how much the Pakistani government knew about Khan’s scheme? Since Pakistan is not actually a coherent country and does not have a coherent government it is likely that some factions of Pakistan’s elite knew about his arms venture and some did not. In any case, he became very rich and was never charged with anything. In fact, if you want one hero of the Pakistanis, it is he.
So what people call his bomb—it’s now a function of an enormous technological enterprise—concentrates the mind of the arms control crowd in America and elsewhere—and, to be sure, the security establishment of Pakistan’s neighbor, India. It is also why the relentless terror attacks of Muslim extremists in India are seen to be so serious. India may get impatient and take revenge. (Although it has recently made an enormous effort to soften the conflict in Kashmir.)
You would think that a rogue nuclear establishment under the precarious control of a fissured country would not be the choice of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency to sit at its head. Especially, as it has refused to sign the treaty which the I.A.E.A. administers. Of course, this is the U.N., and comedy and tragicomedy are its metier.
Perhaps Israel should be Pakistan’s successor at the agency.