Revisiting the NCA

The recent verbal duel between Dr A Q Khan and the Strategic Plans Division (SPD) has brought into sharp focus the perceived role of Pakistan in nuclear proliferation.

Gen Musharraf writes “In the Line of Fire”: “Doctor A Q Khan transferred nearly two dozen centrifuges to North Korea, the Iranians and the Libyans through Dubai. He provided nearly eighteen tons of materials, including centrifuges, components and drawings. The deal with Libya was estimated to be in the region of $100 million.” (Page 294)

According to Gen Musharraf this huge clandestine operation was the brainchild of Dr Khan alone. A Q Khan was “not part of the problem but the problem itself,” he says. (Page 288 )

Distancing the Army from the issue, he says, “I can say with confidence that neither the Pakistan Army nor any of the past governments of Pakistan were ever involved or had any knowledge of A Q’s proliferation activities. The show was completely and entirely A Q’s and he did it all for money.” (Page 292)

However, a little serpent of doubt bites Musharraf: “Contrary to some perception, he is no fall guy for anyone. There is absolutely no evidence to the contrary.” (Page 292)

Retorting to A Q Khan the SDP promptly arranged a briefing to what it called a “patriotic group of journalists” and angrily rejected his accusations, claiming also that there had been no involvement of the Army, Musharraf, the SPD or the ISI in nuclear proliferation.

The NCA was set up in February 2000 as the top nuclear policy body, with the SPD as its secretariat, by General Musharraf, soon after he took over in October 1999. It was never debated in Parliament. Since proliferation has taken place despite the NCA and SPD, it makes a strong case for revisiting both by Parliament.

Neither the NCA nor the SPD can escape blame for failing to detect proliferation until it was pointed out to Musharraf by President Bush. Recalling his meeting with Bush in September 2003 Musharraf says, “Then came one of my most embarrassing moments. President Bush drew me aside and asked me if I could spare some time the next morning for the CIA director, George Tenet.” It was George Tenet who laid bare before him the details of nuclear transfers to Libya, he says. What has the SPD or the NCA to say about turning a blind eye to the proliferation network as it flourished can be addressed only through an in-camera parliamentary probe?

If A Q Khan did visit foreign countries, did he do so with the permission of the federal government? And who authorised these visits? Was the no export regime strictly observed? On July 24, 2000, the Ministry of Commerce published full page ads in The News inviting applications from vendors for an NOC to export enriched uranium, plutonium, heavy water, nuclear power reactor, reactor pressure vessels, reactor control systems and frequency changers–in short, the wherewithal for making a crude nuclear devise. Clearly, the no export of nuclear components policy was violated, but the SPD and NCA looked the other way.

There is another reason. General Musharraf has described Pakistan’s nuclear custodial control thus: “In early 1999 I decided to informally put in place the proposed secretariat of Strategic Plans Division (SPD) with the GHQ.”

Notice the “I” here. All critical aspects of development, command, control of nuclear weapons and intelligence gathering thus are centralised in just one institution he represented at the time, with no civilian oversight. This is a model that is not supported by the experience of other nuclear-weapons countries.

The SPD has done well to offer to discuss the issue “in camera” before a parliamentary committee or the court or before any select group. During a Senate debate on the nuclear issue sometime back, the writer had offered to place some facts provided the session was declared in camera, but the opposition insisted on an open debate. Since a public discussion would have been imprudent, a great opportunity to present some crucial facts was thus lost.

The SPD’s offer should be immediately accepted and a joint “in camera” meeting of the Defence Committees of the National Assembly and Senate be convened to thoroughly revisit both the NCA and SPD. It is critical for a responsive and responsible NCA and for saving our nuclear assets.

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