India-Pakistan: February 12, 2004

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As Bhutanese and Indian troops continue to run down the remaining  Indian separatist rebels along the Bhutan border, it becomes clear why Bhutan, after nearly a decade of Indian protests, finally went after the Indian rebel camps in its territory. The Marxists among Indian rebels had gotten involved in Bhutanese politics, sheltering Bhutanese rebels and helping found a Bhutanese communist party. This spurred the king of Bhutan to lead his army against the Indian rebel camps. 

India and Pakistan have agreed to concentrate on resolving the Kashmir dispute when negotiations begin on February 16th. While the popular mood in Kashmir has turned more optimistic, the hard core separatists continue to fight, with several rebels, troops or civilians getting killed each day.

The details of how Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani nuclear weapons scientist and "father of the Islamic atomic bomb" ran a "nuclear bomb plans for sale" operation, have come out. In a situation so typical of Pakistan, corruption and willingness to use a government position for personal gain led Kahn to go into business for himself, selling nuclear weapons technology to anyone who could pay (North Korea, Iran, Iraq, and possibly others).  

The CIA picked up hints of this business in the 1990s, some ten years ago. Bit by bit, the evidence piled up. Finally, Pakistan's president was forced to confront Kahn, and Kahn was forced, by the weight of the evidence, to admit his guilt. But Kahn is so popular in Pakistan (as "the father of the Moslem bomb") that is was considered political suicide to try and prosecute him for his crimes. So Khan agreed to admit his guilt (phrased as "errors in judgment"). Actually, Khan's crimes were quite extensive. He had begun by stealing plans for uranium processing equipment (centrifuges and such) while working for a European nuclear power engineering company three decades ago. He was later convicted for this crime, but he was by then safely back in Pakistan and working his way towards the leadership of the Pakistani nuclear weapons program. Khan was energetic and opportunistic. Although his technical contributions to the bomb design effort were mainly contained in the technology he had stolen, he managed to take credit for much of the efforts other Pakistani scientists and engineers contributed. Khan also abused his position as head of the nuclear weapons program by giving sweetheart contracts to friends and family, skimming money for himself and taking bribes. But this is so common in Pakistan, that no one really noticed. Even the sale of nuclear weapons technology (but not a complete bomb) to foreign nations was not considered all that unusual. There were dozens of others, both in the nuclear weapons program, and outside it, who worked with Kahn to move the goods, and collect and hide (and share in) the money. Khan's pardon allows him to keep the money. But the CIA, and European intelligence agencies, believe that Khan's group are still in business. So the investigation continues, and Pakistan has been told that members of Khan's group (including Khan) are fair game if caught outside Pakistan.

North Korea has denied being a Khan customer, but Iran and Libya were caught red handed with material from Pakistan (Libya admits it, Iran is stonewalling). Evidence collected in Iraq indicates that Saddam was approached by Khan's salesmen, but had not yet put down the five million dollars required to get the weapons information coming.

The United States will be giving Pakistan $700 million in military and technical aid in 2005, in order to help police the Afghan border. Pakistan has increased army and police presence on the border, and turned over more than 500 Taliban and al Qaeda suspects to the US.  This effort is not completely unprecedented, as Pakistan moved into the tribal areas in the 1980s to suppress the growing heroin trade (which was causing a growing addiction problem in other parts of Pakistan.) The tribes, which were usually left alone, appreciated the governments problem, and moved the heroin business across the border into Afghanistan. The tribes are not happy with this hunt for Taliban leaders and al Qaeda members. The tribes traditional customs are quite similar to Taliban and al Qaeda beliefs. Then again, the Pakistani government has wanted to break the tribes power since Pakistan was founded in 1947. With American troops being offered for use with Pakistani troops later this year in an offensive against the Pakistani border tribes, the rumored crackdown on the pro-Taliban Pakistani tribes appears quite likely.

 

 

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