- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 2, 2004

“The leadership vacuum created by the sad demise of [Palestinian] President Arafat can only be filled by Osama bin Laden and [Taliban leader] Mullah [Mohammad] Omar, the real leaders that are the only dedicated individuals with the mass support of the Muslim world,” said the front-page statement in Pakistan’s mass circulation, Urdu-language newspaper Nawa-e-Waqt. The author was none other than Gen. Hamid Gul, the notorious former head of Pakistan’s intelligence service (ISI), perennial agitproper and America-hater, who is “strategic adviser” to the six-party coalition of politico-religious extremists known as MMA.

In a subsequent Nov. 19 interview in the same newspaper, Gen. Gul flayed U.S. foreign policy now in the hands of “warrior princess” Condi Rice. He said: “The U.S. has created the dilemma of the sociopolitical and economic collapse in Pakistan. Now with Rice’s appointment, the U.S. will influence and control Pakistan’s nuclear program, which is our only remaining strength, through which the right nuclear balance in the region [with India] is maintained.”

MMA plans nationwide protests this week against President Pervez Musharraf’s military offensive in the federally administered tribal areas (FATA) to find Osama bin Laden. Presumably to pre-empt the extremist demonstrations, Mr. Musharraf announced military operations in FATA were now completed and the army was satisfied bin Laden was not hiding somewhere in the 2,500-kilometer-long Afghan-Pakistan frontier region. The unmarked border snakes through rugged mountains and remote plains, and with less than 10,000 troops engaged in the search, and the first snowfalls of winter, finding the proverbial needle in a haystack would have been easier.

If anyone knows bin Laden’s whereabouts, it would be Gen. Gul. An internal CIA assessment describes Gen. Gul as Pakistan’s “most dangerous man.” The general doesn’t hide his admiration for bin Laden and is a personal friend of Mullah Omar. Bin Laden and Gen. Gul share a geopolitical vision that merges Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and the oil riches of a post-monarchy Saudi Arabia in a revived Muslim caliphate.

Earlier this year, Gen. Gul told a closed meeting of MMA leaders at a wake for the wife of the coalition’s vice president Sami ul-Haq, they should begin planning Mr. Musharraf’s succession. Gen. Gul’s candidate: Abdel Qader Khan, father of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and, opinion surveys say, the country’s most popular man since Ali Jinnah, founder of the republic.

“Musharraf and the new Prime Minister Aziz are just the informers and not the real leaders of Pakistan as they were not elected by the people,” Gen. Gul said in a recent interview that called for “elected and brave only” leaders. Mr. Musharraf has survived eight assassination plots.

Gen. Gul’s candidate is the same Mr. Khan who confessed to running the world’s first international black market for nuclear materials and bomb-making wherewithal. His clients were Iran, North Korea — two of the three members of President Bush’s axis of evil (the third was Iraq) — and Libya (now on probation in reform school).

Mr. Khan first began catering to the Iranian ayatollahs’ nuclear yearnings in February 1986. At that time, the secret program was split up and compartmentalized into raw materials, uranium enrichment, plutonium reprocessing, technology procurement and weapons design.

In the 1980s, there was no yarn about the need for nuclear power to cover nuclear weapons goals. Iranian Majlis speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani said in an address to Pasdaran officers, rebroadcast on Oct. 6, 1988, “We should fully equip ourselves both in the offensive and defensive use of chemical, bacteriological and radiological weapons.” The $800 million deal with Russia for nuclear reactors at Busheir was a convenient smoke screen for the different phases of the nuclear weapons program scattered in the rest of the country.

Negotiations between Europe’s Big Three and Iran, and IAEA and Iran, are pure cat-and-mouse charades. Iran is already trying to fit a WMD warhead to a long-range missile. And IAEA lacks authority to scour the country for nuclear weapons.

After burrowing their way into the club courtesy of Pakistan’s nuclear Daddy Warbucks, Iran and North Korea are now the world’s ninth and 10th nuclear powers. The fiercely anti-American Mr. Khan also sent two nuclear engineers to Afghanistan before September 11, 2001, to confer with Mullah Omar (on an agricultural project, Pakistan lamely explained when the news leaked). Gen. Gul was also in Afghanistan for two weeks immediately prior to September 11.

Mr. Musharraf granted A.Q. Khan a full pardon. He was allowed to keep his lucre stashed in foreign banks. Mr. Musharraf realized bringing such a national icon to trial would have triggered nationwide riots.

Worse than riots, A.Q.K.’s handiwork may well precipitate a wider regional conflict. Both Israel and the United States have said a nuclear Iran is unacceptable. Iran, on the other hand, sees itself bracketed between two countries now occupied by the U.S. — 20,000 U.S. troops to the east in Afghanistan and 135,000 to the west in Iraq. Again, seen from Tehran, Iran is surrounded by half the world’s nuclear powers — Russia, Israel, Pakistan and India.

So Iran has legitimate security concerns. And the fear of U.S. armed forces on its flanks has strengthened the grip of hard-liner ayatollahs.

Before Operation Iraqi Freedom, some prominent neoconservatives advocated hitting Iran first, not Iraq. They argued, as the Iraqi hawks did about Baghdad, that countless millions were anxiously waiting to be liberated. For the U.S. to take on Iran and its 70 million people without a clear casus belli would make Iraq look like a walk in the park. The inevitable strategic debacle would topple Pakistan’s President Musharraf and bring about Gen. Gul’s vision of a nuclear caliphate.

The U.S. Defense Science Board in a 111-page report this week found U.S. credibility among Muslims is down to zero and urged policymakers to spend more time “listening” to their intended audience and use messages that “seek to reduce, not increase, perceptions of arrogance, opportunism and double standards.”

At the same time, another U.S. survey showed anti-American prejudice and hostility in Europe far exceeding those during the Vietnam War. Today, every large European country has a Muslim minority of several million. A preemptive U.S. attack on Iran would only worsen matters for the Bush administration and governments still backing the U.S. in Iraq. We would likely be on the receiving end of a paroxysm of global rage — and Osama bin Laden, as Hamid Gul suggested, anointed the Muslim world’s Jihadi-in-Chief.

Unencumbered by image problems in Europe and the Muslim world, where it has long been seen as the villain, Israel is ready and able to seriously disrupt Iran’s nuclear buildup, much the way it killed Saddam Hussein’s reactor at Osirak before it went critical in 1981. Israel won’t wait for a wink and a nod from the White House before acting. But the U.S. will be blamed anyway.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large for The Washington Times and United Press International.

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