- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 8, 2004

Pakistan’s nuclear mastermind Abdul Qadeer Khan delivered his scripted mea culpa last week for exporting nuclear know-how, amid crocodile sighs. The unclimactic next act, a presidential pardon, was widely anticipated in the media and interpreted as a quid pro quo. Mr. Khan assured the global public that the Pakistani government didn’t know about or condone the scientist’s proliferation, and in return President Pervez Musharraf got Mr. Khan off the hook legally. But the great Mr. Khan is moribund. His very public capitulation, in what author Ahmed Akbar describes as Pakistan’s honor culture, has debased him. The global audience, meanwhile, is horrified by his reckless endangerment of the international community.

The question then remains: What is the damage to Pakistan in general and Gen. Musharraf specifically? Mr. Khan’s admission represents an attempt by Gen. Musharraf to give some sort of airing of Pakistan’s proliferation wrongs, which have become very clear in the wake of recent revelations by Libya and Iran. But most serious observers recognize the admission as more whitewash than sunlight. Mr. Khan’s contention that no military or government officials were aware, for example, of the weapons of mass destruction links between Pakistan and North Korea is not credible.

All of this presents difficult foreign policy choices for the United States. Pakistan’s policing has led to the most important counter-al Qaeda breakthroughs in the world, and it is expected to become more aggressive in the border region with Afghanistan.

But if U.S. officials are calculating that turning a blind eye towards proliferation will produce a tied and shackled Osama bin Laden, compliments of Pakistan, they are probably mistaken. As Pakistani experts maintain, Islamabad fears that given the history of U.S.-Pakistani relations, producing bin Laden would lead to an incremental end to the U.S. courtship. While a bin Laden capture can’t be ruled out, such a move (if tactically feasible for Pakistan) would probably be poorly timed in Islamabad.

Washington should not therefore soft-peddle its concern over nuclear proliferation, but should blunt the impact of its measures by directing all actions through international organizations. Mr. Khan’s professed contrition doesn’t put to rest proliferation issues. Gen. Musharraf will have many questions to answer in the next few months, in Pakistan and beyond.

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