By Waheeduddin Ahmed Ph.D.
September 2012–In the years following the Second World War, communism was advancing rapidly in Europe and in Asia. Churchill had said that an iron curtain had descended between Eastern and Western Europe. There was much talk of war and the Iron Curtain would have been smashed by a pincer attack from either side. It did not happen however, because in 1949 the Soviet Union had succeeded in producing the atom bomb. The threat of war receded but the talk remained. Soon the stockpiles of nuclear weapons mounted on both sides and the concept of Mutual Assured Destruction became engrained in the consciousness. No war, save proxy wars, was now possible.
In 1971 India and Pakistan went to war against each other yet once again. The Pakistani army surrendered in East Pakistan and West Pakistan itself came very close to being occupied by India. India had overwhelming superiority over Pakistan in the number of troops as well as in weapons. India could and would maintain this superiority forever. Pakistanâ€™s hyped confidence in its fighting prowess would be of no avail.
I was in those days living and working in the U.K. as a scientist. I wrote a letter to the Pakistani ambassador in London â€“ Pakistan had an ambassador instead of High Commissioner, since it had temporarily left the Common Wealth — General Mohammad Yousuf, suggesting that no matter what Pakistan did to increase its military strength, India would always maintain a five to one superiority. Only nuclear weapons could deter India from attacking Pakistan. The ambassador wrote back appreciating the suggestion and said that my letter had been forwarded to the highest authorities in Pakistan. Shortly thereafter news came out that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had gathered his scientists in a meeting in Multan and announced â€œGentlemen, we are going for the Bomb.â€ I am not suggesting that my letter had anything to do with that announcement; It is on record that Professor Abdus Salam and Munir Ahmad Khan had suggested this to Bhutto long ago, when he was a minister under Ayub Khan, which the latter had rejected. I am merely mentioning a chain of events and their chronology. What happened next is history. Both India and Pakistan have reached a stage of Mutual Assured Destruction. No war is now possible and they are slowly and assuredly moving towards peace and reconciliation in spite of the saber rattling which goes on in some quarters.
There is one region however, where war and destruction are looming is the Middle East because there is a dangerous imbalance of power. Israel is hyped with weapons of mass destruction and is assured of having its way in every situation, as long as the nuclear imbalance prevails. Peace can be assured only when there is a counterweight to Israelâ€™s weapons of mass destruction. Since peace and justice in the Middle East is not on anybodyâ€™s agenda, any move towards balancing the power equation is opposed by Israel and her â€œalliesâ€ with full coercive powers at their disposal. Iran and the sanctions and the threats of attack on her must be looked at from that perspective. The biggest coercive trick that the West uses is to try to convince the Arabs that their existence is threatened by Iran. Using the Shia/Sunni divide is another weapon in its arsenal.
Logic dictates that if Iranâ€™s acquisition of nuclear weapons is a threat to the Arab states then they must be allowed to acquire it also. In fact, the situation would demand that they did exactly that. Egypt and Iraq have scientists with considerable brainpower and expertise to achieve results in a short time. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have money to finance this. North Korea renounced the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty with very little fuss and consternation. These countries could do the same. There would be consequences and sanctions but if a large number of Arab states as well as Iran and Turkey acted together, no sanctions would have any effect. Besides, Russia and China wield the veto power in the Security Council. Ai least one of them could be persuaded to vote against any motion of sanctions by the West.
This brings me to the accusation of proliferation and covert operations by Pakistani individuals, notably Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan. I only want to make two points in this respect: One: It is beyond any oneâ€™s comprehension that Dr. Khan could have carried out the alleged operations without the knowledge of the Prime Ministers and the military. If in fact the rulers of Pakistan claim ignorance then Pakistan becomes a confirmed non-state with questionable right to exist. Two: The countries, to which the transfer of knowhow is alleged to have taken place, are: Iran, Libya and North Korea, all of them strongest political allies of Pakistan at that time. If there was a country mentioned which was not an ally, then the question of commercial interests could have arisen but there is no other country apart from these three.
Transfer of knowhow to an ally is a common place thing in the history of nuclear weapons. In fact nuclear proliferation has been going on since the time of Manhattan Project. Close cooperation between the U.S.A. and the United Kingdom is considered natural and does not raise any eyebrows. As for France, French scientists working on the Manhattan Project were told that they could use their knowledge in France provided that they kept it a secret. The Soviets were using all their efforts expeditiously to acquire the bomb, including espionage and co-opting Russian scientists working in the West, such as Peter Kapitsa, a student of Rutherford in Cavendish Laboratories at Cambridge. Subsequently, China was receiving active help from the Soviets in building the bomb until the relations between Khrushchev and Mao soured in the early Sixties.
The story of the Israeli bomb is nothing but a story of cryptic proliferation and espionage. In 1956, when Israel cooperated with Britain and France in attacking and occupying Suez Canal and then had to withdraw under pressure from Eisenhower, Israel was promised by the French Prime Minister Guy De Mollet, assistance in developing nuclear weapons as a reward. The promise was kept. Francis Perrin, a member of the French Atomic Energy Commission, who was a friend of his counterpart in Israel: Ernst Bergman, visited Israel and plans were drawn to give Israel everything that she needed to develop the bomb. Hundreds of French engineers and technicians were sent to Israel to work in the Dimona nuclear plant.
Apart from France, Norway and the U.S. provided the heavy water that was needed. Some of the yellow cake (uranium oxide intermediate) stockpiled in Antwerp, Belgium was transferred from one ship to another on the high seas and sent to Israel. Some 200 pounds of highly enriched uranium were stolen from Apollo, Pennsylvania, with suspected inside assistance from Zalman Shapiro, the director of the facility and president of the local chapter of a Zionist association. Nothing can be more significant than the frequent visits to Israel by Robert Oppenheimer, the Director of the Manhattan Project and Edward Teller, known as â€œthe father of Hydrogen Bombâ€ in America. All the above mentioned gentlemen were of Jewish origin.
Why did Israel resort to such clandestine operations, when it had no dearth of scientists in the nuclear arena? The answer is the same as could be offered in case of Pakistanâ€™s covert procurement efforts: expediency. It is senseless to start from manufacturing nuts and bolts if your object is to build a machine. You buy whatever starting materials you need in the open market and try to procure what is restricted, by covert means. You worry about indigenous industry later. To do otherwise is to delay the project indefinitely.
Pakistanâ€™s success in making the quantum jump is more remarkable than Israelâ€™s. Pakistan had no such friends as the Zionists in France and the U.S.A. nor did it have access to stolen materials as the Israelis had. It had to make its own enriched uranium and the centrifuges needed to make it. The Xerox machine in the Netherlands could not have been as useful as the knowledge and expertise of the researcher himself in designing and developing the gas centrifuges. The question of ethics never enters into matters of national security, be it the superpowers or weak powers under existential threats.
Besides, Pakistan had world class physicists and mathematicians such as Abdus Salam, Raziuddin Siddiqui, Ishrat Hussain Usmani, Nazir Ahmed, Riazuddin, Ishfaq Ahmed and engineers such as Munir Ahmad Khan, Abdul Qadeer Khan and Parvez Butt, to name a few. Many of them are the unsung heroes of the â€œIslamic Bombâ€. Given the right political and social climate, there is no reason why Pakistan, like India cannot harness its resources to rightfully participate in the development of science and technology and bring prosperity to its people.
Peace in the Middle East is beyond reach because of the arrogance of nuclear loaded Israel. During the first phase of the 1973 war, under the shock of the Egyptian/Syrian offensive, Israel is said to have activated its hitherto small nuclear strike force and would have used it if the military situation had further deteriorated. Moshe Dayan was reported to have said: â€œThis is the end of the Third Templeâ€. So, of all the powers in the nuclear club, it is only Israel, which would go to the extent of using nuclear weapons without any regard to consequences. It is this nuclear ego and jingoism that need to be deflated, if there is any hope of the survival of the human kind. The western governments cannot and would not do it. The western civilization cannot afford the luxury of a no-conflict world, nor does it want the mutual assured destruction concept to touch the Middle East.
We hear the talk of Israel going to attack Iranâ€™s nuclear facility. It sounds as if a police force is going to attack a band of hooligans sitting around the corner. Iran is supposed to fold up and cry foul. First of all, let us assume that Israel is going to commit such a folly. Any attack will be a onetime aerial bombardment of Iranâ€™s nuclear facility. Then let us also suppose that Iranâ€™s air defenses are paralyzed. What damage can such an attack cause? Israelâ€™s Dimona plant is buried underground deep inside the Negev desert and is assumed to be untouchable; a great part of Iranâ€™s nuclear plants must also be equally located underground, including, centrifuges, stocks of raw and enriched uranium and other paraphernalia unless the accusations of clandestine operations are false.
The technical knowhow and expertise remain buried in the brains of people, which cannot be destroyed, not even by a few assassinations. However, what the aftermath of the attack will be and how Iran, its allies and friends all over the world will retaliate is an open question. Let us hope the western world has an answer.