- Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation issue has resurfaced after Recep Tayyip Erdogan was reported conveying his desire for Turkey to go nuclear at a party convention
- Pakistan got away with nuclear proliferation in 2004-2005 because of perceived need by the Bush administration of Islamabad’s help and the transit facility it offered in Washington’s war on terror in Afghanistan
Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation is once again coming under scrutiny following Turkey’s reported quest for nuclear weapons. Buried for nearly 15 years after Pakistan’s nuclear smuggler AQ Khan confessed to nuclear smuggling and illicit exports, the issue has resurfaced in recent days after Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was reported conveying his desire for Turkey to go nuclear at a party convention.
“Some countries have missiles with nuclear warheads … (But the West insists) we can’t have them. This, I cannot accept,” Erdogan was reported telling his party faithful in remarks that have caused a stir in Washington. “If the United States could not prevent the Turkish leader from routing its Kurdish allies, how can it stop him from building a nuclear weapon or following Iran in gathering the technology to do so?” the New York Times asked in a report on Monday, pointing out that “already Turkey has the makings of a bomb program: uranium deposits and research reactors - and mysterious ties to the nuclear world’s most famous black marketeer, Abdul Qadeer Khan of Pakistan.”
According to “Nuclear Black Markets”, a study of the Khan network by the London think-tank International Institute for Strategic Studies, companies in Turkey aided AQ Khan’s covert effort by importing materials from Europe, making centrifuge parts and shipping finished products to customers, the report said. A riddle to this day is whether the Khan network had a fourth customer besides Iran, Libya and North Korea, the report wondered, pointing to intelligence reports that believe Turkey could possess “a considerable number of centrifuges of unknown origin” by virtue of being Khan’s fourth customer. Khan’s nuclear network extended to Malaysia too.
Pakistan got away with its nuclear proliferation in 2004-2005 because of perceived need by the Bush administration of Islamabad’s help and the transit facility Pakistan offered in Washington’s war on terror in Afghanistan. The country was caught pants down proliferating nuclear blueprints; but Khan was made to confess on TV and asked to fall on the sword by claiming he did it on his own accord without government sanction, even though it was apparent that he had used government machinery and facilities with the knowledge and concurrence of the Pakistani establishment.
Khan was subsequently confined to the doghouse (and virtually under house arrest) as Pakistan’s then military ruler Pervez Musharraf sought to control the damage and rescue the country from infamy and punitive sanctions. He surfaced recently though, and in fact, in a recent public appearance at the University of Karachi, he spoke of Turkey and Malaysia as countries worth of being emulated by Pakistan.
Bereft of friends and allies in the global arena because of its support for terrorism as chronicled by global bodies such as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) , Pakistan has lately latched on to the two countries to build an Islamist coalition. They were the only two countries that have stood up for Islamabad in recent weeks with even China, Pakistan’s long time patron in its effort to constrain India, leery of Pakistan’s embrace of extremism.
Currently headed by China, the recently concluded meeting of FATF asked Pakistan to “do more” in addressing the issue of terrorism financing while keeping it in a grey list. Amid much mirth in the social media, Pakistani leaders celebrated remaining on the grey list as a victory, claiming India’s effort to put it in a blacklist had failed.
Khan similarly generated laughter when he spoke recently at a different event about the importance of research to students in Pakistan. Described in the Pakistan media has a “nuclear scientist”, Khan is actually a metallurgist who has no significant research work to his name. From most accounts, his contribution to Pakistan’s nuclear programme came via stealing blueprints of centrifuge technology from a Dutch firm he worked in, an effort that earned him the epithet “nuclear smuggler” in the chronicles of nuclear proliferation.
Whether Turkey has been a recipient of Khan’s (and Pakistan’s) nuclear largesse is something that has triggered interest among Washington’s non-proliferation brigade that had hitherto not expressed much interest in the matter since Ankara - unlike Libya, Iran, and North Korea - was a Nato ally.
In fact, the NYT story wondered why Turkey would even conceivably want such arms, particularly since they already host an estimated 50 US nuclear weapons at Incirlik Air Base, while suggesting that with its advanced civilian nuclear programme and ties to Pakistan’s AQ Khan, Ankara “could break out in relatively short order”.