A fascinating recent article by ArmsControlWonk regular (and, full disclosure, good friend) Joshua Pollack sheds a disturbing light on the nuclear smuggling network of Pakistani atomic bomb builder, A.Q. Khan and on the nation that allowed all of this to happen.
The article, The Secret Treachery of A. Q. Khan appears in the most recent issue of Playboy (so maybe don’t read it at work – but definitely read it!)
Khan often articulated high-minded goals for his work, such as re-balancing power away from the dominant super-powers and restoring strength to the Muslim world. But, as Pollack shows (I won’t spoil the ending to this thriller) Khan’s real reasons were tawdry and sad. Tawdry because, based on his clients, Khan was really only in it for the money. Sad, because a great part of Khan’s quest for money was in order to buy respect. Born in pre-partition India, Khan had (like millions of others) a harrowing journey from his birthplace to the new nation of Pakistan. He encountered endless humiliations and then faced further setbacks establishing himself in his new country.
It is an interesting portrait of an individual whose private demons have terrorized the world. But it is also an allegory for the nation-state of Pakistan itself.
Pakistan’s leaders, often employ Islamist rhetoric, while capriciously enriching themselves. Reading Ayesha Siddiqa’s Military Inc. paints a picture of an all-powerful security establishment slowly devouring the nation’s economy. (In fairness, Pakistan’s civilian leaders have hardly been exemplars of rectitude.)
But, like Khan, part of Pakistan’s national ethos is a sense of being slighted by the world – especially in comparison to its powerful neighbor. This damaged pride leads Pakistan to pursue great power status on the world stage at the expense of development at home.
This is perhaps the saddest part of all. Khan is obviously an individual of great industry and intelligence and could perhaps have been successful – if not rich and famous – without resorting to a massive crime that may have world-shattering effects.
Similarly, the nation of Pakistan could have focused its energies on development and education instead of its military. Then Pakistan might be the economic miracle of south Asia. Instead it is slipping further and further into poverty and disorder.
On the international stage, the challenge of Pakistan will not recede anytime soon. As this is being written Pakistan and the United States are involved in a difficult contratemps over what looks like an unfortunate friendly fire accident.
This recent article shows how the story of Pakistan is the story of A. Q. Khan writ large. As policy-makers wrestle with developing an effective Pakistan policy, Pakistan’s own perceptions (even if they are wholly unjustified) of its place in the world are worth considering.