Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Dr. Khan's plea for mercy

Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, chief scientist of the Pakistani nuclear programme, has made a plea for mercy on national television after being accused of illegally supplying other countries, especially Libya, Iran and possibly even North Korea with advice and even detailed designs for nuclear equipment. AQK is a Pakistani hero, who worked in the 1970s in Europe for a group of British, Dutch and German firms called Urenco making uranium-enrichment machinery - until he levanted with the blueprints in the best James Bond style. It's probably worth pointing out here that the people responsible for exposing the existence of a black market in nuclear engineering technology are the UN's International Atomic Energy Authority - or in other words, the wimps who couldn't be relied upon in Iraq.

Although everyone, I think, will agree that trading in nuclear weapons - well, the means to make them - is something the world does not need, I can't help feeling a horror at the medieval side of this. Publicly begging for your life on live television - it's hardly the best example of democratic values in the Muslim world, is it? In fact, it's extremely reminiscent of the first Gulf War and various, viciously battered, allied aircrew being forced to make public statements of humiliation before TV cameras. Or Al-Jazeera showing those so terrible pictures of dead people. (that are quite all right when we show them, as long as they are on the other side...or have I missed something?) And it only sounds worse when you notice this:
According to sources in Washington, Mr Powell offered Gen Musharraf assistance for an inquiry into Mr Khan's activities. The Guardian has learned that money, equipment and lie detectors for interrogations would be made available. Gen Musharraf rejected the overture but the case against Mr Khan has been building up inexorably since.

"Equipment" for an interrogation. A grim prospect. And it also seems very convenient indeed that the Pakistani government had absolutely nothing to do with it! It was just those terrible scientist johnnies! (never know what they'll do next, what?) Who would think that a government that prepared operational plans to disperse nukes and aircraft into Taliban territory in the event of war as a kind of second strike capability on the cheap might do anything so outrageous?

Oddly enough, though, Musharraf has some unintended backing for his position, from President Bush. Bush took up the traditional Russian peasant view of power over the weekend with his "Ah wanna know the faycts" speech - it's not him! He is a Good Tsar! It's those evil, plotting courtiers that lead him astray with their foreign influences. The problem is, though, that although this idea served wonderfully well for many years to soak up popular fury, it allows no manoeuvre. The next stop was always to assume that he wasn't really the tsar - and that meant a cossack rebellion.

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