George W. Bush is hardly the first U.S. president to forgive sins against democracy by a Pakistani leader. Like his predecessors from Jimmy Carter onward, Bush has tolerated bad behavior in hopes that Pakistan might do Washington’s bidding on some urgent U.S. priority — in this case, a crackdown on al-Qaeda. But the scariest legacy of Bush’s failed bargain with Gen. Pervez Musharraf isn’t the rise of another U.S.-backed dictatorship in a strategic Muslim nation, or even the establishment of a new al-Qaeda haven along Pakistan’s lawless border. It’s the leniency we’ve shown toward the most dangerous nuclear-trafficking operation in history — an operation masterminded by one man, Abdul Qadeer Khan.
For nearly four years, under the banner of the “war on terror,” Bush has refused to demand access to Khan, the ultranationalist Pakistani scientist who created a vast network that has spread nuclear know-how to North Korea, Iran and Libya. Indeed, Bush has never seriously squeezed Musharraf over Khan, who remains a national hero for bringing Pakistan the Promethean fire it can use to compete with its nuclear-armed nemesis, India. Khan has remained under house arrest in Islamabad since 2004, outside the reach of the CIA and investigators from the International Atomic Energy Agency, who are desperate to unlock the secrets he carries. Bush should be equally adamant about getting to the bottom of Khan’s activities.
Bush’s sluggishness over Pakistan-based proliferation, even as he has funneled about $10 billion in military and financial aid to Musharraf since Sept. 11, 2001, is even harder to explain when one considers the damage Khan has done to the world’s fragile nuclear stability. Khan used stolen technology and black-market sales to help Pakistan obtain its nuclear arsenal, setting the stage for a possible atomic showdown with India. He played a pivotal role in helping Iran start what we increasingly fear is a clandestine nuclear-arms program, allowing Tehran to make significant progress in the shadows before its efforts were uncovered in 2002. He gave key uranium-enrichment technology to North Korea. And if all this weren’t enough, he was busily outfitting Libya with a full bomb-making factory when his network was finally shut down in late 2003. Khan has been held incommunicado ever since, leaving the world with new nuclear flashpoints — and some burning, unanswered questions about his black-market spree. [complete article]