The Islamic bomb-makers and bomb-seekers?
How to counter the Islamic bomb-makers and the Islamic bomb-seekers?
That is the question that should have been addressed by the Nuclear Security Summit convened by President Barack Obama and being held in Washington DC on April 12 and 13, 2010. Our Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, Yousef Raza Gilani, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, and President Hu Jintao of China are among the 37 Heads of State or Government attending the summit. Ten other countries are also attending, but not at the Head of State or Government level.
Under his policy of making overtures to the Islamic world, Obama has refrained from posing the main issue in all its stark reality. The stark reality is that a catastrophic threat to the lives and property of the non-Muslims of the world as well as large sections of the Muslims themselves comes from two pernicious ideas born in the mosques and madrasas of Pakistan and disseminated across the Ummah by Islamic fundamentalist elements.
The first pernicious idea is that of the Islamic bomb, which was first propounded by the late Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto. He was not a fundamentalist himself, but found it necessary to project Pakistan's quest for nuclear weapon capability as meant to protect the Islamic States from the nuclear capability of non-Islamic States—particularly India and Israel. He did not say that the States of India and Israel had an atomic bomb and hence the State of Pakistan should also have one to protect itself. He said that the Hindu and the Jewish religions had an atomic bomb and hence Islam should also have one.
He projected the image of an Islamic bomb in order to get funds for Pakistan's clandestine nuclear programme from Saudi Arabia, Libya and Iran. His idea of an Islamic bomb developed by Pakistan as a trustee and guardian of the Islamic world was readily borrowed by the Islamic parties of Pakistan, which project Pakistan's nuclear weapons and expertise as acquired on behalf of the entire Islamic world.
Many Pakistani nuclear scientists close to the Islamic parties subscribed to this idea of an Islamic bomb. AQ Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist, was one of them. For him and the scientists associated with him, his selling the uranium enrichment technology and equipment and nuclear weapon designs obtained from China to Iran and Libya was not an act of proliferation. It was an act of Islamic solidarity. Even though the Pakistan Government, under US pressure, took some action against him for his acts of proliferation to Iran and Libya, many in Pakistan in the civil society as a whole as well as in the Government and the nuclear scientists' community do not believe that AQ Khan did anything wrong by helping his co-religionists in other States acquire a nuclear weapon capability.
Bhutto and others who followed him in Pakistan saw the Islamic bomb as meant to protect Pakistan and other Islamic States and to deter attacks on them by non-Muslim States. Osama bin Laden borrowed the concept of the Islamic bomb from the Pakistanis and expanded it further to project it as meant to protect the religion of Islam from threats from other religions—-particularly Christianity and Judaism. He spoke of the religious right and obligation of the Muslims to acquire a nuclear weapon capability and use it if necessary to protect Islam. This was the second pernicious idea born in Pakistani madrasas such as the Binori madrasa of Karachi which bin Laden made his own.
Thus, from the concept of a deterrence available to a state to deter attacks on it by other nuclear weapon states, the atomic bomb became, in the eyes of bin Laden, not only a deterrent, but also an offensive weapon of jihad to impose the will of Islam on non-Muslims—particularly the Christians and the Jewish people.
This enlarged concept of the atomic bomb as a jihadi non-State weapon and not a State weapon found its supporters in Pakistan's nuclear scientists' community, who were inclined to help Al Qaeda and bin Laden in their quest for this capability. Sultan Bashiruddin Ahmed and Abdul Majid, retired Pakistani nuclear scientists, constituted a new breed of lone wolf proliferators to jihadi non-State actors.
Ever since Al Qaeda embarked on its quest for nuclear material and weapons capability, the concept of the nuclear weapon as a deterrent has lost it meaning. It may deter other States, but it does not deter jihadi non-State actors such as Al Qaeda. A nuclear State may be able to deter another nuclear State through threats of massive retaliation, but such threats will have no meaning or impact in the case of jihadi non-State actors. Fears of large casualties and environment damage act as a restraining factor in the case of nuclear weapon States. No such restraining factor will operate in the case of jihadi non-State actors. They are indifferent to the likely catastrophic consequences of their acts of nuclear terrorism. They will use an actual act of nuclear terrorism or the threat of an act of nuclear terrorism as a weapon of intimidation against non-Muslims. How to deal with this?
The only effective way of preventing Al Qaeda from acquiring a nuclear weapon or dirty bomb capability is by neutralising it beyond recovery and, till it is destroyed, by preventing it from acquiring the capability. Pakistan is the only State where it can acquire the material and the capability. It has a reservoir of support and sympathy in Pakistan. Otherwise, bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, his No.2, might have been killed or captured by now. The pre-9/11 contacts of Sultan Bashiruddin Ahmed and Abdul Majid with bin Laden were an indication of the attraction of Al Qaeda and bin Laden to some members of the Pakistani nuclear scientists' community.
Physical security of nuclear establishments in order to prevent nuclear material from getting into the hands of Al Qaeda and its associates is the first essential step for preventing nuclear terrorism. Another equally important step is the identification of pro-Al Qaeda elements in Pakistan's military, intelligence and nuclear establishments and action to weed them out. Instead of discussing these measures in specific terms, the agenda of the Nuclear Summit seeks to evade a decision on the action that needs to be taken in and against Pakistan. This is not the way to ensure nuclear security.