THE SUNDAY NEW YORK TIMES has a rather disturbing account of the Pakistani nuclear weapons program. Worth the read.
Just last month in Washington, members of the federally appointed bipartisan Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism made it clear that for sheer scariness, nothing could compete with what they had heard in a series of high-level intelligence briefings about the dangers of Pakistan’s nuclear technology going awry. “When you map W.M.D. and terrorism, all roads intersect in Pakistan,” Graham Allison, a Harvard professor and a leading nuclear expert on the commission, told me. “The nuclear security of the arsenal is now a lot better than it was. But the unknown variable here is the future of Pakistan itself, because it’s not hard to envision a situation in which the state’s authority falls apart and you’re not sure who’s in control of the weapons, the nuclear labs, the materials.”
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The Pakistani nuclear program owes its very existence to the government-endorsed and government-financed subterfuges of A. Q. Khan, who then turned the country into the biggest source of nuclear-weapons proliferation in atomic history. And while Khan may be the most famous nuclear renegade in Pakistan, he is not the only one. Soon after Kidwai took office, he also faced the case of the eccentric nuclear scientist Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, who helped build gas centrifuges for the Pakistani nuclear program, using blueprints Khan had stolen from the Netherlands. Mahmood then moved on to the country’s next huge project: designing the reactor at Khushab that was to produce the fuel Pakistan needed to move to the next level — a plutonium bomb.
An autodidact intellectual with grand aspirations, Mahmood was fascinated by the links between science and the Koran. He wrote a peculiar treatise arguing that when morals degrade, disaster cannot be far behind. Over time, his colleagues began to wonder if Mahmood was mentally sound. They were half amused and half horrified by his fascination with the role sunspots played in triggering the French and Russian Revolutions, World War II and assorted anticolonial uprisings. “This guy was our ultimate nightmare,” an American intelligence official told me in late 2001, when The New York Times first reported on Mahmood. “He had access to the entire Pakistani program. He knew what he was doing. And he was completely out of his mind.”