The irresponsible press
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday the President accused the press of being irresponsible According to him all those writing about the government and the army’s involvement in the leakages of the nuclear know how were doing a disservice to Pakistan.
“Stop this,” the general thundered and said “You don’t know what would be the result of this reckless implication of every institution in the proliferation issue.”This was in response to a valid question being raised in the press by a number of politicians and commentators.
It has been asked whether it was realistic to put all the blame for the leakage on a handful of scientists alone when the highly sensitive programme was supposed to be under the vigilant supervision of the Establishment.The explanation Gen Musharraf has given for holding scientists alone responsible raises more questions than it answers.The nuclear programme according to him has been spread over two phases i.e., the covert stage which stretched till the testing of the nuclear devices in 1998 and the overt one which followed.
All the leakages according to him took place during the first phase when the nuclear command authority had not been established and Dr AQ Khan was mainly responsible for the security of the programme. Gen Musharraf has however conceded that three officials were associated with the programme after the death of Ziaul Haq, i.e. successive Presidents, Chiefs of Army Staff and the Chairman of the KRL.
One can appreciate the problems faced by those running the nuclear programme during the first stage when they had to keep the activity hidden and make purchases secretly from the black market. Pakistan was however neither the first nor the only country which had to pass through the period when it had to keep the programme under cover. Israel developed the capacity in similar circumstances and despite being in possession of a fairly large nuclear arsenal it still refuses to acknowledge its existence.
The Indian programme remained a clandestine activity till the country exploded a nuclear device in 1973. South Africa kept the activity secret even after having produced six atom bombs till the black majority regime which took over in 1994 announced it was handing over the weapons to the IAEA. All these countries purchased components from the black market and had to give considerable laxity to its scientists. They were not however found to have been involved in the sale of technology, hardware or warhead designs.
So simply maintaining that laxity was the result of the compulsions of secrecy would satisfy few. It was for the Establishment to ensure the security of its programme on account of the dangers involved in proliferation. The President and the COAS were associated with the programme not in their personal capacity but as the most powerful and resourceful officials of the Establishment.
They had all the security agencies and the civil and military bureaucratic apparatus at their disposal to plan a secure system as other countries had done. That they failed in this is evident.
Gen Musharraf has accused people in the domestic media of indulging in sensationalism and creating doubts about their country. The biggest shock came when the government conceded that top scientists, lionized by the Establishment all these years, were involved in the leakages.
This was a revelation few had expected. Both Iran and Libya have subsequently denied they had leaked the names of Pakistani scientists while North Korea has claimed it never imported uranium enrichment technology from Pakistan and that the US had concocted evidence against it. But the government claims it did not act on the information supplied by the IAEA, CIA and M16 alone but conducted its own enquiries, It also sent teams of investigators to Iran and Libya.
The Pakistani press has done little beyond reporting the versions of all sides and putting relevant questions about the security of the programme.Pakistani media has to rely on information coming from outside the country because the Establishment continues to follows in the footsteps of the pre-independence colonial regime by keeping things closely guarded from the “natives.” It is however open to the newsmen from other countries.
It is from the foreign media that we know what is happening in South Waziristan or how the FBI is involved in raids inside Pakistan or how many casualties were suffered by Pakistani forces when fired at by the US troops along the Durand Line. The government version comes much later and only when it is no more possible to hide the information.
Gen Musharraf is also not happy with local newspapers carrying reports published in foreign media. These reports he says might turn out to be against the national interest. What is wrong with letting the public know what others think about our nuclear programme and the system devised to safeguard it? Do we want the public to keep its head buried in the sand like the Establishment? And is it at all possible to stop the inflow of information at this time and age?
World capitals formulate their policies on the basis of information available to them from their agencies. They do not take cue from the Pakistani media. The establishment knows this well. It is however unhappy with the media when the later brings to light tragic lapses by the Establishment that could cost the country heavily. No King Midas likes his subjects to be told he has donkey’s ears.