Book Review: Pakistan’s Nuclear Bomb; The story of defiance, deterrence and deviance.

This book had been lying in my anti library for long, don’t know why I did not read it earlier! Hassan Abbas, the former Pakistani police officer, entrusted with investigating AQ Khan’s corruption when he was posted in the (infamous) National Accountability Bureau (NAB) writes an interesting account of the Pakistani nuclear weapons programme. Much of the facts brought out by him about the history of Pakistan’s nuclear quest, the seize mentality of Pakistan, the narrative of being unfairly treated by the west is not new for the students of Pakistani nuclear programme, so was easy to read. Interestingly however, while narrating the history of Pakistani nuclear and missile programme, the author omits to mention the Chinese they received. He only makes passing references to such help twice in the book. Much of the literature covers the proliferation activities that AQ Khan (and some would say Pakistan) indulged in. Seen from that perspective it is indeed a good read.

Abbas uses the bureaucratic model propounded by Graham Allison in his seminal work, ‘Essence of Decision’ to explain how AQ Khan and his associated in the civilian and military set up manipulated the system to transfer nuclear weapons technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya. On the question that has riled many scholars i.e was AQ Khan acting on his own or in concert and with the concurrence of the establishment in Pakistan, Abbas argues that in the initial phases of proliferation, Khan acted in concert with the state actors, (proliferation to Iran and North Korea) but argues that he was on a solo trip when it came to Libya. Many scholars like Parvez Hoodbhoy have challenged this assertion arguing that transporting equipments’ like centrifuges could not have been possible without the active support (or tacit approval) of the establishment. Since Dr. AQ Khan has never been allowed to be questioned by any international agency, including the IAEA, we might never have a definitive answer to this questions.

One interesting fact that deserves attention is the religious fervor that many scientists associated with the programme developed in their quest for the bomb. Abbas mentions that as per estimates nearly one third of the scientists of the Khan Research Labs had developed an Islamic zeal,. The well known case of Pakistani nuclear scientist Sultan Bashiruddin Masood’s who is said to have met Osama Bin Laden finds a reference in the book. That many in the establishment as well as in the nuclear community looked upon this project as an ‘Islamic Bomb’ cannot thus be dismissed outright. A deep resentment of the west also pervaded their narrative, with the west trying to keep Muslims around the world backward in their view.

All in all an easy, informative and an interesting read. I would conclude by quoting Ayesha Siddiqa on this book, ‘Hassan Abbas presents one of the best defenses of Pakistan’s military as he lays out details of AQ Khan’s personal network’. 

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