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Profile: Khalid Mahmud Arif
Khalid Mahmud Arif was a participant or observer in the following events:
Pakistani military dictator Muhammad Zia ul-Haq disbands the civilian committee that oversees operations at Kahuta Research Laboratories (KRL), a facility working on producing a nuclear weapon for Pakistan. The committee had been put in place by Zia’s predecessor, civilian ruler Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, to keep the military away from the project, but the deposed Bhutto has recently been sentenced to death. The committee’s role is taken over by Army Chief of Staff General Khalid Mahmud Arif. Zia tells Arif that KRL’s uranium enrichment program needs to be successful not only for Pakistan, but for all Muslim countries. Arif and KRL chief A. Q. Khan already know each other, having worked together on the construction of Kahuta. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 52-53]
On a trip to New York, Pakistani dictator Muhammad Zia ul-Haq meets with former US President Richard Nixon. The meeting is to discuss the Soviet-Afghan War, but Pakistan’s nuclear program also comes up. General Khalid Mahmud Arif, who accompanies Zia, will later say that Nixon makes it clear he is in favor of Pakistan gaining nuclear weapons capability. Nixon does not say that he is acting for Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan, but, according to authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clarke, “his comments signal […] the way ahead,” as the future Reagan administration will enable Pakistan to continue work on its nuclear weapons program without being sanctioned. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 76]
Pakistan Foreign Minister Agha Shahi and General Khalid Arif visit Washington to discuss the new Reagan administration’s plans for the Soviet-Afghan War. The new administration is aware that Pakistani support is crucial if it wants to keep up US aid to anti-communist fighters in Afghanistan. However, the Pakistanis impose a number of conditions on their participation, one of which is that the US does not complain about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons development program. According to former State Department official Dennis Kux, Shahi and Arif tell US Secretary of State Alexander Haig that Pakistan will not compromise on its nuclear program. Haig replies that if Pakistan conducts a nuclear test, this will cause trouble in Congress and “make it difficult to cooperate with Pakistan in the way that the Reagan administration hoped.” However, if Pakistan does not perform a test, the nuclear program “need not become a centerpiece of the US-Pakistani relationship.” State Department South Asia specialist James Coon will comment that there is “a tacit understanding that the Reagan administration could live with Pakistan’s nuclear program as long as Islamabad did not explode a bomb.” [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 118, 248] Over the next few months, Undersecretary of State for Security Assistance James Buckley and other US officials travel back and forth between Washington and Pakistan, in the words of authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, “refining the back-channel deal on the Pakistan nuclear program,” and reassuring the Pakistanis that the Reagan administration will allow their work on the bomb to continue. On one occasion, Arif meets Buckley and they discuss the sale of F-16 fighters to Pakistan. Arif then raises the nuclear issue, but, Arif will later say, “The Americans suggested there was no need to talk about Pakistan’s [nuclear] program any more.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 88-89]
The US places a high-tech piece of surveillance equipment near Pakistan’s nuclear weapons facility in Kahuta. The device is a boulder made from resin that is moulded and coloured to look like the local rocks. It is transported in on the back of a delivery truck and can transmit intelligence through an array of sophisticated recording and air-sampling technology hidden inside the shell. However, according to Pakistani General Khalid Arif, the device is discovered by chance. A student travelling on the back of another truck falls off and hits his head on the rock. Arif will say: “He opened his eyes and realized that he was still alive and unbruised. The rock, however, had a hole in it and inside were all sorts of whirring and blinking bits. We took it away for analysis and later put it into our museum for trainee spies.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 92-93]
A delegation from Pakistan’s foreign ministry holds its first talks about possibly selling the nuclear technology and know-how it has acquired with representatives of the Iranian, Syrian, and Libyan governments. The talks, ostensibly about the wider topic of strategic co-operation, follow on from a conscious decision by Pakistani leaders to sell what they have (see (Early 1985)).
No Qualms - Although it is possible the US would be angry if it finds out, and could cut off significant aid to Pakistan, according to authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, “no one at Army House in Rawalpindi perceived it as immoral or considered the risk too large to take.” General Khalid Mahmud Arif will say: “Having seen the US so flexible in the past, everyone doubted that it would sanction us at all. Also, few of us held the NPT [Nuclear Proliferation Treaty] in high regard. We referred to it as a monopoly, to service the West’s interests. There were so many countries that had been allowed to arm and proliferate—Israel, South Africa, Argentina—countries that slotted into the US’s foreign policy requirements and were allowed to do as they please.”
Shia Iran Not a Problem - Although the Pakistanis want to sell the bomb to other Muslim countries, Pakistani leader General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, a hardline Sunni, is wary of sharing it with Shia Iran. However, according to Levy and Scott-Clark, because Iran is currently at war with Iraq and threatened by Soviet troops in Afghanistan, it is not perceived as such a threat at this time: “The Shias were a contained and localized minority, the underdogs to the US-backed Sunni elite of Islamabad, Amman, Cairo, and Riyadh. No one contemplated a time when that Sunni strength and wealth would be threatened by war in Iraq and a Shi’ite awakening with its epicentre in Iran.” Nevertheless, Pakistan will not sell completed nuclear weapons to Iran, only technology for enriching uranium. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 133-134]
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