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Interview with Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg

The following is the full transcript of an interview by NBC's Tom Brokaw with General Mirza Aslam Beg, Pakistan's retired Army Chief of Staff and A.Q. Khan's boss in the late 1980's and early 1990's.

Tom Brokaw: Gen. Beg, were you surprised when Dr. Khan went on television the other night and confessed that he had sold your country’s nuclear secrets to other countries?

General Mirza Aslam Beg: not only surprised I was grieved to have a major person, the amount of respect you have for somebody who has done so much for Pakistan to be a sorry figure on the television, apologizing to the nation, not only me but the entire nation got hurt.

TB: Do you think it is appropriate that he not be punished in any way?

GB: That’s the decision that comes from the cabinet which the president announced already.

TB: Do you agree with it?

GB: I don’t know what the nature of allegations, how fare had he gone, and how many of these allegations have been proved, and can be proved because when you got to punish a person it has to be through a court of law. And if you know that investigations have been carried out by uniformed people, and a decision has been given, and the adviser to the prime minister, and on the face of it absolved, if it was challenged in a court of law it would be a different situation.

TB: But he confessed to it and acknowledged it therefore, should he continue to be revered as a hero if he sold the secrets which were dear to this country?

BG: Confessions under duress is not evidence in no country. It has to be before a court of law.

TB: There were many people who believe that you had to know what he was doing you were the army chief of staff there have been allegations that centrifuge, and centrifuge parts were shipped out of the country on military aircraft.  Did you not know anything that was going on?

GB: Firstly, it must be said under the chain of command and the chin of responsibility, A.Q. Khan who was running KRL, he was not answerable to me.  He was answerable to the president, to the prime minister, by responsibility was limited to the my being a member of the nuclear command authority, which was responsible for policy and decision making and ah the development of the program that is what I did and that was my responsibility.  Did I put a C-130, aircraft is not flown by the army?  They are flown by the Pakistan Air Force so they should know which C-130 was used and what all was carried.

TB: There was no talk at your level of suspicions you may have had that A.Q. Khan was spreading this technology?

BG: No, no.  There was no information, no report.  Now I hear there was probably some small detachment of ISI which was located over there, it was conveyed to General Zia when he was there, what he did, what actions he took I don’t know.

Robert Oakley
Robert Oakley, who used to be the U.S. Ambassador in Pakistan, says in 1991, you told him you wanted to make a strategic alliance in which Iran would provide you with conventional military capability and you would trade nuclear technology for that.

GB: Of all the people I would not go to Robert Oakley because, I didn’t talk to him because I did not like his face, to be very honest.

TB: You didn’t like his face?

GB: I didn’t like what he was he was doing as ambassador.  People called him - of Pakistan.  He had gone beyond his limits, and he had been told by me several times that it was not proper for a diplomat representing a country and therefore for the question of me talking to him on this subject of nuclear technology to be transferred to Iran is not relevant at all.  He was the last person I would talk to. He is lying. That is the only word I can use. There is no truth in it.
Regarding your question my concept of strategic alliance between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran is true. Which is based on certain historic realities, you will agree with me that Iran and Afghanistan are two countries that have never been enslaved, they have remained independent, and Pakistan being a neighbor carried the same traditions.
They are three countries which carried the center of gravity of the modern Muslim world, and therefore what I talked about was a union, a consensus between three countries who have all the capabilities to provide that lead to the Muslim world.  Our concept was really distorted by people who write against this concept, to say I was only talking about the geographic depth. I didn’t not.  I was talking about the depth which one, a group of countries achieve by being together, like the European Union, they have --- (granddaughter walks into room).

TB: But, was Pakistan’s role in a union with Afghanistan and Iran to provide nuclear technology, and did you discuss it with those two countries?

BG: It is the political theory, the political perception that bring countries together.  Pakistan’s constitution stands for a liberal democracy, the new nation of Iran under Khatami is demanding a liberal democracy charter based on liberal values.
Coming to the question, did I ever thought of sharing nuclear technology with Iran, I would say no. But as a member of the nuclear command authority as early as 1989, Benazir Bhutto was Prime Minister, we took a very strong policy decision - a policy of nuclear restraint, and we said there would be no transfer of technology to anybody, and we have shown not only responsibility we have stood by what decisions were taken.
The members of the European Union like France, have they shared their technology with all the civilized members of the European Union, they haven’t, that is where we stand.

TB: Has President Musharraf or any of his people interviewed you about A.Q. Khan’s activities about speeding nuclear technology?

BG: There was no question of interview because there was no charges against me, no blame against me, they came like friends, and they sat down with a cup of tea and they discussed the progress of the investigations and where my name was taken. And I told them what exactly had happened the three years I was army chief.

TB: And you told them you knew nothing about Dr. Khan selling this technology?

BG: No, I had no knowledge.

TB: Were you at all troubled by the idea that he sold it not only to Islamic nations but to North Korea?

BG: Well, some people might be carrying this notion that to share technology and only yesterday I was having a meeting with Hersh and he said so much information to going to all these countries.  If some one had this idea either A.Q. Khan or someone else it had nothing to do with me.

TB: Were you at all troubled at all that Dr. Khan may have enriched himself personally as a result of the sale of this?

BG: Well, that was precisely his job. The machines were turning and they were policing enriched uranium all the time form the very beginning until I took off my uniform.

Proper punishment?
Here is what puzzles me.  If a corporal in the Pakistani army were to go AWOL over the weekend in his home village, you would probably throw him in the brig or punish him, but the head of your nuclear technology program sells that technology to countries around the world, the most dangerous technology, and he is forgiven?

BG: Well you have to ask these questions of Gen. Musharraf and why it has been done and I thought it would be taken to a court of law and the accused would have an opportunity to prove if they are guilty or not.  Under duress whatever statement or commitment or admission you make it is not admissible and that is why the majority of people in Pakistan do not believe that A.Q. Khan has committed any of those crimes. There was a Gallup poll in Pakistan that 83% of the people believe he has been made a scapegoat.  That is because…

TB: For whom?

BG: He has not been given, the uniform people and they demanded people like me who are also blamed.  They should also be brought before the court and prove their innocence and that is what I say will ultimately happen.

TB: Should you be demanding an independent investigation to prove your innocence then?

BG: I will do that, my name has been mentioned again and again, and that is exactly what the people of Pakistan are saying that my fellow colleagues in uniform have saved my neck.  They have said Karmat’s neck.

TB: Do you approve of the relationship of President Musharraf and President Bush, the new relationship between Pakistan and the United States?

BG: I heard a lot from Seymour Hersh that President Musharraf was off the record.

TB: Tell me what you think - not what Seymour Hersh thinks.

GB: Well, he (Musharraf) says he is the only one and he has delivered the goods, and we continue to support him all the way that was the message he gave.

U.S. in Afghanistan
TB: But are you troubled by the role of the United States in this part of the world?

BG: Of course, yes.  They don’t understand us; they don’t understand the logic and the dynamics of things that happen in this part of the region, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan.  If you had been reading my papers, my comments, I criticized not because it was the United States that was going to attack Iraq or Afghanistan, it was because I could see what was going to happen, the problems they were going to face exactly what was has happened.

TB: Do you think it was inappropriate for the United States to clean out the Taliban from Afghanistan?

BG: No, no.  I have my own logic based on historical facts, for example, how long the U.S. has opposed the Soviet Union. They took seventy years to combat; they are here now but a market economy, a liberal order.  How long were the Chinese opposed by the Americans for almost forty years, for 25 years they were not recognized by the Americans whether the same place demanding a liberal democracy order built on.  Where are the Iranians and how much the U.S. opposed the Iranians for almost 20 years?  The young Iranians are demanding a liberal order.  I said for god sake leave the Taliban, the impact of media, modern technology within ten years they will be reformed like the Chinese are reformed, like the Iranians are reformed, like the Russians are reformed.

TB: But the Iranians are having a great deal of difficulty resolving their reform issues.  Religious leaders are making it impossible for them to have the elections they would like to have.

GB: They haven’t a conflict.  I think the problem isn’t the Iranians the problem is the United States are trying to make the two fight, create another problem which Iran.  Leave them alone.   Help them.  Help the people create a center line democracy based on Islamic values.

TB: We saw your granddaughter playing in the yard.  Do you think she is going to grow up in a more dangerous world as a result of the spread of nuclear technology?.

BG: No. I have a person who does not only apply principles to myself; I apply principles to all nations. For example, who can deny the right of nuclear capability when Indian explodes a bomb in our face in 1974?  The elected prime minister - he declared it was not a covert cooperation, or a plan, he said we will have the capability, the capability no matter what price we have to pay.

TB:  It is one thing for Pakistan to do it, and it is another thing for Pakistan to take it and to sell it to North Korea and Libya and Iran.

BG: Well that is a different issue. That is wrong. . For example, shouldn’t you grant the right of the neighbors of Israel to have that capability when their security is threatened.  Israel is supposed to have what - 400 warheads?  That is the kind of discrimination and duplicity which hurts the minds of the people of the Muslim world that we are being denied what is good for somebody is not good for the Muslim world.

TB: Do you think the United States can ever have strong, positive relationship with the Muslim world as long as it has the kind of relationship it has now with Israel?

BG: So long as they continue to follow the present policies, that is  they don’t make any attempt to defuse such situations as to what is happening in Palestine what is happening in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and Kashmir, it is a breeding ground for resistance, which is increasing and will increase with the passage of time - and cannot be controlled by force unless there is pragmatism, there is a reasonable approach to the problem.
For example, you cannot deny this resistance created only recently in Afghanistan when the Americans told the Chinese everyone was building up the defiance against the Soviet Union created a hardcore resistance of the Muslim world.  Which according to George Tenet is - when it was spread over 60-70 countries of the Muslim world.
And if anything, it is only increasing in number as state terrorism in these places continues.  Can you deny it that in these two decades this is the force, this is the global resistance force of the Muslim world which has defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan because of their resistance in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Americans are eating humble pie?  They want to get out and find an escape route which they cannot find.