August 09, 2020
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An Expensive Shopping Spree

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An Expensive Shopping Spree
The British Government's recent decision to deport an employee of the Pakistan High Commission amid alle-gations that he was procuring material for the Pakistani nuclear programme, only worsened matters for Islamabad. For, only a week ago, the USmedia, quoting intelligence sources, reported that Pakistan had obtained ring magnets from China for uranium enrichment. While Foreign Minister Aseff Ahmed Ali is trying to soothe ruffled feathers in the US, the Pakistan government has decided to face the storm by distancing itself from the controversial employee in London.

The high commission in London has declared that the employee in question,Mohammed Saleem, was non-diplomatic staff, a junior clerk, and it was unreasonable to expect him to have handled such dangerous matters. The high commission spokesman Qamran Shafi, said Saleem had been dismissed from his job and the British Government was free to take legal action against him.

By doing so, Pakistan may have tried to stave off diplomatic retaliation, but it still hasn't managed to dispel doubts here about its shopping abroad for its nuclear programme. Dr A.Q. Khan, the chief architect of the Pakistani nuclear programme,had procured a great deal of nuclear knowhow surreptitiously from a European consortium where he had worked.

The British Government has gone on record only to say that Saleem was being served notice of deportation as his presence in the UKwas "not conducive to public good". Foreign Ministry officials, however, have been quoted as saying that Saleem was involved in "proliferation of weapons of mass destruction", and was attempting to ship out sophisticated laser-measuring equipment from the UK. Reports here say that in the past one year alone, there have been three attempts by Pakistanis to ship sensitive, dual-use equipment via London.

The first was in November last, whenCustoms discovered a laser-measuring device, valued at £10,000, just before it was being loaded on a British Airways flight to Pakistan. Orders for this equipment, says Johan Halling, managing director of the Swedish firm Fixturlaser, were placed by Global Consultants, a Pakistani company.

Then again in November, a shipment of special valves for nuclear weapons was blocked. The French, who had manufactured these valves, have since been reportedly sending them directly to Pakistan, much to the annoyance of the British.

Customs also intercepted a shipment of portable solid state lasers for Pakistan and sent it back to its Hungarian manufacturer.

This is not the first time that Pakistan has run into problems with the British over its alleged attempts to procure material and technology for its nuclear programme. Earlier, in 1990, Britain had asked a Pakistani diplomat, Ahmed Jamil, believed to have been a close associate of Khan, to leave the UK.

Pakistan has been on the wrong side of the Germans too in recent years. Two years ago, a German television report said that two Pakistani diplomats—allegedly involved in sending components for the nuclear programme—had been ordered to leave the country. The report also said that the German Government had zeroed in on the twoofficials after detailed investigations and raids at the premises of some businesses. Since the diplomats were not formally expelled, the Pakistani embassy continued to maintain that the two diplomats had left Germany routinely.

Saleem can appeal against the British Home Office's decision to deport him. But, far more important than what Saleem does, is Pakistan's conciliatory gesture through Saleem's dismissal. Islamabad—already facing allegations of clandestinely obtaining nuclear and missile technology from China—does not want a confrontation with London. But, as reports from South Africa about Pakistan's deals on purchase of missiles show, Pakistan will also not back off from its nuclear weapons or missiles programme

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