Selling nuclear-weapons technology on the black market should be a crime against humanity. But not in Pakistan, where first it can get you rich and then, after you're caught by foreigners, a slap on the wrist and a presidential pardon.
That's what has happened to a scientist named Abdul Qadeer Khan, who built Pakistan's atomic bomb but who also, over many years, sold the blueprints and materials to make one to Iran, North Korea, Libya, and perhaps other nations as well.
Mr. Khan has gotten off easy because he appeared ready to implicate either former or current Pakistani military officers who helped him or knew of his heinous enterprise. In a deal that will go down in history as a sham, he made a televised confession on Wednesday, and then was pardoned the next day by President Pervez Musharraf. "I have much to answer for it," Khan said in his confession and apology. Indeed.
And why is this personal act of nuclear proliferation being so quickly brushed under a dirty rug? Because the United States needs the goodwill of the Musharraf government and the Pakistani military in the continuing fight against Al Qaeda and in stabilizing post-Taliban Afghanistan.
In fact, President Bush has asked Congress to provide a $3 billion aid package for Pakistan as a favor for its help in the US-led war on terror.
What a mess. Pakistan has now both helped and hindered terrorism, with North Korea's nuclear-weapons program being the most dangerous. Libya is giving up its program, while Iran appears to be shelving its for now. But any of those countries could resell the technology.
Both the US and the International Atomic Energy Agency confronted Pakistan last year with evidence that nuclear hardware and expertise had been given to Iran and North Korea, after years of suspecting Pakistan was a likely source.
The US should insist that Pakistan agree to international agreements on nuclear programs and submit to inspections. Nuclear proliferation is too serious to not have Pakistan make amends for this global tragedy.
Mr. Musharraf, too, must answer to the world, and show how his country's nuclear experts will act differently.