Originally Published 2004-12-21 07:33:32 Published on Dec 21, 2004
Dr.A. Q. Khan, the self-styled father of Pakistan's atomic bomb, is back in the headlines following a statement disseminated by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a group opposed to the present regime in Teheran, on November 17, 2004, that between 1994 and 1996 (Mrs.Benazir Bhutto was then in power) Dr. Khan gave Iran a Chinese-developed nuclear warhead design.
A. Q. Khan: The Ghost that Continues to Haunt
Dr.A. Q. Khan, the self-styled father of Pakistan's atomic bomb, is back in the headlines following a statement disseminated by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a group opposed to the present regime in Teheran, on November 17, 2004, that between 1994 and 1996 (Mrs.Benazir Bhutto was then in power) Dr. Khan gave Iran a Chinese-developed nuclear warhead design.

The statement enjoyed a certain credibility in the nuclear non-proliferation circles in the USA because an earlier allegation of the same organisation about the existence of a clandestine uranium enrichment facility at Natanz in Iran was found to be correct on enquiry by officials of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Enquiries by IAEA officials brought out that the centrifuges for Iran's enrichment facility had been supplied by A. Q. Khan. Not only that. Spot inspections by IAEA officials reportedly revealed that some of the centrifuges had traces of highly-enriched uranium, required for a nuclear weapon. This cast doubts on Teheran's contention that the facility was meant to produce low-grade enriched uranium for power stations. Iran contended that since it imported the inspected centrifuges second-hand, it was possible that the traces of military-grade enriched uranium found in some of them might have got into them at the place of origin, meaning Kahuta in Pakistan where military-grade enriched uranium is produced for Pakistan's atomic bomb.

Since then, the IAEA has not been able to establish whether the traces came from Kahuta as contended by Iran or whether they indicated that Iran had clandestinely produced some weapons-grade enriched uranium. The only way of establishing the truth is for the IAEA inspectors to inspect the centrifuges in Kahuta and to compare the traces found in Iran with the enriched uranium produced in Kahuta.

Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has been vehemently opposing any suggestion for a spot inspection of Kahuta by the IAEA or for the interrogation of A.Q.Khan by IAEA and other foreign experts in order to establish the truth. Musharraf has been saying that A. Q. Khan has already been thoroughly interrogated by Pakistani officials and that whatever information he gave had been shared with the IAEA and others concerned. Hence, the question of his interrogation by outside experts did not arise.

The new claim of the National Council of Resistance of Iran has thus placed Pakistan in a difficult spot. The "Daily Times" of Lahore wrote on November 20: "The Iranian resistance group has credibility since it first blew the whistle on the Natanz facility which led to revelations about Iran's secret efforts to enrich uranium and also led to Dr. Qadeer's connections with Iran. The problem would have been Iran's internal issue if it did not have consequences for Pakistan. Between Dr.Qadeer's ambitions and the internal political strife within Iran, Islamabad has been caught like a nut in a cracker....The problem for us is the alleged Dr. Khan linkage. Islamabad had thought that it had put the issue behind it. The trouble also is that Pakistan has not come out with any clear policy on the Iranian nuclear programme."

The nuclear ghost of Pakistan's past doings did not stop to haunt it there. It continued to pop up from different and often unexpected quarters. On November 23, 2004, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) put on its web site edited extracts from a report on nuclear proliferation world-wide during the second half of 2003 submitted by it to the Congress. It had another bombshell for Pakistan. The CIA report said: "Before the reporting period, the A.Q.Khan network provided Iran with designs for Pakistan's older centrifuges as well as designs for more advanced and efficient models and components."

What did the CIA mean by "designs for more advanced and efficient models and components"? Pakistani analysts maintained that it meant more advanced centrifuges. But, the "New York Times", in an analytical article as quoted in the "Daily Times" of November 27, interpreted it otherwise. It said: "A new report from the CIA says the arms trafficking network led by Pakistani scientist AQ Khan provided Iran's nuclear programme with significant assistance , including the designs for advanced and efficient weapons components."

The "Daily Times" wrote: "The (N.Y.Times) story is aimed at alleging that Pakistan gave a warhead design to Iran and wants to create exactly this impression. This is obvious from the reference to a closed-door speech to a private group by former CIA Director George Tenet and references to unnamed CIA officials. According to the NYT, Tenet described Mr. Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapon's programme, as being at least as dangerous as Osama bin Laden because of his role in providing nuclear technology to other countries."

The "Daily Times" continued: "The worst aspect of this (NYT) story is this. The warhead design provided to Libya by the Khan network as for an ageing, crude Chinese model. Such a design would nevertheless provide Iran with important assistance in what American officials say is its quest to develop nuclear weapons, a goal, they say, Teheran could reach in the next several years."

The "Nation", another Pakistani daily, wrote on November 26: "The Zionist lobbies in Washington have long desired to drag Pakistan also into the affair. The never-ending campaign against Dr.Khan is part of the plan. Earlier, it was maintained that he supplied Iran with older designs for centrifuges. What is worrisome is that American officials have raised the stakes by accusing him now of sharing information about bomb components. This is particularly outrageous as bomb-making has never been Dr. Khan's specialty." (My comment: Now, one could discern an attempt in Pakistan to project Dr. Khan not as the father of Pakistan's atomic bomb, but only as the father of Pakistan's indigenous uranium enrichment capability)

The "Nation" warned: "Pakistani investigators have thoroughly quizzed Dr. Khan and a number of other scientists. Any direct or indirect suggestion to allow him to be interrogated by outsiders would imply Washington does not have faith in the Pakistan Government...." The paper wanted Musharraf to tell President Bush that "this is not the way to treat a highly active member of the anti-terror coalition who is also a major non-NATO ally." (My comment: This is like a serial killer contending that his serial killings should not be investigated because he has been participating in the campaign against Aids.)

In the meanwhile as Gen (retd).Jehangir Karamat, Musharraf's predecessor as the Chief of the Army Staff, took over as the new Pakistani Ambassador to the US, some American non-proliferation experts drew attention to his alleged role in the conclusion of a deal between the North Korean and the Benazir Bhutto Governments, which led to the supply of North Korean missiles to Pakistan and the assistance to North Korea in the enrichment field. They wondered whether it was wise on the part of the Bush Administration to have accepted him as the Pakistani Ambassador. They were apparently worried that this could come in the way of a more thorough investigation into the nuclear-missile barter between Pakistan and North Korea, which has not yet received the same attention as the nuclear deals with Iran and Libya.

Non-proliferation activists have also started focusing on Saudi Arabia of late. Did it have nuclear aspirations too? If so, were there any deals with Pakistan?

As more and more disclosures emerge and as more and more inconvenient questions are being asked, most analyses are coming back to the question: Could Dr. Khan and a small group of scientists close to him have done this as a rogue operation without the approval and involvement of the political and military leadership of the country? Should the outside world be satisfied with Musharraf's contention that Khan had been thoroughly interrogated and that all the information given by him shared with others and that no further interrogation is needed. Definitely not by outsiders, he says.

Should the world be satisfied with Musharraf's assurance that it was a rogue operation by a small group of greedy scientists and that there is nothing more to be learnt? One thing stands out clearly from the recent developments--the entire truth has not come out. Only part of the story, as given out by Musharraf, has come out. Is it not necessary for the safety of the lives of billions of innocent civilians, who face the threat of a possible use of weapons of mass destruction by the jihadi terrorists, to find out the truth?

There is only one man in Pakistan who has the entire picture right from the day the late Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto launched a clandestine project for acquiring a military nuclear capability in the 1970s, brought Khan, then a young scientist working in Holland, and made him in charge of it. Since then, scientists have come and scientists have gone, but Khan has been a constant, shining star in Pakistan's nuclear firmament. Leaders have come and leaders have gone, but Khan continued undisturbed as Pakistan's nuclear Czar and became the blue-eyed boy of all leaders--political or military, to whatever side of the political spectrum they belonged. Without having him interrogated by an independent outside panel, the truth will never be known.

India was sneered upon in the 1970s by the outside world, particularly by the US, when it discovered the launching of the atomic bomb project by Z. A. Bhutto, his projection of it as an Islamic bomb to the Ummah in order to get funds for the project and his appointment of A. Q. Khan as the head of the project and rang the alarm bell. Its cries of alarm were attributed to what was projected as its compulsive anti-Pakistan reflexes.

When India raised an alarm about the construction of the Kahuta enrichment plant, it was told that Khan was a glorified store-keeper in the Holland plant and would not be able to develop an enrichment capability. He did.

When India raised another alarm about the Chinese sharing their old nuclear designs with Pakistan, it was attributed to its anti-China reflexes.

I have been writing about the Pakistan-North Korea nuclear-missile axis since 1998 and have written nearly a dozen articles on it. People were told not to take my articles seriously because of my intelligence background. I was projected as an anti-Pakistan analyst, who misses no opportunity to have Pakistan discredited.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Each and every one of my articles has proved correct in retrospect. If the international community has A. Q. Khan thoroughly interrogated by an independent panel of outside experts as recommended by me in an earlier article, we may still be able to find out the entire truth and contribute to saving the world from a possible act of nuclear or radiological terrorism. 

Postscript: "The News", the prestigious daily of Pakistan, reported as follows on December 16: 'The government has sought return of official (blue) passports of those KRL (Khan Research Laboratory at Kahuta, which produces weapons-grade enriched uranium) employees who were investigated or are still being probed......Besides Dr AQ Khan, Dr Ghulam Yasin Chohan, Saeed Ahmed, Dr Muhammad Atta, Muhammad Fahim, Chaudhary Muhammad Ashraf, Riaz Ahmed Chohan, FH Hashmi, Raja Arshad Mehboob, M Shamimur Rehman, Raja Gul Jabbar, Dr Abdul Majeed and Badarul Islam have been asked to comply with the latest instructions......The News has learnt that the passports would be used to track down foreign movement of these officials. Earlier, an SBP (State Bank of Pakistan) directive had sought bank account details of Dr AQ Khan, 16 members of his family and 12 other nuclear scientists and members of their families. The SBP had also directed commercial banks to forward details of accounts of the scientists such as account number and type, account opening form, latest balance and statement of accounts. An official said the government "simply wants to corroborate the statements made by the officials in custody or during the investigation with the situation on ground as it exists in the documents".

The writer is Additional Secretary (Retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-mail: [email protected]

Courtesy: South Asia Analysis Group, New Delhi, Paper No. 1196, December 21, 2004.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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