Originally Published 2005-03-29 09:49:58 Published on Mar 29, 2005
At the international summit on Terrorism, Democracy and Security held at Madrid from March 8 to 11,2005, which I attended, the foremost concern in the minds of the participants was the likelihood of an act of catastrophic terrorism involving the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Madrid Impressions I: Pakistan, the Nuclear Walmart
At the international summit on Terrorism, Democracy and Security held at Madrid from March 8 to 11,2005, which I attended, the foremost concern in the minds of the participants was the likelihood of an act of catastrophic terrorism involving the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). This concern figured repeatedly--in the discussions of the Working Groups on March 8, in the panel discussions on March 9 and 10, in the keynote address of Mr.Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, to the plenary on March 10 and in a final document called the Madrid Agenda issued by the Club of Madrid on March 11 on the basis of the recommendations emanating from the summit.

In its recommendations, the Working Group on Intelligence, which consisted of a number of serving and retired officers of the intelligence agencies of the USA, Canada, the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Israel, Australia, India and Japan as well as experts from prestigious think-tanks such as the Rand Corporation, said, inter alia: " The world,s democracies must recognise that preventing very large-scale violence by terrorists---using conventional weapons today and possibly unconventional weapons tomorrow--- is the single most important task for governments and their intelligence services....The increasing determination by terrorists to engage in large-scale indiscriminate violence and their growing fascination with weapons of mass destruction , propels society from relying on protection of targets and prosecution of offenders after a terrorist attack , to prevention by means of early intervention for which most current legal regimes are weak and ill-suited....Led by the democracies, all nations must co-operate in combating terrorism by ensuring that information about terrorist organisations and their supporting criminal infrastructures is shared within and among nations. It is the duty of all nations to maintain their own national security, but it is also their duty to actively assist in the security of all other nations. Terrorism threatens everyone,s security, which we regard as a fundamental human right."

During a panel discussion on March 10,2005, on "Stopping the Spread of WMDs" , Mr. Rolf Ekeus, former Head of the UN Security Council Observer Mission (UNSCOM), who is now the Chairman of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said that of the four types of WMD (nuclear, biological, chemical, radiological) chemical and radiological weapons were accessible to terrorists, with chemical weapons posing the greatest threat. Because terrorists were now prepared to die in the attacks, radiological weapons now posed a far greater risk than in the past. The science behind BW was readily accessible, but the difficulty was in its dispersal. He identified two approaches to nuclear proliferation: normative (treaty-based), and the operational aspects of controlling fissile material. He called for an additional protocol to the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty), banning signatories from later opting out of it. . He described nuclear proliferation as the biggest threat to international society.

Retired Lt.-Gen. Eugene Habiger of the US Air Force (USAF) described the risk of terrorists using WMD as severe, and added that this threat cannot be averted. It was not a question of if, but when, there will be a terrorist WMD attack. There were five target-rich areas around the world (meaning that they have an enormous concentration of people), and these offered a great opportunity for terrorists to attack. In the U.S. more than a million people, and over 30,000 containers, entered the country every day. "We should also be very concerned about information warfare, and the ability to take over computer systems. Stopping such attacks required good international cooperation," he said

Mr.John Colston, NATO´s Assistant Secretary-General for Defence Planning and Operations, said the events of 9/11 in the U.S. and 3/11 in Madrid showed that terrorists did not shrink from attacks that would result in mass casualties. Even if we assessed the risk of terrorist WMD use as low, we would still have to accept that the implications of such an attack were great. This meant that the threat had to be taken very seriously. To avert it required action in four key areas: policy, good intelligence, plans, and the execution of plans.

Mr.Mahmoud Barakat, consultant to Egypt´s Atomic Energy Authority, agreed that nuclear weapons were relatively difficult to obtain, but he insisted on the need to recognize the determination and intelligence of terrorist organizations today. There was no necessity for a terrorist to make a sophisticated bomb, because a primitive nuclear device was enough. To combat proliferation it was necessary to increase awareness of illicit trafficking, and take firmer control of borders.

Mr.Jonathan Schell, Senior Fellow at the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, said that any terrorist use of a nuclear weapon would change the world more than the end of the cold war did. The proliferation activities of Pakistan,s A.Q. Khan had opened a "nuclear Walmart".He added: " And are we really that serious about nuclear proliferation if we continue to maintain huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons ourselves? Addressing terrorism means addressing proliferation, and if we address proliferation, we have to address possession."

In his keynote address to the plenary the same afternoon, Mr.Annan articulated his concern in much stronger language. He said : " Perhaps the thing that it is most vital we deny to terrorists is access to nuclear materials. Nuclear terrorism is still often treated as science fiction. I wish it were. But unfortunately we live in a world of excess hazardous materials and abundant technological know-how, in which some terrorists clearly state their intention to inflict catastrophic casualties. Were such an attack to occur, it would not only cause widespread death and destruction, but would stagger the world economy and thrust tens of millions of people into dire poverty. Given what we know of the relationship between poverty and infant mortality, any nuclear terrorist attack would have a second death toll throughout the developing world. That such an attack has not yet happened is no excuse for complacency. Rather, it gives us a last chance to take effective preventive action. That means consolidating, securing, and when possible eliminating potentially hazardous materials, and implementing effective export controls. Both the G8 and the UN Security Council have taken important steps to do this, and to plug gaps in the non-proliferation regime. We need to make sure these measures are fully enforced, and that they reinforce each other. I urge the Member States of the United Nations to complete and adopt, without delay, the international convention on nuclear terrorism. And I applaud the efforts of the Proliferation Security Initiative to fill a gap in our defences."

The concern thus repeatedly expressed during the summit---formally as well as informally-- culminated in three recommendations in the Madrid Agenda: The United Nations Security Council should initiate on-site investigations where it is believed that a state is supporting terrorist networks, and if necessary, use the full range of measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter; the need to conclude early an International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, and to strengthen the implementation of the biological weapons convention; and the need to continue innovative global efforts to reduce the threat from weapons of mass destruction, such as the Global Threat Reduction Initiative.

The images of Pakistan as the Nuclear Walmart and as the likely epicenter of nuclear and radiological terrorism continues to haunt professional counter-terrorism experts---governmental as well as non-governmental. These concerns have recently been magnified by reports carried by the "New York Times" and other sections ofn the American media quoting unnamed US intelligence officials as saying that this Walmart was selling not only equipment such as centrifuges and technology and consultancy services for uranium enrichment, but also drawings, technology and advice as to how to make a nuclear weapon.

In a report titled "Pakistani,s Black Market May Offer Secrets to Build Nuclear Weapons", WILLIAM J. BROAD and DAVID E. SANGER of the "New York Times" stated as follows on March 21,2005:

Nuclear investigators from the United States and other nations now believe that the black market network run by the Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan was selling not only technology for enriching nuclear fuel and blueprints for nuclear weapons, but also some of the darkest of the bomb makers, arts: the hard-to-master engineering secrets needed to fabricate nuclear warheads.

Their suspicions were initially raised by the discovery of step-by-step instructions, some of which appear to have come from China and Pakistan, among the documents recovered last year from Libya. More recently, investigators have found that the Khan network had offered similar materials to Iran.

The secrets range from how to cast uranium metal into the form needed at the core of a bomb to how to build the explosive lenses that compress the core and start the detonation.

The discoveries have set off a debate in the intelligence community about whether those technological skills made their way to North Korea and Iran. President Bush has vowed he will not tolerate either country,s obtaining a nuclear weapon.

"The inability of intelligence officials to track down the whereabouts of the bomb-making instructions underscores the fact that more than a year since Mr. Khan,s arrest and pardon by Pakistan,s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, there are still many mysteries about what exactly the Khan network was selling, and to whom.

The United States has not been allowed to interview Dr. Khan, and Ms. Rice raised concerns about cooperation in the nuclear investigation when she met with General Musharraf last week. But American officials and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are beginning to extract information from Dr. Khan,s chief deputy, Buhari Sayed Abu Tahir, who is in jail in Malaysia. "It,s becoming clearer to us that Khan was selling a complete package," said a senior American official involved in the setting of nuclear strategy. "Not a turnkey operation - that would be overstating it - but close to it."

To investigators and other experts, the discovery that Dr. Khan was selling step-by-step directions for making crucial parts of a bomb was startling.

The real secrets are in the details of the metallurgy, the manufacturing and the engineering," said Siegfried S. Hecker, director of the Los Alamos weapons laboratory from 1986 to 1997 and now a senior fellow there.

Intelligence officials in the United States and European diplomats said documents from Libya and Iran showed the Khan network had offered for sale instructions on such tricky manufacturing steps as purifying uranium, casting it into a nuclear core and making the explosives that compress the core and set off a chain reaction. Unlike bomb designs themselves, these manufacturing secrets can take years or even decades for a country to learn on its own.

The first public hint that Dr. Khan,s network traded in bomb designs and engineering instructions emerged in 1995 after United Nations inspectors in Iraq found a set of documents describing an offer made to Baghdad before the Persian Gulf war of 1991. An internal Iraqi memorandum, dated June 10, 1990, told of an unidentified middleman saying that Dr. Khan could help Iraq "establish a project to enrich uranium and manufacture a nuclear weapon" and that he was "prepared to give us project designs for a nuclear bomb."

The Iraqis never took up the proposal, which they judged a scam or a sting operation. Western experts also questioned its authenticity.

But the apparent validity of the offer became clear in late 2003 when Libya showed investigators blueprints for a 10-kiloton atomic bomb that it got from the Khan network. The International Atomic Energy Agency reported that the documents included information on both nuclear design and fabrication, calling it of "utmost concern.

The Libya disclosure touched off a global hunt for more Khan documents. Officials in the United States and Europe said the trail recently led to Dubai, where Mr. Tahir, the Sri Lankan businessman who was Dr. Khan,s deputy, ran a front company, SMB Computers. They said reliable network sources had told of seeing bomb documents there that contained step-by-step instructions on how to fabricate components for nuclear arms. Intense searches in Dubai, they added, had so far failed to turn up the documents.

"The latest development in the hunt came March 1 with the disclosure of the network,s 1987 offer to Iran of centrifuge machines and materials, as well as "uranium reconversion and casting capabilities," according to an I.A.E.A. report." 

Coinciding with the Madrid discussions on this subject on March 10, the prestigious "Dawn" of Karachi wrote in an editorial the same day as follows: " The A.Q.Khan affair does not appear to be fading away. The Government thinks it has closed the case by announcing his guilt to the whole world, placing Pakistan,s celebrated scientist and national hero under house arrest. This way, the Government thinks it has come clean on the issue. Regrettably, the world does not think so. Dr. Khan might be sulking, but that does not end the matter for Pakistan, for Islamabad will continue to be under pressure for cast-iron guarantees against proliferation. From the American point of view, these concerns do not appear misplaced because of the divisive nature of Pakistan,s politics and the position that religious parties have come to occupy in the present political set-up. What is regrettable is that the Government keeps its own people in the dark and that it is left to the foreign media to come up with new disclosures about Dr. Khan,s activity."

In an earlier report from Washington carried on March 3,2005, the "Dawn, quoted a report of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security as saying as follows: "In addition to money, Qadeer (A.Q.Khan) was also motivated by pan-Islamism and hostility to Western controls on nuclear technology."

Till now, the focus of the investigation by the US and the IAEA has been on Khan,s role in creating and running a Nuclear Walmart for state aspirants to military nuclear power such as Libya, Iran and North Korea? How about non-State aspirants such as Osama bin Laden,s Al Qaeda whose pan-Islamic ideology he shares?

In my past articles, I had referred to the suspected penetration of Islamic fundamentalist and jihadi terrorist elements into Pakistan,s nuclear and missile communities. I had also drawn attention to reports carried by the Pakistani media on the annual conventions of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) at Muridke near Lahore. These reports had referred to the presence of unnamed Pakistani scientists at these conventions. The LET is a member of bin Laden,s International Islamic Front (IIF).

There is a greater danger of Al Qaeda and other jihadi terrorists getting hold of nuclear and radiological weapons/materials from the supporters of their pan-Islamic ideologies in Pakistan,s scientific community such as A.Q.Khan than from any other quarter.

Unless A.Q.Khan is interrogated by a group of international experts not connected with Pakistan outside Pakistani territory, the international community will never be able to establish the progress made by the terrorists in their efforts to acquire WMD weapons/materials. If the international community is to prevent or pre-empt the use of nuclear or radiological weapons by the terrorists, it is of the utmost importance for the UN Security Council to force Pakistan to hand over A.Q.Khan to an outside agency for thorough interrogation.

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-Mail: [email protected]

Courtesy: South Asia Analysis group, New Delhi, Paper no. 1303, March 25, 2005.



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