Originally Published 2005-01-05 09:57:35 Published on Jan 05, 2005
read5 January 2005
More questions on AQ Khan
One of the factors which helped US President George Bush to regain the White House for the second time was the seemingly decisive manner in which his Administration intercepted, exposed and crippled a global nuclear smuggling network led by Pakistani nuclear scientist, Dr AQ Khan. Although the US Administration and the media traced the network's footprints in several countries, particularly in Iran and Malaysia, both have conveniently avoided looking at own backyard, and Pakistan.

So let us take a look at what the US knew and didn't tell. Exactly three decades ago, the US State Department circulated a confidential note to its top policy-makers titled Pakistan and the Non Proliferation Issue which stated that Pakistan "may well have decided to have the capability to produce a weapon, and they have clearly decided to have the capability to build one." The note was prepared barely three years after Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had called a meeting of Pakistan's top nuclear scientists at Multan, six weeks after the 1971 war ended in surrender at Dhaka. 

In fact, by the 1970s, the National Security Agency (NSA), responsible for technical intelligence, had already drawn up a list of hi-tech companies in Germany and Switzerland whose communication links were constantly monitored and intercepted to detect nuclear trafficking with Pakistan. In fact, the CIA had so successfully infiltrated the Pakistani nuclear establishment that it was able to smuggle out the entire floor plans for the Kahuta Research Laboratory.

By the mid 1980s, the US Administration had also begun receiving information about Dr AQ Khan. A research paper prepared by the CIA Directorate of Intelligence during that time titled 'Pakistan's Nuclear Weapons Programme: Personnel and Organisations', said though "Pakistan's scientists had investigated the possibilities of uranium enrichment... as early as 1968, but efforts did not begin in earnest until AQ returned to the country in 1975. Through his extensive network of European contacts, he began to covertly procure the components that would ultimately enable the then clandestine facility to manufacture highly enriched uranium."

Another report prepared by the CIA Directorate of Intelligence, 'Pakistan: A Safeguards Exemption As a Backdoor to Reprocessing?' on May 20, 1983, only confirmed the earlier intelligence estimates. The report said: "...In our view, Zia and his advisers continue to believe that they must acquire nuclear weapons... we have detected continuation of longstanding efforts to acquire components for nuclear devices and to bring into successful operation the only two facilities capable of producing fissile material for nuclear weapons...".

Barely a year after the note, three Pakistani nationals were indicted in Houston for attempting to buy a shipment of high-speed switch designed to trigger nuclear weapons. They had offered to pay in gold supplied by the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), an infamous bank set up by a Pakistani businessman, Agha Hassan Abedi, who counted among his close friends men like President Zia ul-Haq, Pakistan Finance Minister Ghulam Ishaq Khan (later President), President Carter and a young AQ Khan.

The CIA could be faulted for its intelligence on Iraq but it has been doing credible work on Pakistan's efforts to procure nuclear technology and materials clandestinely. In 1993, testifying before the Senate Committee on Government Affairs, the agency said Pakistan had received $19 billion in aid from foreign countries and donor agencies like the International Monetary Fund. Of $19 billion, the agency said, $2.7 billion was not designated for any specific purpose, thus enabling Pakistan to spend it on its nuclear programme.

According to Leonard Weiss, a counter-proliferation expert and a staff director on the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs between 1977 and 1999, "When Ronald Reagan arrived in the White House in 1981, his Administration came with a desire to send arms to the Afghan Mujahideen. They could only be delivered through Pakistan, and non-proliferation took a back seat to Cold War politics." This pattern continued for several years with no one protesting till a junior CIA intelligence officer, Richard Barlow, whose brief was to track Pakistan's proliferation activities, compiled evidence about Pakistan's clandestine nuclear purchases.

However, his reports were shelved, forcing him, subsequently, to resign from the agency. In 1989, he joined the Government as a proliferation analyst in the office of the Under Secretary of Defence Policy where too he found a similar attitude towards Pakistan. One of the reports he prepared for the Secretary of Defence was about Dr Khan's initial attempts to sell nuclear technology and spare materials to countries which the US considered were sponsoring terrorism. The Secretary, Defence, was Mr Dick Cheney. Mr Cheney dismissed the Barlowe report and told a Pentagon official testifying before the US Congress to underplay the threat posed by Pakistan's nuclear proliferation activities. Mr Cheney wanted to protect the $1.4 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Islamabad.

Another issue on which the Bush Administration has maintained an intriguing silence is the involvement of Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) which, a US Senate Report in 1992, said, financed "Pakistan's nuclear programme through the BCCI Foundation in Pakistan, as well as through BCCI-Canada in the Parvez case. However, details on BCCI's involvement remain unavailable. Further investigation is needed to understand the extent to which BCCI and Pakistan were able to evade US and international nuclear non-proliferation regimes to acquire nuclear technologies". Needless to say no effort was made, whether then or now, to take the investigation forward.

The reason is not far to seek. To quote the Senate report: "Among the Americans who BCCI provided with financial assistance in addition to Carter (President Jimmy Carter), were US Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young, Bert Lance, and Jesse Jackson. Abroad, important figures with extensive contact with BCCI included former British Prime Minister James Callaghan, then United Nations Secretary General Javier Perez de Cueller, Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga, Antiguan Prime Minister Lester Byrd; a large number of African heads of state; and many Third World central bank officials."

Not only were the top US leadership bankrolled, the bank had the top hierarchy of the intelligence establishment on its side. The Senate Report throws enough light on this nexus: "Former CIA officials, including former CIA Director Richard Helms and the late William Casey; former and current foreign intelligence officials, including Kamal Adham and Abdul Raouf Khalil; and principal foreign agents of the US, such as Adnan Khashoggi and Manucher Ghorbanifar, float in and out of BCCI at critical times in its history, and participate simultaneously in the making of key episodes in US foreign policy, ranging from the Camp David peace talks to the arming of Iran as part of the Iran/Contra affair."

As for Pakistan, the Bush Administration should urgently take the following two actions: Interrogate Dr AQ Khan in detail about the smuggling network. Second, arrest a little-known businessman named Humayun Khan who owns a computer hardware firm in Islamabad, Pakland PME. He is a small fry, but a key link between the smuggling network and the Pakistan Army. There is evidence, in the form of emails exchanged between Dr Khan and a Jewish businessman Asher Karni, that the former had been acting on behalf of the Pakistan Army to buy Sidewinder missiles and infrared sensors from Lockheed Martin Naval Systems and nuclear triggers from two US firms.

The question is whether the Bush Administration will come clean on these counts. Only then, perhaps, a serious attempt could be made to prevent rogue nations and terrorist entities from threatening the global order.

Courtesy: Pioneer, New Delhi, January 5, 2005.

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