Originally Published 2004-01-21 09:06:37 Published on Jan 21, 2004
When the world attention was riveted by the US-choreographed peace moves between New Delhi and Islamabad early this month, a South African Jewish businessman, Asher Karni, 50, was being trapped in a sting operation launched by the US Commerce Department and other federal investigating agencies. On January 2,
Pakistan's nuclear tango
When the world attention was riveted by the US-choreographed peace moves between New Delhi and Islamabad early this month, a South African Jewish businessman, Asher Karni, 50, was being trapped in a sting operation launched by the US Commerce Department and other federal investigating agencies. On January 2, as Karni landed at the Denver International Airport, he was detained for interrogation and what he told the officials should have rung alarm bells in Washington. It did not, and that's another story.

The charges against Karni, as revealed by the affidavit filed by the US Commerce Department, was that he was trying illegally to export 400 spark gaps to someone in Pakistan. Spark gaps are electrical devices that are used in breaking up kidney stones. They can also be used in triggering nuclear detonations.

Documents also quite clearly establish that the Pakistan entity which placed the order was not exactly looking for spark gaps to break kidney stones. The elaborate ruse set up by Karni was an irrefutable indicator of the clandestine nature of the requirement. Karni, who heads Top-Cape Technology (http://www.top-cape.com/) in Cape Town, South Africa, a firm dealing in military and aviation electronic equipment, was contacted by someone in Pakistan to buy 400 spark gaps from an American manufacturer, PerkinElmer Optoelectronics of Salem, Massachusetts. A PerkinElmer brochure states that gaps are useful "for in-flight functions such as rocket motor ignition, warhead detonation and missile stage separation." When PerkinElmer told Karni that such a sale would require a US licence, Karni contacted another firm in New Jersey which bought 200 of the devices and shipped them to Giza Technologies of Secaucus(600 Meadowlands Parkway, Suite 19
Secaucus, NJ 07094, U.S.A. http://www.gizatech.com). Giza, in turn, forwarded the shipment to Top-Cape Technology,South Africa, listing them on shipping documents as electrical equipment for a hospital in Soweto. Karni, who received the package, repackaged the spark gaps and dispatched them to Pakistan via Dubai.

The firm marked on the consignment as the receiver was Pakland PME ( 2nd Floor, Muhammadi Plaza, Jinnah Avenue, F-6/4, Blue Area, Islamabad, Pakistan). The owner of the firm is a Pakistan businessman named Humayun Khan, known to be a regular supplier of military hardware to Pakistan military. It would be logical to presume that the trigger spark gaps, bought in such a large quantity and in such a clandestine manner, could only meant for making nuclear weapons. The affidavit filed in the court articulated the threat clearly. ``This case represents," the affidavit said, `` one of the most serious types of export violations imaginable. Karni has exported goods that are capable of detonating nuclear weapons to a person he knows has ties to the Pakistani military….Although Pakistan's current leadership has vowed to curb the spread of this technology, that region of the world remains volatile, and Islamic militants in the area have made no secret of their desire to obtain nuclear weapons. The threat that Karni's conduct posed was real."

This is Reason No. 1 to impose global sanctions on Pakistan and to dispatch a UN team immediately to inspect its nuclear installations and weapons programme.

Reason No. 2 is equally clear and alarming. Early this month, The New York Times published a sales brochure from the AQ Khan Research Laboratories. The brochure listed nuclear technology and components. The brochure carried the photograph of Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, the nuclear scientist whose dealings with North Korea, China, Iraq, Iran and Libya are now no longer a secret. The brochure offered equipment and technology from the Pakistani gas centrifuge programme. Centrifuges are hollow tubes which spin at a dizzying pace to separate U-238, a heavy isotope and U-235, a light one. U-235 is popularly known as highly enriched uranium, the key component of a nuclear weapon. There is, however, no shock value in this discovery. The Bush administration has known for long that Pakistan has been supplying nuclear technology and materials to North Korea, Libya, Iraq and Iran. In fact, as late as July 2002, the CIA tracked down a Pakistani aircraft, C-130, landing at a North Korean airfield to drop a set of ballistic missile parts. On March 24, 2003, the US imposed sanctions on a North Korean company, Changgwang Sinyong Corporation and Khan Research Laboratories for a related missile technology transfer.

It is another matter that what is often cited as a ``surprise discovery``, if one were to study the news archives, would turn out to be a secret not only well known to Washington but also available in public domain. In 1999, for instance, Washington Times, quoted a US intelligence agency report which disclosed the presence of a North Korean national by the name Kang Thae Yun, an economic counsellor in the embassy of North Korea. In fact, the report said, Kang was a representative of Changgwang Sinyong Corporation and a well-known arms dealer. Kang came to the notice of the US intelligence agencies after unknown assailants in Islamabad shot his wife, Kim Sanae, on June 9, 1998. Though there was hardly any whisper in the media about her killing, a few months later a British newspaper disclosed that the North Koreans themselves killed Kim. Kim was suspected to be working for some western intelligence agencies. Los Angeles Times on August 25, 1999, reported that the assailants were part of the North Korean team of technicians working in the Khan Research Laboratories. Later investigations revealed a close relationship between Kim's family and Dr AQ Khan himself. Both lived in the same neighbourhood and North Korean technicians working in the Pakistan Laboratory often visited the Kang family. Kang left Islamabad a month after his wife's death.

Similar has been the discovery of Pakistan's involvement in Iran's nuclear weapons programme. A 2500-word report prepared by the International Atomic Energy Agency last November revealed that Iran's pilot plant used a ``modified version of a centrifuge built decades ago by Urenco, a consortium of the British, Dutch and German governments``. Dr Khan, before he returned to Pakistan, worked with Urenco from where, it is alleged, he stole blue prints of the centrifuge technology. Khan, it is said, built several centrifuges before abandoning the Urenco design for a more refined one. It is now revealed that the abandoned centrifuges were sold by Pakistan to North Korea, Iran and other countries searching for nuclear technology and equipment. The KRL brochure, exposed by New York Times, is most probably part of Pakistan's covert, but nevertheless very much official, attempts to sell centrifuge design and materials that were no longer required in its own nuclear weapons programme.

Now that it is fairly well known that KRL has been selling nuclear technology and equipment, it is safe to assume that persons like Asher Karni has been involved as conduits in this clandestine business. If these developments were to be seen in the context of recent crackdown on the nuclear establishment in Pakistan, particularly Dr Khan and all those who have been associated with him, it would become clear that nuclear proliferation has been a state policy of Pakistan.

The world would do well to keep in mind another fact about Pakistan's nuclear scientists. More than 25 of them are under scrutiny at present and almost all of them, fiercely, believe that the only way to strengthen the cause of Muslim community is to make it nuclear capable.
Email ID :[email protected]

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.