Originally Published 2005-03-30 09:54:01 Published on Mar 30, 2005
It is amazing how the US investigating agencies have taken more than a year to figure out that Dr AQ Khan could not have set up his network of nuclear smugglers without the help of a whole lot of people than thought earlier. According to recent news leaks appearing in some major US newspapers, the investigating agencies are reportedly discovering missing links in Khan's network.
Shadows in Khan's network
It is amazing how the US investigating agencies have taken more than a year to figure out that Dr AQ Khan could not have set up his network of nuclear smugglers without the help of a whole lot of people than thought earlier. According to recent news leaks appearing in some major US newspapers, the investigating agencies are reportedly discovering missing links in Khan's network. 

Beginning March 2004, I have been writing that the investigating agencies should look beyond Khan and identify his collaborators and associates who might actually help in tracking down the network's anchors in other states, and within Pakistan. In June 2004, I completed a special report for the Observer Research Foundation titled Pakistan's Nuclear Underworld which attempted to piece together Khan's network, his collaborators, financiers and supporters. The report mentions names and places on record what only a select few in the intelligence community knew.

Before attempting to understand the Khan's network, there are quite a few caveats four of which are worth flagging for the purposes of this analysis. First, it is misleading to presume that the nuclear proliferation activities orchestrated by Khan was a private venture. It was a state-sponsored enterprise for which prime ministers and presidents, besides the chiefs of Army staff and ISI, starting from Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto have been guilty of. 

Second, US intelligence agencies were clearly aware of these activities. Third, the network was made up of criminal syndicates, politicians and businessmen, prominent financial institutions and legitimate military and intelligence officers - a factor which makes it impossible for any attempt to unmask the real faces behind the network. Fourth, the strong possibility of terrorist networks, not peopled by bearded and turbaned fundamentalists of the past but by young, bright, technically-savvy and highly motivated men and women. They are equally comfortable in temples of worship as in the cyberway, taking advantage of such networks to procure nuclear materials quite capable of making, if not nuclear weapons, radioactive bombs which are no less threatening.

To take the last point first, one of the least investigated links of the Khan's network is the ever-expanding smuggling network which extends from south-east Asia to northern Europe. It is therefore important to cite a few instances of the Khan network using some of the smuggling networks in Europe. A Romanian-Israeli citizen, Shi`mon Na`or, operated one such network through a respectable firm in Bucharest,the capital of Romania. Investigations by intelligence and security officials of several nations revealed the existence of a smuggling network run by former KGB agents that dealt in ex-Soviet nuclear material. Na`or was one of the links. There are reports that Na`or's ring procured nuclear material for Pakistan. He has since been tried and sentenced for seven years. 

There are other references to the Russian involvement in smuggling nuclear material for Pakistan. Former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, in an interview disclosed that Russian scientists who wanted to sell enriched uranium approached her. In 1994, a German, Adolf Jaekle, was arrested in Bremen (northern Germany) with a sample of Russian plutonium which he had offered to an undercover policeman. The arrest led to extensive searches in Berlin and those arrested during the raids pointed the finger at Pakistan as possible destination for the plutonium. According to a German parliamentary control commission, Jaekle had a $100 million contract with an unknown country to buy fissile material. 

One of the serious fallouts of the transnational smuggling networks being used by the Black Network is the real possibility of terror networks like the Al-Qaeda following the same trail for acquiring nuclear or radioactive material. The seizure of 10 lead-lined containers filled with radioactive material, probably Strontium 90 (which can be used to make radioactive bombs) at a remote border in Kazakhstan in early-2000 could be a pointer. The material was marked to a firm, Ahmadjan Haji Mohammad, located in Quetta, Pakistan. It was suspected that the material could have been smuggled out of Kazakhstan for the Al-Qaeda. Kazakhstan has long been suspected to be a key staging post for nuclear smuggling networks. It was one of the outposts of the Black Network where BSA Tahir, one of Khan's key associates in Dubai and Malaysia, had one of the offices of SMB Computers. 

A Pakistani newspaper reported in 1996 that U-235 (enriched uranium), stolen from Kazakhstan's Ust-Kamenogorsk province, was available for sale in Peshawar. In 1997, Russian police officials caught seven residents of Altay region for trying to sell 5.2 kg of U-235 from the Ulba Metallurgy Plant in Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan, for $100,000. The material was being bought for either Pakistan or China. 

It cannot be a coincidence that at about the same time when the Strontium 90 consignment was seized, the Al-Qaeda was persuading Pakistani nuclear scientists to share their knowledge and expertise in making radiation bombs. At least two of the scientists, Sultan Bashir-ud-Din Mahmood and Chaudhry Abdul Majeed, met with Al-Qaeda leaderships, including Osama bin-Laden, in Afghanistan and discussed the possibility of producing radiological dispersal devices. There is another possible linkage between smuggling rings, terrorist groups and the Khan network which is yet to be investigated. 

A significant clue to this possibility could be found in the US State Department designation of Dawood Ibrahim as a global terrorist. Dawood is wanted by the Indian government for several acts of terrorist crimes. "Dawood," says the State Department notification "...has found common cause with the Al- Qaeda, sharing his smuggling routes with the terror syndicate and funding attacks by Islamic extremists... Ibrahim's syndicate is involved in large-scale shipments of narcotics in the UK and western Europe. The syndicate's smuggling routes from South Asia, Middle East and Africa are shared with Osama bin-Laden and his terrorist networks. Successful routes established over recent years by Ibrahim's syndicate have been subsequently utilised by Osama."

Now that US investigating agencies are on to an Israeli businessman settled in South Africa, Asher Karni, and his Islamabad contact, Humayun Khan, it is time to turn to other actors in the drama who have so far remained in the shadows. One such person is Aizaz Jaffri, a prominent businessman based in Islamabad. He owns "Hot Shots", a bowling alley and a mall complex, besides scores of business establishments which, according to the newspaper Jang, are actually owned by AQ Khan. News reports in Pakistan quoted officials as saying, "We believe Jaffri was an intermediary between Khan and the larger illicit network." 

Jaffri used to work for Pakistan's National Development Corporation, a state enterprise, before he joined the Khan network and began acting as a front man for dozens of businesses established by Khan. He serves as the managing director of the Best Western Hotel in Islamabad and runs dozens of restaurants and hotels owned by Khan. An intriguing fact is that Jaffri's reported association with China North Industries Corporation or Norinco, a state-owned Chinese corporation which is collaborating with Pakistan on missile and weapons development and production. One link that emerged is the Chinese restaurant in Islamabad, Wang Fu, partly owned by Jaffri two years ago and in which Norinco and Khan's brother, Qayuum, also have a stake. 

Jaffri is also tied to Khan's activities in Dubai where he, reports said, might have had laundered the proceeds of Khan's Black Network. Between November and December 2003, when Khan was being questioned and his associates detained, Jaffri made three trips to Dubai, possibly, as investigators suspect, to shut down the financial structure that he ran for Khan. Jaffri and Humayun Khan could tell quite a few tales about AQ Khan and his network.

The author is Senior Fellow, South Asia Programme and Director, Information Services, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

Courtesy: The Pioneer, New Delhi, March 30, 2005.

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