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The A. Q. Khan network

The A. Q. Khan network

Author: G. Parthasarathy
Publication: The Hindu
Date: February 19, 2009
URL: http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/2009/02/19/stories/2009021950400800.htm

If expedience led the Americans to allow A. Q. Khan to go free two decades ago, have they realised the dangers they could face by covering up the Pakistan army's role in facilitating nuclear proliferation worldwide,

Why was the CIA so keen to let A. Q. Khan off the hook? Was it part of an American policy to turn a blind eye to Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme?

The decision of the Islamabad High Court to release the 'Father' of Pakistan's "Islamic Bomb," Dr A. Q. Khan, following a secret agreement between Khan and the Pakistan Government has provoked widespread international concern. No one's buying the Pakistan Government's stand that the A. Q. Khan affair is a "closed chapter". The court decision constitutes direct and wanton defiance of American concerns about the danger t hat Khan's release poses to international security.

Just after the court verdict, Khan defiantly underlined his Islamist credentials by asserting: "I will always be proud of what I did for Pakistan. I am obliged only to my Government, not any foreigners. Are they happy with our Government? Are they happy with our Prophet? Never". Khan's religious bigotry is shared by not only many in the Pakistani military establishment, but also by his close associates involved in the Pakistan nuclear weapons programme.

The Islamic dimensions of Pakistan's nuclear ambitions were spelt out when then Prime Minister Z. A. Bhutto noted that while the "Christian, Jewish and Hindu" civilisations had nuclear weapons capability it was the "Islamic Civilisation" alone that did not possess nuclear weapons. He asserted that he would be remembered as the man who had provided the "Islamic Civilisation" with "full nuclear capability".

Islamic bomb

Bhutto's views on Pakistan's nuclear weapons contributing to the capabilities of the "Islamic civilisation" were shared by Khan's close associate for over three decades - fellow nuclear scientist Sultan Bashiruddin Mehmood, who, along with his colleague Chaudhri Abdul Majeed, was detained shortly after the terror strikes of 9/11. They were both charged with helping the Al Qaeda to acquire nuclear and biological weapons capabilities.

Mehmood openly voiced support for the Taliban and publicly advocated the transfer of nuclear weapons to other Islamic nations. Echoing Bhutto, Majeed described Pakistan's nuclear capability as the property of the whole "Ummah" (Muslim Community). Mehmood and Majeed also acknowledged that they had long discussions with Al Qaeda and Taliban officials.

A "factsheet" put out by the White House stated that both scientists had meetings with Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar during repeated visits to Kandahar, with the Al Qaeda seeking their assistance to make radiological dispersal devices. Documents recovered by coalition forces in Afghanistan established that the two scientists were active members of the Islamic organisation UTN, which was engaged in securing information on biological weapons.

Two other Pakistan scientists, Suleiman Asad and Al Mukhtar, wanted for questioning about suspected links with Osama bin Laden, then "disappeared" near Myanmar's borders with China.

Assistance from N. Korea

Khan commenced his proliferation activities in 1987, when with the approval of General Zia ul Haq, he offered assistance to Iran. This process continued through the 1990s, with Khan supplying Iran with "inverters" - equipment crucial for uranium enrichment in 1994, through a Sri Lankan intermediary Abu Tahir Syed Bukhary.

Engulfed by economic bankruptcy, following the termination of American assistance, Pakistan turned to North Korea, for what led to a missiles-for-nuclear-technology deal.

This followed a Pakistan-China-North Korea Agreement in January 1994, for cooperation in manufacture of missiles and guidance systems. In 1995 a delegation led by Choe Kwang, Vice-Chairman of North Korea's National Defence Commission, who was also in charge of his country's nuclear weapons programme, visited nuclear establishments in Pakistan.

An agreement was reached on North Korea providing Pakistan with fuel tanks, rocket engines and between 12 and 25 "Nodong" missiles capable of hitting urban centres across India.

Between 1994 and 1998, Khan paid over a dozen visits to North Korea. By 1998 aircraft of the Pakistan Air Force and the Air Force-run Shaheen Airlines were carrying missile components and nuclear enrichment equipment and materials between Rawalpindi and Pyongyang.

Tech for Iraq, Libya

There is evidence that around the same time, Khan offered nuclear technology to Iraq and Libya. While Saddam Hussein was guarded in responding to the Khan offer, Libya's Colonel Qadhaffi had no such reservations and went full steam ahead with getting enrichment equipment and even nuclear weapons designs (of Chinese origin) from Khan. Moreover, in 1998, Saudi Defence Minister Prince Sultan was given unprecedented access to the A.Q. Khan Laboratories in Pakistan. This was followed by exchanges of visits between Khan and Saudi scientists to and from Saudi Arabia in 1998-1999. Saudi Arabia's King Fahd, in fact, told senior American officials, at around the same time that Saudi Arabia would need a nuclear deterrent if Iran developed nuclear weapons.

Pakistan's nuclear tests in May 1998 paradoxically marked the beginning of Khan's decline, as the scientists and physicists led by his rival Samar Mubarak Mand carried out the tests.

In the meantime, the CIA had infiltrated his network in Dubai and Geneva and gained access to its computers and global operations. Gen Musharraf was confronted with the evidence the CIA had collected. Fearing that if he did not act against Khan, the Americans could well expose the crucial role the Pakistan army had played in assisting Khan's activities, Musharraf extracted a "confession" and "apology" from Khan that he had acted illegally, out of considerations of personal profit.

But, like in their approach to Pakistani sponsored terrorism, where they invariably give a clean chit to the ISI, the Americans have absolved the Pakistan army, the ultimate villains in Khan's proliferation activities, of all responsibility for what had transpired.

Khan was sentenced to four years imprisonment by an Amsterdam Court in 1983 for illegally stealing nuclear weapons enrichment technology and centrifuge designs from the Netherlands-based Physical Dynamics Research Laboratory, where he worked between 1972 and 1976.

The sentence was later overturned on a legal technicality. Former Netherlands Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers revealed that his Government was all set to arrest Khan in 1975 and 1986 but was advised against doing so by the CIA. Why was the CIA so keen then to let Khan off the hook? Was it part of an American policy, especially in the 1980s, to turn a blind eye to Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme?

Self-deception

If expedience led the Americans to permitting Khan to go free two decades ago, with disastrous consequences, have they and their friends realised the dangers they could well face in the future, by deliberately covering up the role which the Pakistan army and successive Army Chiefs have played in encouraging and indeed participating and facilitating nuclear proliferation worldwide?

Have they also assessed the likely implications of the "see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil" policies they have adopted on the role of the Pakistan army and the ISI in promoting global terrorism?

Diplomacy based on delusion and self-deception inevitably has disastrous consequences.


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