Global Geopolitics Net
Monday, July 21, 2008

© Copyright 2008 James Crickton. All rights reserved.

London based Research Analyst with a MNC

Now that North Korea has expressed readiness to be forthcoming on its N-enterprise, it should be possible for the world to unravel the nuclear black-markets pioneered and sustained by Abdul Qadeer Khan and his unnamed associates in Pakistan with official patronage. Khan has so far been kept away from the international investigators. He has been claiming for a while that his proliferation activities had the full backing of successive army chiefs of Pakistan.

Both the ‘conditional’ pardon given by President Pervez Musharraf and the ground reality that nothing moves in Pakistan without a general wink or nod from the General Headquarters of the army in the garrison town of Rawalpindi lend credence to Khan’s claim that he is not alone. Howsoever powerful and ingenious he might be, Khan could not have despatched centrifuges to North Korea on board a military aircraft in the year 2000 without the knowledge of the military and the military dominated intelligence agency ISI. At that time Gen Musharraf was the army chief besides being the chief executive of the country.

The Pakistan-North Korea nuclear axis goes back to the time Benazir Bhutto was the prime minister in 1994. In the run upto the elections that have brought about the transition of Pakistan from military rule to quasi – democracy, she had proudly spoken of her own N-connection. And even declared that if voted to power, she would allow Khan to appear before the IAEA for questioning. She immediately came under pressure from the establishment and was forced to dilute her commitment. A few days later Benazir was assassinated. Who assassinated her remains a mystery? It is possible that vested interests felt ill at ease with Benazir’s offer of letting Khan to inquisition by US authorities or IAEA. Such access to Khan could have put the entire Pak story under the lens.

Patently, it is unfair to apportion all the credit (blame?) for Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence to keep India at bay to Khan. Another US-trained Plutonium scientist, Munir Ahmad Khan, who was senior to him, deserves to be hailed for the success Pakistan had notched on the nuclear front. Bad luck to him was that General Zia-ul-Haq disliked him because of his close association with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who could rightfully claim, on the political side, the title of father of Pakistan’s bomb. Zia pump primed the Khan enterprise as a counter foil to Munir Ahmed. Some experts hold a different view. According to them, the wily general wanted to let Munir Ahmed carry out his enterprise beyond the preying eyes of the West. And for this reason deliberately made Khan the visible face of Pakistan’s programme to act as some sort of a decoy. That Khan being a megalomaniac did his best to create an aura for himself and even boasted of fathering an Islamic bomb is another matter.

Munir Ahmed directed Pakistan bomb project between two positions at the IAEA- first between 1957 and 1972 as a staff member initially, then as a member of the Board of Governors and later on as IAEA Board Chairman from 1986 to 1987.

A recent study by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) shows that Pakistan has followed what in business parlance can be termed as insider trading. Khan is the best known example. Writing in the Defence Journal (May 2004), Usman Shabbir, termed Munir Ahmed as the ‘Unsung Hero’ of Pak bomb project. He and others have also gone on record to say that many Pakistani scientists and engineers gained crucial knowledge about enrichment process through education, training and internships in European firms some times under the aegis of UNESCO.

Tens of scientists were trained in Europe, in particular in Belgium and Germany, says a study on assessing Pakistan’s Nuclear Reprocessing Capabilities

IISS strategic dossier on Nuclear Black-markets leaves no doubt that Pakistan’s N- goal was and is a state sponsored and promoted enterprise. Pakistan embassies were systematically used and so were the Pakistan born foreign nationals. Says IISS: “From the early 1970s until at least the late 1990s Pakistan embassies around the world, in particular in Europe were key components of the network and used diplomatic pouches to send material home”.

Put differently, Islamabad can’t shield itself behind Khan; the earlier it comes out of shadows the better for the world. Because, circumstantial evidence shows that Pakistan’s N- imports and exports were centralised. A British intelligence report in 2003 reportedly listed no less than 95 Pakistani organisations and government bodies including diplomatic posts abroad as players in the country’s N- imports.

While on the subject of involving Pakistani- born foreign nationals, the IISS report observes, “Through financial or ideological incentives, Pakistan enlisted the contribution of foreign nationals of Pakistan origin. A Q Khan made extensive use of this method, asking several of his countrymen to come back to Pakistan, collect information, or assist with the procurement of spare parts”. Khan also made extensive use of personnel connections invoking ‘IOUs’. These techniques brought success to its enterprise in the past and ensured the longevity of the network despite regime changes.


Lately Pakistan establishment is invoking these time tested old practices to ‘guard’ itself from any intrusive campaign to unravel Mush-Khan mystery. There are reports that specially selected and trained young Pak scientists are being placed at the IAEA headquarters and some think tanks in the United States working on non-proliferation issues.

Primarily their task is to help Pak nuclear and defence establishment to effectively deal with key issues at various fora like nuclear watch dog, IAEA, and Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) besides the usual suspects like CTBT and FMCT. Sources in London, Washington and Dubai said that these new Pak Nuclear foot-soldiers did their post-graduation and received hands on training in Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and Strategic Plans Division (SPD) as also Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA).

Some of these young scientists are said to have been sent to the London-based South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI) for a short warm up. It may be patently unfair to say all young Pak scientists at SASSI come under the tainted category. But there is the talk that after the internship, these youngsters may be posted to Pak embassies to represent PAEC, which offers perfect cover.

Meanwhile there are reports from Pakistan itself that Islamist fundamentalists sympathetic to Jihadis are finding their way into the Pakistan nuke laboratories. These reports need to be thoroughly verified before a view could be taken. At this stage, this much can be said. Given the milieu in which Pakistan finds itself today, the jihadi infiltration into the country’s scientific laboratories, if true, doesn’t come as a surprise.

The United States is said to be monitoring these developments though it doesn’t appear to have achieved any significant breakthrough just as it has not had any success thus far in getting access to the Khan confessions and details of Pak government investigations into the Khan proliferation enterprise.

By 1983 itself, the United States came to believe that Beijing might have helped Pakistan overcome some difficulties in its nuclear campaign. Five years later in 1998, first steps were initiated in Pak-Iran nuclear cooperation. This much is clear since according to US ambassador to Pakistan, Robert Oakley and Assistant Secretary of Defence, Henry Brown, General Mirza Aslam Beg, the army chief, had threatened to transfer nuclear technology to Iran if Washington cut off arms sales to Pakistan.

Benazir Bhutto, as prime minister (1988-90 and 1993-96) was in the Iran-Pak N-loop. Her Security Affairs Advisor Major General Imtiaz Ali and her Military Secretary Zulfiqar Ali reportedly encouraged meetings between Khan and Iran.

The point is whether it is with Iran or with Libya or for that matter with North Korea, Khan did not make a solo effort even if he had cut corners here and there to improve his bank balance. As of now there is no light on the contours of this broad based network or on the extent and depth of cooperation with China. From all accounts, it is clear that nuclear cooperation with China was initiated by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in May 1976. It remains one of the most closely held state secrets of Pakistan. And it is said to be a cause of friction in Sino-American relations.

One doesn’t know whether all members of the Khan network have been identified and put under the scanner. Approximately some 50 individuals may have been actively involved in the network, according to the deposition of David Albright before the Subcommittee on international terrorism and non-proliferation of the US House Committee on International Affairs.

Another report puts the number of persons investigated world wide at 38. How many of them are from Pakistan is unknown as also whether everyone who assisted Khan in Pakistan is named as of now. There is need to trace and question his associates in other countries.

Needless to say, all this calls for a world wide effort and cooperation from the countries concerned. Since North Korea is forthcoming to speak, it is in Pakistan’s interest to let the world unravel the Khan mystery it has gift wrapped over the years as a matter of state policy.


Given the difficult times it is passing through, socially, ethnically and economically, it is in Pakistan’s own interest to come clean on what we may call the Khan Gate. It should allow as much broad based probe as is possible and give up the age old practice of taking shelter under one pretext or the other. If for no other reason, just to prevent the possibility of fundamentalist Islamists gaining access to N-technology since Talibanisation of Pakistan’s countryside is a reality. Certainly the civilised world will be more than willing to lend a helping hand to Pakistan to start on a clean slate.

A related issue that only Washington can answer is how much of Pakistan’s clandestine activity is known to the United States. Three years ago, in September 2005, Ruud Lubbers, who was Dutch prime minister, publicly stated that CIA had made them to free Khan, not once, but twice in 1975 and again in 1986. The Lubbers allegation remains unanswered till date, surprisingly. The CIA is not unaware of Khan contacts and activities either.

George Tenet, a former CIA director, in his book, ‘At the Centre of the Storm”, says Khan had contacts in China, North Korea and through out the Muslim world. His caveat is interesting though - “A Q Khan is at least as dangerous as Osama bin Laden. (But) it is extremely difficult to know exactly what he was upto or to what extent his efforts were conducted at the behest and with the support of Pakistani government”.

But there is one aspect of the Khan Bomb factory that United States cannot say it was not unaware off. And Pakistan government cannot attribute to the greed of the discredited scientist. Before 1985, the year Pressler Amendment came on the American statute, Islamabad placed an order for 40 F-16 aircraft. It wanted to use these aircraft as delivery vehicles for its nuclear weapons. That the US did not configure these aircraft for nuclear delivery is a fact. But the moot question is: Was it a deliberate policy action? Those in the know of these things, say it could be a deliberate decision. Truth if any, only Washington knows. Islamabad knows.