WASHINGTON: A disarmament group has claimed that Pakistan used the Khan network for 25 years to “obtain technology, components, and materials for its own nuclear weapons.”
The Arms Control Association (ACA), a Washington-based group formed in 1971 to promote arms control, in an article by Leonard Weiss in its March newsletter to members states that though Dr Khan’s activities had been tracked by US intelligence for “more than two decades, little attempt had been made to roll up the network he created. Rather than focusing on this profound long-term strategic danger to national security, the United States had chosen to pursue short-term, tactical foreign policy gains with Pakistan.”
But according to a briefing given to Pakistani journalists on February 1, 2004, by Lieutenant General Khalid Kidwai, commander of Pakistan’s Strategic Planning and Development Cell, Dr Khan signed a 12-page confession in which he admitted to providing Iran, Libya, and North Korea with technical assistance and components for making high-speed centrifuges used to produce enriched uranium.
In addition, according to three of the 20 Pakistani journalists who attended the briefing, Khan was defending himself by saying that he was pressured to sell nuclear technologies by two (now deceased) individuals associated with Bhutto, that nuclear assistance to Iran was approved by then army chief General Mirza Aslam Beg, and that the deal with North Korea was reportedly supported by two former army chiefs, one of whom now Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States.
Describing it as a “misguided policy approach”, the writer charges that the Bush administration has chosen to subordinate nonproliferation goals, including fully breaking apart the Khan network, to the short-term goal of building a relationship with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Nor has Bush proposed a long-term strategy to prevent a similar network from taking birth in the future.
Tracing the history of US-Pakistan relations, Weiss notes that the US turned a blind eye during the Afghan war to Pakistan’s nuclear programme that allowed Dr Khan to “obtain all the technology, materials, and equipment needed to build nuclear weapons.” He writes that the National Security Agency (NSA) was “routinely intercepting faxes and telexes from high-tech firms in Germany and Switzerland looking for a Pakistani nuclear connection and they were aware of assistance coming from firms in Turkey.
Indeed, dozens of démarches were issued to the Turkish government during the late 1970s and 1980s protesting ongoing shipments of electrical components - many of them made in the United States - to Pakistan. Turkey claimed that its export laws were insufficient to allow the government to interfere with such trade. After some time, Turkey passed a stronger export control law, but its enforcement was feeble. Additionally, the US government refused to acknowledge the Turkish role officially because doing so would have required the cutoff of military assistance to an important NATO ally.”
According to Weiss, the Reagan and Bush administrations “did all they could to keep Congress in the dark about the details of the Pakistani programme.” Richard Kerr, a senior CIA official, has said that Pakistan had the bomb by 1987, something that Benazir Bhutto confirmed in an interview to the Voice of America this week. When she visited the United States in 1989, she was told that the determination of “no possession” made that year would be the last one. “Yet, there is little evidence that any of Khan’s suppliers were shut down at the time. Khan realized that he could use the network he had created, now also including Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure, to enable other countries with nuclear ambitions to obtain critical components and materials for their own weapon programmes, with Pakistan (and Khan) reaping large rewards in the process.”
Iranian nuclear scientists began to receive training in Pakistan beginning in 1988. Assistance was also provided to Iran’s centrifugue programme in 1989. The Khan laboratory began publishing brochures, distributed at arms fairs, advertising equipment for sale that was useful in the construction and operation of centrifuges, including vacuum devices to enable rotors to spin in relatively frictionless chambers. “The Khan laboratory was not the only one, however, touting sales and delivery of equipment useful for nuclear-enrichment purposes. In 1999, following its nuclear-weapon tests the previous year, the Pakistani government put out its own advertisement of procedures for the export of nuclear equipment and components. The ad also listed equipment for sale, including ‘gas centrifuges and magnet baffles for the separation of uranium isotopes.’ ”
Weiss states that the ads had the desired effect and other countries began viewing Pakistan as a source for building nuclear weapons. Khan was contacted and began selling off surplus centrifuges and components. Shipments were sometimes made using official government cargo planes to middlemen in other countries, who were used to disguise the origin of the cargo.
Khan later arranged for parts to be ordered through his middlemen and to be delivered directly from his network sources. The spectrum of supplies that could be provided by the network included older and advanced centrifuges, bomb design (based on the original Chinese design given to Pakistan in 1983), electronic components, and advanced materials. The network also provided logistical and technical assistance.
The sales, claims the article, were not only producing funds for support of Dr Khan’s laboratory; they were also helping Pakistan in its development of missile capability, a programme that was run out of the Khan laboratory as well. For years, North Korea had been selling missiles to Pakistan. Pakistan had been paying cash for the missiles but ran into a foreign currency reserves crunch around 1996. At that point, it is believed, the North Koreans agreed to a barter transaction involving the provision of centrifuges in exchange for missiles. Iran is believed to have been the first customer of Pakistan/Khan nuclear sales.