One of the questions that neither the Bush administration nor the Musharraf government has so far investigated is the involvement of Pakistan’s military in the proliferation activities of nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.
The Pakistani army’s involvement in the nuclear program can be traced to the setting up of a Special Works Organisation headed by Brig. Zahid Ali Akbar in 1975. In 1976, the Pak Army Headquarters, Rawalpindi, asked Brig. Muhammad Sarfraz, chief of staff at 5 Corps Headquarters in Quetta, Balouchistan, to provide a helicopter to a group of scientists from the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission who were on a reconnaissance mission to identify a suitable location for an underground nuclear test. The department worked under Mr. Khan but reported to the army chief of staff.
The army had its officers working closely with Mr. Khan in various capacities since the 1970s. Two army officers who worked with him were Brig. Sajawal Khan, the director general of maintenance and construction at Khan Research Laboratories until 2001, and Brig. Iqbal Tajwar, director general, administration, Khan Research Laboratories. Sajawal Khan had been associated with A.Q. Khan since September 1976. Mr. Tajwar, a military intelligence officer, was, for many years, responsible for the security of Khan Research Laboratories before becoming the administrative head of the laboratory.
By 1988, when A.Q. Khan’s network of suppliers was also well-established across Europe and the United States, the army had enough in its confidential files to prosecute him easily for corruption. Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, the ISI chief, had specific reports of A.Q. Khan having access to enormous sums of money; a senior scientist from the Khan Research Laboratories had even personally met Gen. Gul to register his complaint. Gen. Gul’s successor, Lt. Gen. Shamsur Rehman Kallue, wrote the first report on Mr. Khan’s activities and forwarded it to the prime minister and the army chief of staff, where it was dutifully shelved. Gen. Kallue was not exactly in the good books of the army, which considered him to be Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s confidante.
Gen. Kallue’s successor, Lt. Gen. Asad Durrani, was equally in the know about A.Q. Khan’s activities, especially his travels to Iran in 1991 and 1992. Iran was by then quite interested in paying heavily for a nuclear gateway with Pakistan. Iran had in fact offered $3.2 billion to finance Pakistan’s nuclear weapons development program in exchange for the transfer of nuclear technology. The Iran connection existed since the time of Gen. Zia al-Huq, who had approved unpublicized cooperation between the two nations in the nuclear field in 1987. The cooperation was specifically limited to non-military spheres. In fact, many believe that Gen. Durrani and his superior, Gen. Aslam Beg, the army chief of staff, were deeply involved in the clandestine nuclear deals.
A startling disclosure was made by Muhammad Farooq, a centrifuge expert, who traveled to Iran and Libya on behalf of A.Q. Khan, when the United States and Pakistan intelligence officials debriefed him in November 2003. He pointed out A.Q. Khan’s Tehran deal. Investigations have since revealed that the scientists maintained secret bank accounts in Dubai, where millions of dollars were deposited. Noman Shah, A.Q. Khan’s estranged son-in-law, operated one of the main Dubai-based front companies used by the Khan network. It was Mr. Shah who set up a supplier firm for A.Q. Khan in Dubai and worked closely with the network till he divorced his daughter, Dina, in 1994.
Several nuclear and missiles deals signed by the Khan Research Laboratories were routed through Mr. Shah. One of the deals that came to the public notice, mainly because of the controversy it kicked up, was the contract for the purchase of titanium aluminum from Mr. Shah’s firm, allegedly at an inflated price. Mr. Khan’s elder brother, a retired banker, was also probed by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies for possible links with the nuclear racket, but the findings remain a secret.
The United States too was aware of the Pakistani army’s firm control over the nuclear weapons program. In a Near East and South Asia Review dated May 5, 1989, the CIA said:
“Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s influence on nuclear issues is sharply circumscribed by the military’s firm control over nuclear decision-making and strong commitment to a nuclear weapons program. Moreover, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan gives full support to the military’s dominance and direction of nuclear policy. Although Bhutto’s access and leverage on nuclear issues have increased since she assumed office last December, she is unlikely to gain control over nuclear decision-making anytime soon … Prime Minister Bhutto agreed not to interfere with Pakistan’s nuclear policies as one of several conditions levied by the Army on her in exchange for military support for her becoming Prime Minister.”
Wilson John is a senior fellow with Observer Research Foundation working on Pakistan and terrorism.
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