Did Dr Khan operate alone?
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: The Abdul Qadeer Khan network had been in business for 15 years before it was blown, according to a 3,000-word report carried by the Los Angeles Times on Monday.
The report by correspondent Douglas Frantz says that after Dr Khan returned from an ‘unauthorised’ trip from the Gulf in 2000, General Musharraf warned him to obey the rules, but when he failed to do so, he was forced to retire. The matter was not pursued any further. Warnings about nuclear trafficking were ignored by a succession of Pakistani political and military governments. Owing to Dr Khan’s popularity, all governments decided to turn a blind eye to his activities. Dr Khan was given a free hand because he was building Pakistan a bomb. Former and current aides to Gen Musharraf state that until late 2003, there was no proof that Dr Khan was selling to other countries the same technology he was acquiring on the black market for Pakistan. The report alleges that Libya paid the network stretched over three continents $100 million for atomic warhead designs and plans for a bomb factory.
However, the report is sceptical about the assertion that the government in Islamabad did not know. “To outside nuclear experts, it defies logic that a scientist as prominent and privy to secrets as Khan could travel freely, operate outside security restrictions and ship sensitive technology overseas for years without attracting official scrutiny,” says the report. Gen Musharraf, it adds, “set the stage for a potential crackdown early in his tenure when he created a military unit to enforce uniform controls on the country’s nuclear weapons installations, including Khan’s laboratory.”
The ISI kept reporting, beginning in 2000, that Dr Khan’s visits to Dubai and his contacts there were suspicious. The report states that Dr Khan had complete control of his laboratories and dispatched shipments on his own signature and reported directly to the head of government. The ISI informed Gen Musharraf that the scientist had accounts containing millions of dollars and owned seven houses in Islamabad. Nothing was apparently done about it. Tehran was Dr Khan’s first known customer. A report by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre said that in 1989, President Hashemi Rafsanjani told Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto that Gen Aslam Beg had offered to share nuclear weapons technology with his country. Ms Bhutto ruled out such a deal. Gen Beg told the newspaper that he had made no such offer. “Nuclear technology was not in my domain. It was under AQ Khan and the political leaders,” he said.
The missile deal with North Korea “stands out as the clearest evidence that the Pakistani military knew at least something about his nuclear trafficking,” the report asserts. Pakistani officials are reported to have acknowledged to the newspaper that profits from sales of antiaircraft rockets and other conventional weapons designed by Khan Research Laboratories helped finance the facility’s nuclear research. Dr Khan today, according to the newspaper, is not allowed to use a telephone, read a newspaper or watch television, although he may swim once a day in his pool.