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US draws a line on Pakistan's nuclear program
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

ISLAMABAD - The United States's patience could finally be running out with Pakistan and its nuclear program, even though Islamabad is scrambling to reassure Washington that any proliferation in the past was an aberration on the part of rogue individuals.

Disclosure by Iran to the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency of the names of people who provided Tehran with nuclear technology - including Pakistani scientists - has clearly alarmed Washington, even though these events took place some years ago.

Under strong US pressure, Pakistan has grilled at least 13 scientists from Kahuta, the site of the Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), Pakistan's main nuclear weapons laboratory, and at least three are expected to be charged with selling Pakistan's nuclear technology to another country. Among those interrogated are former KRL director-general, Mohammed Farooq, and Major Islamul Haq, the principal staff officer of Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan. Dr Khan spearheaded Pakistan's nuclear development program until his replacement two years ago as head of KRL, again under severe pressure from the US, which feared connections of al-Qaeda elements with some Pakistani scientists.

All of Pakistan's scientists are also now under heavy surveillance to track their every move, and the government has issued a circular stating that Dr Khan, a long-time celebrity in Pakistan, is not to be invited to any ceremonies or official functions, or in any way treated as a VIP.

Parallel to this Pakistani investigation, though, the US has launched its own independent probe into Pakistan's links to the nuclear programs of Iran, Libya and North Korea, and, depending on the results, according to insiders in the Pakistani administration, Washington could lean on Islamabad to completely abandon its program. Such action would conform with the US's broader agenda to defuse tension on the sub-continent. Already the US has forced India and Pakistan, not quite kicking and screaming, to the peace negotiating table, and for this peace process to last, Pakistan, a perennial meddler in Afghanistan and Kashmir in particular, would need to be tamed.

The US hand has been strengthened by the weekend announcement by President General Pervez Musharraf, who for the first time admitted that "some individual or individuals" may have been involved in proliferating Pakistan's nuclear technology. And on Monday, Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, saying that a two-month probe into allegations of nuclear technology proliferation to Iran and Libya was near completion, added: "One or two people acted in an irresponsible manner for personal profit. Money is involved in the matter. I am not naming any scientist."

According to sources in the Pakistani establishment who spoke to Asia Times Online, after questioning a few Pakistani scientists, US intelligence operators are now looking for a Karachi-based Pakistani entrepreneur who is said to manufacture some of the components that are used in atomic programs. The investigators want to establish the level of proficiency of the manufacturing, and the chances of the products being - or having been - exported.

US attention is also focussed clearly on Dr Khan. US and UK investigators have already made known evidence of him traveling on a personal rather than a diplomatic passport to Iran, North Korea, the United Arab Emirates and the UK. The UK government unofficially informed Islamabad several times of the visits, but received no response, leading investigators to conclude that he was, in fact, on official business. Tehran authorities have also released information concerning a property near the port of Bandar Abbas, officially given to Dr Khan by the government of Iran.

Pakistan builds a time bomb
A Pakistan scientist who was affiliated with Pakistan's nuclear program spoke to Asia Times Online, on condition of anonymity, about the country's nuclear program.

The program was the brain child of former premier Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was a champion of Third World countries and their rights. "If India develops nuclear weapons, Pakistan will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry" in order to develop a program of its own, he said at the time.

Bhutto was instrumental in bringing Dr Khan to Pakistan in the mid-1970s from the Netherlands where he had been associated with Urenco, a British,German and Dutch consortium. After his return to Pakistan, the Dutch government accused Dr Khan of stealing centrifuge plans from the plant. He was tried in absentia and convicted; the verdict was later overturned on a technicality. Western experts believe that Pakistan used Urenco gas centrifuge blueprints and information to build its own facilities.

Through Bhutto's diplomacy, according to the scientist who spoke to Asia Times Online, Iran and Libya were persuaded to make a joint investment in Pakistan's program. As a result, they were privy to the first phases of that program. Due to the secrecy of the program at this stage, all information and financing was channeled directly through Bhutto, even using his personal bank accounts. Dr Khan, too, answered only to Bhutto, and his "welfare" was the premier's responsibility.

Bhutto's government, though, was toppled by General Zia-ul Haq in a coup in 1977 over allegations of vote rigging. Two years later, on April 4, 1979, Bhutto was hanged after being convicted a year earlier on charges of conspiring to murder a political opponent.

Bhutto's demise - both political and physical - ended the cosy relationship that Pakistan had had with Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, while the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, which threw out the monarchy, severely strained Tehran's ties with pro-US Pakistan.

These developments obviously forced Pakistan to continue its nuclear program on its own. In 1979 a pilot uranium enrichment facility started up at Sihala, and construction began on a full-scale facility at Kahuta. In April of that year, the US imposed sanctions on Pakistan after learning about its enrichment program.

At the same time, however, Pakistan became the main supply line of arms (mostly from the US) to Afghan mujahideen rallying to fight the Soviets, who had invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. And once the Iran-Iraq war broke out in 1980, Pakistan developed into a key transit point for arms on their way to Iran.

In 1981, because of its importance in the Afghan puzzle, the US Congress granted Pakistan a six-year exemption from the Symington Amendment, which prohibited aid to any non-nuclear country engaged in illegal procurement of equipment for a nuclear weapons program. Pakistan also accepted a US$3.2 billion, six-year aid package from the US that included the sale of F-16 planes. Free from the threat of sanctions, in 1982, there was a cold test at a small-scale reprocessing plant in Pakistan.

Around this time, Allama Ariful Hussaini, the chief of the Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Fiqa-i-Jaferia Pakistan, the largest Shi'ite organization in Pakistan, emerged as a go-between for Tehran and Pakistan, first for arms, and ultimately in the transfer of nuclear technology.

By 1986, US sources were reporting that Pakistan had produced weapons-grade uranium (greater than 90 percent U-235.

Hussaini was shot dead in Peshawar in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) a few days before General Zia's death in a plane accident in August 1988. Hussaini's party blamed then corps commander and governor of NWFP, Lieutenant-General Fazal-i-Haq, who was Zia's right-hand man. Haq himself was later murdered by a Shi'ite assassin.

By the late 1980s, then, the US was aware that Pakistan's nuclear program was well advanced, and knew that Pakistan and Iran were cooperating in weapons transfers - most likely including nuclear technology.

In mid-1988, a US oil tanker was fired on and it emerged that US missiles that had been given to Pakistan as supplies for Afghan mujahideen had been used in the attack.

The US was outraged, and proposed an audit at a large ammunition dump at Ojri in Pakistan. Mysteriously, to this day, on August 17, 1988, the dump went up in a huge blast that killed about 100 people and injured thousands. An inquiry did find, however, evidence that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence was involved in selling Stinger missiles and other American arms on the black market.

Since Pakistan was still a trusted ally in the Cold War, the US did not take any action. In June 1989, then prime minister Benazir Bhutto visited Washington DC. In February of that year, Pakistan announced the successful test of two new surface-to-surface ballistic missiles: Hatf I and II, with 80 kilometer and and 300 kilometer ranges. Before Bhutto's trip, though, production of highly-enriched uranium was stopped, a step that was verified by the US. It is believed that production was re-started after heightening tensions with India over Kashmir in 1990.

During these years, the deep seeds of suspicion over Pakistan's trustworthiness were planted, and they are now bearing the fruit that could poison Pakistan's nuclear program, with the country's scientists already feeling the ill effects.

(Note: On May 28 and 30 of 1998, Pakistan conducted underground nuclear tests - six according to the government - in response to India's May 11 and 13 five underground tests.)

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Jan 29, 2004

Pakistan polishes its tarnished nuclear image
(Jan 27, '04)

Fighting the proliferation syndrome
(Jan 27, '04)

Pakistan as proliferator: A view from Washington
(Jan 14, '04)


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