US role in the creation of nuclear Frankenstein's monsters--- lest one forgets

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by B.Raman

(December 29, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) An article titled “Botched Calculations” written by K.Subrahmanyam, strategic analyst and former Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee of the Government of India, in the “Indian Express” of December 25,2010, has drawn attention to the dubious US role in facilitating nuclear proliferation by A.Q.Khan, the nuclear scientist of Pakistan, including the clandestine dissemination of uranium enrichment technology to China to serve the US strategic interests in the cold war against the USSR. The role of the US in the creation of two dreaded Frankenstein’s Monsters of the cold war--- Osama bin Laden and A.Q.Khan--- has not been adequately gone into. Some material on this subject, which could be of use to research scholars wanting to take up a study of this, are appended below.

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )

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Pakistan’s Dr Nuke bids for the presidency

The ‘rogue scientist’ blamed for selling bomb secrets has strong popular support, writes his confidant

Simon Henderson

After the resignation of Pervez Musharraf, who will be the next president of Pakistan? A controversial politician such as Benazir Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, or a nonpolitical figure? If the latter, it might, just might, be the detained nuclear scientist Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan.

Last week a group of lawyers in the Pakistani city of Lahore marched in support of Khan’s candidacy. His actual election, requiring a majority vote in the national assembly, would shock the world, which was aghast at revelations, four years ago, that Khan had sold nuclear secrets to Libya, Iran and North Korea. But it would be justice of sorts.

Khan was not a rogue agent selling centrifuges to enrich uranium – and enrich himself. He was a loyal and obedient servant of a succession of military and political regimes in Islamabad. Generals and prime ministers traded his talents, which also included making an atomic bomb and two different missiles capable of carrying it, for a range of diplomatic and political favours.

That, at least, is his story. He has been telling it to me for more than a year, correcting what he regards as the falsehoods and errors in the books published about him. Their authors never managed to contact Khan so relied on the claims of his detrac-tors. But, circumventing his guards, I did manage to reach him and made a simple request: tell me your version. I have hundreds of thousands of his words, as well as letters, photographs and video. My biography of him is nearly complete.

Khan’s fall from grace was spectacular. Twice awarded Pakistan’s highest honour for leading the teams that created the country’s nuclear strike force, he was forced to make a televised confession about his proliferation activities – and take all the blame himself. For four years he has been confined to his Islamabad home. Yet in neighbouring rival India, A P J Abdul Kalam, seen as Khan’s counterpart and popularly known as “the missile man”, went on to serve as his nation’s president from 2002 to 2007.

The political demise of Musharraf still leaves several obstacles to Khan’s rehabilitation, never mind his election as head of state. There are many people who do not want the real story to emerge. Musharraf himself said in June that the true story “is a confidential issue . . . a very serious matter, as Pakistan may suffer”.

Within Pakistan, Khan’s successes – and impatience with bureaucratic obstacles and rivals – caused much envy and anger. For three decades a sub-plot of the country’s nuclear programme was the antagonism between the Khan Research Laboratories and the country’s official nuclear authority, the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission.

Pakistani leaders encouraged rivalry between the teams trying to make highly enriched uranium and the other nuclear explosive, plutonium. Khan’s team won. His team was also the recipient of a gift from China of a design for an atomic bomb and enough highly enriched uranium for two devices, after Beijing decided to back Khan to jump-start Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. I remember being told about China’s nuclear generosity by an outraged British official in the 1980s. I later asked what Beijing had received in return. It was an enrichment plant.

The plant is at Hanzhong in central China. C-130 Hercules transports of the Pakistan air force made more than 100 flights to China carrying centrifuge equipment. Beijing needed the plant, not for bombs but to fuel its nuclear power plants. Centrifuge technology is good for both levels of enrichment, hence the current concern that Iran’s nascent plant at Natanz has a military purpose. China could not make the Pakistan-supplied centrifuges work properly, so replaced them with Russian centrifuges. What happened to the Pakistani centrifuges? A good question. They were not returned to Pakistan. Could they have ended up in Iran?

Pakistani nuclear cooperation with Iran began after a visit from Ali Khamenei, then Iran’s president and now supreme leader, in 1986. The collaboration was ordered by President Zia ul-Haq, then Pakistan’s military dictator who, five years earlier, had publicly declared that Pakistan would “acquire [nuclear technology] . . . even if we have to beg, borrow or steal [it]”.

Many outsiders first heard of Khan after Colonel Gadaffi’s sudden announcement in 2003 that Libya was giving up its weapons of mass destruction programmes. Foreign businessmen who had supplied Khan had been commissioned by the Libyans to build an enrichment plant. The whole deal had been instigated by Bhutto, assassinated in December 2007, but, confronted by the US, Musharraf blamed Khan, prompting the nuclear scientist’s arrest and incarceration. The explanation suited Washington which, post 9/11, needed Pakistan’s help to fight Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and stop the use of sanctuaries in the border region.

Apart from Iran and Libya, the other main sin laid at Khan’s door is North Korea. Having built an atomic bomb for Pakistan by 1984, Khan had no means of being able to deliver it. One version was adapted for use by Pakistan’s American-supplied F-16 fighter bombers; another was put on the Ghaznavi missile, the first Pakistan-produced version of China’s M-11 rocket. It was not until Khan won authorisation to buy manufacturing rights for North Korea’s No-dong missile that Pakistan had a missile capable of reaching nearly all of neighbouring India, which had first tested a bomb in 1974.

The North Korean missile, known in Pakistan as the Ghauri (and, in Iran, as the Shehab-3), was manufactured at the Kahuta enrichment facility outside Islamabad. While at Kahuta, North Korean scientists helped fit the nuclear warhead to the Ghauri and also learnt about centrifuges.

In his biography, Musharraf said Khan had shipped examples of centrifuges to North Korea. Correct, but with the connivance and at the instruction of the Pakistan military. North Korea now probably has a functioning enrichment plant but has not admitted its existence to US diplomats negotiating the country’s de-nuclearisa-tion. It is already sitting on a stockpile of highly enriched uranium courtesy of Sta-lin, the Soviet leader.

Musharraf’s depiction of Khan as a rogue agent, and the international acceptance of this tale, had led to moments of farce. To the bemusement of foreign officials, one of the officials sent to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog, had been involved in the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission’s own clandestine purchasing network.

The notion that Khan might be a credible candidate to be Pakistan’s next president will cause apoplexy for many in Washington DC. But President Bush’s officials realise that, denied access to Khan, they had to rely on the version of what he did supplied to them by Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency.

A postscript: Khan’s activities give a new explanation for the crash of President Zia’s C-130 plane in 1988, in which Arnold Raphel, the US ambassador, and General Herbert Wassom, head of the military mission, also died. Wing Commander Mash’hood Hassan, the plane’s pilot, had also been flying Khan’s centrifuge equipment to China. On one such trip he confided in a colleague of Khan that he hated Zia, holding him responsible for the murder of a local religious leader: “The day Zia flies with me, that will be his last flight.” The aircraft plummeted to the ground soon after taking off, killing all on board.

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