Proliferation Unbound: Nuclear Tales from Pakistan
Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan.
By Gaurav Kampani
February 23, 2004
After years of blanket denials, Pakistan's government has finally admitted that
during 1989-2003 Pakistani nuclear scientists and entities proliferated
nuclear weapons-related technologies, equipment, and know how to Iran, North
Korea, and Libya. The Pakistani government's denials collapsed after Libya
formally decided to terminate its clandestine weapons of mass destruction
(WMD) programs in October 2003 and make a full disclosure of its efforts to
build nuclear weapons; and after Iran, in fall 2003, agreed to cooperate with
the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and provide details of its
clandestine uranium enrichment programs that originated in the mid-1980s.
The Iranian and Libyan revelations have exposed a vast black market in
clandestine nuclear trade comprising of middle men and shell companies;
clandestine procurement techniques; false end-user certifications; transfer of
blueprints from one country, manufacture in another, transshipment to a third,
before delivery to its final destination. But even more remarkably, the
investigations of Iranian and Libyan centrifuge-based uranium enrichment
efforts have exposed the central role of the former head of Pakistan's Khan
Research Laboratories (KRL), Dr. A.Q. Khan, in the clandestine trade. Detailed
information has surfaced about transfers of technical drawings, design
specifications, components, complete assemblies of Pakistan's P-1 and P-2
centrifuge models, including the blueprint of an actual nuclear warhead from
KRL. But the transfer of hardware apart, there is equally damning evidence
that Khan and his top associates imparted sensitive knowledge and know how in
secret technical briefings for Iranian, North Korean, and Libyan scientists in
Pakistan and other locations abroad.
Three decades ago, Khan, with the support of Pakistan's government, set out to
create a new model of proliferation. He used centrifuge design blueprints and
supplier lists of companies that he had pilfered from URENCO's facility in the
Netherlands to launch Pakistan's nuclear weapons program. In the process, he
perfected a clandestine model of trade in forbidden technologies outside
formal government controls. By the end of the 1980s, after KRL acquired the
wherewithal to produce highly-enriched uranium for a nuclear weapons program,
it reversed course and began vending its services to other clients in the
international system. KRL and Khan's first client was Iran (or possibly China
even earlier); but the list gradually expanded to include North Korea and
Libya. Starting in the late 1980s, Khan and some of his top associates began
offering a one-stop shop for countries that wished to acquire nuclear
technologies for a weapons program. Khan's key innovation was to integrate
what was earlier a disaggregated market place for such technologies, design,
engineering, and consultancy services; and in the process offer clients the
option of telescoping the time required to develop a nuclear weapons
As independent evidence of diversions from KRL has come to light, the Pakistani
government has swiftly sought to distance itself from Khan and his activities.
President Pervez Musharraf's regime has publicly denied that it or past
Pakistani state authorities ever authorized transfers or sales of sensitive
nuclear weapons-related technologies to Iran, Libya, or North Korea. Islamabad
attributes Khan's clandestine nuclear trade to personal financial corruption,
abuse of authority, and megalomania. Alarmed that Khan's past indiscretions
might directly implicate the Pakistani military and state authorities, the
Musharraf regime also launched an internal probe to apparently get a clearer
picture of the activities of its top nuclear lab and senior scientists. In
fall 2003, Pakistani investigators traveled to Iran, Dubai, Vienna, and Libya
to investigate US and IAEA complaints against Khan. They discovered that the
complaints were borne out by evidence; and more alarmingly, that Khan had
apparently made unauthorized deals unbeknownst to Islamabad and reaped huge
personal financial rewards in the process.
Since October-November 2003, Khan and his close associates' movements have been
restricted. While Khan himself has been under placed under informal house
arrest, his aides are undergoing what Pakistani government spokesmen politely
describe as "debriefing sessions." In late January 2004, the government
ultimately stripped Khan of his cabinet rank and fired him from his position
as senior advisor to the chief executive. As part of a deal, Khan made a
public apology on television before the Pakistani nation. In that apology, he
admitted to personal failings, accepted responsibility for all past
proliferation activities, and absolved past and present Pakistani state
authorities of any complicity in his acts. In return, the Jamali cabinet
granted Khan a conditional pardon. However, Khan's senior aides remain in
custody and the government has not made up its mind on whether to press formal
charges against them for violating the state's national secrets or to pardon
Most proliferation specialists and independent observers of Pakistani politics
have watched the surreal saga of what is perhaps the greatest proliferation
scandal in history with disbelief.
Most also find the Pakistani government's assertions of innocence and attempts
to absolve itself of any responsibility in the matter astonishing. For most,
the mammoth scale of the diversion from KRL, its extended time span, the
logistics of transporting material and machines out of Pakistan, and the
difficulty of circumventing the security detail surrounding senior Pakistani
scientists and KRL, are obvious pointers to state complicity. In the past
three months, senior Pakistani politicians have raked up the historical record
to point fingers at the Pakistani Army. Others, including US government
officials, have alluded to indicators that at least some of Khan's activities
might have enjoyed tacit, if not formal sanction from oversight authorities
within the state. Such indicators include Islamabad's past unresponsiveness to
diplomatic entreaties, sharing of intelligence inputs, published documentary
records, informed public speculation about Khan and KRL's nuclear
proliferation activities, and the Pakistani military's corporate ability to
sustain its WMD programs on a weak military-industrial base, even as the state
operated at the margins of economic solvency. As new evidence surfaces by the
day, the record becomes clearer; even as the controversy surrounding the role
of the past and present Pakistani governments becomes uglier.
This research report provides an overview of the evidence that has surfaced in
the last three months to paint a clearer picture of what we now know of Khan
and KRL's contributions to Iran, North Korea, and Libya's clandestine
centrifuge-based uranium enrichment programs. It reviews the internal debate
and finger pointing in Pakistan, and analyzes the narrative presented by
President Musharraf's regime in its defense. The report also outlines some of
the reasons for the Bush administration's muted response and concludes by
offering a net assessment of the strategic implications of the new
What Do We Now Know?
Although Pakistan has admitted that its nuclear scientists and entities engaged
in clandestine nuclear transfers to Iran, North Korea, and Libya during the
period 1989-2003, the full extent and nature of those transfers are still
unclear. Iran has still not made a full disclosure about its two-decades-old
centrifuge enrichment program. Scientists and engineers at the US Department
of Energy are still in the process of analyzing documents and equipment turned
over by Libya. And North Korea maintains that it never admitted to pursuing a
clandestine centrifuge-based uranium enrichment program in October 2002.
But despite existing gaps, there is evidence that nuclear transfers to Iran
from Pakistan occurred during 1989-1995. According to Pakistani government
sources, North Korea obtained similar assistance between the years
1997-2001. However, US intelligence agencies believe that strategic trade
between Pyongyang and Islamabad continued as late as August 2002. Khan also
began cooperating with Libya in 1997and such cooperation continued until fall
All three countries - Iran, North Korea, and Libya - obtained blueprints,
technical design data, specifications, components, machinery, enrichment
equipment, models, and notes related to KRL's first generation P-1 and the
next generation P-2 centrifuges.
Cooperation between Pakistan and Iran most likely began in 1987 after the two
countries signed a secret agreement on nuclear cooperation for peaceful
purposes. Apparently, Khan sold "disused" P-1 centrifuges and what he
describes as outmoded equipment to Iran along with the drawings and technical
specifications and possibly components or complete assemblies of the more
advanced P-2 model. Initial deliveries were made during the years
1989-1991; but evidence has surfaced that transfers continued as late as
1995. Pakistani investigators believe that some of the shipments were
probably transported over land through a Karachi-based businessman. Other
shipments were routed through Dubai.
Similarly, Khan and his associates supplied Pyongyang with centrifuge and
enrichment machines, and depleted uranium hexaflouride gas (UF6). Orders
for the North Korean contract were placed in 1997 and deliveries continued
until 1999. KRL also rendered further technical assistance to Pyongyang during
1999-2001. Some of the shipments to North Korea were flown directly from
Pakistan using chartered and Pakistan Air Force transports.
In 1997 Khan supplied Libya with 20 assembled P-1 centrifuges; with components
for an additional 200 more for a pilot facility. The Libyans also obtained
1.87-tons of UF6 in 2001; the consignment was directly airlifted from Pakistan
on board a Pakistani airline. IAEA sources believe that amount is consistent
with the requirements for a pilot enrichment facility. In September 2000,
Libya placed an order for 10,000 centrifuges of the more advanced P-2 model.
Component parts for the centrifuges began arriving in Libya by December
2002. However, a subsequent consignment of parts was intercepted by US
intelligence agencies in October 2003, after which Libya decided to make a
full disclosure and terminate its nuclear weapons program. But more
alarmingly, in either late 2001 or early 2002, Khan also transferred the
blueprint of an actual fission weapon to Libya as an added bonus.
The supply package to all the three countries did not just include hardware and
design information. Khan and his associates also provided their clients
integrated shopping solutions in a fragmented market. They shared sensitive
information on supplier networks, manufacturers, clandestine procurement and
smuggling techniques, and arranged for the manufacture, transport, and
delivery of equipment and materials through a clutch of companies and
middlemen based in South-East Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.
Pakistani scientists and technicians held multiple briefing sessions for their
Iranian counterparts in Karachi, and locations in Malaysia and Iran.
Briefings for Libyan scientists were held in Casablanca and Istanbul. Khan
also visited North Korea nearly a dozen times, and it is likely that technical
briefing sessions for North Korean scientists were arranged during those
visits. But there are also reports that North Korean scientists were allowed
to train at KRL itself. In addition, Pakistani engineers and scientists
were also on hand for providing consulting advice and trouble-shooting
services through intermediaries.
US intelligence analysts believe that the nuclear weapon blueprint that Khan
and his network sold Libya is most likely a design that China tested in the
late 1960s; and later shared with Pakistan. Apparently the design documents
transferred from Pakistan contain information in both Chinese and English,
establishing their Chinese lineage; they also provide conclusive evidence of
past Chinese assistance to Pakistan's nuclear weapons program. The
blueprint provides the design parameters and engineering specifications on how
to build an implosion weapon weighing over 1,000 pounds that could be
delivered using aircraft or a large ballistic missile. Analysts believe
that the design is not currently in use in Pakistan, which has graduated to
building more advanced nuclear weapons. However, the transfer of an actual
weapon design to Tripoli has left open the question whether Tehran and
Pyongyang obtained a similar copy; whether the design is still in circulation;
or who else might have obtained it.
In the mid-1990s, Khan also set up a clandestine meeting with a top Syrian
official in Beirut to offer help with setting up a centrifuge enrichment
facility for an HEU-based nuclear weapons program. In mid-1990, he also
made a similar offer through a Gulf-based intermediary to Saddam Hussein's
regime. However, the Iraqi government ignored the offer in the erroneous
belief that it was likely a sting operation or a scam. There is also
fragmentary and indirect evidence to suggest that Khan may have offered his
nuclear services to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. But little
is publicly know about the outcome of those overtures.
The Internal Blame Game
The Pakistani government claims that the nuclear trade with Iran, North Korea,
and Libya was unauthorized; that KRL proliferated centrifuge technologies,
equipment, and related intellectual property clandestinely and illegally,
unbeknownst to military oversight authorities formally in charge of the
nuclear weapons program. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has publicly
accused A.Q. Khan and his top aides of corruption and attributed their actions
to financial gains. In an attempt to distance Pakistani state authorities
from the scandal's fallout, Musharraf has also suggested that the scientists
were rogue operators, who abused the trust and autonomy granted by state
authorities to pursue their personal agendas.
In calculated leaks to the press, senior Pakistani government officials have
painted Khan as a megalomaniac; a publicity hound who created a
larger-than-life image of himself. They have narrated tales of KRL's corrupt
culture; of Khan's parceling of procurement contracts at exorbitant prices to
family members and associates; bribes for procurement orders from vendors;
Khan's palatial houses and real estate investments in Pakistan and abroad; his
lavish lifestyle; and unaccounted for millions in secret bank accounts.
Pakistani government sources from the president on down have also made it
plain that Khan's corruption and profiteering from proliferation activities
were critical factors behind his removal from KRL in March 2001.
However, Khan has disputed Musharraf's allegations in private debriefings with
Pakistani government investigators. Apparently Khan has made the case that he
was pressured to sell nuclear technologies to Iran by two individuals close to
former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The first, Dr. Niazi, was a friend,
while the latter, General Imtiaz Ali, served as military advisor to
Bhutto. Both individuals are now deceased. Khan has further alleged that
aid for Iran's uranium enrichment program was also approved by then Chief of
Army Staff, General (retd.) Mirza Aslam Beg (1988-1991). Similarly, Khan
claims the nuclear-for-missile deal with the Kim Jong Il regime was backed by
two former army chiefs, Generals (retd.) Abdul Waheed Kakar (1993-1996) and
Jehangir Karamat (1996-1998). The latter, according to Khan, made a secret
trip to North Korea in December 1997 and presided over efforts to obtain
Nodong ballistic missiles from that country. Khan's friends have also
privately suggested that General Pervez Musharraf, who succeeded Karamat and
took over responsibility for the Ghauri missile program in 1998, had to have
known about the transfers to North Korea.
In interviews with Pakistani government investigators, Khan apparently insisted
that no investigation would be complete until all the actors - Khan, former
army chiefs, and other senior military and government officials - were
questioned together. Equally significant, Khan is believed to have challenged
his interlocutors' reticence to probe the nature of the technology and
equipment transfers to North Korea as against the blanket charge of
proliferation; the import of his suggestion being that either the equipment
and material transferred to North Korea would not enable it to enrich uranium
to weapons-grade in the short-term, or alternatively, that the logistics of
the equipment and technology transfers would directly implicate the military
and state authorities.  There are also rumors that Khan has smuggled out
evidence with his daughter Dina, who is a British citizen, which would
directly implicate senior Pakistani officials in an unfolding scandal.
Fearing that any further washing of Pakistan's dirty nuclear laundry in public
could cause irretrievable harm to the Pakistani military and state
authorities, Musharraf has sought to cap the controversy by pardoning Khan for
his past transgressions. In the bargain, Khan has accepted personal
responsibility for all acts of proliferation and absolved the Pakistani state
and the military from blame. However, in his contrite public confession on
television, Khan declared that he acted in "good faith but on errors of
judgment," obliquely hinting at the likely involvement of the Pakistani
military and other state authorities in his activities.
Despite the Pakistani government's attempts to absolve itself from the charges
of proliferation, most independent analysts of Pakistani politics remain
unconvinced that A.Q. Khan and his associates could have engaged in nuclear
transfers over nearly two decades without sanction or tacit acknowledgement
from sections or individuals within the Pakistani government. The Pakistani
military's tight control over the nuclear weapons program, multiple layers of
security surrounding it, the exports of machinery and hardware from Pakistan,
as well as rumors, leaks, and past warnings about Pakistan's nuclear
cooperation with Iran and North Korea by Western intelligence agencies, have
led analysts to believe that the current effort to pin the blame on a small
number of senior officials from KRL is a cynical ploy to prevent the Pakistani
military and state from being implicated in the unfolding scandal.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has deployed four arguments to explain why
Khan and his associates were able to proliferate nuclear technologies and
secrets for nearly two decades without the knowledge of successive Pakistani
First, he has argued that during the covert phase of Pakistan's nuclear weapons
program, which lasted from 1975-1998, A.Q. Khan and KRL had to rely on shell
companies, clandestine procurement techniques, smuggling networks, and
middlemen for the purchase of equipment and technologies that were on the
export control lists of advanced industrial countries. Thus the same networks
that supplied the Pakistani nuclear weapons effort were redirected to meet the
demand for similar technologies in the international market. Once Khan and his
associates developed a successful model of clandestine trade in forbidden
technologies outside formal governmental control, they were able to offer
their services for financial rewards to other bidders in the international
During a press briefing earlier in February, Musharraf explained that since
Pakistan's nuclear weapons program was covert until 1998, civilian governments
were out of the nuclear decision-making loop. But more astonishingly, he
sought to peddle the line that even former army chiefs, who were supposed to
exercise oversight authority over KRL, never knew of the intimate happenings
within the entity. Musharraf's proffered explanation for successive army
chiefs' ignorance: the KRL's near total organizational autonomy. According to
Musharraf, such autonomy was an essential precondition for the lab to achieve
its mandated objectives However, the army never imagined that Khan would abuse
the trust and confidence reposed in him by the state. Furthermore, Khan
gradually capitalized on his successes and the state's mythologizing of his
contributions to elevate himself to the status of a national hero. Hence, the
organizational demands for success during the development phase of the nuclear
weapons program, as well as Khan's nearly unassailable position within
domestic Pakistani politics, made it difficult for successive army chiefs to
confront him for his transgressions.
Third, Musharraf maintains that the United States did not share intelligence on
Khan's proliferation network with the Pakistani government until very
recently. In the absence of such damning evidence, it was difficult for
the Pakistani government to proceed against Khan and his associates. And
finally, Musharraf insists that the bulk of the proliferation from Pakistan
occurred in the form of intellectual property transfers; the implication of
his suggestion being that it is easier for governments to safeguard industrial
hardware and nuclear material than the transmission of software.
The Counter Narrative
Musharraf's defense provides some useful information on the historical
evolution of Pakistan's nuclear command authority, the relationship between
the military and the nuclear entities and scientists, and damning disclosures
about Khan's personal corruption, but it does not offer credible explanations
as to how or why successive Pakistani governments remained ignorant of Khan's
activities for such a long period of time; or why they should not be held to
account. On balance, the historical evidence points in the direction of a more
complex and murkier reality that casts aspersions on Musharraf's motivations.
Admittedly, it is easier for governments to safeguard industrial hardware and
equipment in comparison to software which resides in the neural networks of
human beings, floppy disks, CDs, and computers. Humans can carry software on
their person, unbeknownst to oversight authorities; and transmit it either
verbally or electronically. However, evidence has surfaced that Khan and his
associates proliferated both hardware and software. Pakistan's Attorney
General Makhdoom Ali Khan recently told the Rawalpindi bench of the Lahore
High Court that the scientists transferred "secret codes, nuclear materials,
substances, machinery, equipment components, information, documents, sketches,
plans, models, articles and notes entrusted them [scientists] in their
official capacity." Given the logistics of moving machinery and materials,
it is extraordinarily difficult to believe that the Pakistani military and its
intelligence agencies had no inkling of the nuclear trade.
Musharraf has offered a novel explanation as to why the army did not know of
the intimate happenings at KRL. According to him, the military commanders
tasked with KRL's security detail were under the lab's autonomous control; the
military officers were answerable to Khan and not the army high command.
However, most independent observers who are familiar with the Pakistani Army's
professional ethics, training procedures, and command protocols are skeptical
that this would indeed be the case. Others more familiar with KRL's
security detail are equally dismissive of Musharraf's explanations.
Pakistani government sources have also suggested that KRL's security detail was
designed to prevent penetration and sabotage of the nuclear weapons program
from the outside. But it was not particularly well-designed to prevent the
egress of men, material, and equipment in the reverse direction. The
obvious flaw of designing a one-dimensional security model apart, the nature
of nuclear cooperation with Iran and North Korea suggests that sensitive
nuclear facilities in Pakistan were penetrated from the outside; and the
osmosis of technical exchange between the scientists and entities was
facilitated by formal nuclear cooperation agreements between the Pakistani and
Iranian and later North Korean governments.
Iranian nuclear scientists reportedly traveled to the port city of Karachi in
Pakistan for technical briefings during the early 1990s. The ease with
which foreign scientists and technicians gained access to Pakistani scientists
and sensitive facilities stands in sharp contrast to the difficulty former
Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto encountered while trying to gain similar access.
For example, the army denied Bhutto security clearances to visit KRL during
her first tenure as prime minister (1988-1990). General (retd.) Mirza
Aslam Beg allegedly withheld details about the nuclear weapons program from
the prime minister on the rationale that "briefings at Kahuta were on a
need-to-know basis." In another episode, the French ambassador to Pakistan
was physically manhandled by Pakistani security forces when he made the
mistake of venturing close to KRL. Thus, some of the anecdotal evidence
from the early 1990s undercuts the army's recent assertions about lapses in
KRL's security network.
Two former cabinet ministers in the first Nawaz Sharif government (1990-1993),
Senator Ishaq Dar and Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan have stated for the record that
in 1991 former Chief of Army Staff General (retd.) Mirza Aslam Beg lobbied
Sharif for the transfer of nuclear technology to a "friendly state," for the
sum of $12 billion. The proposed figure was apparently supposed to underwrite
Pakistan's defense budget for the decade. According to Dar, a
representative of that "friendly state" accompanied Beg when he made the
offer. However, Sharif, rejected Beg's proposal.
Similarly, Nisar Ali Khan maintains that in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War,
Beg proposed that Pakistan should sell its nuclear technology to Iran as part
of a grand alliance. The general's reasoning: that after the United States
succeeded in defeating Iraq, it might be the turn of Iran and Pakistan next.
Sharif, according to Nisar, rejected Beg's proposal. But this does not rule
out the possibility that Khan and Beg might have acted independently of the
prime minister, who never had control over the nuclear weapons program in any
Musharraf's protestation to the contrary, Pakistani governments have had some
knowledge about Khan's activities and about equipment and technology transfers
from KRL to Iran and North Korea. There is evidence to suggest that every army
chief from the late 1980s has known of Tehran's interest in acquiring
enrichment technologies from Pakistan for a weapons program. Apparently,
Pakistani investigators have also found evidence that Khan informed Beg of
equipment transfers to Iran. However, Beg claims that he received assurances
from Khan that the equipment being sold to the Iranians was outmoded and
disused and would not enable them to enrich uranium in the short term.
Washington has also raised proliferation concerns with Islamabad repeatedly
since the early 1990s. Former US Ambassador to Pakistan Robert B. Oakley
(1988-1991) recalls Beg telling him in 1991 that he had reached an
understanding with the head of Iran's Revolutionary Guards to help Tehran with
its nuclear program in return for an oil facility and conventional weapons. An
alarmed Oakley broached the subject with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Subsequently, according to Oakley, Sharif and Pakistani President Ghulam Ishaq
Khan informed the Iranian government that Pakistan would not carry such an
In the mid-1990s, when UNSCOM inspectors in Iraq uncovered documentary proof
that Khan had approached Saddam Hussein's regime with offers of assistance in
the area of centrifuge-based uranium enrichment, the Pakistani government
declared that it had conducted an internal investigation and found the
allegations to be fraudulent.
Similarly, Washington began querying Islamabad about possible nuclear transfers
to North Korea as early as 1998. Musharraf also recently confirmed that
the ISI raided an aircraft bound for North Korea in 2000 after it was tipped
off that KRL was transferring sensitive equipment to Pyongyang; but that raid
drew a blank. More recently, US State Department spokesperson Richard
Boucher took issue with Musharraf's charge that Washington did not provide the
Pakistani government with timely intelligence against Khan; Boucher insisted
that the United States had "discussed nonproliferation issues with Pakistan
repeatedly, over a long period of time, and it's been an issue of concern to
us and President Musharraf...so it's not a single moment of information."
Besides the intelligence inputs that Islamabad received from Washington,
whistle blowers within the Pakistani nuclear establishment began warning the
Pakistani military and its intelligence agencies about Khan's corruption as
early as the late 1980s. Musharraf recently admitted that he suspected
Khan of clandestine proliferation activities as early as 1998; and that it was
a critical factor behind his removal from KRL in March 2001. Yet, despite
Khan's removal, US intelligence tracked strategic trade between Pakistan and
North Korea until fall 2002. More alarmingly, Khan and his network coordinated
nuclear trade with Libya until October 2003; and Khan, despite being moved out
of KRL, was able to transfer a nuclear weapons design to Libya in late 2001 or
But oddly enough, despite mounting evidence that Khan might have profited
illegally by selling the Pakistani state's most sensitive secrets, the
Pakistani military did not consider it fit to investigate him or his top
associates until October 2003. Despite repeated foreign government entreaties,
published documentary evidence, foreign intelligence leaks, and news reports
alleging nuclear proliferation to Iran and North Korea over a period of 14
years, the proverbial Pakistani military watchdog did not bark. Furthermore,
even after the Pakistani government launched an internal probe after receiving
incriminating intelligence from the United States and the IAEA in fall 2003,
Pakistani investigators visited Iran, Libya, Dubai, and Malaysia, but excluded
North Korea from their itinerary.
The Pakistani military's lack of institutional curiosity in investigating the
internal affairs of its nuclear scientists and labs, physical transfers of
machinery, nuclear materials, and components from Pakistan over land routes
and on board chartered and air force transports, travel of Pakistani
scientists to Iran, and training/briefing sessions for Iranian and North
Korean scientists in Pakistan, suggests that the Musharraf regime is being
frugal with the truth. In fact, Musharraf alluded to the latter reality in an
address to Pakistani journalists when he said that even if for the sake of
argument it were accepted that the Pakistani military and governments were
involved in nuclear proliferation, the Pakistani press should avoid debating
the issue out of deference to the country's national interests.
Washington's Muted Response
Washington's public reaction to what is perhaps the greatest proliferation
scandal in history has been relatively muted. Although US officials have
privately expressed disbelief that such massive diversions from KRL could have
occurred for nearly two decades without the knowledge and consent of the
Pakistani military, the Bush administration has publicly accepted Musharraf's
fiction that Khan's was a rogue operation; and that the Pakistani military and
other state functionaries were probably unaware of some of Khan's operations.
Senior administration officials have also publicly lauded President Musharraf
for investigating Khan and his associates and strengthening internal controls
However, Washington has privately warned Musharraf that Pakistan risks
jeopardizing the $3 billion proposed economic aid package and its relations
with the United States. During a visit to Islamabad in October 2003, US Deputy
Secretary of State Richard Armitage personally presented evidence against Khan
to Musharraf and threatened that Pakistan could be reported to the United
Nations Security Council and suffer sanctions if it failed to put an end to
Khan's nuclear entrepreneurship permanently. The implicit bargain between
Washington and Islamabad: the United States will avoid publicly hectoring and
embarrassing Musharraf in return for a Pakistani undertaking to tear up Khan's
clandestine nuclear trading network from its "roots"; intelligence inputs that
would help US intelligence agencies fill critical gaps in their knowledge
about the scale, depth, and modus operandi of the clandestine global trade in
nuclear technologies; and details on North Korea and possibly Iran's
uranium enrichment programs.
Washington's public nonchalance has also been determined by the necessity of
avoiding actions that might rebound on Musharraf domestically. The Bush
administration regards Musharraf and the Pakistani Army as critical allies in
the global war on terror against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Since the launch of
the Afghan war in fall 2001, Pakistan has rendered critical intelligence,
logistical, and military support for US military operations. Pakistan's
cooperation has also been critical in apprehending al-Qaeda operatives taking
shelter in Pakistan and along the Pakistan-Afghan border. Because Osama Bin
Laden and his key lieutenants remain at large, and because the United States
needs Pakistan's political support to pacify the resurgent Taliban threat in
Afghanistan, the Bush administration has resorted to quiet diplomacy to force
changes in Islamabad's proliferation policies.
In this regard, re-imposition of US economic sanctions would only compound the
problem. On the one hand, because the drivers that led to Pakistani
proliferation in the past would remain in place, economic privation would only
create further incentives for the Pakistani military to feed its corporate
appetite through weapons of mass destruction-related technology sales abroad.
On the other hand, the consequences of military action against Pakistan would
be infinitely worse. If the United States ever made the mistake of degrading
or destroying the Pakistani military's coercive capacity, Pakistan might
become a failed state, and the problem of securing its nuclear facilities,
fissile materials, scientific personnel, and actual weapons and delivery
systems would become a security nightmare.
Because it is likely that some of past clandestine nuclear trade had the tacit
if not formal support of the Pakistani military, the United States is also
perhaps trying to avoid actions that would place Musharraf, who is also the
head of the army, in an institutional quandary.
Perhaps the quiet calculation in Washington is that a policy of selective
intelligence leaks, private and multilateral diplomacy, and a combination of
carrots and sticks would constitute more robust means to persuade Islamabad to
mend its ways. More enticing is the possibility, howsoever remote, of
recruiting the Pakistani military's intelligence agencies and nuclear labs to
help roll up the global black market in nuclear technologies they helped
create in the first place.
Finally, the US reticence in publicly rebuking Islamabad for its proliferation
transgressions is an acknowledgement of the sensitive regard with which
nuclear issues are treated in domestic Pakistani politics. Nuclear weapons are
closely tied to the Pakistani nation's sense of self-worth and national
identity. Pakistanis count their nuclear capability as one of the few areas of
national achievement. Nuclear scientists are treated as cult figures; and
until recently, the Pakistani state lionized Khan as a national hero. Khan
and the nuclear establishment also enjoy the support of the Islamist parties
in Pakistan. Hence, Washington has been keen to avoid giving the impression
that it is intruding into the holy sanctum of Pakistan's nuclear politics; or
doing anything that would compromise Pakistan's nuclear weapons program. But,
behind the fa?de of public calm, US policy makers have launched a quiet
program of cooperation to help Pakistan institute more reliable personnel
reliability protocols, and enhance the safety and security of its nuclear
warheads, fissile materials, and sensitive nuclear facilities.
Without a doubt, the new revelations show that Pakistan remains the most
problematic nuclear state in the international system and perhaps the state of
greatest proliferation concern. KRL's diversion of centrifuge blueprints,
designs, models, complete assemblies, components, enriched uranium, and the
actual design of a warhead itself without a nary afterthought of the likely
political consequences of such actions, is unparalleled in the history of
In the mid-1970s and 1980s, Pakistan's nuclear weapons program presented a new
model of proliferation. In the past, state-to-state cooperation had been the
main conduit for the passage of nuclear weapons-related technologies. However,
Pakistani entrepreneurs such as A.Q. Khan demonstrated how loose export
control regulations, dual-use technologies, market ethics, and a fragmented
manufacturing base spread across different countries could be exploited by a
determined proliferator to build an integrated fissile material production
complex. The Pakistanis perfected a system of clandestine trade through
middlemen and shell companies; through clandestine procurement techniques,
false end-user certificates, and diversion of industrial goods and
technologies placed on the export control lists of advanced industrial nations
using circuitous routes. But that effort took about a decade to
In comparison, new proliferators such as North Korea and Libya have been able
to reduce substantially the lead time for setting up similar facilities.
Libya, for example, was able to set up a pilot uranium enrichment plant within
five years; and could have conceivably extracted enough enriched uranium for a
single nuclear weapon on a crash basis. The critical difference between
the Pakistani and North Korean and Libyan cases is that the latter tapped into
the services of nuclear entrepreneurs such as Khan who provided a one-stop
shop for uranium enrichment programs: integrated shopping solutions for
complete centrifuge assemblies; component parts and manufacturing services;
enriched uranium; engineering consultancies and trouble shooting services; and
finally the blueprint of an actual fission weapon itself. Thus the same
fragmented network that fed the Pakistani nuclear weapons effort morphed into
what IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei described as an underground
international Wal Mart for nuclear weapons technologies.
Any analysis of the proliferators' motivations will have to wait until we have
a more definitive idea of whether Khan's activities were entirely a rogue
operation or conducted at the behest of the Pakistani military. Revelations of
Khan's disproportionate wealth and the modus operandi of his associates
clearly suggest that money was a primary motivation. But Khan has also
justified his actions as means to help other "Muslim" nations and divert
Western attention and pressure from the Pakistani nuclear weapons program.
However his sales to secular regimes in North Korea and Libya, and offers to
other secular regimes in Syria and Iraq suggest that although ideology and
antipathy to the West might have played some role, it was in part a cover to
mask his greed and megalomania.
Although the Pakistani government has distanced itself from Khan's activities,
it is difficult to believe that a diversion of such massive scale and scope
over a period of nearly two decades could have occurred without the knowledge
of oversight authorities within the Pakistani government. Evidently, Khan made
nuclear transfers to Iran under the rubric of a secret peaceful nuclear
cooperation agreement that the two countries signed in the mid-1980s. The
historical record shows that former Pakistani president, the late General
Zia-ul-Haq, was aware of Iran's interest in purchasing Pakistani enrichment
technology that would enable it to enrich uranium to weapons grade. The
historical record is equally clear that General (retd.) Beg, who immediately
succeeded Zia, toyed with the idea of nuclear technology sales to finance
Pakistan's defense budget. Khan also informed Beg of the equipment sales to
Iran. However, Beg insists that Khan had assured him that the equipment being
sold was outmoded, old, and disused, and would not enable Tehran to enrich
uranium in the near term. Similarly, the Musharraf regime has never admitted
to Nodong imports from North Korea or explained how it cobbled together the
resources to pay for them.
But there is also the possibility that the Pakistani military approved
transfers of a limited scope and nature to Iran and North Korea; but that Khan
and his associates abused the authority granted them to make unauthorized
sales of goods and services and reap huge personal financial rewards in the
process. However, the Musharraf regime's attempt to absolve the Pakistani
state of all blame in the current controversy by suggesting that Pakistani
scientists acted out of pecuniary and career goals borders on the
preposterous. If the above argument were accepted in principal, no future
government in Islamabad could be held accountable for transfers or theft of
fissile material, warheads, or other weapons-related technologies and know how
from Pakistan. By Musharraf's logic, Khan and his associates could have also
diverted weapons-grade uranium or an actual nuclear weapon itself to foreign
clients and the Pakistani military would claim innocence. Even if the nuclear
entities and scientists were acting independently, the Pakistani state is
ultimately responsible for the guardianship of all nuclear assets,
technologies, and personnel on its territory.
Although Islamabad's proliferation record raises serious concerns, the current
Pakistani government's assertion that its scientists and entities might have
acted at cross purposes and in a manner unbeknownst to state authorities, is
infinitely worse. For the record would then suggest that not only did civilian
governments in Islamabad lack effective control over the nuclear weapons
program during its developmental phase, but that the military too, which
analysts believe effectively monitors the nuclear weapons effort, exercised
only perfunctory control. The implications of such abdication of internal
sovereignty by the state are staggering. It suggests that behind the fa?de of
centralized control, Pakistan's strategic military-industrial complex is
dangerously fragmented, compartmentalized, and autonomous; that government
agencies lack effective oversight; and individuals act as authorities unto
themselves. In light of their alleged past behavior, the possibility that such
individuals might share secrets concerning the dark nuclear arts with other
countries and terror groups for ideological and financial motivations is not
as remote as it had once seemed.
Iran's and Libya's revelations about their Pakistani connection are also likely
to have a sobering effect on other proliferators in the international system.
Proliferator states, rogue entities, scientists, engineers, manufacturers and
suppliers can no longer feel assured that their identities will be protected
by client states. Tripoli and Tehran's acts have also undermined the Pakistani
Islamists' ahistoric notions of an imagined pan-Islamic community of Muslim
nations. During a press conference, Musharraf raged that Pakistan had been
outed by its Muslim brothers with whom it had shared its most sensitive
defense technologies; and such treachery is the reason why Pakistanis should
abandon chimeras of an "Islamic bomb."
Equally significant, the disclosure that Khan and his associates sold the
blueprint of a nuclear weapon design, which the Chinese had shared with
Pakistan, to Libya and possibly Iran and North Korea, is likely to embarrass
China. It confirms what was known for a long time; that China helped Pakistan
with the design for nuclear weapons. But despite the obvious strain on
Sino-Pakistani relations, it remains unclear whether the new disclosures will
lead Beijing to reappraise its decision to continue help for Pakistan's
solid-fuel ballistic missile and possibly nuclear programs.
Finally, although Pakistan can be expected to provide some intelligence inputs
to help root out the clandestine international network in nuclear trade, the
extent of its cooperation is likely to be limited. For Islamabad's own nuclear
weapons and ballistic missile programs have profited from such trade; and
remain dependent on it. Recently, a South African businessman was discovered
trying to illegally export "triggered spark gaps" that can be used in nuclear
weapons to Pakistan through false end-user certification. This episode is
a small indicator of just how far Pakistan is from achieving self-sufficiency.
Worse, most of the drivers that led Pakistani entities such as KRL to
proliferate nuclear technologies in the past remain. Khan's greed was only one
variable in the proliferation equation. Other drivers such as the Pakistani
military's corporate appetite for a nuclear deterrent and maintaining
proportional parity with their larger and more powerful neighbor India, are
constants in the Pakistani political spectrum. Domestically as well,
Pakistan's institutions remain relatively undeveloped. Individuals dominate
institutional processes; there is little respect for the rule of law or
constitution; and critical sectors such as the nuclear weapons and ballistic
missile programs remain beyond the pale of civilian oversight. It was this
combination of factors - the military's corporate desperation for nuclear and
missile deliverables, undeveloped institutions, personalization of power,
fragmented and compartmentalized authority structures, and the absence of
civilian oversight - that provided opportunities for Khan and his associates
to peddle their dangerous wares in the international market. Although the
Pakistani Army appears to be making efforts to tighten its grip on the nuclear
and missile military-industrial complex, the larger structural problems in the
Pakistani polity remain. And it is this combination of factors that might pave
the way for a similar recurrence in the future. It is also why Pakistan will
require careful monitoring and reform and remain one of the most significant
foreign policy challenges for the United States in the near and medium term.
 Although the Pakistani government maintains that transfers to Iran occurred
between 1989-1991, evidence has surfaced that Khan continued to transfer
components as late as 1995. See, David Rhode and David E. Sanger, "Key
Pakistani Is Said to Admit Atom Transfers," New York Times, 1 February 2004,
Patrick Chalmers, "Police: Pakistan's Khan Arranged
Uranium for Libya," Washington Post, 20 February 2004,
 Ibid; "Re-imposition of sanctions feared: US aid may be jeopardized -
official," Dawn, 5 February 2004, http://www.dawn.com
 Glenn Kessler, "Pakistan's N. Korea Deals Stir Scrutiny: Aid to Nuclear
Arms Bid May Be Recent," Washington Post, 13 November 2002, p. A01; David E.
Sanger, "In North Korea and Pakistan, Deep Roots of Nuclear Barter," New York
Times, 22 November 2002, http://www.nytimes.com;
John Lancaster and Kamran
Khan, "Pakistan Fires Top Nuclear Scientist," Washington Post, 1 February
2004, p. A01.
 Peter Slevin, "Libya Made Plutonium, Nuclear Watchdog Says," Washington
Post, 21 February 2001, p. A15.
 John Lancaster and Kamran Khan, "Pakistani Confesses To Aiding Nuclear
Efforts: Scientist Helped N. Korea, Libya, Iran," Washington Post, 2 February
2004, p. A12; Peter Slevin and Joby Warrick, "U.N. Finds Uranium Enrichment
Tools in Iran," Washington Post, 20 February 2004, p. A15.
 Ellen Nakashima and Alan Sipress, "Insider Tells of Nuclear Deals, Cash,"
Washington Post, 21 February 2004, p. A01.
 Rhode and Sanger, "Key Pakistani Is Said To Admit Atom Transfers"; Mubashir
Zaidi, "Scientist Claimed Nuclear Equipment Was Old, Official Says," Los
Angeles Times, 10 February 2004, http://www.latimes.com
 "Re-imposition of sanctions feared: US aid may be jeopardized - official."
 Rhode and Sanger, "Key Pakistani Is Said To Admit Atom Transfers."
 Slevin, "Libya Made Plutonium, Nuclear Watchdog Says."
 Douglas Frantz and Josh Meyer, "For Sale: Nuclear Expertise," Los Angeles
Times, 22 February 2004, http://www.latimes.com
 Rhode and Sanger, "Key Pakistani Is Said To Admit Atom Transfers."
 Kessler, "Pakistan's N. Korea Deals Stir Scrutiny: Aid to Nuclear Arms Bid
May Be Recent"; Sanger, "In North Korea and Pakistan, Deep Roots of Nuclear
 Joby Warrick and Peter Slevin, "Libyan Arms Designs Traced Back To China,"
Washington Post, 15 February 2004, p. A01.
 "Chinese Warhead Drawings Among Libyan Documents," Los Angeles Times, 16
February 2004, http://www.latimes.com
 Ibid; also see, William J. Broad, "Libya's A-Bomb Blueprints Reveal New
Tie to Pakistani," 9 February 2004, http://www.nytimes.com
 Peter Slevin, John Lancaster, and Kamran Khan, "At Least 7 Nations Tied to
Pakistani Nuclear Ring," Washington Post, 8 February 2004, p.A01.
 Joby Warrick, "Alleged Nuclear Offer to Iraq Is Revisited," Washington
Post, 5 February 2004, p. A16; William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, "Warhead
Blueprints Link Libya Project to Pakistan Figure," New York Times, 4 February
 Jane Perlez, "Saudi's Visit to Arms Site in Pakistan Worries US," New York
Times, 10 June 1999, http://www.nytimes.com;
Ian Black and Richard
Norton-Taylor, "Saudis Trying to Buy Nuclear Weapons," Guardian, 4 August
"Government offers UAE nuclear training but
not bomb on a platter," Jasarat, 26 May 1999; in Lexis-Nexis Academic
Universe, 26 May 1999, http://www.lexis-nexis.com
 "Full Text of Musharraf Interview," CNN, 23 January 2004,
 See "Text of President Pervez Musharraf's Press Conference," PTV, 4
February 2004; in FBIS Document SAP20040209000072, 5 February 2004.
 John Lancaster and Kamran Khan, "Pakistan Fires Top Nuclear Scientist,"
Washington Post, 1 February 2004, p. A01.
 David Rhode and Amy Waldman, "Pakistani Leader Suspected Moves by Atomic
Expert," New York Times, 10 February 2004, http://www.nytimes.com;
Pennington, "Pakistan Warned on Nuke Scientist in '98," Washington Post, 10
February 2004, http://www.washingtonpost.com
 David Rhode, "Pakistanis Question Official Ignorance of Atom Transfers,"
New York Times, 3 February 2004, http://www.nytimes.com
 John Lancaster and Kamran Khan, "Musharraf Named in Nuclear Probe,"
Washington Post, 3 February 2004, p. A13.
 Massoud Ansari, "Pakistan demands nuclear papers," Washington Times, 16
February 2004, http://www.washtimes.com;
Amir Mir, "Neatly Buttoned Up,"
OutlookIndia, 16 February 2004, http://www.outlookindia.com
 See Text of "A.Q. Khan's Apology to Pakistanis," New York Times, 4
February 2004, http://www.nytimes.com
 For example see, Anwar Syed, "An affair to remember & regret," Dawn, 15
February 2004, http://www.dawn.com;
also see, Rhode, "Pakistanis Question
Official Ignorance of Atom Transfers."
 "Text of President Musharraf's Press Conference," PTV, 4 February 2004.
 President Musharraf was reportedly briefed on the nature of the evidence
against Khan by a US delegation led by US Deputy Secretary of State Richard
Armitage and General John Abizaid, head of the US Central Command, on 6
October 2003. See, Slevin, Lancaster, and Khan, "At Least 7 Nations Tied to
Pakistani Nuclear Ring."
 Rhode and Waldman, "Pakistani Leader Suspected Moves by Atomic Expert."
 "Full Text of Musharraf Interview," CNN..
 "Government submits reply in detention case: Scientists jeopardized
national security," Daily Times, 12 February 2004,
 "Text of President Pervez Musharraf's Press Conference," PTV, 4 February
 Rhode, "Pakistanis Question Official Ignorance of Atom Transfers"; Amir
Mir, "Neatly Buttoned Up," OutlookIndia, 16 February 2004,
 Pervez Hoodbhoy, "The Nuclear Noose Around Pakistan's Neck," Washington
Post, 1 February 2004, http://www.washingtonpost.com
 David Rhode, "Nuclear Inquiry Skips Pakistani Army," New York Times, 29
January 2004, http://www.nytimes.com
 John Lancaster and Kamran Khan, "Pakistanis Say Nuclear Scientists Aided
Iran," Washington Post, 24 January 2004, p. A01; Yuji Shinogase, "Defector
Says DPRK Began Uranium-Based Nuclear Program Under Deal with Pakistan," Tokyo
Shimbun, 8 February 2004; in FBIS Document: JPP20040208000054, 8 February
2004; Amir Mir, "Fission Smokescreen," OutlookIndia, 23 February 2004,
 Zaidi, "Scientist Claimed Nuclear Equipment Was Old, Official Says"; Rhode
and Sanger, "Key Pakistani Is Said to Admit Atom Transfers."
 Hoodbhoy, "The Nuclear Noose Around Pakistan's Neck."
 Irfan Husain, "The atomic arms bazaar," Dawn, 7 February 2004,
 Hoodbhoy, "The Nuclear Noose Around Pakistan's Neck."
 Zahid Hussain, "Pakistan Targets Nuclear Scientists For Selling Nuclear
Secrets," Wall Street Journal, 26 January 2004, p. A3; Lancaster and Khan,
"Pakistanis Say Nuclear Scientists Aided Iran"; Shaukat Piracha, "Beg asked
Nawaz to give nuclear technology to a 'friend', says Ishaq Dar," Daily Times,
24 December 2003, http://www.dailytimes.com.pk
 Lancaster and Khan, "Pakistanis Say Nuclear Scientists Aided Iran."
 Lancaster and Khan, "Musharraf Named in Nuclear Probe."
 Lancaster and Khan, "Pakistanis Say Nuclear Scientists Aided Iran."
 "A Secret Nuke Offer?" Newsweek, 11 May 1998, p.11.
 Frantz and Meyer, "For Sale: Nuclear Expertise."
 Rhode and Waldman, "Pakistani Leader Suspected Moves By Atomic Expert."
 "Pakistan's Nuclear Claim Disputed," New York Times, 11 February 2004,
Sridhar Krishnaswami, "Enough evidence was given to
Musharraf: U.S.," Hindu, 12 February 2004, http://www.hinduonnet.com
 Kamran Khan, "Dr. Qadeer linked to N-black market," The News, 28 January
 Rhode and Waldman, "Pakistani Leader Suspected Moves by Atomic Expert."
 Slevin, "Libya Made Plutonium, Nuclear Watchdog Says."
 "Team visited Iran, Libya to investigate claims: Rashid," Dawn, 23 January
 "Text of President Pervez Musharraf's Press Conference," PTV, 4 February
 David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, "White House Hails Action by
Pakistani on Atom Sales," New York Times, 6 February 2004,
 Slevin, Lancaster, and Khan, "At Least 7 Nations Tied to Pakistani Nuclear
 Barry Schweid, "Bush Official: N. Korea Buys Nuclear Info," Washington
Post, 11 February 2004, http://www.washingtonpost.com;
"Pakistan will share
findings of N-probe with Japan: Musharraf," Daily Times, 12 February 2004,
George Gedda, "Scientist May Have Info on N.
Korea Nukes," Washington Post, 11 February 2004,
 David E. Sanger, "Confronting the Nuclear Threat America Didn't Want to be
True," New York Times, 8 February 2004, http://www.nytimes.com
 U.S. Urges Pakistan Against Nuclear Network," New York Times, 9 February
 David Rhode and Salman Masood, "Pakistanis' Yearning For a Hero Eclipses
His Misdeeds," New York Times, 8 February 2004, http://www.nytimes.com
 David Blair, "Code Changes 'Secure' Pakistan Warheads," London Daily
Telegraph, 9 February 2004, http://www.telegraph.co.uk
 Craig S. Smith, "Roots of Pakistan Atomic Scandal Traced to Europe," New
York Times, 19 February 2004, http://www.nytimes.com;
William J. Broad, David
E. Sanger and Raymond Bonner, "A Tale of Nuclear Proliferation: How Pakistani
Built His Network," New York Times, 12 February 2004, http://www.nytimes.com
 Slevin, "Libya Made Plutonium, Nuclear Watchdog Says."
 Lancaster and Khan, "Pakistani Confesses to Aiding Nuclear Efforts."
 "Full Text of President Musharraf's Press Conference," PTV, 4 February
 Peter Fabricius, "The man who used hospitals to trade in nukes," IOL, 15
February 2004, http://www.iol.co.za
CNS Experts on Pakistan's Nuclear Trade:
Senior Research Associate, Proliferation Research and Assessment Program (PRAP)
View previous Research Stories.
Author(s): Gaurav Kampani
Related Resources: Nuclear, South Asia, Weekly Story
Date Created: February 23, 2004
Date Updated: -NA-
Center for Nonproliferation Studies
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