Gen.Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's US-blessed military dictator, continues to assert, without any fears of contradiction or punitive action by the US, that the action of a group of scientists of Pakistan headed by A.Q. Khan in clandestinely selling or transferring military nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea was a rogue operation without the knowledge or approval of the political or military leadership of the country.
In his latest assertion on the subject, he told the CNN, the US TV channel, in an interview on March 19,2004, as follows:
"I am extremely positive neither the Government nor the military was involved. The Pakistan Government had carried out investigations into the episode and concluded that it was these individuals who carried out the proliferation of nuclear technology."
His repeatedly-asserted contention has been that after the interception by the intelligence agencies of the US and the UK of a ship in October last year which was found carrying to Libya a clandestine consignment of centrifuges for uranium enrichment got manufactured at the instance of A.Q.Khan by a company in Malaysia with the assistance of a Sri Lankan Muslim, he became aware of the extensive non-proliferation activities of the A.Q.Khan group and immediately acted against them.
According to Musharraf, details of the clandestine travels and proliferation network of A.Q. Khan came to notice during the subsequent investigation. In one of his statements, he has even blamed the US intelligence agencies for not uncovering this network earlier than October last year and asserted that if they had done so, he would have acted against it even earlier.
Not many experts and analysts of the world have been convinced of the innocence of Pakistan's military in this affair. Many of us, including this writer, have been pointing out that this proliferation started and continued at the instance and with the blessing of Pakistan's military leadership.
I have also been pointing out in many articles that while the late Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistan's military dictator, who ruled the country from 1977 to 1988, authorised the proliferation to Iran, Musharraf himself had authorised that to Libya and North Korea and was totally in the picture.
But, unfortunately, for reasons of realpolitik, the US Administration has chosen to accept the denials of military responsibility by Musharraf. It has not only given him a clean chit, but has even rewarded him and his country by conferring on it the status of a Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA).
Despite the efforts of Musharraf, with the benediction of the US, to keep his cupboard tightly shut to prevent the discovery of any more skeletons, nuclear skeletons keep propping up here, there and everywhere much to his consternation . The skeletons are there everywhere if only the US wants to look at them.
Was the discovery of the centrifuges in the ship intercepted last October the first wake-up call as contended by Musharraf? No.
In 2000, Abdul Ma"bood Siddiqui, a London-based chartered accountant of Pakistani origin, had written a book on his reminiscences, which was published by the Hurmat Publications of Islamabad. In that book, Siddiqui claimed to be a close personal friend of A.Q.Khan and to have accompanied him in at least three of his travels abroad. He gives the following details of these travels:
"In February,1998, I received a call from Tahir Mian [My comments: He is the Sri Lankan Tamil who helped A.Q.Khan by getting the centrifuges manufactured in Malaysia], a dear friend of mine and a very close associate of Dr.Khan. He said that A.Q.Khan is planning a visit to Timbuktu and you are invited to join him. My joy knew no bounds at the prospect of spending a few days with A.Q.Khan.
"I reached Dubai on 19 February 1998 and met Dr.A.Q.Khan. He had with him one Mr.Hanks, a Dutch businessman dealing in air filtration system, solar energy, metallurgical machinery and materials. Lt.Gen. Dr. Chauhan, former Surgeon-General of Pakistan Army and now Director-General of Medical Services Division of KRL [My comments: The Khan Research Laboratories of Kahuta, which produces enriched uranium for atomic bombs] and Brig. Sajawal. Dr.Khan told us that we would fly to Timbuktu via Casablanca in Morocco and Bamako, capital of Mali. [My comments: Mr.Nawaz Sharif was the Prime Minister at that time]
"At Casablanca, the First Secretary of Pakistan Embassy, Mr.Inayatullah Kakar, received us. The Honorary Consul-General of Pakistan in Morocco Hussain bin Jiloon gave a dinner in honour of Dr.Khan, which was also attended by our Ambassador Azmat Hussain. Next day, we caught the Royal Morocco Airline for Bamako. From Bamako, a plane was chartered for US $ 4,000 to take us to Timbuktu. We had only a few hours at Timbuktu, which we spent in sight-seeing. We returned to Dubai by the same route.
" Next I met Dr.Khan on 28 June 1998 in Kuala Lumpur at the wedding of Tahir Mian. [My comment: Nawaz Sharif was still in power]. It was decided there to make another trip to Timbuktu because the last visit was short and we could not see much of the city. I got the summons in February 1999 and was on my way to Dubai on 19 February 1999. [My comment: Nawaz Sharif still in power].
"Dr.Khan was already there with his old group with additions of Dr.Fakhrul Hasan Hashmi, Chief Scientific Adviser to Dr.A.Q.Khan, Brig.Tajwar, Director-General Security KRL, and Dr.Nazir Ahmed, Director-General S&TC Division KRL. Dr.Khan told us that this time we would take a different route to Timbuktu. We will fly there via Sudan and Nigeria.
" We left Dubai for Khartoum on 21 February 1999. The Education Minister of Sudan received the group and we were lodged at the State Guest House. After making a short stopover in a Nigerian city, we reached Timbuktu on 24 February 1999. After spending a couple of days, we were on our way back and our first stop was Niamey, capital of Niger.
"Our next stop was N'Djamena, capital of Chad, where we were accorded official protocol. Next day, we flew to Khartoum. After Dr.Khan has attended to some business, we visited the Shifa factory that was destroyed last year by the American missiles. Dr.Khan met the Sudanese President. We were back in Dubai on 28 February 1999.
"We were again airborne for Timbuktu on 20 February 2000 [My comments: Musharraf had seized power on October 12,1999] From Dubai, we flew to Khartoum, where two Sudanese friends joined us. We reached Niamey, capital of Niger, on 22 February 2000. Our Ambassador Brig. Nisar welcomed the group and gave a dinner in honour of Dr.Khan. Brig.Nisar had also served as the Military Secretary of Nawaz Sharif. Niger has big uranium deposits.
"We reached Timbuktu on 24 February 2000 for a stay of two days and were lodged in the newly-built (completed in December 1999) Hotel La Colombe. We started the return journey on 26 February 2000 touching various countries on the way. We broke our journey in Nairobi, capital of Kenya, where First Secretary in the Pakistan Embassy Mr.Najmus Saqib, welcomed us. We were back in Dubai on 29 February 2000 after having visited 10 African countries."
These accounts of three of the travels of Dr.A.Q.Khan establish conclusively the following facts:
- He had kept the Pakistani Foreign Office informed of his travels. The Foreign Office had instructed the Pakistani diplomatic missions in the countries visited by him to accord the due honours of protocol to him.
- In all the countries, he was received by officers of the Pakistani diplomatic missions and entertained by the heads of missions.
- In Sudan, he was accorded the honours of protocol generally given to a member of the Cabinet and called on the President of the country.
- He was accompanied by senior serving scientists of Pakistan's nuclear establishment, who were among those responsible for Pakistan's military nuclear development. They could not have gone abroad and remained absent for days without the knowledge and clearance of the Government.
- At least one Lt.Gen. belonging to the Pakistan Army's Medical Corps, who had headed it, and two Brigadiers had accompanied him. They could not have gone and remained away from the country without the knowledge and clearance of the Military Headquarters. .
The uranium enriched at KRL, Kahuta, used to come from Africa, mainly Niger. This partly explains the frequent travels of A.Q.Khan to Africa. From the accounts given by the Pakistani author, two intriguing questions arise:
- Why did Khan consider it necessary to visit the site of a factory in Sudan, which became the target of US Cruise missile attacks after the explosions outside the US Embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam by Al Qaeda in August 1998? The Americans had alleged at that time that this factory belonged to Osama bin Laden and was producing chemicals for weaponisation purposes. Denying this, the Sudanese authorities had claimed that it was producing anti-malaria drugs.
- Why was he frequently visiting Timbuktu, which has apparently no importance from the nuclear point of view? Pakistani officials have alleged that he had illegally constructed a hotel there ( Hotel La Colombe?) in the name of his wife. If he was going there to supervise the construction of the hotel, he should have been accompanied by experts in building construction and the hotel industry. No such person accompanied him. He was always accompanied by scientists and Army officers associated with KRL and Tahir Mian, who was helping him in the procurement of centrifuges.
It is reliably learnt from well-placed observers that it also came out during the recent interrogation of the associates of Khan in Pakistan's nuclear establishment that after Osama bin Laden shifted from Khartoum to Afghanistan in 1996, Dr. Khan was also looking after bin Laden's extensive investments in the mining industry in many African countries and that the money invested in the Timbuktu hotel had come from these investments of bin Laden. The Pakistani authorities have reportedly suppressed this information and not shared it with the US.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter.