It was known in 2004 that A.Q. Khan, Pakistan's nuclear scientist, who is wanted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Vienna, for interrogation in connection with his nuclear proliferation to North Korea, Iran and Libya, had left a letter with his wife Henny of Dutch origin and their daughter giving some details of his proliferation activities with the knowledge, if not prior approval, of the political and military leadership. The reported purpose of the letter was to tell his people that whatever he did, he did at the instance of the political and military leadership of the country and that he was not acting as a rogue proliferator as was sought to be made out by the leadership of the country.
He reportedly wanted his wife to release the letter to the public if any harm came to him. People close to him had also leaked to sections of the Pakistani media information about the letter written by him to his wife and daughter to be released if he was harmed. He feared that he might be prosecuted and jailed on the basis of confessions extracted under duress or handed over to the IAEA for interrogation and prosecution under US pressure.
Neither of these contingencies happened. The Pervez Musharraf government pressured him to admit those proliferation activities, which had already come to the notice of the US and the IAEA and project them as carried out by him on his own independent initiative without the knowledge of the political and military leadership. In return, he was promised that he would be merely kept under house arrest to satisfy the US and not prosecuted or handed over to the IAEA for interrogation. He agreed to this deal.
After the Pakistan People's Party (PPP)-led government headed by Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani came to power in March last year, it removed some of the restrictions on his meeting others in his house. He took advantage of this to tell some Japanese correspondents that his contacts with North Korea were within the knowledge of Musharraf. The government of Gilani denied his allegations and reimposed the restrictions on his interactions with journalists and other members of the public. On an appeal filed on his behalf, he was released from house arrest by a court, but was told by the court that he could not travel inside the country without the prior permission of the government. The restrictions on his meeting journalists remained.
He again took up the matter before the Lahore High Court, which ordered the removal of all restrictions on his movements inside the country. These restrictions have been re-imposed by the government by a fresh order.
Apparently angered by the continuing restrictions on him, his wife or daughter seems to have released the letter written by him to them in December, 2003, giving some details of his proliferation activities undertaken, according to him, at the instance of the Benazir Bhutto government in the case of Iran and an unnamed Army General in the case of North Korea. It also gives details of the assistance received by Pakistan from China for the development of an atom bomb. The letter has reached the hands of a journalist by name Simon Henderson, who has published a story based on it in the Sunday Times of London of September 20, 2009. The journalist, in his story, has sought to give the impression that he had got hold of the letter independently through his contacts unconnected to the Khan family and that it has been in his possession since 2007, though he decided to make it public only now. It has to be noted that even now he has not published the entire letter which, according to him, ran to four pages. He has published only three or four paras. He has given some details of what the letter contained about China, North Korea and Iran. He says that the letter also refers to Libya, without specifying what. Is there an attempt by him to potect Libya? If so, why?
The Times article gives only details of his proliferation activities undertaken with the knowledge, if not at the instance, of the political and/or military leadership of Pakistan. It is silent on the proliferation activities undertaken by him at his own instance such as the supply of nuclear equipment to Libya and the setting up of facilities in Malaysia with the help of a Muslim of Indian/Sri Lankan origin for the manufacture of enrichment centrifuges for supply to Iran and Libya. It is also silent on his missile proliferation activities. The details given by Khan are meant to implicate his political and military leadership without enabling the IAEA and the US to have a full idea of the nuclear capabilities of Iran and North Korea. Khan has taken care to see that scanty details given by him could not be used by the US and the IAEA against Iran and North Korea.
Puzzlingly, the maximum details given by him in his letter are regarding the assistance received by Pakistan from China for the development of a military nuclear capability. According to his letter, "we put up a centrifuge plant at Hanzhong (250km southwest of Xian). The Chinese gave us drawings of the nuclear weapon, gave us 50kg of enriched uranium, gave us 10 tons of UF6 (natural) and 5 tons of UF6 (3%)." The role of China in helping Pakistan develop a military nuclear capability, including the supply of the drawings of the first Chinese atomic bomb, were known earlier through human and technical intelligence reports, but this is the first time such authentic details have come from the scientist who developed Pakistan's military nuclear programme. The details from the letter as revealed in the Times article do greater damage to China than to Iran and North Korea.
While there has been considerable international focus on Pakistan's nuclear proliferation activities through AQ Khan, a similar focus on China's role in nuclear proliferation has not been there so far. There have been many congressional enquiries in the US on China's missile proliferation activities, but not on its nuclear proliferation activities. It is the copies of the A-bomb drawings passed on by China to Pakistan which were subsequently passed on by AQ Khan to Iran and Libya. India and Israel have been the worst sufferers of the Chinese nuclear proliferation in favour of Pakistan--India directly and Israel indirectly.
Apart from reviving the demand for the interrogation of AQ Khan outside Pakistan by an independent IAEA team of experts, the IAEA should also ask for a full disclosure by China of its nuclear proliferation to Pakistan. An enquiry into this should also be taken up by the relevant US Congressional committees.
At a time when efforts are being made by the government of India to discourage the anti-Chinese hysteria in our media over the reports of Chinese troop intrusions into Indian territory, the disclosures in AQ Khan's letter of details of the Chinese assistance in developing an atomic bomb for possible use against India would add to the suspicions and fears in the Indian civil society over what they see as China's malevolent attitude towards India. If China really values improved relations with India, it should volunteer a full disclosure of its nuclear supply relationship with Pakistan and give credible assurances to the Indian people that such instances will not recur in future. Unless and until this is done the trust deficit between the two countries will continue to remain wide.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies.
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