February 3, 2004
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
After prolonged detention, Pakistani authorities have finally succeeded in getting a confession statement from the father of Pakistan's nuclear program that the scientist was involved in nuclear proliferation in a personal capacity.
Far from being disgraced, though, Pakistan will leverage the revelations - long suspected - against the assistance it can afford the United States in Afghanistan.
According to a Pakistan government official, the 66-year-old founder of Pakistan's nuclear program, Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, has acknowledged that he transferred nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea. According to the official, Khan made the confession in a written statement submitted "a couple of days ago" to investigators probing allegations of nuclear proliferation by Pakistan. The transfers were made during the late 1980s and in the early and mid-1990s, and were motivated by "personal greed and ambition", the official said. No decision has yet been taken on what action to take against Khan.
According to sources close to the investigators, Khan in his written confession also named armed personnel and scientists who had confessed to being part of the nuclear transfer game along with him. Apparently, the proliferation was well-planned and involved nationals of other countries, with Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) used to leak technology to its final recipients - Iran, Libya and Korea - via chartered planes. It was also found that Khan traveled more than 40 times to different countries over the past two years, including Dubai, Turkey, Casablanca, South Africa and Malaysia, to meet people of the underworld.
Khan and other Pakistani scientists have been under suspicion for some time, but events speeded up following the recent disclosures by Iran that Pakistani and scientists of other countries had helped Tehran develop its nuclear program. Khan had headed Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), Pakistan's main nuclear weapons laboratory, until being forced out two years ago under severe pressure from the US, which feared connections of al-Qaeda elements with some Pakistani scientists.
In a related development, a former son-in-law of Khan, Noman Shah, and a close friend, Azad Jaferry, have been taken into custody for interrogation. Sources in Islamabad told Asia Times Online that both acted as frontman for Khan. Shah has a contracting firm registered in the UAE, while Jaferry is believed to be the frontman for Khan's investment in lucrative businesses, including a club in Islamabad, a luxurious guest house, and in an European hotel chain.
Fallout from Khan's confession
Islamabad has appreciated for some time that, given the latest events involving its scientists, it would come under strong international pressure to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and open up its facilities to international safeguards and inspections. Neither Pakistan nor nuclear neighbor India have signed the NPT. And worse, there is a strong belief in the corridors of power in Pakistan and the KRL that the US will attempt to force Islamabad to abandon its nuclear program altogether.
Consequently, Pakistani authorities have devised a strategy under which they will urge the US to back off their nuclear facilities, in exchange for help in extracting the US from the imbroglio in which it finds itself in neighboring Afghanistan.
Developments in Afghanistan strengthen the Pakistan hand. From March this year, as the winter thaw begins, more than ever since September 11, after which Pakistan pledged allegiance to the US in the "war on terror", the US needs Pakistan's help for the safety of the 12,000 international troops in Afghanistan.
Intelligence reports confirm that once the ice has melted, the Afghan resistance, comprising al-Qaeda, the Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan of Gulbuddin Hekmatyr and the Islamic Movement of Taliban, will invite local tribes on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to help expel foreign troops and retake major cities lost by the Taliban in late 2001.
The tribal aspect of this plan has alarmed Western security officials as US-led forces rely on sections of their support to conduct operations in Afghanistan. Strategists in Islamabad told Asia Times Online that Pakistan would now offer to mediate by soliciting the Taliban - which Pakistan originally helped bring to power in 1996 - to join in a national government and end their resistance.
If this works, the US will get a much-desired exit strategy from Afghanistan, and Islamabad will get to keep its nuclear program intact.
(Copyright 2004 Asia Times Online Ltd.)