Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


A.Q. Khan

Pakistan's nuclear weapons program is a source of extreme national pride, and, as its father, A.Q. Khan -- who headed Pakistan's nuclear program for some 25 years -- is considered a national hero. Though his full name is Abdul Qadeer Khan, he is commonly referred to as A.Q. Khan. Born in Bhopal, Dr. A.Q. Khan is a German-educated metallurgist who, from May 1972 to December1975 was employed by Physics Dynamic Research Laboratory (also known as FDO), an engineering firm based in Amsterdam and a subcontractor to the URENCO consortium specializing in the manufacture of nuclear equipment. A Dutch-German and British consortium, Urenco primary enrichment facility was at Almelo, Netherlands. A.Q. Khan, in his capacity would eventualy have an office at that facility by late 1974.

In 1975, following India's 1974 nuclear test and while on holiday in Pakistan, Dr. was reported to have been asked by the then-prime minister to take charge of Pakistan's uranium-enrichment program. In early 1976, Dr. Khan left the Netherlands with secret URENCO blueprints for uranium centrifuge (one of Dutch origins featuring an aluminum rotor, and another of German make, composed of maraging steel, a superhard alloy). Convicted in 1983 in abstentia by a court in the Netherlands for stealing the designs, his conviction would be later overturned on a technicality.

Because Pakistan lacked the technical base to for a nuclear program, Khan reportedly began to clandestinely acquire the necessary materials and components required for the production of fissile material using information pertaining to URENCO's key suppliers, which he had also taken with him from the Netherlands. Theses were used to provide Pakistan with needed equipment. Indeed, according to a Dutch government report, two Dutch firms were involved in the 1976 export of 6,200 unfinished maraging steel rotor tubes to Pakistan. A dual track approach was reportedly used for Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, however, with Khan's program being the reportedly inferior one, as far as size, power and efficiency characteristics were concerned. Pakistan's Atomic Energy Commission ran the other track. There have however been a number of allegations regarding Pakistan's nuclear weapon that its origins may lie with China, as Pakistan's bombs closely mirror Chinese designs from the late 1960's, and which relied on advanced, implosion-based detonation.

A.Q. Khan initially worked under Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), headed by Munir Ahmad Khan, for a short period. But the pair fell out, and in July 1976, Bhutto gave A.Q. Khan autonomous control of the uranium enrichment project, reporting directly to the prime minister's office, which arrangement has continued since. A.Q. Khan founded the Engineering Research Laboratories (ERL) on 31 July 1976, with the exclusive task of indigenous development of Uranium Enrichment Plant. Within the next five years the target would be achieved.

On 01 May 1981, ERL was renamed by Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq as Dr. A.Q. Khan Research Laboratories (KRL). It was enrichment of Uranium in KRL that ultimately led to the successful detonation of Pakistan's first nuclear device on 28 May 1998.

During the 1990s, there were intermittent clues from intelligence that AQ Khan was discussing the sale of nuclear technology to countries of concern. By early 2000, intelligence revealed that these were not isolated incidents. It became clear that Khan was at the centre of an international proliferation network. By April 2000, the UK Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) was noting that there was an evolving, and as yet incomplete, picture of the supply of uranium enrichment equipment to at least one customer in the Middle East, thought to be Libya, and evidence linking this activity to Khan.

A.Q. Khan's official career came to an abrupt end in March 2001, when he was suddenly was forced out as director of the nuclear lab by order of President Pervez Musharraf. Though Kahn was made a special adviser to the government, the reason for his dismissal reportedly coincided with concerns about financial improprieties at the lab as well as general warnings from the United States to the Musharraf about Khan's proliferation activities. Musharraf's restraint in dealing with A.Q. Khan has been said to have resulted from the lack of incontrovertible evidence of proliferation activities. Nonetheless, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, in an article which appeared in the Financial Times on 01 June 2001, expressed concern that, "people who were employed by the nuclear agency and have retired" may be assisting North Korea with its nuclear program.

The change in position for A.Q. Khan did not necessarily end proliferation concerns. Indeed, while in Pakistan in October 2003, a US delegation led by Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage reportedly briefed Gen. Musharraf on A.Q. Khan activities. Gen. Abizaid, then head of US Central Command, repotedly conducted similar concerns to Pakistani political and military leaders.

With the international inspections of Iran's nuclear operations and the October 2003 interception of a ship headed for Libya and carrying centrifuge parts, Pakistan began seriously investigating A.Q. Khan. The United Nation's International Atomic Energy Agency in November 2003 itself warned Pakistan of possible nuclear leaks. After two months of investigations, in late January 2004 Pakistani officials concluded that two of the country's most senior nuclear scientists had black market contacts that supplied sensitive technology to Iran and Libya. Pakistani intelligence officials said the scientists - A.Q. Khan and Mohammed Farooq - provided the help both directly and through a black market based in the Persian Gulf emirate of Dubai. Dr. Khan and Dr. Farooq were longtime colleagues at A.Q. Khan Research Laboratories. President Musharraf acknowledged that some scientists may have acted for their own personal gain, but he denied any government involvement and pledged harsh punishment for any person implicated in the scandal.

The lack of of strict oversight over Pakistan's nuclear weapons program has been blamed with a brigadier general in charge of security for Dr. Khan's top-secret laboratory never having reported anything. Doubts remain, however, about the lack of governmental approval/supervision of A.Q. Kahn's proliferation activities; some of which were conspicuously advertised. Indeed, one of A.Q. Khan Research Laboratories' sales brochure promoted the sale of components derived from Pakistan's nuclear weapons program and critical to the making of centrifuges. The Pakistani government istelf published in 2000 an advertisement regarding procedures to be followed for the exports of nuclear material according to a Congressional Research Service report dated May 2003. Moreover, Khan and colleagues of his had published numerous scientific papers internationally on the making and testing of uranium centrifuges, including one dated from 1991 which detailed the methodology to be followed in ecthing grooves on the bottom of a centrifuge to aid the flow of lubricants and thus aid in the centrifuge's spinning speed.

Some questions have been raised over the idea that even someone as prominent as Khan could have delivered such sensitive material without approval from higher authorities, and that at the very least the leadership of Pakistan's military and intelligence establishment must have sanctioned the transfers. The extent of previous Pakistani civilian governments' involvement is unclear, even if the military knew and approved the transfers. This is partly a result of the distrust by the army of civilian politicians. Such was the case with former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.

Many Pakistanis have felt that President Pervez Musharraf succumbed to US pressure in moving against A.Q. Khan, the latter's stature as a national hero. However, given the scope of the problem and the fact taht the three intended recipients of nuclear transfers are on the list of countries the United States is most anxious to keep away from weapons of mass destruction, Musharraf may not have had a choice other than act on A.Q. Khan. Still, the government of Pakistan is likely not to be eager to give the United States any more information than it has to as to the whereabouts and/or security arrangements of its nuclear arsenal.

In his startling televised confession Wednesday, Abdul Qadeer Khan insisted he acted without authorization in selling nuclear technology to other governments. A.Q. Khan admitted selling nuclear technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. A.Q. Khan asked for clemency, but the Pakistani government made no public announcement about whether he is to be prosecuted. The confessed proliferation took place between 1989 and 2000, though it is suspected that proliferation activities to North Korea continued after that date. The network used to supply these activities is global in scope, stretching from Germany to Dubai and from China to South Asia, and involves numerous middlemen and suppliers.




NEWSLETTER
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list