In December 2002 the United States accused Iran of launching a secret nuclear weapons programme, supporting the accusation by satellite images of two sites under construction in Natanz and Arak. Denying any military purpose behind its nuclear activities, while maintaining that its nuclear sites were designed purely to provide nuclear fuel for future power plants, Tehran agreed to IAEA inspections. The UN nuclear watchdog agency carried out a series of non-conclusive inspections from February this year until May. In July 2003 when another IAEA team began a fresh round of inspections, UN nuclear experts discovered traces of enriched uranium capable of making weapons in Natanz. While confirming this the IAEA Chief Mohammed Elbaradei did question its usefulness for non-military purposes. Under pressure Iran agreed to negotiate a draft protocol allowing surprise inspections but said inspectors would not be given complete freedom of movement.
With Tehran seriously in “non-compliance” with international non-proliferation accords, Washington agreed in Sep 2003 to support a proposal by Britain, Germany and France to give Iran a deadline until October 31 to fully disclose its nuclear activities and allow surprise inspections of all sites by UN inspectors. In Oct 2003 the Foreign Ministers of Britain, France and Germany visited Tehran and received a commitment for “total transparency” over its nuclear activities. Subsequently Iran filed a report to the IAEA admitting to failures in honoring international nuclear safeguards, but still denying that it sought to develop nuclear weapons. Threatening to refer its concerns to the UN Security Council, which would have left Iran vulnerable to sanctions, IAEA criticism stopped short of calling for a UN Security Council meeting on the nuclear issue. Finally in late October 2003 Iran succumbed to international pressure and signed an additional protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to allow surprise UN inspections of all its nuclear installations.
Despite clear evidence that Iran’s nuclear program had been acquired from several countries, among those named were Russia and China, etc Pakistan was put on the mat by Vienna-based Western diplomats who engaged in motivated leaking of suspicions that Iranian officials had shown IAEA inspectors blueprints created by the Dutch-British-German enrichment firm Urenco which were identical to ones Pakistan is known to have acquired and developed. Iran told the IAEA that it got the designs from a “middleman” in 1987. The diplomats said the IAEA has been investigating whether the designs came from Pakistan. These Vienna diplomats repeated motivated and highly misleading suspicions that North Korea also got this centrifuge technology from Pakistan. Arms experts said these rumours were widespread but unproven. Pakistan, which had declared its nuclear capability in May 1998 with a series of underground nuclear tests in response to similar detonations by rival India, has strongly denied sharing nuclear technology with any other country.
It is possible that Iran is trying to divert the focus on its nuclear program, after all it denied its very existence till very recently and one can understand Tehran’s enthusiasm to shift the “heat” on to some other country, albeit a “friendly” one (even theoretically). Documents provided by Iran to UN nuclear inspectors since early November have exposed the outlines of vast, secret procurement network that successfully acquired thousands of sensitive parts and tools from many countries. The plans and components, acquired over several instalments from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, allowed Iran to leapfrog over several major technological hurdles to make its own enriched uranium the report added. During the almost decade-long Iran-Iraq War in the 80s, Iran had been denied weapons, equipment and spares for its mostly US supplied war machine earlier during the Shah’s reign, yet it managed to get its needs, at a price. It is quite conceivable Iran tapped the same “middlemen” to get what they wanted. Those “middlemen”, mostly US, Indian and European origin, kept the Iranian war arsenal replenished, how hard would it have been for them to acquire uranium enrichment equipment? The Hundujas, named in the Bofors scandal in India, have been established in Iran for decades and have always been identified as a main source for Iran’s weapons and equipment, two brothers receiving the highest civil decoration from Iran in the past 2 decades. The Iranian nuclear program is not new, the Bushehr plant being constructed by Germany during the Shah’s reign, was abandoned only when the Shah was overthrown in 1979.
IAEA has approached Pakistan following information from Iran that a handful of our nuclear scientists may have been helping Teheran’s nuclear programme, Pakistan unmediatedly started “debriefing” a few scientists, namely Yasin Chohan and Farooq Mohammad, directors of the country’s key facility of Kahuta Research Laboratory (KRL). Chohan has since returned home but Mohammad Farooq is still being questioned. The creator of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan (AQK), had also been asked to clarify some of the points on their debriefing but government has not placed unspecified restrictions on him. A couple of days ago AQK appeared at an international conference hosted by Prof Dr Atta ur Rahman the Minister of State for Science and Technology. “Pakistan has never proliferated and will never proliferate”, said a Pakistani spokesman, “we have a very strong command and control system and a very stringent export control regime. We take our responsibility as a nuclear weapons State very seriously.”
The US reaction has been significant. US spokesmen have repeatedly stated that they are satisfied with the assurances given by President Musharraf. White House spokesman Scott McClellan called Musharraf’s personal assurances “important” and said close cooperation between the United States and Pakistan in the war on terrorism would continue -” despite any transfers of nuclear technology and know-how that might have taken place in the past. Despite US concerns about proliferation, McClellan played down the impact of these revelations on US-Pakistani relations. “President Musharraf has assured us that that is not happening now. And that’s important”, McClellan said.
Masood Khan, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, said quite categorically, to quote “we have been fully cooperating with IAEA, the Government of Pakistan has never authorized or initiated any transfers of sensitive nuclear technology. A very small number of individuals were under investigation and if they are found responsible at the end of debriefing session, we shall take action against such individuals if warranted and if they are found culpable under our laws. Nobody is above the law”. He further stated, “Pakistan takes its responsibility as a nuclear weapons State very seriously. Since a strict command and control system was established nothing of the sort has happened”.
The Government of Pakistan needs to put its information mechanism into high gear to counter this rather targeted disinformation campaign that seeks to discredit Pakistan’s image. There is no evidence on record that Pakistan is anything but a responsible nuclear State fully committed to every kind of nuclear non-proliferation regime and it has a well-placed mechanism to safeguard its nuclear assets. The priority on security is such that the nuclear program has remained under wraps for over 25 years, not a mean achievement in a country where the most sensitive information is usually leaked within hours. It is quite obvious that anyone associated with the country’s nuclear program would be subject to stringent security procedures, particularly travel within and outside the country. There was an attempt in the 70s (and then in the 80s) to label Pakistan’s bomb as an “Islamic Bomb”, this canard fell apart despite the sophistication of the disinformation campaign, the first one even had a full-fledged TV documentary. One of the early constraints that Pakistan put on itself to safeguard its national interest was to have an extremely effective export control regime in place. President Gen Pervez Musharraf has repeatedly assured international leaders that our nuclear weapons are not “Islamic” in nature as some motivated countries have been suggesting, the truth of the matter is that in the absence of conventional defence parity we have been forced to go the nuclear option because of our own security compulsions. Every nation has a right to have a credible defence, we have exercised that right but in a responsible and mature manner.