Nuclear Trails and Trials

It is becoming increasingly difficult for Pakistan to distinguish between friend and foe, with even former PM Ms Benazir Bhutto who one would hope would be a friend and as a former PM more propriety, choosing to hunt with the hounds rather than helping us run like hares. Because of his “nuclear moonlighting”, Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan (AQK), our hero cum villain combined, is an albatross around Pakistan’s neck that has brought us to ground zero of world public opinion. While the internal lapses must be investigated thoroughly so that more skeletons do not appear on an already hot tin roof, those wishing Pakistan ill are targetting Pakistan (and the Army) on all sorts of counts, giving lip-service only to AQK’s illegal activity but ignoring the foreign network of companies and the personalities involved.

BSA (Bashir?) Tahir, a trusted Sri Lankan businessman confidante of AQK, was actively involved in supplying centrifuge components for Libya’s uranium-enrichment programme. Tahir used SCOPE, a Malaysian subsidiary of SCOMI GROUP BHD, a Malaysian company involved in the petroleum services industry. Tahir, whose Malaysian wife was one of three of SCOPE’s sponsor directors (she subsequently sold the shares to one of the other sponsors, PM Badawi’s son), told the Malaysian Police that his involvement with AQK started sometime in 1994/1995 during Ms Benazir’s government when AQK used Tahir’s services to transship two containers with used centrifuge units through Dubai to Iran. US$ 3 million was paid in UAE Dirham by the Iranians, two briefcases of cash being kept in an apartment used as a guesthouse by AQK whenever he visited Dubai. Libya contacted AQK in 1997 (again during Ms Benazir regime), to obtain help and expertise in the field of uranium-enrichment centrifuge as well as supply centrifuge units for Libya’s nuclear programme. Several meetings between AQK (accompanied by Tahir) and representatives from Libya represented by Mohamad Matuq Mohamad and another person known as Karim took place in early 1997 in Istanbul, subsequently in Casablanca and in Dubai. Project Machine Shop 1001 was meant to set up a workshop in Libya to make centrifuge components which could not be obtained from outside Libya. The machines for the workshop were obtained from Spain and Italy, the middleman involved in this project was Peter Griffin, a British citizen, owner of Dubai-based Gulf Technical Industries (GTI). Earlier Griffin arranged to send 7 to 8 Libyan technicians to Spain to learn how to operate the machines, he also supplied an Italian-made furnace to Libya for the workshop.

Late Heinz Mebus, a Swiss engineer, was involved in discussions between AQK and Iran to supply centrifuge designs. Gotthard Lerch, a German citizen residing in Switzerland, once worked for Leybold Heraeus, a German company that is alleged to have produced vacuum technology equipment. Gotthard Lerch is alleged to have tried to obtain supplies of pipes for the Project Machine Shop 1001 by sourcing from South Africa but failed to obtain it even though payment had been made by Libya earlier. Selim Alguadis, an engineer from Turkey, known to AQK since the 80s, supplied electrical cabinets and power supplier-voltage regulator to Libya. After the police action against the ship BBC China in Taranto, Italy on 4 Oct 2003, a consignment sent by Gunas Jireh, a Turkish national who supplied ‘aluminum casting and dynamo’ to Libya for its ‘Project Machine Shop 1001’. Tahir is alleged to have arranged the transshipment of electrical cabinets and power supplier-voltage regulator to Libya through Dubai on behalf of Selim Alguadis. Swiss citizen Friedrich Tinner the President of CETEC and mechanical engineer, had dealings with AQK since 1980s and is reported to have prepared certain centrifuge components, including safety valves, sourcing many of the materials from several companies in Europe, arranging for the supply to reach Dubai and then on to Libya. Urs Friedrich Tinner, the son of Friedrich Tinner, was the consultant arranged by Tahir to set up the SCOPE factory in Malaysia, and was actively involved in manufacturing operations of the factory.

Nearly all the personalities/corporate entities in the nuclear smuggling/procurement racket were foreign nationals with various expertise. A vast majority of domestic critics are blissfully ignorant of not only the facts but the horrible consequences for Pakistan if there really was an official “smoking gun”. Not entirely blameless in failing to exercise stricter security controls, the government of the day is certainly far less culpable than the earlier civilian regimes when AQK first started to run amok. Remaining under very strict official controls during the regimes of late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Gen Ziaul Haq, AQK cleverly exploited the ambiguity and used his absolute authority to do what he pleased for the subsequent illegal “export” activities. When the executive controls and security safeguards became somewhat of a grey area between the military with advent of civilian regimes since 1989.

Unconfirmed reports had appeared in the media in the early 70s about Col Qadafi’s cheque for US$ 5 million in late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s name for our proposed nuclear program. This cheque being deposited with UBS in Switzerland and the purchase of gold thereof became a matter of subsequent in-family contention in the 90s as to the legal heirs. The recent nuclear contact with the Libyans is recorded between 1994 and 1997 during the period of Ms Benazir’s regime, therefore her present diatribe against Gen Musharraf and the military could be a pre-emptive strike to ward off the charges of nuclear proliferation against her. Even without any direct “smoking gun”, she is street-smart enough to be apprehensive that any such “nuclear taint” in the present post 9/11 environment would well be a “kiss of death” as far as her relations with western nations are concerned. Ms Benazir has made the astounding claim that during her first regime she set forth the BENAZIR DOCTRINE, officially disallowing exports of nuclear knowledge and material from Pakistan. What was the necessity for such a “doctrinaire” unless there were specific requests (and by whom?) for nuclear exports, indeed why has no one ever heard about the BENAZIR DOCTRINE for the last 15 years given that there was no apparent reason to keep this a secret and in fact every reason to make such a pledge public? During recent TV interviews Ms Benazir alleged that “Gen Pervez Musharraf is responsible for the nuclear exports to Libya”, does she really believe this outrageous canard? With the President already treading a fail-safe line for Pakistan, it was extremely disappointing to see our former PM pursuing crass political objectives well knowing she was causing immense damage to the country. As an admirer of Ms Benazir’s political talents and charisma, one expected her to uphold the national interest “even to the peril of her life”.

Ms Benazir has a “crying wolf” history of going in for pre-emptive strikes to ward off corruption (and other) allegations, etc. Even her father went on and on about his making public the “Tashkent secret”, four decades later we still do not know what it was! Wonderfully eloquent and media-wise, she has an inherent ability to state things straight-faced she knows to be patently wrong e.g. the Swiss money-laundering case which she denies ad nauseam even exists. Comparing herself to her late illustrious father “Zulfikar Ali Bhutto”, the acknowledged “father of Pakistan’s clandestine nuclear program”, she claims the title of being the “mother of Pakistan’s missile program”. The best one can acclaim her is as the “mid-wife of the Talibaan”, they came into being under her regime’s initiative in 1994 when the respected Maj Gen NK Babar was Interior Minister and Lt Gen Javed Ashraf Qazi, the then DG ISI. The government should trot out Qazi to detail on primetime TV as to the nexus between Ms Benazir and the Talibaan. She may have more charisma than her father had, Ms Benazir does not display the same vision. While one does not question her patriotism, it is certainly sad that she did not exercise better judgment in leaving the Army alone, particularly at this critical time. Regretfully she is not the only one taking pot shots at us while we are staggering along on the nuclear trail while facing trial thereof in the kangaroo court of international public opinion.