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News Analysis
Why did CIA shield A.Q. Khan?
K. Subrahmanyam

FORMER Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers in an interview to Dutch radio station on August 9 has revealed that the CIA intervened on two occasions with the Dutch authorities to persuade them not to take action against the Pakistani proliferator, Dr A.Q. Khan. The first occasion was in the mid seventies when Dr Khan was caught copying the drawings and taking URENCO centri-fuge plant away. As the Dutch authorities were about to prosecute him he was protected by the CIA which intervened to stop the action. The second time was in 1985 when the CIA dissuaded the Dutch not to go ahead with a retrial ordered by the appellate court which entertained Dr Khan’s appeal against his conviction by the trial court on his removing secret documents. According to Dr Lubbers, the CIA argued that if Dr Khan was left free they would be able to follow him and keep track of his activities in respect of the Pakistani nuclear programme.

In the light of these disclosures of the former Dutch PM it is obvious that the CIA had continued interest in Dr Khan from the mid-seventies to 1985. Since 1987 was the year when Dr Khan boasted to Indian journalist Kuldip Nayar about Pakistan having assembled the bomb it is logical to expect that the CIA’s interest in Dr Khan continued. Dr Khan has confessed that he was approached by the Iranian authorities in 1987 for transfer of nuclear technology and he started his proliferation to Iran from that period with the full approval of Gen Zia-ul-Haq. The CIA which was keeping watch over Dr Khan should therefore have known about Dr Khan’s proliferation to Iran and his black market contacts with Western European firms.

Senator Kerry’s Senate Committee report on the activities of Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) of 1992 has referred to the linkage between BCCI, Dr Khan, Iranian proliferation and the lack of cooperation on the part of the CIA in regard to its interactions with the bank.

It is now established that BCCI, which was financing the Pakistani nuclear programme was also used by the CIA in the Iran-Contra deal. The CIA which should have kept a close watch on Dr Khan according to the disclosures of Dr Lubbers should have known about Dr Khan’s repeated trips to North Korea for missiles in exchange of uranium enrichment deal after Ms Benazir Bhutto’s visit to Pyong-yang in 1994. In that case the US should have known about Dr Khan’s proliferation activity to North Korea from the very beginning.

Against this background the claims of former CIA director George Tenet about the CIA coming to know about Dr Khan’s activities from the year 2001 onwards and US communicating its doubts about Dr Khan to General Musharraf and consequently his being removed raises problems of credibility. There appears to be a high probability that the CIA was watching Dr Khan from the mid-seventies and it was fully aware of proliferation network involving Western European companies, China, North Korea, Dr Khan and the Pakistan Army. That Carter and Reagan administrations decided to look away from Pakistan-China-West European companies proliferation network has been well researched and documented by many American authors and journalists.

There is a view that Dr Khan has got away lightly because of the Pakistan Army’s involvement in his activities and his ability to spill the beans in respect of the Army’s connivance in Dr Khan’s proliferation. Now with the disclosures of Dr Lubbers it would be logical to speculate whether Dr Khan and the Pakistani leadership have not been let off lightly in spite of the proven proliferation perhaps because they are in a position to tell the world about the CIA’s long connection with the nuclear walmart run by the Pakistani army leadership and Dr Khan.

It has always been a mystery why the US administration was soft on China-Pakistan proliferation interaction in the ‘90s. It took some seven years after Pakistan officially admitted receipt of missiles from China, for the US to admit that. Till then, the Clinton administration pretended that it was still to make a determination about the receipt of Chinese missiles in Pakistan.

While North Korea and Iran are denounced as “rogue states”, the US establishment rarely refers to the original proliferators, China and its partner, Pakistan. Even as the Bush administration concludes a deal with India to lift sanctions against civil technology transfer on the ground that India has behaved as a responsible nuclear power, some former American officials who were in the decision making loop have raised the issue whether this arrangement with India with irreproachable record on proliferation should not be extended to Pakistan as well, whose chief nuclear scientist, Dr Khan, according to Dr El Baradei Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, ran a nuclear walmart black market chainstore.

Going by Dr Lubber’s disclosures of the CIA’s benign interest in Dr Khan going back three decades and the US having looked away from China-Pakistan proliferation, is the interest in extending the Indo-US nuclear arrangement to Pakistan purely a matter of principle or an attempt to prevent the roles of former US administrations and some of the prominent officials in them being exposed for their activities in regard to global proliferation.

While President George Bush and Secretary Rice may have chosen to make a clean break with the past and work out effective measures to deal with proliferation threat from non-state actors, they may face resistance from those former officials in the administration and the agencies who have been colluding with the nuclear walmart of Dr Khan, Pakistani generals, China and West European black market. Otherwise it is difficult to explain the interest of such people in demanding the same treatment for Pakistan as has been extended to India.


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