Startling Revelation

MUCH of what Benazir told me that evening (2003 in Dubai) I committed to memory, as I was not permitted to take notes or make use of my taperecorder. We had got to the dessert stage when she came out with the big secret. The gist of what she told me was that before leaving for North Korea in 1993, she shopped for an overcoat with the ‘deepest possible pockets’ into which she transferred CDs containing the scientific data about uranium enrichment that the North Koreans wanted.

She did not tell me how many CDs were given to her to carry, or who they were given to when she arrived in Pyongyang, but she implied with a glint in her eye that she had acted as a two-way courier, bringing North Korea’s missile information on CDs back with her on the return journey. Pakistani contacts later explained that Benazir returned with more than just CDs. The delighted North Koreans, who had already sold missiles technology to Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen insisted she carry back the disassembled parts of an entire missile, the Nodong, so that Pakistani scientists could study it part by part in the security of their own laboratories.

To say that I was taken by surprise by Benazir’s disclosure in Dubai would be a huge under-statement.

The idea of the Pakistani prime minister acting as a female James Bond was simply incredible. Why she chose to tell me, albeit with my promise to keep it a secret during her lifetime, I will never know. I did keep my promise, but the information given to me kept buzzing around in my head and was responsible for keeping me awake all night long. Six months later in London Benazir agreed to do another detailed interview on the record, this time about Pakistan’s nuclear programme, and I thought this was an opportunity to get her to repeat the North Korean story on tape. Sadly, try as I might, she would not play. if anything, the off-the-record story had changed. In the newer, vaguer version the notorious A.Q. Khan, Pakistan’s uranium enrichment expert, had asked her to somehow get hold of North Korea’s missile technology from Kim II Sung.