A Long List of Eager Brokers

Much Noise over Full Drums

Pakistani President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, 1971
Pakistani President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto addresses reporters in December 1971 (Photo: AFP/Getty Images).

Drumbeats on Pakistan’s nuclear blackmarketing are getting louder. The international community (read Washington) is alarmed and worried at the rapidly accumulating pile of evidence against Pakistan’s top nuclear scientist, Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, and a few of his associates for selling nuclear technology and materials to nations that are considered “rogue.” (China is not the target yet and hence does not qualify to be a rogue despite overwhelming evidence.)  

The heat and dust being created by the “revelations,” obviously made by muckraking journalists of influential Western papers, begs the question: Why does the world get drawn into the carefully planned and orchestrated propaganda, year after year? First it was Al-Qaeda; then the WMDs (weapons of mass destruction); and now a nuclear blackmarket racket. This is not intended to be in defense of A.Q. Khan or Pakistan.   

If Dr. Khan and his associates in the military and nuclear establishment have indulged in buying and selling nuclear technology and materials for several years, they should be punished; that is, if there is punishment for a crime that qualifies to be categorized as a crime against humanity. If the allegations currently being made in the media were true, a special court should be set up by the United Nations to try them. In fact, the first step toward that direction would be to institute an independent investigation and send U.N. inspectors to Pakistan immediately. But the question that begs an answer is: Who will be the judge?

Take the case of Pakistan. Pakistan decided to go nuclear after a humiliating defeat in the 1971 battlefield. Within weeks of the surrender at Dhaka, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto called a secret meeting (Jan. 24, 1972, at Multan) of nuclear and military officials and said he wanted the Bomb. A 125-megawatt heavy-water reactor became operational near Karachi the same year. It was built with Canadian assistance. The United States was not in the dark about these developments.

Three years after Bhutto’s secret meeting, the [U.S.] State Department prepared a background paper on Pakistan and the nonproliferation issue (Jan. 22, 1975), which said Pakistan was not only building more power reactors, it was also negotiating with the Belgians for a heavy-water facility, with the Canadians for a fuel-fabrication plant, and with the French for a chemical separation plant.

“These facilities,” the note (since declassified) said, “together with the heavy reactor, will give Pakistan a virtually independent nuclear fuel cycle and the opportunity to separate a sufficient amount of plutonium to build a nuclear weapon....[T]he earliest the Pakistanis are likely to be able to produce a weapon would be 1980.”

Just a year later, so clear was the evidence that Pakistan was buying nuclear technology and materials from European countries, the State Department issued a démarche to Pakistan. On June 23, 1983, the State Department prepared a four-page note for the U.S. president on “The Pakistani nuclear program,” which began on this ominous note “There is unambiguous evidence that Pakistan is actively pursuing a nuclear weapons development program.”

Besides the declassified documents, the following findings have been pieced together from open sources, which reveal the involvement of the United States and other Western nations in helping Pakistan build the nuclear capability.

Pakistan’s initiation into the nuclear club began in 1953, when it was
invited to join the Atoms for Peace Program launched by the Eisenhower administration. Two years later, Pakistan received a grant of US$350,000 from the United States to build its first research reactor. In 1962, the U.S. supplied a 5-megawatt light-water research reactor known as the Pakistan Atomic Research Reactor (PARR-1).

In 1971, the Canadian General Electric Co. completed a 137-megawatt CANDU power reactor for the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant. Plans for the plutonium-separating facilities designed by British Nuclear Fuels Limited were finalized the same year.

A Belgian firm, Belgonucléaire, and a French corporation, Saint-Gobain-Techniques-Nouvelles, designed a pilot reprocessing facility called the New Labs at PINSTECH. In 1976, under a highly secretive project code named 706, Pakistan bought components for centrifuges from the Netherlands; orders for 6,500 tubes of specially hardened steel were placed with Van Doome Transmissie.   

Other support components and subsystems were bought from Vakuum Apparat Technik (high-vacuum valves) of Haag, Switzerland, and Leybold Heraeus (gas purification equipment), of Hanan, Germany. A year later, the British subsidiary of Emerson Electric sold 30 high-frequency inverters to Pakistan for controlling centrifuge speeds.

In 1987, West Germany sold a tritium purification and production facility with a capacity to produce 10 grams of tritium daily. Tritium can be used to produce a thermonuclear device. In 1989, the German magazine Stern reported that “since the beginning of the eighties more than 70 [West German] enterprises have supplied sensitive goods to enterprises that for years have been buying equipment for Pakistan’s ambitious nuclear weapons program.”

There is more evidence gathered from U.S. sources to show how the United States blinks when it wants to. The most basic is the CIA’s unclassified “Report to Congress on the acquisition of technology relating to weapons of mass destruction and advanced conventional munitions” (, which, since 1999, has been religiously reporting Pakistan’s acquisition of “a considerable amount of nuclear-related and dual-use equipment and materials from various sources—principally in the FSU (former Soviet Union) and Western Europe.”

What the CIA would never report is the involvement of the U.S. administration and firms in helping Pakistan acquire nuclear weapons technology at a time when it was forcing the world to sign the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and other nonproliferation agreements.

In May 1990, the intelligence agencies had gathered evidence that the U.S. administration was allowing Pakistan to acquire restricted items for its nuclear arsenal from within the United States.

Well-known investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, writing in The New Yorker, March 29, 1993, said, “Many more nuclear-related goods were clandestinely bought inside the United States by Pakistan than by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.”   

The story of Richard M. Barlow is equally revealing. He was a CIA officer working on Pakistan’s nuclear program. In 1987, he discovered that what the State Department and his seniors were telling Congress was not exactly what he and his colleagues were digging out on Pakistan’s expanding nuclear weapons development program. He resigned a year later. He later joined, as an analyst, the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, from which he also had to resign under pressure after raising strong objections to the administration’s continued support to Pakistan’s nuclear purchases in the United States.

The only conclusion one can draw from these findings is the United States was not only aware of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons development program from the beginning but was willingly assisting the latter to develop the capability, even brushing aside the CIA’s intelligence reports on Pakistan’s purchases from the West. No one else had the technology to sell them anyway.

So who, in the final analysis, should stand trial for nuclear proliferation?