By Wilson John
The International AtomicEnergy Agency (IAEA) is currently investigating Iran's nuclear program, especially the possibility that Pakistan helped it with substantial transfers of technology and materials in the past. There has been no conclusive evidence so far, except for a piece of evidence that Pakistan had supplied designs for an advanced centrifuge called P-2 to Iran in 1995. There is a reason why the IAEA is finding it difficult to discover the nuclear trail in Iran. The agency is not looking in the right places, for instance in Pakistan. What it needs to do is not complicated, either: It has to begin by questioning A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist who has been persuaded to go into hiding by Islamabad following disclosures early this year that he was the kingpin in a worldwide network of nuclear smugglers.
Mr. Khan has been actively involved in transferring nuclear technology and material to Iran since the early 1990s. Although the proliferation activities were clandestine, there is substantial evidence that the Pakistani establishment especially its external intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence not only knew of the activities but assisted in the smuggling. Lt. Gen. Asad Durrani, the ISI chief in the early 1990s, was aware of Mr. Khan's travels to Iran in 1991 and 1992. Iran was quite willing to pay heavily for a nuclear gateway with Pakistan. Tehran had offered $3.2 billion to finance Pakistan's nuclear-weapons program in exchange for the transfer of nuclear technology, as reported in the Pakistan daily newspaper Dawn on Dec. 20, 1994.
The Pakistan-Iran nuclear connection existed since the time of Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, who had approved unpublicized cooperation between the two nations in the nuclear field in 1987. The cooperation was specifically limited to nonmilitary spheres. A respected Pakistani English-language daily published in Islamabad, the News, quoted a retired nuclear scientist: "Just before his death in 1988 when I told Zia about Iran's growing interest in non-peaceful nuclear matters, he asked me to play around but not to yield anything substantial at any cost." In fact, many believe that not only Gen. Durrani but his superior, Gen. Aslam Beg, then the army chief of staff, were also deeply involved in the clandestine nuclear deals with Iran.
Gen. Beg, according to a former Pakistan cabinet minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, had negotiated with Iran for a nuclear deal. Gen. Beg bragged that "Iran is willing to give whatever it takes, $6 billion, $10 billion. We can sell the bomb to Iran at any price." A former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Robert Oakley, has also referred to a conversation with Gen. Beg during which the latter said he was discussing nuclear cooperation with Iran's Revolutionary Guards.
Officially Pakistan has always denied having any cooperation with Iran in the nuclear weapons program. But large sums of unaccounted money were deposited in the personal accounts of at least two Pakistani scientists for clandestine deals with Iran. One of them was Muhammad Farooq, a centrifuge expert, who traveled to Iran and Libya on behalf of Mr. Khan, and was ironically the key source of information against Mr. Khan when U.S. and Pakistani intelligence officials debriefed him in November. One of the startling disclosures made by Mr. Farooq was about Mr. Khan's financial skullduggery.
Investigations have since revealed that the scientists maintained secret bank accounts in Dubai where millions of dollars were deposited. Noman Shah, Mr. Khan's estranged son-in-law, operated one of the main Dubai-based front companies used by the Khan network. It was Mr. Shah who set up a supplier firm for Mr. Khan in Dubai and worked closely with his father-in-law until he divorced Mr. Khan's daughter Dina after four years of marriage in 1994. Several nuclear and missile deals signed by the Khan Research Laboratory (KRL), including transactions with Iran, were routed through Mr. Shah.
More evidence of Mr. Khan's Iran link is an Islamabadbusinessman named Aizaz Jaffri. In December, Mr. Jaffri reportedly flew to Iran after three employees of the KRL were detained for questioning following the disclosures about Mr. Khan. Officials suspect that Mr. Jaffri's responsibility on the Iran trip was to find out how much the Iranians had told the IAEA officials about Pakistan's involvement in their nuclear-weapons program. Mr. Jaffri was an intermediary between Mr. Khan and his network. The former used to work for Pakistan's National Development Corporation, a state enterprise, before he joined Mr. Khan's network and began acting as a front man for dozens of businesses established by him.
An intriguing fact is Mr. Jaffri's reported association with the state-owned China North Industries Corporation, or Norinco, which is collaborating with Pakistan on missile and weapons development and production. One link that has emerged in the recent investigations was that Norinco and Mr. Khan's brother Qayuum have a stake in a Chinese restaurant in Islamabad partly owned by Mr. Jaffri two years ago. Is there a Chinese connection to nuclear collaboration between Iran and Pakistan?
Wilson John is a senior fellow with Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, India.