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Abdul Khan and the illegal and immoral world of nuclear proliferation

Smiling Buddha and how Khan network’s inside job made Pakistan a nuclear state
, Financial Express, May 31, 2021 By Subhash Jangala

By conducting the first confirmed nuclear weapons test by a non-member of the UN Security Council, India caught the entire international intelligence community unawares.

On 26th May 2021, India celebrated Buddha Jayanti, the anniversary of the great soul obtaining enlightenment. Exactly 47 years ago, on the Buddha Jayanti of 1974, Smiling Buddha ushered India into the nuclear age. By conducting the first confirmed nuclear weapons test by a non-member of the UN Security Council, India caught the entire international intelligence community unawares. Thousands of miles away from the test site in Pokhran, Rajasthan was Almelo, a tiny municipality in eastern Netherlands. As the news of the Indian nuclear test trickled in, a silent storm started brewing in a man’s heart. 1974’s Buddha Jayanti not only heralded India’s geopolitical assent, it also flagged off Pakistan’s steep decline in international status and reputation.

Abdul Qadeer Khan, a Pakistani metallurgical engineer employed in a uranium enrichment plant in Almelo, took India’s successful nuclear test to heart. In his work, Khan got several opportunities to work with Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) in Netherlands. Khan quickly dispatched a letter to Pakistan’s newly powerful Prime Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto explaining why HEU was the miracle cure for Pakistan’s struggle with making a plutonium bomb. After several attempts, Bhutto did give Khan a hearing and was impressed. Thus began a decades-long saga of illegal and criminal transfer of nuclear materials and technologies from across the world into Pakistan and then via Pakistan to other states like Iran and Libya.

Back in the 1970s and 80s, Anti Money Laundering regulations and investigation into Proliferation Finance weren’t as developed as they are today. This allowed Khan and the Pakistan Government to run a complex international network of benami companies and suppliers that have created and helped sustain a nuclear black economy. A deeper study of the proliferation episode makes for interesting reading……………………..

As years progressed, Khan used his contacts to obtain components from across the world, expanding Pakistan’s chances of testing their first nuclear bomb. At the same time, the West, unmindful of Khan’s dogged belief in his experiment and Pakistan’s tenacious resolve to match India kiloton-for-kiloton, took a laid-back and lackadaisical route to control the black nuclear economy that Pakistan was helping create. Eventually, his endearing nature and Pakistan’s resolute support, Khan managed to assemble all the components required to make his nuclear dream go live.

However, Khan’s dream did not end with making Pakistan a formidable opponent to India in the nuclear battlefield. Khan expanded his activities deeper into the illegal and immoral world of nuclear proliferation. He helped create a market where any budding nuclear adventurist could order from a list of raw materials which could be sourced from any of the reliable suppliers across the world. A “Flipkart for Nuclear dummies” was born. This market place operated from the following places, [shown on map on original]

Khan Research Laboratories in Pakistan and SMB Computers in Dubai (a front company) operated as the hub and the rest were all procurement or delivery centres. An investigation by the Malaysian Police into one such transaction revealed the inner workings of the network. The same is presented below in 8 steps. [diagram on original]

……….. The most important link that connected the entire network was the fact that, apart from the core individuals, no entity had a clue what was being produced and for whom.

The fraud continued for a while. On a fateful day in 2004, the US exposed the outlines of the world;s largest nuclear proliferation ring. In a dramatic television appearance Feb. 4, Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of the Pakistani bomb, acknowledged that he had secretly provided North Korea, Libya, and Iran with crucial building blocks for making nuclear weapons. Khan, considered a national hero, apologized to the people of Pakistan for what he had done and was pardoned by the then Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf shortly afterward.

On this Buddha Jayanti, the story of AQ Khan should alert sanctions compliance organisations across the globe to the new challenges like the need to transition to a low carbon energy economy, introduction of advanced materials and growth of underground markets through the dark web. International organisations should re-dedicate themselves to technology, co-operative diplomacy, Exchange of Information and cross-cultural capacity building to ensure rogue proliferators and black markets don’t emerge in newer and more sophisticated areas of crime.

(The author is an officer of the 2011 batch of the Indian Revenue Service. He is presently posted as Joint Director (OSD) in the Directorate General of Administration and Taxpayer Services at New Delhi. Prior to this role, he worked as a Tax Diplomat in the Foreign Tax and Tax Research Division of the Central Board of Direct Taxes. The views expressed are the author’s own, and do not represent the official position or policy of the Government of India or Financial Express Online.)

June 1, 2021 - Posted by | ASIA, secrets,lies and civil liberties, weapons and war

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