An angry, humiliated, and wounded A.Q.Khan has finally made public and official what has long been suspected: his nuclear proliferation activities that included exchanging and passing blue-prints and equipment to China, Iran, North Korea, and Libya was done at the behest of the Pakistani government and military, and he was forced to take the rap for it.
”The bastards first used us and are now playing dirty games with us,” Khan writes about the Pakistani leadership in a December 2003 letter to his wife Henny that has finally been made public by an interlocutor. ”Darling, if the government plays any mischief with me take a tough stand,” he tells his wife, adding, ”They might try to get rid of me to cover up all the things they got done by me.”
But Henny was unable to play hardball because Khan had also sent copies of that letter to his daughter Dina in London, and to his niece Kausar Khan in Amsterdam through his brother, a Pakistan Airlines executive. Pakistani intelligence agencies got wind of it and threatened the well-being of the family, forcing him to recant and publicly take the blame for the proliferation activities in a humiliating television spectacle engineered by then military ruler Pervez Musharraf.
However, a copy of the four-page letter reached Khan’s long-time journalistic contact Simon Henderson in 2007. In fact, in the letter, Khan tells his wife, ”Get in touch with Simon Henderson and give him all the details.” Henderson says when he acquired the copy of the letter, he was shocked. His acquaintance with Khan goes back to the late 1970s, but it was never intimate, and consisted of an occasional interviews and conversations, and seasonal greetings.
Describing the four-page letter as ”extraordinary,” Henderson says in numbered paragraphs, it outlines Pakistan’s nuclear co-operation with China, Iran and North Korea, and also mentions Libya. Some of the disclosures are stunning , and in one para that is bound to embarrass Beijing, besides implicating it, Khan writes about how Pakistan helped China in enrichment technology in return for bomb blueprints.
”We put up a centrifuge plant at Hanzhong (250km southwest of Xian),” Khan writes. “The Chinese gave us drawings of the nuclear weapon, gave us 50kg of enriched uranium, gave us 10 tons of UF6 (natural) and 5 tons of UF6 (3%).” UF6 is uranium hexafluoride, the gaseous feedstock for an enrichment plan.
On Iran, the letter says: ”Probably with the blessings of BB [Benazir Bhutto]…General Imtiaz [Benazir’s defence adviser, now dead] asked me to give a set of drawings and some components to the Iranians. The names and addresses of suppliers were also given to the Iranians.”
On North Korea: ”[A now-retired general] took $3million through me from the N. Koreans and asked me to give some drawings and machines.”
Henderson does not explain why he waited nearly two years since he got hold of the letter to make it public. But he writes sympathetically about Khan’s travails in Pakistan, where he is held largely incommunicado under house arrest. The Pakistani government and the military have repeatedly rejected and challenged court orders to free him, and an episode last month, where Khan was freed just for a day on court orders before Islamabad locked him up again under pressure from Washington, appears to have precipitated the leak of the explosive letter.
Henderson’s Sunday Times expose also implicates the U.S and other western powers, who he says, basically shoved Islamabad’s rampant proliferation (while blaming it solely on Khan) under the carpet in order to get Pakistan’s cooperation in the war on terror. The move also saved Washington from huge embarrassment since it was basically asleep on the watch when Pakistan began its nuclear proliferation and then winked at it when it was discovered, all the while lavishing billions in military supplies on its unstable client state.
PAK GOVT RESCUED BROKE A.Q.KHAN WITH $ 2500 PER MONTH PENSION
Henderson also implicitly defends Khan from charges that he profited from proliferation activities, as alleged by deposed military ruler Pervez Musharraf. Khan, he says, is adamant that he never sold nuclear secrets for personal gain. So what about the millions of dollars he reportedly made?
”Nothing was confiscated from him and no reported investigation turned up hidden accounts. Having planted rumours about Khan’s greed, Pakistani officials were curiously indifferent to following them through,” Henderson writes.
According to Henderson, much was made of a ”hotel”, named after Khan’s wife, Henny, built by a local tour guide with the help of money from Khan and a group of friends in Timbuktu. But it is a modest structure at best, more of a guesthouse, he says. A weekend home at Bani Gala, outside Islamabad, where Khan went to relax, is hardly the palace that some reports have made it.
In fact, says Henderson, Khan was close to being broke by the summer 2007, when he was finding it difficult to make ends meet on his pension of 12,200 (Pakistani) rupees per month. After pleading with General Khalid Kidwai, the officer supervising both Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and Khan, the pension was increased to $2,500 per month and there was a one-off lump-sum payment of the equivalent of $50,000. Hendersen says he has copies of the agreement and cheques.
Henderson’s 3000-word expose also reveals a couple of intriguing tid-bits that should interest the world’s strategic community, including New Delhi. Besides details of the Pakistan-China nexus, he says Pakistan tested only two devices in its 1998 tit-for-tat nuclear tests that followed India.
While Pakistan claims it conducted six tests to be one-up on India’s five tests, Western experts and seismologists have long said they recorded only two signals for devices that measured between two and four kilotons. Khan also states clearly that China gave Pakistan designs for the nuclear bombs.
In fact, in one colorful passage in his article, Henderson describes how Khan was warned by a Chinese counterpart about the Pakistani Army. On a visit to Kahuta, Li Chew, the senior minister who ran China’s nuclear-weapons programme, tells Khan, ”As long as they need the bomb, they will lick your balls. As soon as you have delivered the bomb, they will kick your balls.”
Henderson himself seems deeply conscious of any perception that he is close to Khan or that he is a cat’s paw for any country. ”Any relationship with a source is fraught with potential difficulties. One doesn’t want to be blind to the chance of being used. Government officials and politicians in any country are seldom interested in the simple truth. They all have their particular story to tell. In this context, I am frankly amazed that Khan has chosen me to be his interlocutor with the world,” he writes.
But Pakistani authorities were clearly aware that he and Khan had been in touch and Khan may have managed to smuggle a copy of the letter implicating Islamabad to him. Henderson says in a court document that Khan was asked to sign when he was promised freedom, there is a line that read “That in case Mr Simon Henderson or anyone else proceeds with the publication of any information or material anywhere in the world, I affirm that it would not be based on any input from me and I disown it.” That line was eventually deleted and replaced with a more general prohibition about unnamed ”specific media personnel.”
As reported in TOI