The founder of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program and a top aide had black market contacts that supplied sensitive technology to Iran and Libya, Pakistani intelligence officials told The Associated Press Wednesday.
Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, long revered as a national hero in Pakistan, and Dr. Mohammed Farooq, former director-general of the Khan Research Laboratories, also have failed to account for funds in their personal bank accounts, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Both men deny they helped Iran and Libya, the officials said, as an investigation into nuclear technology trade nears an end.
“These are the two people who had links and contacts with those who have been supplying many things to those countries who wanted to become nuclear power,” one official said.
Another official said Khan had been shown documents and other material and had acknowledged his contacts with dealers who worked for him in the past, but he denied he had profited or played any role in supplying technology to either Iran or Libya.
“He says he is the victim of an international conspiracy,” the official said.
Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, Pakistan’s army chief of staff from 1988-91, told AP in an interview Wednesday that Pakistan’s program to develop a nuclear bomb had relied on black market suppliers, and Pakistani scientists may have shared their contacts with Iran and Libya.
He complained, however, that the investigation is treating top scientists like Khan as criminals, while they should be respected for providing the country’s nuclear deterrent against rival India.
“These scientists who are being questioned today, the only crime you can say they committed was to tell the Iranian friends or the Libyan friends ’Go to such and such a place and the item is on sale. Buy it from them,”’ Beg told AP.
Asked what should happen to scientists who were found to have shared “underworld” contacts, Beg said: “Nothing. They have committed no crime.”
Beg acknowledged that some Pakistani scientists may have accrued personal wealth, but they had not misused state funds.
Pakistan began its investigation into its nuclear program and possible proliferation to Iran in late November after admissions made by Tehran to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog based in Vienna, Austria. Allegations also have surfaced that Pakistani technology spread to Libya and North Korea.
President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali will take the final decision about the fate of Khan and Farooq after the investigation is completed “within days,” one official said.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Wednesday the United States has been assured Pakistan is no longer involved in nuclear trade.
“President Musharraf has assured us that, one, that was part of the past, and the past is the past,” McClellan said.
Three scientists, including Farooq, and four security officials from the Khan Research Laboratories — named after Khan — are in detention. Khan is restricted to the capital, Islamabad, and has made no public comment.
The government has publicly said “one or two people” acted for personal profit, but denies there was any official authorization for nuclear transfers to other countries.
There is growing international concern about the “black market” in nuclear technology that circumvents restrictions on its supply.
Gen. Beg denied allegations that he had authorized transfers of nuclear know-how between Pakistan and Iran during the late 1980s, and said Iran had never made such a request, although the two countries did cooperate in transfer of conventional weapons.
“There’s no truth in it. It’s an absolute lie,” said Beg, who was a strong advocate of a strategic alliance with Iran during his tenure.
Beg said Pakistan had been justified in using clandestine means to create a nuclear bomb — the first in the Islamic world — after larger neighbor India tested a nuclear device in 1974.
“Any country which is threatened by the nuclear capability of their neighbor, they have a right to acquire it,” he said.
“When you want to get this kind of technology and know-how, you have to go to the market where these items are under sale,” which he said spread “all the way from the United States, Europe, Russia.”
“That’s how we acquired our capability. It was a known fact throughout the world. The Americans knew it,” Beg said.
He added that other countries, including Israel and India, had done the same. “It’s a vicious circle and Pakistan is being singled out,” Beg said.