The US interception, in early October 2003, of a German-registered ship headed for Libya through the Suez Canal and carrying thousands of parts of uranium centrifuges, demonstrated the mushrooming of the illegal nuclear trade. The intercepted shipment came from Dubai, a place of some significance to the clandestine world of nuclear deals, as demonstrated by the exploits of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the now infamous architect of Pakistan’s atomic programme. Though, international inspectors are still investigating where Libya’s components came from, a web of trails points to significant interconnections between Pakistan’s atomic programme and Libya’s.
The Tripoli-Islamabad equation can be traced to the 1970s. Spurned by China, in its efforts to buy nuclear weapons, Libya turned to Pakistan. In 1973, when Pakistan had just started its nuclear weapons programme, Libya signed a deal to help finance Islamabad’s atomic efforts. In February 1974, during the Islamic Summit held in Lahore, Colonel Muammar Qaddafi and President Z. A. Bhutto reached a formal agreement. According to Leonard S. Spector of the Montery Institute of International Studies’ Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Libya offered to finance Pakistan’s entire atomic programme in return for information to process nuclear fuel. From 1978 to 1980, Libya supplied staggering sums of financial aid and uranium ore from Niger to Pakistan. Qaddafi reportedly provided nearly a billion dollars to Bhutto in exchange for missile technology as mentioned by Steve Weissman and Herbert Krosney in their book The Islamic Bomb.
Despite these attempts, Libya appears to have made little progress in developing its nuclear programme beyond a rudimentary level. Nevertheless, Libya’s pursuit of nuclear weapons capabilities through clandestine transfers, demonstrate the potential and possibilities of this illegal trade. Its efforts to acquire nuclear devices were coupled with an aggressive strategy to acquire ballistic missiles. These efforts, if successful may have had cataclysmic consequences for the entire Middle East and the world.
Libya has now relinquished the pursuit of nuclear weapons and opened its WMD facilities to inspections of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This has facilitated in exposing a fascinating network of clandestine trade in nuclear material and technology, many of which lead directly to Pakistan. It is important to remember that in the aftermath of the Pokhran I test in 1974, Libya had offered to India substantial sums of money, oil and other commerce in exchange for nuclear weapon technology. India refused this proposition firmly and politely.
Pakistan was apparently the biggest proliferator of atomic technology aiding non-nuclear weapon states. The unmistakable Pakistani technological signature recently found on uranium-enrichment centrifuges in Iran, Libya and North Korea firmly links the official complicity of Islamabad in this game of deadly proliferation.
Recent Pakistani disclosures reveal a complex network of international black market on atomic technology. Operating via Dubai and masterminded by Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, it peddled hardware, blueprints and nuclear weapon designs to all and sundry, but mainly to the Islamic block. It assisted countries to become nuclear weapon states in a short span of time. Libya’s quest for atomic weapons was aided by a sophisticated nuclear black market that provided technical advice and sensitive nuclear components. The same network also is believed to have assisted Iran in its pursuit of nuclear weapon technology.
The present state of Pakistan’s indigenous industrial development will continue to demand foreign black market imports for a prolonged period in order to sustain its nuclear arsenal. Recent reports stated 800 spark gaps required for nuclear triggers purchased in the US by a South African were shipped to Pakistan via Dubai. Pakistan will relentlessly exploit the European nuclear black market network to meet its requirements and sustain its nuclear arsenal indefinitely. To this extent, Islamabad will always attempt to disseminate tacit nuclear information to countries in exchange for financial aid.
President General Musharraf has categorically denied the involvement of the Pakistani government in the recent nuclear leaks. Though the Pakistani Government has blamed the present nuclear crisis on A. Q. Khan and certain other greedy scientists, it is hard to accept that such sensitive nuclear documents were leaked without the connivance of the establishment. What is more troubling is Musharraf’s claim that he was unaware of the military’s involvement in the nuke-for-missiles swap with North Korea in 2002. If that be so, Pakistan characterizes an unstable situation posing inherent nuclear dangers. There lies the dangerous possibility of terrorists acquiring ‘dirty’ bombs and other radioactive materials for nuclear blackmail. The perils of continued leakage and seizure of nuclear assets by Islamic fundamentalists during a political turmoil appear starkly real.
Pakistan’s proliferation record raises serious concerns for the international community. If its links are exposed to Libya, Iran and North Korea today, can it be that it has not also simultaneously been transmitted to other countries as well?