Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

About the author
Gentleman crusader
List of articles
Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

There were inherent contraditions in many of Gandhi's positions. In South Africa he fought for the rights of Indians and Coloureds but never once raised his voice for the Blacks.

Proliferating Terror / Deception at our doorstep

Deception: Pakistan, the United States and the Global Nuclear Weapons Conspiracy by Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark. Penguin, 2007.

By B G Verghese

Sahara Times / New Indian Express/ Book Review, 2007

It has been long known, but for many only in a disjointed, shadowy manner and for few in all its grim starkness. The truth is stranger than fiction and even more diabolical and chilling. Deception is a connected and well documented account, much of it from contemporary records, of an American-led Western conspiracy with Pakistan as the principal actor. Its outcome, howsoever unintended some may argue, was to cultivate and spread nuclear terror through a most dangerously irresponsible, unscrupulous, dishonest and supremely self-serving policy that has had a huge collateral fallout of mayhem, human rights violations and political destabilisation since the late 1970s. 

The authors, Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, have painstakingly tracked this saga of American-Pakistan infamy through official papers, Congressional and other records, interviews, published documents, boastful memoirs and careless or angry leaks to tell their horror story. Honest officials, elected representatives, international agencies and friendly governments were bulldozed, tricked, lied to, subverted or simply bought over to achieve sordid ends. These were not just unfortunate or even stupid misjudgements or minor moral lapses but willful acts of powerful men, institutions and even governments who fostered nuclear proliferation and blackmail, unmindful of the consequences, in the name of averting just such a disaster.

The story starts with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s determination after 1971 to make Pakistan a nuclear power, a resolve reinforced by India’s Pokhran test in 1974. This coincided with Dr A.Q.Khan’s desire to relocate in Pakistan from the Netherlands to help the cause. A rabid anti-Indian nationalist and egotist like Bhutto, AQK had got a placement in the Netherlands unit of the top secret tripartite Dutch-German-British URENCO Laboratories that was dedicated to finding a cheaper and quicker route to uranium enrichment than the gaseous diffusion process then in vogue through a new centrifuge technology. Dr Khan was essentially employed as a translator, being doubly qualified as a nuclear metallurgist while being familiar with the three working languages required, namely, English, German and Dutch. Security was lax and an affable Khan, who had a Dutch wife, was able to have photographed or to copy a whole range of critical papers and designs. He cultivated contacts and friendships with various equipment manufacturers and suppliers and colleagues who had set themselves up in business and were willing to supply him with various components, equipment parts and materials with which to build a centrifuge plant in Pakistan. However, suspicious had been aroused and a homesick AQK felt it prudent to return home to put his new stolen knowledge and contacts to use in the service of his nation. Bhutto was more than willing and in due course the Dr A.Q. Khan Laboratories and the Kahuta nuclear facility were running a little outside Islamabad. The Doctor was in the way to becoming Pakistan’s favourite son. “Deception” tracks this story.

Meanwhile various international developments had projected Pakistan into a position of considerable vantage. The Pakistan-China honeymoon had commenced in 1963 and had been cemented by 1971 when Pakistan, also a staunch American ally, facilitated the US-China rapprochement and lobbied to secure Taiwan’s seat in the Security Council for mainland China. Pokhran-I stimulated Sino-Pakistan nuclear collaboration with Beijing underpinning Pakistan’s drive to weaponise by supplying enriched fuel and essential equipment and going to the extent of enabling Pakistan to conduct cold and, subsequently,  hot tests of a nuclear device based on one of its own earlier proven test designs. North Korea chipped in with missile delivery systems. Pakistan returned the favour by sharing with them its newly-acquired centrifuge and other technology and equipment of western design.

Burgeoning activity at Kahuta and Khan’s frenzied efforts to get parts and
equipment for it from around the world through shell companies and devious
routes had attracted attention. Fearing time may be short, AQK launched Project 706, aiming to establish self-sufficiency in manufacturing nuclear components and acquiring capability through reverse engineering. This was followed by Project AB (Atom Bomb) to materialise Bhutto’s dream of an “Islamic Bomb”. This needed independent funding which was soon realized through sales of nuclear fuel and parts and components by an increasingly boastful and arrogant Khan to Libya, Iran and possibly even to al Qaeda agents. The Americans (and Israeli’s) were by now sufficiently alarmed to consider bombing Kahuta, an option that India is also said to have contemplated. They also confronted the Pakistanis and urged them to desist from proliferation to no avail. The genie was out of the bottle.

What saved Pakistan was the overthrow of the Shah of Iran. With the US hostage crisis, or Irangate, Pakistan was called upon to mediate to get the Americans off the hook. Simultaneously news came of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. All was forgiven and Pakistan was once more a favoured frontline state. It was propped up with aid and, through a Faustian bargain: the ISI would exclusively route CIA assistance to the Afghan resistance and Washington would shut its eyes to Pakistan’s nuclear activities, with no questions asked. The Americans winked at the diversion from Afghanistan of substantial funds and arms by Islamabad in order to mount a proxy war in J&K and buttress its preferred muhajideen and   build the Taliban. There was a virtual non-accounting of its aid to Afghanistan, part of which went to finance Pakistan’s nuclear programme which had by now begun to move from self-sufficiency and self reliance to clandestine nuclear exports and proliferation, even to rogue elements, as a means of winning friends and influencing people and funding further stages of its nuclear ambition.  

AQK, with the full support of the Pakistan establishment and ISI, was now like a man possessed. He had moved from nuclear acquisition to nuclear proliferation, having built a nuclear arsenal and delivery system (the North Korean-modelled Ghauri and F-16s converted to carry nuclear bombs) and a stockpile of enriched uranium and equipment to trade with what the Americans called the Axis of Evil. Regime followed regime in both Pakistan and the US but AQK seemed to grow larger than life, one step ahead of those out to get him at home and abroad.

The Americans grew worried at various times. Zia died mysteriously in an air crash and Benazir was brought in, but was a puppet in the hands of the military. From the late 1970s onwards, whenever AGK’s dirty tricks were exposed and he or his agents were caught red handed around the world stealing and smuggling nuclear material, various governments, notably the US, but the British, Dutch, German, Canadian and the IAEA as well were prevailed upon to desist from pursuing the matter and allow the trail to run cold. The Americans led the pack and orchestrated the obfuscation surrounding AQK’s activities. Men like Richard Barlow, a CIA expert on Pakistan’s clandestine nuclear activities and, later, Joseph Wilson, a US diplomat, were sidetracked and destroyed. Congressional Committees were misled and stymied. Successive US President’s lied to Congress to grant Pakistan annual certification that it was not violating nuclear norms. A completely bogus case was constructed against Iraq without credible evidence; but despite clear proof of Pakistan’s dangerous waywardness, it was let off the hook.

Realising that his Dubai base for orchestrating global undercover transactions and procurement and distributive sources elsewhere were increasingly exposed, AQK helped set up a nuclear component manufacturing plant in Malaysia and then set up offices in the Sudan and Timbuktu in Mali. He and his agents travelled incessantly to Pyongyang, Tripoli, Afghanistan, Teheran, Khartoum and Timbuktu freely using Pakistan military and other official facilities. And all the while, US aid to Pakistan mounted. Levy and Scott-Clark estimate that maybe up to $ 1 billion of US aid to Islamabad was funneled into Pakistan’s nuclear progamme.

AQK was his own public relations man. He had an insatiable hunger for publicity and began to give interviews to the Pakistan media, boasting of his achievements and promoting a climate of nuclear ambiguity that enabled Pakistan to rattle its nuclear armoury without formally admitting to possession of nuclear weapons. But sometimes he would overstep the mark as he did in an interview he gave to Kuldip Nayar in 1987.

Indo-Pakistan relations further plummeted with the launch of Pakistan’s proxy-jihadi war in J&K in 1989. The US was tireless in describing Kashmir as a global danger and nuclear flashpoint and sent out a mission under Robert Gates to avert a nuclear exchange unmindful, as earlier and since, that the source of that danger, whether in Kashmir, Iraq, Iran or North Korea was its own reckless and flagrant patronage of Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation that  had even extended to talks with al Qaeda agents, and plans to help them develop a dirty bomb with which to blackmail America too. 

When US intelligence got into Kabul in November 2001 along with the victorious Northern Alliance, it discovered evidence that pointed to Pakistan’s WMD flirtation with the al Qaeda. A decade earlier, word had leaked of Pakistan’s plans to offer Saddam Hussein blueprints to set up a uranium enrichment plant and recycled nuclear bomb designs. IAEA inspectors in Iraq were later able to collect more direct evidence of this but failed to excite any American interest in the matter. In the event, Iraq was bombed to submission; Pakistan continued to be mollycoddled. In November 2000, the Pakistan Army staged “IDEAS 2000”, an international munitions fair in Karachi, the centerpiece of which was Khan Research Laboratories’ exhibit with glossy brochures promoting the sales of centrifuges with after sales consultancy services that included “installation, repair and maintenance”, all officially cleared for export. It was brazen. .    

9/11 alarmed the US and Musharraf once again became America’s foremost partner in the War against Terror. Once again, all was forgiven – and fleeing Talibans were given safe haven in Pakistan! Then, with the declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq, Bush turned the heat on Musharraf. AQK was “retired”. In 2003 the Americans confronted the Pakistan President in New York with an exhibition incontrovertibly exposing AQKs proliferation misdeeds worldwide. Musharraf records in his autobiography “In the Line of Fire” that he found himself “at a loss for words”. This was the most embarrassing moment of his life. But he quickly found his tongue to distance the Pakistan Government and himself from AQK who was denounced as a braggart and dangerous megalomaniac. This pretence convinced nobody. The Pakistan Government and Musharraf personally are closely involved. The one reason AQK, though questioned, has not been brought to trial is not because he is Pakistan’s greatest national hero but because he prepared a brief on Pakistan’s clandestine nuclear adventures and sent it off to London with his younger daughter to publish if he came to any harm. The blackmail has worked.

Since then more information has come from Libya, which has made a full disclosure of its AQK connection, North Korea and Iran. The exposure is complete but the charade goes on. Pakistan has become a refuge for the al Qaeda with Quetta as a base.

In 2005, a powerful earthquake laid waste areas along the LOC in PAK. This saw all the so-called banned jihadi outfits resurface as relief agencies that worked with the military authorities. The earthquake also destroyed part of the Kahuta nuclear complex, causing something of a “nuclear accident” that sent alarm bells ringing in Islamabad. Musharraf called on AQ Khan for help. Khan refused. However, the restoration has proceeded even as more evidence has surfaced, this time through German intelligence, that Pakistan continues to trade in nuclear weapons technology – buying and selling as before to Iran and Saudi Arabia. New clients include Syria, Egypt and others unnamed and unknown, leading to apprehensions of a widening circle of proliferation. According to Levy and Scott-Clark the old Pakistan-China-North Korea nexus has not been ended. It has merely evolved.   

Despite all its homilies and alarms about controlling proliferation, the United States has clearly been part of the problem and it is not as yet certain whether it has turned over a new leaf. It is afraid to turn the screws on its ally, Pakistan, as it fears that any consequent regime instability there could result in nuclear technology and material falling into the hands of rogue elements.

Deception has some minor errors of fact which need to be corrected. But the main thesis of Pakistani and US nuclear perfidy and gross irresponsibility is powerfully made and substantiated in a gripping, interconnected account.  American posturing, even in the debate surrounding the 123 civil nuclear agreement with India, combines extraordinary amnesia with extraordinary arrogance in demanding guarantees of Indian good conduct and a distancing from Iran while it has played and condoned every trick in the book to imperil the world and, certainly, India.

back to the top


See also

11-C Dewan Shree Apartments, 30 Ferozeshah Rd, New Delhi 110001, India