Wednesday, September 9, 2009

US overlooked Pak nuke program, bomb was ready in 1983: Khan

Pakistan's nuclear program was overlooked by the US in its initial year as Islamabad got involved in the Afghan war against Soviet Union, which resulted in making the bomb in a quick period of six years, A Q Khan, the maligned Pakistani nuclear scientist, has said.

"I maintain that the war had provided us with space to enhance our nuclear capability," the Pak nuclear scientist said in an interview to an Urdu Pakistani television channel.

"The credit (for the nuclear bomb) goes to me and my team, because it was a very difficult task, which was next to impossible. But given the US and European pressure on our program, it is true that had the Afghan war not taken place at that time, we would not have been able to make the bomb as early as we did," Khan told the Aaj News Television.

The interview with Khan, who was recently released from house arrest, was broadcast in Karachi on August 31. It was helpfully translated from Urdu by the Directorate of National Intelligence's Open Source Center.

The translated interview has not been publicly released, but a copy was obtained by Secrecy News of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS).

Khan, who was put under house arrest by the previous Musharraf regime, from which he was released early this year said, Pakistan was ready to test a nuclear weapon just six years after it first began to enrich uranium.

"It was 6 April 1978 when we achieved our first centrifugal enrichment of uranium. We had achieved 90 percent (enrichment) by early 1983," he said.

"I wrote a letter to General Zia on 10 December 1984, telling him that the weapon was ready and that we could detonate it on a notice of one week," Khan said. But Zia decided against testing the bomb, he observed.

"We were allying with the United States in the Afghan war. The aid was coming. We asked Gen Zia and his team to go ahead with the test, but they said they could not conduct the test as it would have serious repercussions. They argued that, since the United States had to overlook our nuclear program due to our support in the Afghan war, it was an opportunity for us to further develop the program. They said the tests could be conducted any time later," Khan said, according to the translation of the transcripts of the interview.

In addition, to a time line for the Pakistani nuclear weapons program, Khan in his interview also discusses the costs and logistics involved, and his successful efforts to evade export controls. "They could not outmanoeuvre us, as we remained a step ahead always," he said.

"Since I had been living in Europe for 15 years, I knew about their industry and suppliers very well. I knew who made what. When I came to Pakistan, I started purchasing equipment from them until they proscribed the selling of equipment to us. Then we started purchasing the same equipment through other countries, for example, Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE, Abu Dhabi, and Singapore," Khan said.

The interview also provides "interesting information about Pakistan's supply chains, which he says were the same for Iran and Libya as well," said Ivanka Barzashka, an FAS researcher who is studying the proliferation of centrifuge technology.

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