Foreign Minister Kasuri with a Saudi Royal Family member
Into Nuclear Cooperation Worries Pakistan, S. Arabia
July 6: Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf's June 25-26
unscheduled trip to Saudi Arabia has raised many an eye brow in
Islamabad-based diplomatic circles.
diplomats believe the visit was meant to seek the assistance of
the Kingdom to circumvent the ongoing International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA) investigations into reports that the Saudis might
have purchased nuclear technology from Pakistan. The Musharraf-King
meeting was aimed at chalking out a joint strategy on what stance
the two leaders should adopt to satisfy the IAEA and address its
Arabia has been under increasing pressure to open its nuclear
facilities for inspection as the IAEA suspects that its nuclear
program has reached a level (with Pakistani cooperation) where
it should attract international attention. The pressure has also
come from Europe and the United States, who want Riyadh to permit
unhindered access to its nuclear facilities.
before the IAEA probe began, the US had been investigating whether
or not the father of Pakistan's nuclear program, Dr. AQ Khan,
sold nuclear technology to the Saudis and other Arab countries.
Acting under extreme pressure of the IAEA, the Saudi Government
signed the Small Quantities Protocol (SQP) on June 16, 2005, which
makes inspections less problematic. However, the US, European
Union and Australia want it to agree to full inspections. The
Saudi stand is that they would agree to the demand only if other
countries did so, including Israel. Click
to see October 2003 report in Washington Times
apprehensions that Saudi Arabia would seek to acquire nuclear
weapons have arisen periodically over the last decade. The Kingdom's
geopolitical situation gives it strong reasons to consider acquiring
nuclear weapons: the current volatile security environment in
the Middle East; the growing number of states (particularly Iran
and Israel) with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the region;
and its ambition to dominate the region.
concerns intensified in 2003 in the wake of revelations about
Dr. AQ Khan's proliferation activities. The IAEA investigations
show that Khan sold or offered nuclear weapons technology to Saudi
Arabia and several Middle Eastern states, including Iran, Iraq,
Libya and Syria.
Last year's unearthing of the
black market nuclear technology network increased international
suspicions that Khan had developed ties with Riyadh, which has
the capability to pay for all kinds of nuclear-related services.
Even before the revelations about Dr. Khan's activities, concerns
about Saudi-Pakistani nuclear cooperation persisted, largely due
to strengthened cooperation between the two countries. In particular,
frequent high-level visits of Saudi and Pakistani officials over
the past several years raised serious questions about the possibility
of clandestine Saudi-Pakistani nuclear cooperation.
May 1999, a Saudi Arabian defense team, headed by Defense Minister
Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz visited Pakistan's highly restricted
uranium enrichment and missile assembly factory. The prince toured
the Kahuta uranium enrichment plant and an adjacent factory where
the Ghauri missile is assembled with Pakistani Prime Minister
Nawaz Sharif and was briefed by Dr. AQ Khan.
few months later, Khan traveled to Saudi Arabia [in November 1999]
ostensibly to attend a symposium on "Information Sources
on the Islamic World". The same month (November 1999), Dr.
Saleh al-Athel, President King Abdul Aziz City for Science and
Technology, visited Pakistan to work out details for cooperation
in the fields of engineering, electronics and computer science.
Saudi defector Mohammed Khilevi, who was first secretary of the
Saudi mission to the United Nations until July 1994, testified
before the IAEA that Riyadh has sought a bomb since 1975. In late
June 1994, Khilevi abandoned his UN post to join the opposition.
After his defection, Khilevi distributed more than 10,000 documents
he obtained from the Saudi Arabian Embassy. These documents show
that between 1985 and 1990, the Saudi government paid up to five
billion dollars to Saddam Hussain to build a nuclear weapon.
further alleged that Saudis had provided financial contributions
to the Pakistani nuclear program, and had signed a secret agreement
that obligated Islamabad to respond against the aggressor with
its nuclear arsenal if Saudi Arabia is attacked with nuclear weapons.
2003, General Musharraf paid a visit to Saudi Arabia, and former
Pakistani Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali visited the
Kingdom twice. But the United States had warned Pakistan for the
first time in December 2003 against providing nuclear assistance
to Saudi Arabia.
over possible Pak-Saudi nuclear cooperation intensified after
the October 22-23, 2003, visit of Saudia's de facto ruler, Crown
Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz to Pakistan. The pro-US Saudi Defence
Minister Prince Sultan, who is next in line to succeed to the
throne after Abdullah, was not part of the delegation. During
that visit, American intelligence circles allege, Pakistan and
Saudi Arabia concluded a secret agreement on nuclear cooperation
that was meant to provide the Saudis with nuclear-weapons technology
in exchange for cheap oil.
in 2005, the US claims to have acquired fresh evidence that suggests
a broader Government-to-Government Pak-Saudi atomic collaboration
that could be continuing.
to well-placed diplomatic sources, chartered Saudi C-130 Hercules
transporters made scores of trips between the Dhahran military
base and several Pakistani cities, including Lahore and Karachi,
between October 2003 and October 2004, and thereafter, considerable
contacts were reported between Pakistani and Saudi nuclear scientists.
Between October 2004 and January 2005, under cover of Hajj, several
Pakistani scientists allegedly visited Riyadh, and remained "missing"
from their designated hotels for 15 to 20 days.
closeness between Islamabad and Riyadh has been phenomenal and
it is not without significance that the first foreign tour of
General Pervez Musharraf, who ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
in October 1999, was to Saudi Arabia. Moreover, Sharif himself,
his younger brother, Shahbaz Sharif and their families live in
Saudi Arabia after a secret exile deal between Musharraf and Sharif,
in which Riyadh had played a key role.
Sharif's prime ministerial tenure, the Americans believe, Saudi
Arabia had been involved in funding Islamabad's missile and nuclear
program purchases from China, as a result of which Pakistan became
a nuclear weapon-producing and proliferating state. There are
also apprehensions that Riyadh was buying nuclear-capability from
China through a proxy state, with Pakistan serving as the cut-out.
Khan's first admission of proliferation to Iran, Libya and North
Korea in January 2004, the Saudi authorities pulled out more than
80 ambassador-rank and senior diplomats from its missions around
the world, mainly in Europe and Asia. The pull out is widely thought
to have been meant to plug any likely leak of the Pak-Saudi nuclear
9/11, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Pakistan were the only countries that
recognized and aided Afghanistan's Taliban regime, which had been
educated in Pakistan's religious schools. Despite the fall of
the Taliban regime, the Saudis continue to fund these seminaries
that are a substitute for Pakistan's non-existent national education
system and largely produce Wahabi extremists and Islamist militants.
Also, a substantial proportion of their curricula, including the
sections which preach hatred, has also emerged from that country.
with a crushing defence burden, only spends 1.7 per cent of GDP
on education (compared to 4.3 per cent in India and 5 per cent
in the United States). An estimated 15,000 religious schools provide
free room and board to some 700,000 Pakistani boys (ages 6 to
16) where they are taught to read and write in Urdu and Arabic
and recite the Holy Koran by heart. No other disciplines are taught,
but students are indoctrinated with anti-American, anti-Israeli
and anti-Indian propaganda, and encouraged to engage in jihad
to defeat a 'global conspiracy to destroy Islam'. These schools
supplied thousands of recruits for the Taliban militia in Afghanistan
and are still being used to recruit militants to fight the US-led
Allied Forces and the Afghan troops in that country.
Saudi Arabia actively uses charities to promote Wahabi extremism
across the world, Pakistan has been the recipient of huge direct
economic assistance from the desert kingdom. The Saudis have bailed
out Islamabad over the past decade by supplying Pakistan with
an estimated $ 1.2 billion of oil products annually, virtually
free of cost. Just after the visit of Dr. AQ Khan to Saudi Arabia
in November 1999, a Saudi nuclear expert, Dr. Al Arfaj, stated
in Riyadh that "Saudi Arabia must make plans aimed at making
a quick response to face the possibilities of nuclear warfare
agents being used against the Saudi population, cities or armed
the departure of American troops from its soil, the biggest problem
for the Saudi Kingdom is how to deal with such nuclear contingencies.
More recently, Saudi officials have discussed the procurement
of new Pakistani intermediate-range missiles capable of carrying
concern remains that Saudi Arabia, like its neighbors, might be
seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, apparently by purchase rather
than indigenous development. The 2,700-kilometres range CSS-2
missiles the Kingdom obtained from China in 1987 are useless if
fitted only with conventional warheads.
cannot, therefore, avoid the inference that, like the Pak-North
Korean "nukes for missiles deal", Dr. Khan might have
struck an "oil for nukes" deal with Saudi Arabia on
behalf of Islamabad at a time when there is a growing homogeneity
of strong Pan Islamic affiliations worldwide. If Dr. Khan's interaction
with the scientists of Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Libya were similar
to those during his reported visits to North Korea, norms of the
nonproliferation regimes may have been violated.
The internal Saudi situation is complicated by the fact that many
powerful Saudi families financially support the al-Qaeda effort
as part of a strategy to purge the Kingdom of 'infidels and Western
corruption'. In many cases these influential Saudis reach into
the extended Royal family, including the murky figure of the former
Saudi intelligence chief, Turki al-Faisal, son of the late King
Faisal. The Americans had accused Turki's Faisal Islamic Bank
of involvement in running accounts for Osama and his associates.
Turki himself maintained ongoing ties with bin Laden even after
the latter fled Saudi Arabia in the mid-1990's, after imprisonment
by order of the King.
close to both Osama as well as AQ Khan, it was Prince Turki who
had persuaded King Fahd to grant diplomatic recognition to the
Taliban. The possibility of Turki having played a role in a nuclear
deal between Osama and Khan cannot, consequently, be ruled out,
especially when many members of the Pakistani military and nuclear
establishments have been found involved in holding meetings with
the al-Qaeda leader.
first indications of the presence of pro-jihadi scientists in
Pakistan's nuclear establishment came to notice during the US-led
allied forces' military operations in Afghanistan against al-Qaeda
and the Taliban, when documents recovered by the troops reportedly
spoke of the visits of Pakistani nuclear scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin
Mahmood, to Kandahar when Osama was operating from there before
9/11. Bashiruddin was the first head of the Kahuta Uranium Enrichment
project before Dr. AQ Khan, who replaced Bashiruddin in the 1970s.
Subsequent investigations carried
out by American intelligence discovered that Osama had contacted
these scientists for assistance in making a small nuclear device.
On February 12, 2004, Dr. Khan appeared on Pakistan's state run
Television after holding a lengthy meeting with General Musharraf
and confessed to having been 'solely responsible' for operating
an international black market in nuclear-weapons' materials. The
next day, on television again, Musharraf, who claimed to be shocked
by Khan's misdeeds, nonetheless pardoned him, citing his service
to Pakistan (he called Khan 'my hero').
two decades, the western media and their intelligence agencies
have linked Dr. Khan and the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence
(ISI), to nuclear-technology transfers, and it was hard to credit
the idea that the successive governments Dr. Khan served had been
oblivious of these activities. In the post-9/11 period, analysts
continue to express fears about the possibility of extremist Islamic
groups like al-Qaeda gaining access to Pakistan's nuclear weapons
or fissile or radioactive materials. Secret deals with Saudi Arabia
can only aggravate such risks and concerns.
writer is a Senior Pakistani journalist affiliated with Karachi-based
Monthly, 'Newsline'. He was until recently associated with Monthly