Fascinating: How Pak’s Nuke Ambitions Were Fueled
NEW DELHI, (IANS) – Pakistan, a country that has forever been in dire economic straits, as it finds itself now, has managed to build a nuclear bomb. Iqbal Chand Malhotra in his just-released book, ‘The Bomb, The Bank, The Mullah and The Poppies: A Tale of Deception’, takes the reader into the core of Project 706, the centerpiece of Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions.
Just a month after Pakistan’s dismemberment, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto called upon his country’s top-notch nuclear scientists under a shamiana in Multan on January 20, 1971. Known for his powerful oratory, Bhutto asked his scientists to embark upon what seemed then to be the impossible task of building a nuclear weapon.
The old guard was not swayed by what Bhutto was asking of them, but a new generation of nuclear scientists — including Samar Mubarakmand, Munir Ahemd Khan, and Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood — took their prime minister’s words to heart and embarked on a path to achieve the impossible.
After giving the scientists the go-ahead, Bhutto needed an uninterrupted supply chain of money to sustain what seemed like madness to many at that time. After meeting the scientists in Multan, Bhutto went on a tour to various Islamic countries to ask for the money he needed. Only two leaders agreed to finance the unachievable — Col Muammar Gaddafi of Libya and Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates.
Malhotra writes that an international bank named Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) was set up within eight months. Banker Agha Hassan Abedi was chosen by the Pakistani establishment to head the enterprise.
Bhutto had his financial structure in place to pursue the nuclear path. It was ideally suited to carry out all manner of dodgy, under-the-radar operations. BCCI, though operated mainly by the Pakistanis, had no official connection with the government of Pakistan.
The author has described in detail the murky dealings of BCCI all over the world, the most infamous among them being working with the elite Safari Club, which included the intelligence heads of France, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt, and Iran.
The BCCI also provided funds to entities in South America, Middle East, and Iran. And it had links with Senior George Bush.
The BCCI head — Abedi — has successfully created a bank with no fixed spatial location. The bank had been incorporated in Luxembourg, which was an unregulated financial area, its stakeholders all came from the Persian Gulf, its headquarters was in London, and its main investors were based in the UK and the UAE.
After Bhutto had brought in the financial stability to help build the bomb, his first decision was to appoint Ghulam Ishaq Khan as Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan.
The author writes that since Pakistan had no means to fund Project 706, the entire process of bomb building that Bhutto orchestrated was cloaked in “deception” and “illegality”, but Bhutto viewed it as being necessary for Pakistan to realize its destiny.
The year 1976 was a watershed moment for Pakistan’s nuclear dream. The Pakistani-Dutch nuclear scientist Dr A.Q. Khan, after two years of persuasion, was allowed by the Pakistani establishment to construct his own uranium enrichment facility called the Engineering Research Laboratories.
In July 1976, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who was now Pakistan’s Defense Minister, and Agha Shahi, the Foreign Secretary, code-named the nascent nuclear project ‘Project 706’.
Malhotra goes on to point out that by the time Bhutto was hanged by the regime of Zia-ul Haq, Pakistan’s “narco-terror” state was beginning to breathe and grow into a formidable force under a new leader.
Bhutto, according to Malhotra, was truly Pakistan’s Machiavelli, unsung and forgotten by the country’s many generals and politicians who subsequently mentored Project 706.
By the end of 1977, BCCI chief Abedi had no choice but to turn to the global drug industry, whose branches had already been established in the Af-Pak region.
About the “narco-terror” state, Malhotra writes that Abedi was exploring how to make money out of the drug industry to compensate for the loss of earnings from petro-dollar deposits and had an understanding in this regard with Lt Gen Fazle Haq, who was appointed governor of the Northwestern Frontier Province (NWFP) in 1978.
Malhotra writes that the BCCI went on to finance the 200-or-so heroin refineries that were then in the process of being set up in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa district of NWFP and take responsibility for transporting the produce to Karachi. From there it would be loaded onto ships owned by the Gokal brothers and transported to the various target markets. All the profits from this operation were banked with BCCI, thereby boosting its cash deposits.
From 1982 onwards, the logistics of ferrying drugs from the heroin refineries in Balochistan and the NWFP was under the control of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
Trucks of the Pakistan Army’s National Logistics Cell (NLC) would arrive in NWFP with arms from Karachi unloaded from ships chartered by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and returned laden with heroin under ISI protection back to Karachi for global distribution. The CIA therefore provided legal cover for this activity and the trade grew to gigantic levels never conceived.
Malhotra writes that by 1986 the global drug business was estimated to be a $100-billion industry, out of which Pakistan’s share was not less than $30 billion.
After 1985, the Soviets started to withdraw from Afghanistan. That was when the Pakistani establishment started to plan for alternative sources to fund and sustain Project 706 as US support would eventually dry up.
It was General Zia’s idea to set up a ‘nuclear cell’. Its main aim was to systematically leverage the skills and assets of the Khan Research Laboratories. The first-rung customers identified for highly secret negotiations were Iran, Syria, and Libya.
By October 1988, BCCI had started to run in trouble, mostly because George H.W. Bush was nominated as the Republican candidate for the White House. He was involved with the BCCI via the dictator of Panama and wanted to get rid of the BCCI if he had to run his election campaign successfully, without any controversies.
Malhotra writes that even after BCCI officers were arrested in Tampa, Florida, for their operations in the US, it remained in place because it was a necessary broker in clandestine weapon deals and other initiatives involving Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, China, and Israel even after the arrests.
It was after General Zia’s death that Agha Hassan Abedi’s health was impacted, and he was rushed to a hospital in London. His close friends — among them President Jimmy Carter — summoned top cardiologists to attend to Abedi.
In July 1991 that BCCI was shut down after it had collapsed and caused more than 6,500 depositors to lose their money, including the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, which is believed to have lost $2 billion.
Abedi was never brought to trial in the US or the UK, although he had been indicted in both countries for crimes related to the BCCI, but Pakistani officials refused to give him up for extradition claiming the charges were politically motivated. Abedi died a natural death in 1995.
Malhotra writes that by the 1990s, Pakistan’s Project 706 was almost good-to-go, however, they did not have the technology of a delivery system. For the missiles, Pakistan roped in North Korea.
The No-dong missiles of North Korea were delivered by A.Q. Khan with the help of Benazir Bhutto, who was then prime minister and visited North Korea in her official capacity to get the missile delivery system for Pakistan at the end of 1993.
‘The Bomb, The Bank, The Mullah, and The Poppies: A Tale of Deception’ also shed light on the capture of Kabul by the Taliban in 1997. The author writes that it was not Taliban’s own military force which made it possible for them to capture Kabul, but it was a combination of several factors that significantly did not include their military prowess on the battlefield.
Rapid desertions from the Pashtun militia aligned with Ahmad Shah Massoud for the defense of Kabul, the failure of Abdul Rashid Dostum to switch sides from the Taliban into the Massoud camp, thereby relieving pressure on Kabul from the north-west, and the slow but steady progress made by the Taliban to cut Massoud’s link with Jalalabad were some of the reasons for the Taliban to take over Afghan capital.
Malhotra writes that the Taliban conquest of Afghanistan provides a fascinating and complete doctrinal example of modern unconventional warfare.
The Pakistanis employed a predominantly indigenous force, the Taliban, to overthrow the legitimate government and install a pro-Pakistan regime purely to “consolidate” and “expand” the heroin trade. Armed with Pakistani weapons, trained by Pakistani advisers, sympathetic to Pakistani interests and with Pakistani soldiers eventually fighting directly alongside them, the Taliban conquered Afghanistan. Thus, was born the modern world’s most “dangerous narco-state” — Afghanistan.
As Iran and India started supporting the Northern Alliance, the Pakistanis back the Taliban. Conservative estimates place the number of Pakistani troops serving in Afghanistan between 1994 and 1999, fighting alongside the Taliban, at between 80,000 to 100,000 personnel.
Under A.Q. Khan, meanwhile, “proliferation” of nuclear arms continued and after Pervez Musharraf took over the narcotics business, which had now moved to Afghanistan from the NWFP, it continued unabated in Jalalabad, which the author mentions as the capital of Afghanistan’s opium rich Nangarhar province.
Soon after Taliban’s fall in 2001, the ISI nurtured its operatives, provided them with safe sanctuaries and protected them from the prying eyes of the CIA and other American security agencies.
The narco business, however, remained unaffected, Malhotra points out. It simply passed from the Taliban to Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, who also nurtured the business.
The ISI ensured the narco business supply chain did not get disturbed because of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan.