ISLAMABAD, Pakistan This weekend, Pakistan’s military-led government is expected to announce the results of a sweeping and politically sensitive investigation into whether Pakistan’s nuclear technology was shared with Iran and Libya.
For the past week, senior government and intelligence officials have steadily leaked a version of events that blames scientists – including the man considered to be the father of the country’s nuclear bomb – for selling nuclear technology for personal gain.
But one question rarely mentioned by government officials is whether Pakistan’s military approved the transfer of technology. In interviews this week, retired Pakistani civilian and military officials, former American diplomats, and proliferation experts said the country’s government appeared to be glossing over evidence that senior military officials may have approved the sales.
More recent reports of proliferation, including allegations that the governments of President Pervez Musharraf and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto shared nuclear technology with North Korea, were also being glossed over, they said. The officials and analysts emphasized that they had no proof that the army was involved, but questioned why Pakistani investigators had questioned no senior army officials in the inquiry.
George Perkovich, a proliferation expert at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington, said that Musharraf, a general who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999, was trying to appease American demands for an investigation while not betraying his base of support in the military.
“The problem for Musharraf is that people in the army would know about this,” Perkovich said in a telephone interview. “And he wants to protect his club.” One clear focus of suspicion is General Mirza Aslam Beg, the commander of Pakistan’s army from 1988 to 1991, American analysts said. Robert Oakley, who served as the American ambassador in Islamabad at the time, said in a telephone interview that Beg had told him in 1991 that he was discussing nuclear and conventional military cooperation with the Iranian Army, known as the Revolutionary Guards.
“He said he had a good conversation with the Revolutionary Guards about nuclear cooperation and conventional military assistance,” Oakley said. “Iran was going to support Pakistan with conventional military aid and petroleum, and the Pakistani would provide them with nuclear technology.” Oakley said Beg had made the same statement to General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the commander of American forces in the region at the time. Schwarzkopf’s office said he was traveling overseas this week and could not be reached for comment.
In an interview this week, Beg denied ever sharing nuclear technology to Iran. But he did confirm that he had proposed that Pakistan adopt a doctrine of “strategic defiance” that would involve a military alliance of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Beg said the alliance would thwart an American invasion of all three countries that he expected to occur after the United States defeated Iraq in the Gulf war of 1991. This week, he predicted that history would prove him right, and that a European-like alliance would form, making the three countries would “the core of the Muslim world, to emulate, to copy.” Oakley said he was so concerned by Beg’s statements in 1991 that he went to Pakistan’s Prime Minister then, Nawaz Sharif, and urged him to quash any such arrangement. Oakley said Sharif had agreed to speak to Iran’s civilians leaders and block any nuclear cooperation.
The former prime minister, who now lives in exile in Saudi Arabia, refused a request for an interview this week. Chaudry Nisar Ali Khan, a special assistant to Sharif, said he remembered Beg’s proposing a military alliance with Iran and Afghanistan. But Khan said senior civilian officials in the government did not take Beg’s proposals seriously. “He liked to come up with a lot of utopian proposals,” Khan said. General Hamid Gul, the director of Pakistan’s military intelligence agency at the time, said he also remembered Beg’s arguing for the alliance. He said some military officers also joked at the time that the country, which was on the verge of defaulting on loan payments, should sell its nuclear technology. But he said none of the proposals were taken seriously.
“It was nothing more than loose talk,” Gul said. “Bizarre talk. Wild ideas.”
There were no arrests made in the seizure at Kili Ali Akbar, a border town about 500 kilometers, or 300 miles, west of Quetta, the capital of southwestern Balochistan province, said a Customs Department spokesman, Hayyatullah Khan Durani.