| A.Q. Khan
Islamabad, Feb. 13: Pakistan has conceded for the first time that A.Q. Khan, the rogue nuclear scientist who is under house arrest in Islamabad, passed secrets and equipment to Iranian officials and is now considered the 'brain' behind the programme that has put Teheran on the brink of acquiring nuclear weapons.
An investigation by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, details of which have been disclosed to The Daily Telegraph, confirmed that Khan, a hero in Pakistan, and his associates sold nuclear codes, materials, components and plans that left his 'signature' at the core of the Iranian nuclear programme.
The admission came during private talks in Brussels at the end of last month between European Union officials and senior ministers from Pakistan and India. The EU officials were told that cooperation between Tehran and Khan, 68, and associates from his Khan Research Laboratories began in the mid-1990s and included more than a dozen meetings over several years.
Most of these meetings were between Mohammad Farooq, a centrifuge expert from KRL, and Iranians in Karachi, Kuala Lumpur and Tehran. Pakistani investigators have told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that centrifuge drawings acquired by Iran closely resemble the design of the first-generation Pakistan-1 centrifuge.
Khan also helped the Iranians to set up a secret procurement network involving companies and middlemen around the world, ISI investigators found. The IAEA told Pakistani officials that centrifuges they had discovered at the Doshan Tapeh military base in eastern Tehran closely resembled the Pakistan-2 centrifuges.
Apparently motivated by Islamic zeal in addition to financial gain, Khan, who was arrested in November 2003, devoted more than a decade to the spreading nuclear technology around the world. With increasing focus in Washington on a showdown with Iran, Khan's activities are being viewed with growing alarm.
Pakistan had previously resisted admitting Khan's role in Iran's nuclear plans for fear of diplomatic repercussions. It remains reluctant to co-operate fully with either the IAEA or President George W. Bush, who has pressed it to allow the CIA to interrogate Khan. The IAEA has not yet found conclusive evidence that Iran has a weapons programme and Tehran claims it 'plans to enrich only to the levels that are used to generate nuclear fuel'.
Western diplomats believe that Pakistan is afraid that making Khan available to the CIA directly would lift the lid on an extensive network of its army officers loyal to Khan. 'This could expose the role of the Chinese in this international black market, or that of other countries that Pakistan cannot afford to antagonise,' said an official.